The Three-Pointer: Crowning the Kings
A quick heads up before we start: I'll be doing election coverage Tuesday night and thus won't see the Lakers game until later and won't post a trey. Feel free to add comments about Tuesday to tonight's thread.
1) The Declining Role of Kevin Garnett
Some fans are already getting restless about coach Dwane Casey's substitution patterns, mostly stemming from the failure of the bench to deliver when subbed en masse against Portland the other night. That's not what I put at the top of my list of complaints against Casey, for at least two reasons. The first is that the season is still very young and the coach is right to explore options and combinations now--remember, it was a bold and fresh lineup that lifted the Wolves over Sacramento in the season opener. Besides, he's I happen to think he's given Mike James, Mark Blount, and Craig Smith just enough time to play themselves into a confident rhythm without sapping their energy and exposing their flaws. And I think his gingerly touch with Randy Foye is the right approach as Foye weathers the first growing pains of his pro acclimation.
The second reason is that I have a bigger problem with Casey's de-emphasis of Kevin Garnett as the fulcrum, waystation, and overall barometer of the team's halfcourt offense. The one aspect of the game where I pine for Flip Saunders is that crisp passing attack, specifically designed to not only get KG open midrange and low post shots, but also to let him survey the floor from the high or low post and burn defenses when they came with the double team.
Now Casey is emphasizing a "flow" offense that seeks to exploit the transition game whenever possible but not go beserk with it a la Phoenix and to a lesser extent Dallas. Fine, as far as it goes. But even when the club is in the halfcourt, Garnett's meaningful touches and the player-movement around him are both way down. This was particularly noticeable, and painful, in the rematch with Sacramento tonight, won by the Kings 93-81 in a game that wasn't that close. Remember how KG almost always had his best games against the Kings? Well, tonight, Brad Miller was down with an injury, meaning that Garnett and Mark Blount were primarily being guarded by Kenny Thomas and Sharif Abdur-Raheim, with Ron Artest moving up to power forward for shorter stints when he wasn't giving Ricky Davis fits at the 3. That should have been a recipe for Garnett to stuff the stat sheet.
KG did lead the team with 15 shots, but he never found a rhythm at either end of the court, and I think it is because he so rarely is put in a position to control the passing game and dictate the flow. He had one assist! And that gives him a grand total of seven assists in the first four games, versus ten turnovers.
I understand the logic, and the arguments against Flip's system: Settling for jump shots depresses your trips to the foul line and dooms you in the postseason. I notice that KG leads the team in free throw attempts (though the Wolves as a whole are still only averaging 20 FTA per game through their first four, and had but 14 against the Kings) and not only shot attempts, but shooting percentage. But he's sixth on the team in assists, a stat that would have been unthinkable even last year, but certainly looks like a trend this season. I don't think it is a coincidence that the Wolves are averaging over 19 turnovers a game, and have just a few more assists (81) than turnovers (77).
Yes, Mike James at his most effective is generally a shoot-first point guard, and Ricky Davis likes the ball in his hands too. Both are excellent passers. But in order for us all to tolerate this way-less fun offense Casey and company have installed, it has to work. And tonight, against favorable matchups for Garnett, there was precious little cohesion or sense of purpose.
2) More Griffin and less avis
Now I'll criticize the substitution pattern. I meant what I said above, and second-guessing the coach after four games is admittedly jerking the knee, but a pair of quibbles must be registered. Speaking of knee-jerk reactions, Eddie Griffin didn't get off the bench tonight, and I sincerely hope the coach or one of his assistants had a long conversation with Eddie explaining what the plans are for him. In my interview with Glen Taylor, the owner acknowledged that Griffin is fragile and needs to be bucked up. Losing patience with him so quickly, in Game Four, and refusing to try him out against Sacramento's undersized front line seems like a strategy that will do more harm than good. We'll see.
Second, while I don't begrudge Ricky Davis going 2-11 from the field and registering only two assists and five points--Artest has throttled a lot of superb players--there is absolutely no reason why Davis has to constantly screw up his team's defensive rotations with shoddy decision-making and an indifferent effort. Nor is there any reason why Casey--whose squad is stuffed like a Thanksgiving turkey with swingmen--has to play Davis 31 minutes when he is being such a flagrant albatross. By my informal count of the play-by-play, Davis was minus-22 tonight, in a 12-point loss.
3) Silver linings
After more desultory play in his first stint and a half tonight, Randy Foye feasted on garbage time. Hopefully it will be enough to get him off the schneid.
Yes, Mark Blount had a nice little game, 11 points, ten boards and a pair of blocks, although it was not nearly as good as the way TV color man Jim Peterson described it. C'mon Pete, the guy is going against Sharif Abdur-Raheim! Still, credit the hustle and minimal boneheadedness.
Mike James has improved his offensive game in three straight outings after being benched in the fourth quarter of the home opener.