The Three-Pointer: Bucked by the Backcourt
1) Dropping a Toss-Up Game
For all the hullabaloo about Wednesday's tilt with San Antonio being a "test" of the newly invigorated Wolves, beating the Spurs on the road was always a pie-in-the-sky dream--c'mon, the Spurs are 113-21 at their place over the last few years! Let's get real: The brass ring for this current squad is a number 7 or 8 playoff seed, and the way to make that happen isn't crossing your finger in San Antonio, it is beating sub-mediocre Eastern Conference teams missing their starting power forward and playing the second game of a back-to-back. In other words, beating the Bucks in Milwaukee on Saturday night was one of those realistic barometer games by which you measure the team's prospects. Right now you can go through the schedule and identify many games where you'd be frankly surprised if the Wolves won, a fewer number of games where you'd be surprised if Minnesota lost, and then the ones that really determine the season: the toss-ups. Playing Milwaukee on the road was a toss-up, and the Wolves squandered that opportunity, blowing an early 11-point lead and falling 104-108.
2) All together now: Randy Foye is not a point guard
He is a combo guard. If you want him to start at the top of the key and try to wend his way through three or four defenders, odds are he'll at least get off the shot, and quite possibly get fouled. Or he might feint the drive and pull up for a trey, or pull back on his way to the hoop and deliver one of those scoop floaters as he crosses the lane. But if you want Randy Foye to be a point guard--meaning a guy who brings the ball up, who unselfishly initiates the offense for others, who has an internal rhythmic clock that calibrates a smooth flow for coordinated offensive sets, and who can fairly effortlessly dribbles his way away from traps and double-teams--Foye is certainly not that guy now, probably won't be that guy even at year's end, and may never be that guy.
Saturday night, Foye had zero assists and four turnovers. For the season, he has 37 assists and 35 turnovers. You can't entrust your offense to someone with that kind of ratio for an extended period of time and expect to win; not unless you're dealing with Michael Jordan or Dwayne Wade. I understand Coach Dwane Casey's desire to go with Foye at the point, given his glut of swingmen and the recurrence of woes from Mike James as both a shooter and defender. James was blistered by Tony Parker in San Antonio; Saturday night it was Mo Williams's turn, although to be fair, Williams also had his way with Foye en route to 28 points and 9 assists.
The inconsistency of James has hurt Minnesota this year and there is no way to sugarcoat it. After James went through that little hot spell and his team was winning four in a row, Kevin Garnett chastised James's critics for expecting too much, too soon. Fine. But it isn't simply that his jumper isn't falling; it's his shot selection, his shoddy defense, his less-than-reliable ball-handling, and, most crucially and least tangibly, his limited command over his team and over the flow of the game. Now that Ricky James has started to play better defense--he was drawing charges and diving on the floor for balls early in the Milwaukee loss, plus doing the little things before tailing off some defensively in the second half--James is beginning to look like the weakest link. As nice as it was to see him shrug off Casey's use of Foye at the point for an extra rotation, and hit some big shots to keep Minnesota in the game in the 4th quarter, he needs to get more physical and move his legs more than his hands while playing D. Because there really isn't anyone else on the roster who is a natural point guard.
3) Big men not immune
I'm glad to see that in his postgame comments Kevin Garnett told the media that he played like shit and that he didn't have a rhythm, because both of those things were in evidence, especially in the second half, of Saturday's loss. Sometimes it is hard to know who is at fault on defensive breakdowns--given that Michael Redd is a top 5 scorer in the NBA, and that Williams was having a great shooting night, it seemed like the Wolves' big men were rotating out to stop them. Was that freelancing or part of the plan? In any event, Andrew Bogut certainly made KG pay for his wandering by continually cutting in for layups and putbacks. KG had 26 points and was a team-high plus-5 according to popcornmachine.net. But he seemed especially ineffective on defense, simultaneously not getting out in time to disrupt Redd or Williams, and enabling Bogut and others free rein toward the hoop.
Not the other big men were great shakes either. Yes, Mark Blount banged home 8 of 12 shots and grabbed a team-high 10 rebounds besides. But Blount's team defense was also a little suspect, and he finished the game with a team worst minus-8. And Craig Smith furthered his mini-slump with three points, three rebounds, and three missed free throws (out of four total attempts) in 16 minutes of action.