If the Wolves want to win and win consistently--and that means beating some elite teams, it was to be a full team effort. There's simply no way that the Wolves can win with the way Kevin Martin has played these past few outings, with Brewer's bad shot selection (which is a conflicting conundrum all its own) and the bench looking as though making shots would cause some sort of fatal reaction. Seriously, there is no one player off that bench who has had even a 'good' season. Dante Cunningham may be the closest, but my biggest gripe with Dante is that we need him to contribute more in the scoring column and round out his offensive game by going down into the post--unfortunately he's prone to shot 15-18 foot jumpers (which he makes a decent percentage of). Beyond Nikola Peković there really isn't a player that likes to attack the basket, get physical and draw fouls in the paint (except perhaps a slashing K-Mart). Coming into the 2013-14 season, I really had no idea that Chase Budinger would be missed this badly, I really thought we could maintain a record 2-3 wins over .500 until he returned, but we've blown a number of winnable games this season and the two biggest culprits have been: the bench & team defense.
Minnesota's defense is a joke! There's no way you can expect to win games when you're allowing your opponents to shoot over 50% from the floor. With no rim protector, teams are able to waltz into the paint at will and score easy buckets with little to no resistance. For some inexplicable reason, shot-blocker/rim-protector rookie Gorgui Dieng can't get off the bench as Adelman instead decides to turn to Kevin Love at the five or Dante Cunningham. So, is Ronny Turiaf being REALLY missed too? You better believe it!
I've shied away from ever criticizing Adelman because how can you argue with his elite membership in the 1000 wins club? However, I simply have not understood the rotations this season. Why is J.J. Barea still playing significant minutes?! Alexey Shved has been just as terrible and he's rightfully sat on the bench and picked up either DNP-CDs or garbage time minutes, however Barea continues to get his 17-25 minutes a night regardless of how terrible he plays. There's absolutely no reason that A.J. Price shouldn't get a look as the team's primary backup point guard--he proved he could do it last season in Washington and you've got to think that anything would be an improvement over the terrible shooting and defensive sieve that is Jose Juan Barea. What's most frustrating is that you know the talent is there! We know that 2011 NBA Finals J.J. is somewhere in there. Heck, I watched him in the games he played for Puerto Rico this summer and he played quite well paired with countryman Carlos Arroyo in the backcourt. Many thought that success would carry on into the NBA regular season, but I've only seen glimpses of it with the occasional drive to the rim or knocking down a three-pointer. I think J.J. is an important part of this team, but he simply just doesn't have 'it' right now. He needs to sit, because every minute he's out there is a minute of terrible basketball in which he busts open the doors and lets the opponents walk right in and erase any kind of lead the starters built. He's not the only one to blame and I understand that he's a lone offensive weapon in that second unit--but even when Adelman has mixed him in with the starters like he did in San Antonio (with him as the shooting guard), he still looked uncomfortable out there and bricked wide open shot after wide open shot.
Oh...there is a game tonight. I suppose I should say something about the Grizzlies. The Grizzlies are a type of bear. Now back to the Wolves.
The Timberwolves are 11-12 on the year and are struggling to defend even the worst teams in the League. Like everyone else I was tantalized with the idea of this team's offense when the pieces began to come together this summer. However we knew the team's defense would be below average. I certainly didn't expect what we've seen thus far, however.
Tonight in Memphis the Wolves are going up against a team that's known more for their defense then their offense. That of course doesn't mean they don't know how to put points on the board. However, with the loss of Marc Gasol to an MCL sprain and Quincy Pondexter out for the season, the Grizz have struggled as of late. Memphis is 3-7 in their last ten games and 1-4 in their last five. They've missed their big man in the middle and their sharpshooter of the bench. They certainly haven't looked like a team that was battling in the Western Conference Finals last spring!
With arguably their best player out (Gasol) they've relied heavily on Zach Randolph & Mike Conley. Beyond Tayshaun Prince, I really like the way this team is put together. They have a lot of really good pieces and I have to say, I'm really glad to see Mike Conley put it all together these past few seasons and emerge as one of the League's best floor generals (yes, he's also on my fantasy team).
Despite being without Marc Gasol, the Grizzlies have a very capable big man to play center in his stead. That would be former Wolves big man Kosta Koufos, who was traded to Memphis this summer in a deal that sent Darrell Arthur to Denver. Koufos started the majority of games for George Karl's Nuggets last year and has really rounded out his game these past few seasons. Watching him during his time in Minnesota, I thought he was a guy who would probably hang around the NBA for 5-6 years or so simply because he was a 7-footer, before he'd been deemed not good enough by the time he was in his early 30's and be on his way out. Instead, he's become a decent interior defender, a good rebounder and a big with decent touch around the rim.
As I said before, if the Wolves want a win here it's all about DEFENSE and offensive production from ALL! Minnesota needs to stop the easy penetrations and they need everyone donning the uni to get involved in one way or another on offense and be a little more aggressive!
Tipoff is set for 5pmCST from the Fed-Ex Forum in Memphis, enjoy the game!