The Three-Pointer: Garbage Time, Indefinitely
1. Flunking the tryout What are we supposed to feel as we watch the Wolves go through the motions and get pounded--their 27th loss in the past 30 road games, and 14th in a row--versus Memphis tonight? Anger at the purposefully shoddy product being dumped on the court? Disappointment over how inept players who normally ride the pine are performing despite the supposed impetus of a chance to prove themselves? I'll choose apathy: I honestly don't know how many more treys I can put up, and wonder why you'd care. The Timberwolves have given up on this season--why should we keep going?
But since I did watch--taped the game so I saw it straight through--let me report that despite being held to 70-something points, Minnesota's defense looked worse than their offense. In order of relevance, here are the offending defenders:
Marcus Banks. Great speed, good in transition, inconsistent but occasionally sparkling at drive and pitch and half-court vision. But the guy takes plays off on defense and plays himself out of position on other plays with either a lack of knowledge on rotations or bad judgment about when to rotate and when to stay home. Tonight he looked horrible letting Chuckie Atkins just come down and bomb away freely (Atkins was 4-4 from long range in the first period alone). If Banks is your point guard of the future, why is he so horrible on defense? Isn't this supposed to be a time of learning? Well he isn't learning--if anything he's regressing.
Eddie Griffin. Speaking of regression, what is up with Eddie G? True, the guy was never particularly staunch on on-ball D, but he's been simply dreadful the past few games, as players have learned to go into him when driving the lane and taking away his shot-blocking prowess and forcing him to play with his body. And Eddie's body isn't ready to rumble in the paint. That's forgiveable--go bench iron in the off-season. But either Griffin is perpetually lost or he's simply stopped giving a shit. Yeah, he misses KG (don't we all!), but it is abundantly clear that his ticket in the NBA will be punched on the basis of his defense, and right now, unless he can get the block, he is a subpar defender. As I said in another trey, there is enough blame in this scenario for both Casey and Griffin, but the communication and the improvement are sorely lacking.
Rashad McCants. All this talk about the huge leap forward in McCants's defense is padded by a lot of wishful thinking. Yes, Rashad is much better than he was before, but that was when he wasn't much better than you or I out there--his D was a glaring liability even the most casual fan could detect. He's not that now--merely lousy. Is that good enough? Maybe if he could go off every game like he did Sunday against Atlanta, when he really showed off that superb sense of rhythm. Specifically I mean what he does with his feet--he'll execute a spin move in traffic and then stop on a dime and throw up a head fake, get his opponent(s) in the air and only then go up and draw the contact. The beauty of it is that he's usually only a few feet from the hoop because of the spin, giving him an excellent chance for a three point play. Another example of his advanced sense of rhythm in his hesitation hitch, both in his stride while maintaining his dribble and in his dribble while his stride accelerates. Either way it is tough for a defender to get a fix on him.
Which is why, to get back to my original point, his defensive lapses are more tolerable and more potentially injurious to the team. You don't want the scorer you need in the game to be a defensive liability, like Michael Redd, Paul Pierce or the younger Dirk Nowitzki. McCants has good hands and good anticipation, making him a threat for steals. But his on-ball D can flag if the dribbler is persistent, and he too is too prone to make bad decisions on when to help and when to stay home, when to fight the pick and when to switch. The aggravation, as with Banks and Griffin and most of the team tonight, is you don't get the sense that they care how they are defending, that it is just something to do in a half-assed fashion before you get the ball back and show people what you can *really* do. Put simply there is no investment in defense, and that is on Casey. If you are going to insult your fan base by benching your best player (Davis's absence quite frankly doesn't bother me) then the scrubs you do toss out there better be playing, to borrow a Casey phrase, like their pants are on fire. That's not happening.
Marko Jaric. Hard to say who is helping themselves less right now, Troy Hudson for proving that either his ankles or his heart are permanently flawed, or Jaric for demonstrating that he now defends inconsistently in addition to (appropriately) having no confidence in his shot.
A pair of vets. Trenton Hassell had an atypically subpar game on defense. Mark Blount no longer surprises with his spectator's approach to that end of the court (he should bring a folding chair into the paint).
2. Kudos to Justin Reed You can tell the people who hustled because they stood out among the Wolves tonight. Mark Madsen, Ronnie Dupree and Bracey Wright all were engaged, if not exactly artful. But Justin Reed seems to have a clue about what this extended garbage time should be all about. He's being slightly more selfish with his shot, but not so much that you'd complain, especially without KG or Davis on the floor and especially since he's hitting that J with some regularity. More to the point, his defense hasn't taken a step back. Maybe it's because he hasn't played with Garnett quite as much as the others and hasn't grown accustomed to KG covering for him. But I suspect it has more to do with his attitude. Reed isn't going to take games off--a play or two, very very rarely, but that's about it. And he's sniffing a little job security right now, if not in Minnesota, somewhere else for a million a year or so. Because right now he is earning that kind of consideration with his effort at both ends of the court. Hell, it paid off for Mad Dog to the tune of more than 2 mil per for the next 3-4 years.
3. McCants also on the shelf? The rook sprained his ankle coming down on his opponent after making a long jumper in the fourth quarter. If he can't go, the top five scorers on this team will be Banks, Reed, Blount, Hassell, and Wright: the three Boston dudes (two of whom don't defend), the erstwhile defensive specialist, and a kid fresh from the developmental league. I don't care how much you are "building for the future." That's an abomination.
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