The Three-Pointer: All That Jazz

1. Point guard woes Much as I would like to dwell on reading the tea leaves surrounding the play of Ricky Davis and Kevin Garnett and the coaching of Dwane Casey--and probably will in point 2 or 3--the dominant thing about tonight's loss to the Utah Jazz is the lack of stability at point guard for the Wolves.

Now the site will show you that Mike James has a mere minus 1 in the 15-point loss, best on the team except for Mark Madsen's plus 6, and that James dealt six assists versus only one turnover in his 25 and a half minutes of action. But watching his Utah counterpart Deron Williams carve up Minnesota for 21 points and a career-high 15 dimes, you realize how little floor generalship James exudes by comparison. James reminds me of Torii Hunter at the plate, a total "guess" hitter, meaning that he makes up his mind to do something rather than react to events as they unfold. How else to ascertain why he'll pull up for a trey one possession and try to penetrate the next when the defense seems to be giving him better odds on the other option. His passes are functional and occasionally creative, but rarely purposeful to the point of a *resounding* assist, where only a complete klutz could fail to execute the basket. Now, granted, Deron Williams has the enormous advantage of playing in Jerry Sloan's well-honed system of back-door cuts and beautiful screens, but there were a half-dozen dimes--most of them bounce-passes--that any Wolves' fan had to envy, or hope that one of our points could pull off perhaps half as frequently.

Is it time to give up on James as a starter and cede the position to Randy Foye's on-the-job training? Sure is tempting. After all, it is very close to half a season now, and even when Foye is being undressed, as often occurred tonight, there is no question that his style and carriage at both ends of the court inspire more confidence in his teammates and Wolves' fans than James's guesswork. The downside is that Foye is a rookie, and an unnatural point guard to boot, so that there will be plenty of nights where the turnovers and literally ignorant decisions are costly. That said, as an early and persistent naysayer, I think Foye's ball distribution, court vision, and shot selection, while still inconsistent, show much higher highs, and fairly significant improvement overall.

Last and least is Troy Hudson, who singed the twine for 15 points in 14:17 last night against Phoenix before falling to earth with the rest of the squad in the second half, shooting only 2-6 FG. Still the 22-point performance was enough to encourage Casey to use him with Marko Jaric and Foye in the second period tonight in Utah. Uh-oh. Sloan countered with a big lineup that had Jaric guarding Harpring and Huddy couldn't find his shooting eye, spraying wide on all five shots in 6:53 of playing, a period in which the Wolves dropped 12 points and essentially lost the ballgame.

A while back there was some discussion about whether an NBA team really needs a classic point guard, especially with such adept passers as KG, Davis, and Trenton Hassell in the lineup. I'm not sure. But I do know that if the point can't initiate the half-court offense in a commanding fashion, they need to be able to defend, or shoot, or stimulate intelligent ball movement in a fairly consistent manner. None of the Wolves' trio of points fits that description.

2. Good explosives from Ricky Davis The uncharitable but probably most accurate way to describe Davis's game tonight was that he had a lot of atoning to do. He came out running the floor like a banshee, and on a few potential transition opportunities I thought his teammates might be freezing him out--more likely James didn't see him in time or didn't want to risk the pass. But then Hassell found him for a gorgeous, 35-foot alley-oop pass for his only bucket of the first half, and James likewise set him up for a dunk just after halftime, and boom!, the talented Mr. Davis went off for a series of road-runner dribble-and-pop jumpers, sneaky penetrations, and at least one steal and transition slam for 16 points worth of third quarter and another 14 in the final stanza. The assists were down to three, but not because he was selfish (especially in the first half), and his fixation on scoring in the third frame was as beneficial as Garnett's aggressive offense in the first period (when he got 10 of his 17 points in the first ten minutes). Defense? No one, with the possible exception of Madsen played very good defense, as the Jazz racked up 30 assists to 8 turnovers, shot 56%, and got 48 points in the paint (add that to Phoenix's 60 paint points and you'll know why Madsen is playing more and cheerleading less).

In the pretaped segments before the game, Casey was talking about the return of KG and Davis from their respective game suspensions. He began by gushing about Garnett, calling him, among other things, "the spirit of our team." Then he quickly slid over to Davis and felt obliged to say that "Ricky is the spirit of our team also." It is this overmassaging of Davis's ego that worries me about Casey, especially occurring just one game after the coach fell on his sword claiming it was his decision for Davis not to the play the rest of the way against Detroit. Davis won't be sufficiently motivated or appreciative of his coach claiming he possesses a team spirit equivalent to Garnett, and the rest of us know it's bullshit. For proof, imagine Casey sitting KG for a "lack of focus." Imagine Garnett's reaction.

3. Good timing for a returning McCants The losing streak is now 4, with three more road games remaining on this West Coast swing. The debacles surrounding Griffin, KG, and Davis, the inconsistency of James, Foye, and Jaric, and the sudden doldrums of Mark Blount at both ends of the court all combine to send a call, like a bat signal in the night sky, for an explosive, egotistical dude who will bring the attention back to internal competitions for minutes and pecking orders, while, perhaps anyway, providing a dramatic athletic lift to the bench crew over the next two or three weeks. Again, when the Wolves were hot just a short while ago, McCants loomed as a distraction. He still is, but now the team needs one.

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