November 3, 2005

Timberwolves Notes

I watched last night's Wolves-Blazers game while finishing up one of my articles for The Hardball Times Baseball Annual 2006. While one game doesn't mean a whole lot in the grand scheme of things, it was the first extended look a lot of Wolves fans had at several news players. Some random notes ...

  • Marko Jaric looks like a solid player, but he is going to be in trouble defensively against quick point guards with more polished offensive games than Sebastian Telfair. Perhaps it was just because Telfair isn't much of an outside threat at this point, but Jaric played a step or two off him all night and was still beat off the dribble repeatedly. He also looks like he tends to roam defensively, looking for steals, which probably isn't a great thing.

    If the Wolves play Jaric, Rashad McCants, and Wally Szczerbiak on the floor at the same time for extended minutes, it could get ugly. Having Kevin Garnett, Michael Olowokandi, and Eddie Griffin around to block shots will help make up for some of that, but they can only do so much. Once Troy Hudson gets healthy (which is something that has been said for about three years running), I imagine he'll be playing quite a bit during crunch time, which is not good news.

  • Speaking of crunch time, Sam Cassell made a big shot in the final minute and went off for 35 points and 11 assists in the Clippers' win over the Sonics last night.
  • I have rarely heard an NBA announcer act like as much of a homer as Jim Peterson did last night. He consistently criticized Portland players -- Zach Randolph doesn't deserve his contract, Darius Miles normally doesn't work hard -- and repeatedly said the Wolves were getting the short end of the stick on calls.

    Meanwhile, I thought the refs were very fair, and if someone wanted to criticize players for not deserving their contracts, they could basically take their pick from the Wolves' roster. How someone can go out of their way to criticize Randolph's contract without bringing up Szczerbiak's very similar deal or the deals Kevin McHale handed out to Troy Hudson, Trenton Hassell, Michael Olowokandi, and Mark Madsen is beyond me.

  • Hopefully Fred Smoot was watching the game on his boat, because Miles showed how to talk trash and then actually back it up. In yesterday's Portland Oregonian, Miles had this to say about playing against the Wolves and being guarded by Hassell:

    I will punish him, like I have been doing. Regardless of who guards me, it doesn't matter. Trenton is probably their top defender, but I have been posting Trent for years. He doesn't have anything that I haven't seen.

    Unlike Smoot, Miles followed up his talk by playing extremely well. He put up a monster line, with 32 points (on 13-for-23 shooting), 11 rebounds, five assists, five steals, and three blocks. Hassell looked overmatched guarding him for most of the night and Miles singlehandedly wrecked the Wolves' offensive execution repeatedly down the stretch.

    Of course, after one of Miles' fourth-quarter steals Peterson said, "If this game were a blowout, Miles wouldn't be showing this much effort defensively." Whatever. Instead of trying to find a way to rip a guy who is playing extremely well, how about saying, "If the Wolves weren't playing this poorly, this game would be a blowout"?

  • Olowokandi is such a dog that he should have to wear a collar and have a micro-chip implanted in his neck for tracking in case he ever gets lost. Once the ball goes into him in the low post it never comes out, and all he does with it is shoot that weak little baby hook over and over again. The guy is huge and very athletic for his size, yet he's deathly afraid of contact and has absolutely no reliable offensive moves.

    If he weren't a former #1 overall pick who the Wolves wasted a bunch of money on, Olowokandi would be a nice role player capable of rebounding and blocking shots. Instead, he gets too many minutes and brings the offense to a screeching halt every time someone makes the mistake of passing him the ball. It's hard to imagine how a seven-footer who weighs nearly 300 pounds and never strays farther than about 10 feet from the basket can be a career .435 shooter until you watch Olowokandi play.

  • McCants had a rough debut, and certainly did nothing to change my opinion that he was a mistake pick. He jacked up 12 shots in 22 minutes, made only three, and generally looked out of control offensively. Plus, he's clearly undersized for a shooting guard. Oh, and speaking of mistake draft picks, the Wolves cut Ndudi Ebi earlier this week.

    Ebi has become a bit of a running joke, but letting him go was a mistake. He's young and has some actual athletic ability, which makes him unique on the Wolves. Plus, cutting him loose and eating his $800,000 salary makes little sense considering the Wolves didn't have much of a roster crunch. In fact, they filled his spot by sending a second-round pick to the Pistons for Ronald Dupree, who is nothing more than roster filler.

    So instead of keeping Ebi, working with him for another season, and hoping he turns into something useful, the Wolves gave up a second-round pick and about $1.1 million (the $800,000 owed to Ebi, plus the $300,000 or so Dupree will make) just to swap one end-of-the-bench guy for another. I will be shocked if Ebi doesn't sign pretty quickly with another team and I will be mildly surprised if he doesn't turn into a solid NBA player down the road.

    In letting Ebi go, coach Dwane Casey said:

    Ndudi is a hard-working young man who has NBA talent and a future in this league. He just needs an opportunity to play and be in game situations and unfortunately we don't have the luxury of giving him the minutes he needs at this time.

    Actually, that's exactly what the Wolves have the luxury of being able to do. After Garnett the rest of the roster is severely lacking in talent and until they find a way to acquire or develop another top-line player or two, the team is going nowhere. Ebi represents a chance -- however slim -- of developing some of that talent, and all it would have taken was giving him 20 minutes per game off the bench for a borderline playoff team.

  • Overall, this looks like another 45-win team to me. Aside from Garnett, there are too many players on the roster who can't contribute adequately at both ends of the court. Szczerbiak, McCants, Hudson, and Richie Frahm can score, but they can't defend. Olowokandi, Hassell, Anthony Carter, and Mark Madsen can defend, but they can't score. And the one guy aside from Garnett capable of doing both, Griffin, is one of the least consistent players in basketball.
  • Today at The Hardball Times:
    - Book Review: Mind Game (by Dan Fox)
    - Due (by Larry Mahnken)

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