The Three-Pointer: Wittman Down in Debut
1. Rotation Changes
It's easy to overreact to one game and assume it's a trend, but the two most striking differences between Wittman's substitutions tonight versus Casey's general pattern was fewer minutes for KG and more crunchtime for Mike James at the expense of Randy Foye. The first is welcomed, and reprises one of the hallmarks of Kevin McHale's 30-some game stint. Had there been no overtime tonight, Garnett would have clocked in at just 34 minutes. Wittman gave him two 6-minute chunks on the bench, which were extended further by time out for the quarter changes (end of first/beginning second, end of third/beginning fourth). And maybe KG just had extra zip because the team is ensnared in a long losing streak and has a clean slate with a new coach, but he did seem more active and energetic at both ends of the court in the second half, completely getting inside Joel Pryzbylla's head in the third period, drawing a string of fouls that sent Pryz permanently to the pine.
The Foye pare-down was more problematic. You could see that James was giddy to be included for meaningful 4th quarter minutes (and all of the overtime), and he did nail a nice sideline jumper late in the game, played better defense than he has in a long while, and continued his series of impressive a/to ratios with a 5-dime, 1-miscue night. Further justifying the move, Foye didn't have a great night, especially his shot selection (2-6 FG, 0-2 from 3), although his lone assist (versus two turnovers) was a doozy, a dribble-penetration kick to the sideline for a Hassell trey.
But I digress. One of the few indisputably smart things Casey did, in my opinion at least, was give Foye the second quarter substition scrum to get his bearings and learn the point, and the fourth quarter crunch to strut his courage in the clutch and give oxygen to his confidence. Granted, Foye's decision-making is far from perfect; hence my constant hectoring about him not "being a point guard." But the rookie contemporary Foye was traded for and will forever be compared to, Brandon Roy, hadn't scored in the entire second half and yet was still flipped the keys to the game when it mattered in overtime, not Zach Randolph or a hot Martell Webster. On a team with KG, Foye doesn't rate that primacy, but for all sorts of reasons I think he belongs on the court. James had a solid game, has many millions and three more years coming to him as a Timberwolf, and needs to have his self-esteem rehabbed as one of Wittman's top priorities, so I understand the motivation. But the upside on Foye is such that he might be that worthy sidekick this franchise craves for KG, especially when the game is one the line. So it was disconcerting to see him sit the last 3:28 of regulation and all of overtime in a tight 3-point loss, especially since it felt like James was simply trying harder to pretend he was comfortable.
2. Davis Shines
I don't pretend to know the relationship between Dwane Casey and Ricky Davis. Just before, and then during, the time when everything went to hell and Davis got suspended and Casey got fired, you heard rumblings that they chronically hadn't gotten along. But if true (and I'm still dubious) Casey had a funny way of venting his displeasure, playing Davis boatloads of minutes whether he seemed to deserve them or not. Tonight, the entire Wolves telecast--commentators, players, filmed clips, etc--seemed to drive home the notion that Wittman is more of a disciplinarian and taskmaster, and vocally aggressive coach than was Casey. To me, it all sounds like code for "whip Ricky Davis into a mental acuity vaguely resembling his gifted athleticism."
Tonight, Davis was arguably the best player on the floor for the Wolves. In the first half there was no doubt, as he canned all 7 of his field goal attempts and hustled in a constant but relatively controlled fashion at both ends of the court. When he began the second half unable to hit anything--he clanked two free throws in addition to his first couple of field goal tries--it seemed like poetic vengeance on the VP McHale, who claimed he canned Casey because the Wolves were too inconsistent and up-and-down.
But even though he only went 3-10 FG in the second half and overtime, Davis played more in the 3rd and 4th quarters than in the first half, and counting overtime logged a team high 45:12 on the court. Perhaps just as important for Ricky's ego, Wittman twice called his number for big, potentially game-deciding shots (he sank one in the 4th, clanked one in OT). For those counting at home, that's two strong games in a row for RD. What's worrisome is that the Wolves dropped them both.
3. Quick Hits
One of the things Casey seemed to struggle with was drawing up successful plays coming out of a timeout. Tonight, the Wolves scored 8 times (seven baskets and 2 free throws) in 12 offensive possessions coming out of a timeout, with Davis's 4 buckets leading the way.
Proving he's not in anyone's pocket, Jim Petersen called out Mark Blount's defense while praising the contributions of Madsen and Smith in the third period tonight. Ironically, I thought Blount set a marvelous tone with clamp-down D on Randolph in the first period; the main cause of Portland's horse missing his first four shots.
All nine players in tonight's rotation got some fourth quarter minutes.
Marko Jaric got some early time and continues to look a little over-amped, a disgruntled player stuck in a trade limbo that may never abate until the Feb 22 deadline, searching hard for a niche.