The Three-Pointer: Foye in the 4th, Take 2
1) Teasing the Wade comparison
For the second straight game, rookie Randy Foye turned garbage time into crunch time with a galvanizing fourth quarter performance that saw him penetrate for layups, draw fouls, hit an outside jumper, and will his team from a 15-point deficit with 7:48 left to play into an 84-84 tie with 2 minutes to play. When the Wolves acquired Foye on draft day, the supposition was that they were looking for a combo guard like Dwyane Wade, a nearly-finished college product who was his team's unquestioned emotional and physical leader operating out of the backcourt, who craved the ball in his hands with the game on the line and would rather court bruises in the paint than loft long jumpers.
Foye is on that track. How long and far he rides it is anybody's guess. Calling him another Wade is like dubbing a folkie the new Dylan, or some reggae hotshot the next Marley, and frankly, right now, there's no upside for anyone in overselling him that way. But he's got some promising attributes. He's got the personality of a leader--he can be humble and deferential on all the small, symbolic stuff that shouldn't be sweated anyway, but seizes the game by the throat if enough of the conditions expose themselves. He doesn't gripe about minutes or cart around an attitude that assumes leapfrogging privileges in the pecking order. He listens to his coaches, plays defense, and has the patient confidence of a predator.
Some aspects of his game are rough. Even his signature move--a drive down the right baseline culminating in a banked layup that's a hybrid of a scoop and a hook, more arm and wrist than fingers in the toss of it--isn't pretty, and will be increasingly difficult to execute once the scouts spread the word. But Foye likes contact, and already knows how to turn blocks into fouls with a strong, thrusting finish. And if you count both Trenton Hassell and Marko Jaric as small forwards, Foye is, right now, the Wolves' best defender among the guards, which damns him with faint praise, perhaps, but is an element of his game that will continue to improve as his minutes rise. He leads the team in steals-per-minute by a fairly wide margin. He's also a decent rebounder, a relatively important skill for this board-challenged squad.
The weakness is ball handling, not for an off guard, but if he's the primary guy facing full court pressure and half court traps. His court-vision decision-making is also unrefined by constant exposure to the quickness of NBA defensive rotations, meaning he hasn't learned that passes and other intuitive gambits that worked in college can be turnovers in the pros. And his jump shot isn't exactly money in the bank.
Bottom line, you can't let someone with this much promise, who smells the fourth quarter so deeply and appreciatively, linger on the pine. Foye is already a 25-35 minute guy. Coach Dwane Casey seems to like rotating him in with Troy Hudson and then, for the last two games anyway, leaving him in alongside KG, Blount, Davis, and Jaric as a crunchtime unit. The latter decision is tough to dispute, given the roar of the recent fourth quarters, but if you're flipping the keys to Foye that way, don't you owe Mike James another rotation or two earlier in the game while providing Huddy with a seat beside Eddie Griffin in purgatory? I didn't see the goose egg games James laid against the Hornets and Clips last weekend, but he was two different players tonight--aggressively taking Devon Harris to the hoop for 10 quick points in the first half and sleepwalking on defense after intermission. Still, his skill set is not only vastly superior to Hudson's, but match up much better with what Foye needs.
Huddy had a three pointer grooved to him tonight, a waist high pass as he stepped in rhythm toward the hoop, and he clanged it off the front iron, a crucial miss during the stirring comeback. At his best, Hudson was never a particularly good point guard. But James could be, if he was finally assured of a crucial role on a ballclub that welcomed him with open arms. One would have thought his contract bought that here, but a dozen games into the season, he's back to being one whose contribution floats with the flow of the game, a pattern that must bedevil his psyche right now. Remember, this is a former CBA warhorse and fringe scrapper who, at age 31, has never achieved full validation.
2) Swingman minutes and my usual bias
So I'm gone for five games, see Andy B's perceptive comment about Ricky Davis leading the squad in minutes-played during the rousing three-game winning streak, and hear Jim Peterson pronounce that Davis did a superb job clamping down on Sam Cassell in the 4th quarter last Saturday. I figure it's time to view the dreadlocked one his teammates call "Buckets" with a more generous, or at least less biased, perspective. But then Davis decides to give Jerry Stackhouse room to launch jumpers--as if Ricky Davis doesn't have the foot speed to crowd Stack and then stay with him off the dribble--and the tics start dancing on my face. By the third quarter, when Davis and Mike James have totally tossed in the towel on anything resembling perimeter defense, I'm screaming at the television and wondering why the Ricky Davis who inwardly vows to atone for a horrendous airball by dashing down the court to deflect a pass off of Stackhouse in transition, and who helps limit the Mavs to a measly 6 fast break points, can't be bothered to pay attention to his man for any more than a pass--two tops--in the half court defensive sets. The guy is a gifted passer, has curbed his annoying habit of launching j's with 20 seconds on the shot clock, and is a potent scorer. He admitted to one and all before the season began that he didn't try very hard on defense last year, and said it would be different. It isn't different. And yet on a team choked with swingmen, he's second to KG in minutes played.
I'll shelve my suspicion and take his clampdown on Cassell on faith that it actually happened. But tonight, Casey shrewdly decided to go with a zone, flummoxing Dallas into ten missed shots and zero buckets in 6:45 of play. And one reason it worked was because Ricky Davis always plays zone, standing in a certain area ready to poke-check a steal or come with a double team. This becomes problematical in a man to man when Ricky's man happens to move without the ball. Casey's response was to let the other four teammates play zone along with Ricky, and tonight it worked. I don't begrudge Davis getting his layup swatted away by Erick Dampier without drawing contact when the score was tied in the final two minutes, and am willing to concede that leaking out for a breakaway pass instead of boxing out of maintaining defensive intensity worked brilliantly for a easy basket during the Wolves comeback tonight. I simply want an athletically gifted player to exert a trifle more energy and concentration on preventing his man from receiving the ball in an advantageous position--or have his ass sat down if he doesn't deign to play that way.
Tonight, Peterson as good as proclaimed that Hassell should be the one to sit more often and loosen this swingman logjam a bit. Again, I'm operating on total ignorance of the five prior games, and I'll grant that the new rules favoring perimeter flow fluctuates Hassell's value into more specifically situational matchups. I understand why Jaric and Foye are a great tandem when the Wolves are launching a comeback; they're both opportunistic and aggressive on defensive, probing for steals and run-outs in transition. Hassell's defense is less risky--he's about staunching jump shots and denying position, and I gather his shooting has been fitful lately. But should Davis really average nearly 8 minutes per game more than Hassell? And if and when Rashad McCants returns from injury later this year, what distinctive quality does Davis provide?
3) Hit and run observations
Mark Blount buried his first three pointer of the season to get the Wolves within one late in the game, to go with three other clutch jumpers he nailed in the fourth quarter of this and the Clips game. Since Blount likes the right block and key more than KG, who feasts on the left block, and since Foye is a terror penetrating off his right hand, shouldn't Minnesota run more high pick and rolls with Foye and Blount? Or with those two is that a turnover waiting to happen?
Terrible free throw shooting really hurt the Wolves tonight. Eight misses in their first 13 attempts, including three clangs by KG and two apiece by the rooks, Smith and Foye.
More ammunition for a Foye-James backcourt: the tandem was plus-4 in the measly 1:44 they were paired late in the third quarter.
Finally, Pat Reusse's Sunday column about hoops apathy here in town, coupled with my week-long break for a family celebration elsewhere in the country, might have some wondering about my appetite for this season. If so, rest assured that I retain my hopeless jones for pro basketball, and will be delivering treys after at least half and probably about 3/4 of the games on the schedule from here on out. Sincere thanks to Steven and David for what I thought was stellar work in my absence.