Hasn’t the old man taken enough abuse this year?
Michael Beasley, FTW.
Here’s round one, if you missed it.
Starring Kevin Love, Blake Griffin, Tyson Chandler and
Ron Artest Metta World Peace.
This makes LA instantly one of the youngest teams in basketball and would reshape them into a title contender for the long term. Very interesting. Would love to hear Lakers’ fans reactions to this one. From SI’s The Point Forward blog:
We know that Brown has hired European coaching legend Ettore Messina as something of a consultant, and we learned late Sunday that Brown is on the verge of finalizing his staff with a bunch of interesting hires. Among the most notable names is Tim Grgurich, one of the most-well-respected assistants in the league, from the Mavericks’ bench.
On the personnel front, sources over the weekend suggested there might actually be something to the notion that the Lakers could flip Pau Gasol to the Timberwolves in a deal involving Kevin Love, Minnesota’s No. 2 draft pick (if the Lakers have their druthers) and other pieces necessary to make the trade work. Any deal of this magnitude is unlikely, even if it makes some theoretical sense for both teams. The Wolves would get one of the league’s best all-around players and a potential mentor for Ricky Rubio, while the Lakers would add a foundational young piece who rebounds like a mad man, works the pick-and-roll and can stretch the floor better than almost any other big man in the league. The much-rumored (but still theoretical) Dwight Howard trade talks are a different story, since acquiring Howard is a no-brainer for any team.
Even though it’s unlikely it’s still fun to think about as the Lakers could draft Derrick Williams who instantly becomes one of the most exciting players in the league and has the potential to be a great counterpunch to KD and LeBron going forward.
We’ll follow it closely and update you if we hear anything else going forward.
The Mark? Kevin Garnett’s monstrous run of 37 consecutive double-doubles which Love easily matched last night in a 27-17 effort that helped the T-Wolves defeat a surprisingly good Hornets team 104-92. He’ll look to break the record Friday on the road against the Pacers. From the Star-Tribune:
Missing two players to begin with and down two more by game’s end Monday night, the Timberwolves proved themselves both resilient and winners, two qualities they have lacked far too often this season.
Their 104-92 victory over the Hornets was their third on the road all season, and their first since Dec. 26.
It came on a night when Kevin Love reached his 37th consecutive double-double game and joined Kevin Garnett and John Stockton as the only NBA players in the past 25 years to do so.
It also came when the Wolves started without Luke Ridnour and Martell Webster, then lost Darko Milicic (hip flexor strain) early in the game and Michael Beasley (ankle) late.
He’s now put himself in the company of two no doubt about it Hall-Of-Famers with this remarkable run. Impressive, to say the least, especially when you consider that guys like Steve Nash and Chris Paul haven’t approached this territory. Like I wrote last week, the T-Wolves have all the makings of being the next up and coming team in the West. Look for them to be a fringe playoff contender next year.
I’m sure a lot of you probably scoffed when you first read that headline but it’s not as unrealistic as you’d think. In a recent blog post for GQ, current Minnesota Timberwolves player Kevin Love was detailing the difficult emotions involved with losing close games multiple times throughout an NBA season. (By the way, I give my stamp of approval on the blog. It’s not all the politically correct BS you’d expect from a modern day professional athlete brought up in the Tiger Woods school of PR. He cusses, he complains, he even lobbies for his own spot in the all-star game. Check it out.) Love writes the following:
These close losses are getting tough to take. When it’s a blowout, obviously that’s tough too, but it’s different. Those close ones—when you’re right there until the very end—and they keep stacking up and stacking up… It’s a very tough pill to swallow. Luke Ridnour, who sits to the left of me in the locker room—I can see it wearing on him, because he’s never been in a situation like this. He’s been on teams before that have lost games, but not as many as we’ve lost, and the way we’ve lost them. And he has to carry a lot of the load at the point guard position, and I can definitely see it bugging him. But he still keeps coming in every day, working hard. He’s a consummate professional. And that’s what you have to do. Keep your head up every day in practice, remind yourself that you’re living the dream right now playing in the NBA. Also, it’s a reminder that we are a very young team. We know that there’ll be changes to the lineup—maybe sooner, maybe later—but the cornerstones of this franchise are already here. And we’re only going to get better.
After we lost to the Thunder, their coach Scott Brooks said, “They are where we were two years ago.” And I think he’s right: there are a lot of similarities. That season they only won 23 games, but they had so much talent and they were one of the youngest teams in the NBA. And they had a lot of good-character guys who were willing to do what they had to in order to take that next step. That’s what I keep telling myself: that’s going to be us soon.
Love mentions that the similarities exist, but doesn’t get into them on any level besides implying that the T-Wolves record will be similar by the end of the season. Sitting at 11-36 right now, Minnesota is on pace to be a little below (19 W’s by my calculation) the 23 wins the ‘08-‘09 Thunder team achieved. However, if you’ve tuned in and watched them play this season, you realize they really do seem to be getting close to “turning the corner” and figuring out how to win.
I was listening to Bill Simmons podcast last week in which his guest was of all people Kevin Love. In that discussion, Love brought up that he was recently speaking with the coach of an opposing team who remarked that this T-Wolves squad is the best team through 3 ½ quarters in NBA history which is like praising Rick Pitino’s stamina at making love in restaurant booths. It was a backhanded compliment hinting at the T-Wolves’ high talent level but also highlighting their inability to close out games in the fourth quarter (immaturity might be the better word). This wasn’t the first time I’ve heard this idea so let’s try to come up with a way to evaluate it.
I don’t pretend to be a great statistician so let’s make a semi-reasonable assumption that the teams were “in” games where they lost by six points or less, next let’s sum the number of times that happened throughout the respective seasons, and finally let’s see how close the results are for both teams. Remember that we are comparing the ‘08-‘09 Thunder team (not the current team) to the ‘10-‘11 Timberwolves. I used the site www.basketball-reference.com (a fantastic place to spend hours of your life, by the way) to come up with this data and you can go there yourself to verify my results. Here’s what I came up with:
’08-’09 Thunder losses decided by six or less: 17
’10-’11 T-Wolves losses decided by six or less: 16
Obviously the gaping hole in my argument right now is that the T-Wolves season isn’t over yet, but that counterpoint doesn’t totally blow my data out of the water. The reason? Consider that the Thunder squad only had four losses by six or less occur after the month of January all of which occurred in February that season. This might suggest one of two things, 1) they were playing clearly superior competition later in the season (not as likely) or 2) they grew frustrated with the devastating nature of close losses and “threw in the towel” during games later that year in which they had even the slightest chance of losing (more likely). I would hope that Minnesota wouldn’t stoop to that level, but like Love tells us in the blog, losing multiple games that close tends to grow on you. You have two choices, you either accept the losing (think every Clippers team ever, save this year’s team) or you get pissed off and vow to prevent it from ever happening again (like Durant did). It’s like Vinnie (or the whole male cast, for that matter) during season one of Jersey Shore and his inability to seal the deal with chicks at the club. He had the charm, he had the looks, but at the end of the night he just didn’t know how to close it out. He had to experience the frustration of consistently striking out and sleeping alone at night so that he might know what it was eventually going to take. Obviously he learned his lessons and is now the leader in the clubhouse for random chicks taken home during season three.
Being the basketball junkie that I am, I can vouch that the one theme that surrounded the Thunder that year was their inability to close out games (sound familiar?). The team had a ton of raw, unproven talent that experienced how much it sucks to lose. It ultimately led them to seriously dedicate their efforts towards preventing it from ever happening again (just like how Vinnie got on the juice and beefed up his physique and his game) and obviously the results have been awesome (50+ wins last year and on pace to do so again this year for the Thunder, multiple chicks bedded by Vinnie).
I’m not saying the T-Wolves are going to win 50+ games next year, but the similarities between the records of the two teams thus far exist.
But let’s delve further into Scott Brooks assessment that the T-Wolves are where the Thunder were two years ago and figure out whether this really is the next up and coming team in the West. Now that we know the records are remarkably similar, let’s next evaluate the rosters. Every above average team in NBA history has had at least one certifiable alpha dog/best player (think: Kobe, Duncan, Bird, Magic, etc), thus both teams must have one player qualify at this elite level before we can consider them seriously. Both teams meet this criterion with Kevin Durant for OKC and Kevin Love for Minnesota. Teams then must have a great number two player, a guy talented enough to be a number one player on any team, but who has taken a reduced role (however small) on the current team to make the whole greater than the sum of its parts (think: Pippen, McHale, Ginobli, etc). Both teams qualify in this respect with Russell Westbrook for OKC and, believe it or not, Michael Beasley for Minnesota. When you’ve got two players that talented, the rest isn’t as difficult as you’d think to figure out. Teams need great role players and savvy veterans, all of which are easily attainable through trades and free agency. The T-Wolves have some great pieces already in place with Ridnour, Brewer, and even (gasp!) Darko, but you never know what could happen. I could draw more similarities between the rosters, but for the sake of this article and your attention span, let’s move on.
A common theme with young teams struggling to break through is that they turn the ball over way too much as well as a failure to play good team defense. Based off of this let’s evaluate some team statistics involved with these behaviors: turnovers, opponent’s FG%, and opponent’s PPG. Here’s each team’s ranking in those categories as opposed to the rest of the NBA:
|Turnovers||Opponent FG %||Oppenents PPG|
As you can see the team’s were/are both among the league’s worst in TO while also being mediocre at one of the measures of team defense and horrible at the other. Team defense isn’t easy to learn but I can tell you the best possible way to ensure its success is to keep core players intact for multiple years so that players can grow to trust one another and learn each other’s tendencies. The Thunder achieved this and the T-Wolves have made it known through the media that this is their intention as well. Whether this year’s disappointing results will break up Minnesota remains to be seen though. Their GM is David Kahn after all.
I know this whole argument probably fails to meet every step of the scientific method. That doesn’t bother me. I really do believe the Minnesota freaking Timberwolves might be the next up and coming team in the Western Conference. With aging talent in the elite teams (LA, Dallas, San Antonio) and tons of talent migrating to the East (Stoudemire, Boozer, likely Carmelo), we might be seeing the genesis of a huge paradigm shift out West that eventually sees the emergence of teams like Minnesota and maybe even the Sacramentos of the world.
Being a Nuggets my whole life (and most attentively during the Carmelo era), I can tell you the best thing Minnesota has going for it right now is Kevin Love’s commitment to being a leader (“the guy”). The past seven seasons I’ve watched a player ten times more physically gifted/talented than Love in Carmelo Anthony. Unfortunately for me he has no commitment whatsoever towards being the guy. He’s basically the Sammie of the NBA. Yeah she’s attractive, yeah she’s got killer legs, but how often do you find yourself wishing she’d never shown her face in Seaside two seasons ago? It’s why the Nuggets consistently are bounced out in the first round of the playoffs every year while teams like the Thunder, and maybe eventually the Timberwolves, are about to make the leap into the NBA’s elite. Durant made the commitment to his teammates and himself and Love has done the same.
Carmelo has only ever made the commitment to Worldwide Wes and the guys at CAA.
Despite all the great memories with Anthony, I’ve learned that I’d take a guy like Love over him any day. Denver is so clearly superior in athleticism and talent to most teams in the NBA but they regularly take nights off and refuse to take the necessary steps towards being elite. It’s almost like they’re scared of getting better. They’re ever content with being good, never great. It gets old and it’s what is separating this younger generation of stars (Rose, Love, Durant, possibly Blake Griffin, etc) from their elder peers (LeBron, Carmelo, Dwight, Bosh, etc) and making them more appealing to fans.
As an example, think about how much more celebrated the World Championship team was this past summer than the Olympic squad from 2008. They definitely weren’t as talented, but the classical approach they took towards winning and the brilliant way they executed added a romantic quality reminiscent of the renaissance days of 1980s basketball so many older fans grew up and fell in love with. There is something incredibly “old school” about these new talents and if the LeBrons and Carmelos of the world don’t watch out, they’re going to get outworked by these young guns for multiple titles during the next decade.
Kevin Love, keep doing the damn thing.
by Eddie Moore
It’s hard to believe that we’re already at the halfway point of the NBA season. If the playoffs were to start today, the San Antonio Spurs would have home-court throughout; the Boston Celtics would miraculously hold home-court until the Finals, despite suffering many notable injuries (Rajon Rondo, Kevin Garnett, Delonte West and Jermaine O’Neal, just to name a few); Kevin Love (15.7 RPG) would have won the rebounding title over the reigning three-time winner, Dwight Howard (13.3); Blake Griffin would’ve already dunked on everyone in the entire NBA…alright, maybe just half the league; Amar’e Stoudemire would’ve led the once-hopeless New York Knicks to a surprising playoff berth; LeBron James would’ve successfully pissed off everyone not living in Miami; and Derrick Rose would eventually be the recipient of his first ever MVP award, or at least he would if I had the ultimate say. Luckily for us, there’s still a lot of basketball to be played. I’m sure the Dallas Mavericks – losers of seven of their last nine – would agree, too. But for now, I’ll just my give mid-season recap.
Mid-Season MVP: Derrick Rose
Stole the “best PG in the league” belt from Chris Paul. Has drastically improved his game from last year:
’09-’10: 20.8 PTS, 6.0 AST, 3.8 REB, 26.7 3P%, 76.6 FT%
’10-’11: 24.7 PTS, 8.0 AST, 4.7 REB, 37.9 3p%, 80.9 FT%
Not only has he polished his all-around game, he’s also added a new dimension to his game as well: the three ball. Now, if you want to sag off him like people do with Rondo, he’s comfortable pulling up from distance. If you decide to limit his jumper (bad call), he’ll storm right pass you and either a) dunk on you, b) drop it off for an easy dime, c) or execute an improbable spinning layup.
Sure, he’s not the best pure distributor in the league by any means, but he’s the true alpha dog on a legitimate contender in the East. (Chicago’s currently third in the conference.) This off-season he didn’t try hard to pursue Wade or LeBron James to come to Chicago. Now it’s easy to see why. He dedicated himself to improving his game to prove he’s more than capable of carrying this team without one of the big-time free agents. Now if the Bulls could just find a true SG, they’d be right in the discussion with the Celtics, Spurs and Los Angeles Lakers as the best team in the league. Once Joakim Noah went down with an unfortunate wrist injury, I envisioned the Bulls struggling majorly. Instead, even after losing his best rebounder/finisher/defender/leader (Carlos Boozer returned once he went down at least), Rose responded by going into “eff-you” mode and has kept the Bulls in contention in the East.
That’s why Rose is my mid-season MVP. He’s improved statistically, transformed his game, added a new dimension, solidified himself as an ultimate alpha dog, and has allowed a major injury to a teammate not to impact his team’s season. Not bad, Rose.
Runner Ups: 2) Amar’e Stoudemire, 3) Dwight Howard, 4) LeBron James
Mid-Season Performance of the Year: Kevin Love’s 31-31 game.
Not much explanation needed here. Love was the first player in 28 years to accomplish such a feat. Just think about that for a second: Love grabbed thirty-one effing rebounds in a game! To put this performance into modern-day perspective, Howard, the most physically gifted big man in the league and perennial defense player of the year, has just notched 23 rebounds in his greatest rebounding game. With all due respect to Blake Griffin and his “arrival” game, 31 rebounds is way too absurd of an accomplishment. When asked about his miraculous performance, Love simply responded, “I just got a good mindset that every single one was mine.”
This performance should hold as the performance of the year. Unless, of course, LeBron gives us a 45 (PTS) -15 (AST) -15 (REB) – 5 (BLK) – 5 (STL) performance or something…which is very possible.
Runner Ups: 2) Blake Griffin’s “arrival” game (dropping 47 points and grabbing 14 boards), 3) Paul Millsap’s “11 points in 30 seconds” game that helped cap off an unbelievable Utah Jazz comeback against the Heat, and 4) Rajon Rondo’s ridiculous triple-double game (22 assists, 12 points, 10 boards) against San Antonio.
Mid-Season Highlight of the Year: Blake Griffin’s on Knicks’ Timofey Mozgov
Most Improved Player: Kevin Love
Repeat with me: Kevin Love is averaging nearly 16 rebounds per game! Love evokes memories of Moses Malone, or so my father tells me. We analyzed Rose’s statistical improvement, but check out Love’s massive improvement:
’09-’10 stats: 14.0 PPG, 11.0 RPG, 2.3 AST, 81.5 FT%, 33.0 3PT%, 45.1 FG%
’10-’11 stats: 21.4 PPG, 15.6 RPG, 2.5 AST, 87.4 FT%, 43.7 3PT%, 46.6 FG%
Once Al Jefferson fled to Utah, it opened up the door for Love to showcase his talents. Did anyone really expect this, though? He’s deadly on pick and rolls and is comfortable flashing beyond the arc. Unfortunately for Love, he’s stuck on a terrible team led by terrible management. I’d hope for a trade, but at 22 years old, and playing as good of basketball right now as any PF not named Amar’e Stoudemire or Blake Griffin or, yes, LaMarcus Aldridge, he’s not going anywhere. I guess with David Kahn, though, anything’s possible.
Love’s innate ability to understand rebounding angles will forever allow him to be one of the best rebounders in the league. At only 22, we may be on the verge of witnessing one of the best rebounders of all time.
Runner Ups: 2) Eric Gordon, 3) Raymond Felton, 4) Michael Beasley
Most Bizarre Storyline: KG’s “cancer” reference to Vilaneuva
In case you forgot: Kevin Garnett apparently called Charlie Vilaneuva a “cancer patient.” The criticism was swift and severe. For example, read Adrian Wojnarowski’s take on the situation:
“For all the instances of Garnett’s bullying available on YouTube, those two words – “cancer patient” – will never go away. This is the one that people will remember, the stain that’ll be hardest to wash away. Garnett’s 34 years old, and shamefully a man too smart – too principled in a lot of ways – to act like this. Only, he’s done it for years, and it’s now a bigger part of his legacy than an old Boston Celtics champion will want to believe.”
I greatly respect WoJo and enjoy his takes, but I agree with Matt on this issue: It was a dumb comment in the heat of battle….There is no reason this should affect your long-term perceptions about KG’s career.
Nonetheless, this feud sparked a week’s long worth of controversial discussion on PTI and Around The Horn, and Bill Simmons held Jason Whitlock and numerous twitterers hostage as he refrained from writing a column commenting on the issue. Hilarity.
Runner Ups: 2) O.J. Mayo and Tony Allen fight on a plane over a card game; 3) Mark Cuban calls Phil Jackson Jeanie Busses’ “Boy Toy,” 4) Allen Iverson goes to Turkey
Most Electrifying Player: Blake Griffin
The most obvious no-brainer. Blake Griffin, a cross between Shawn Kemp and Karl Malone, is a freak. Take a look at these stats since New Years: 27.6 points, 14.4 rebounds, and 4.0 assists. Those are MVP-like numbers. If it weren’t for a slow start from LAC, Griffin would definitely be in the MVP talk. He’s good for at least two “holy s— moments” a game. Only LeBron compares.
My favorite take on Blake Griffin I’ve ever read is from Bill Simmons:
There’s Blake flying up for an offensive rebound, soaring higher, and higher, and then a little bit higher … and we’re sitting there in awe, and we’re gasping for air … and right at the moment of truth, we realize one of the following four things:
A. Blake is about to make the single greatest highlight in the history of professional basketball.
B. Blake is about to give us the highlight of the night.
C. Blake can’t pull this off because the degree of difficulty is too high, but he’s trying anyway.
D. Blake is going to break his neck or land in a such a way that his leg flies off his body and lands in the fifth row.
Those are the four options EVERY time he goes in the air. Watching it unfold reminds me of watching my 3-year-old son, who’s equally fearless (and dangerous); occasionally, we’ll notice him missing, look around, then catch him sliding down a flight of stairs at warp speed on top of a mangled UPS box with no time to stop him. All we can do is stand there and yelp, then hold our breath and hope he makes it. That’s Griffin.
That about nails everything I need in my “most electrifying player.” Moving on.
Team Most Likely to Fall Out of The Playoff Hunt: Portland Trail Blazers
Poor Portland. Nothing can go right for them. The season started with injury-plagued center, Greg Oden, suffering another devastating knee injury, then to add insult to injury, Brandon Roy requested to have his minutes reduced because of increased irritation in his knees. A few months later, Roy had arthroscopic surgery on both knees. Now, Marcus Camby’s the latest to suffer a knee injury (torn meniscus). The Trail Blazers have a talented squad and they know how to overcome adveristy. Andre Miller/Wesley Matthews/Nicolas Batum/Aldridge/Joel Pryzbilla is a solid starting five and they’ll continue to fight, but this year won’t be the same as last year. The Trail Blazers will miss the playoffs this season and make room for…
Team Most Likely to Make A Late-Season Push: Houston Rockets
I know, I know, the Rockets have arguably been this season’s most disappointing team. Let me state my case, though: The Rockets, like Portland, have had to overcome some significant injuries (“The Great Wall of China” has officially crumbled, Aaron Brooks has been bothered with an ankle injury, and Kyle Lowry and Chucky Hayes have both missed time). The Rockets have suddenly appeared as a legitimate landing spot for Carmelo Anthony, which, if the trade were to happen, would automatically catapult the Rockets into the playoffs regardless of the players they part ways with. Even if the ‘Melo trade doesn’t happen (and I don’t think it will), the Rockets still are in good shape. The Rockets are equipped with some incredible trade pieces. They have expiring contacts (Yao Ming, Jared Jeffries and Shane Battier), young talent (Chase Budinger and Jordan Hill), and a plethora of draft picks. Combine this with the fact that Kevin Martin is quietly having an all-star caliber season, Aaron Brooks is starting to get healthy, Rockets’ GM Daryl Morey is always looking for ways to improve his squad via trade, I’m cautiously optimistic that the Rockets are due for a second-half push. Reason to be pessimistic about this squad, though? The trio of Brooks, Martin and Scola, although great on offense, are putrid on the defense. And because of that, the team as a whole sucks on defense.
Also, don’t sleep on the Los Angeles Clippers or the Memphis Grizzles as teams that could make a push.
Players Not Named Carmelo Most Likely To Get Traded: O.J. Mayo, Andre Iguodala, Stephen Jackson, Gerald Wallace, Anthony Randolph, and…(Wait!)…Steve Nash
My Premature Finals Prediction: Los Angeles Lakers over the Miami Heat in six
Before the season started, this was my Finals prediction. Why change now? Sure, the smart pick would be to throw Boston in the Finals against LA or San Antonio, but where’s the fun in that? Kobe will capture his sixth ring and the inevitable MJ-Kobe comparisons will spark up again. Phil Jackson can comfortably retire after coaching another back-to-back-to-back champion. (I fully expect Phil to un-retire once Dwight Howard signs with LA and the Lakers start a lineup with Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum, and Howard. I’m only half-joking.) Andrew Bynum finally stays healthy and keys the entire Laker run. The Lamar and Khloe Odom spinoff series will be benefitted by this championship win as we get to see Lamar celebrate with Mickey and co. at Disney World. Ron Artest donates another championship ring. I trust LA when it matters – as everyone should.
The Lakers are in cruise control right now. Once the playoffs hit, they’ll turn it up a gear and run through the West.
(Query: What potential Finals match-up would be the most appealing to the fans? It has to be either Lakers-Celtics or Lakers-Heat, right? I’d give the nod to the Lakers-Celtics match-up since it’d be the third time in three years these teams have met in the Finals, the grand history surrounding the two ball clubs, passionate fan bases, and the Shaq-Kobe storyline. On the other hand, though, we could have the most hated team since the Bad Boy Pistons in the Finals, an epic Wade/LeBron-Kobe showdown, three of the five best players in basketball in a series, and the chance to see Dan Gilbert sit court-side next to Jack Nicholson and berate LeBron nonstop while giving over-the-top high fives to Jack. Tough, tough call.)
After the All-Star break, either Matt or I will break down the conferences and give a complete breakdown.
As always, I’m anxious to hear everyone’s thoughts and predictions on this NBA season.
Holy sweeat Mary and Joseph. Oh my Lord. Nobody does this. Appreciate this moment NBA fans, and sports fans alike. This seriously is so impressive you might tell your children when you found out about this moment. It’s only happened once in 28 years. By the way, Michael Beasley was incredible. Beasley > Turner. Just saying….
You may have seen this by now. If not, enjoy.