The Three-Pointer: Squeaking by in NYC

Note to those who usually only read Balls!--I have a Hang Time column on Kevin McHale, entitled "Lame Duck," printed elsewhere on the homepage to Here's the link. It will also be in the paper edition on Wednesday.

1.Two for the money Anyone who has watched the Timberwolves over the past six weeks won't be surprised that Kevin Garnett and Wally Szczerbiak carried this team yet again for its third straight victory, 95-90, over the Knicks. KG is a freak of nature, of course, a top-five rebounder and defender for many years now, and the easiest player to coach in the entire NBA. But the latest remarkable thing to realize is that as a short-to-midrange jump-shooter, Garnett is as deadly as the Pejas and Ray Allens and Dirk Nowitzkis of the world, and could get 15-20 points a game even if he never went strong to the hoop.

People wonder why I get prickly when the subject of KG leaving or staying inevitably arises and people refuse to simply take him at his word. Well, last week, Chicago Tribune writer Sam Smith, author of The Jordan Rules, actually wrote, "If Garnett doesn't demand a trade, one might assume he doesn't really care about anything but the money." For the record, Sam Smith has been painting scenarios that bring Garnett to Chicago off and on for nearly a decade now. Ever since Michael Jordan retired, Sam Smith hasn't had a basketball club in his hometown that can generate enough national curiosity to feed his enormous ego. His provocative, disparaging "assumption" is so outside the realm of what makes KG tick--the competitive player who left more money on the table during his last contract negotiation than Sam Smith will earn in his lifetime--that one must assume it more accurately reflects the way Smith chooses to prioritize his own life. What an asshole.

Back to more substantial matters. As good as KG has been recently, the improvement of Wally Szczerbiak has been the unexpected boost that has prevented this squad from sinking like a stone. Szczerbiak's hustle, his defense, his intelligent shot selection, and his flat-out toughness have all been eye-opening this season. He laid a pick--a clean pick--on Stephon Marbury this afternoon that had Marbury doubled over and out of the game with a painful stinger that may be something more, like a slightly separated shoulder.

Garnett and Szczerbiak have separated themselves from the rest of the roster more thoroughly than the "MV3" of KG, Spree, and Sammy two years ago.

2. Sooner or later... Sooner or later, Dwane Casey is going to realize that Eddie Griffin should play at least 25-30 minutes instead of 18-25 minutes, and that betting on Troy Hudson is investing for the future with fool's gold. I don't have much sympathy for fantasy league guys demanding Eddie should play because they want more blocked shots in their mythical empire, and I understand why Casey winces over Griffin. The truth is, his shot selection is horrible and his discipline on defense is sporadic at best and disruptive to teamwork at worst.

But here's the bottom line: Griffin and KG have chemistry in the paint, and the blocks Griffin registers are achieved in large part because his help D is so undisciplined (and yet single-minded). But those blocks are an elixir for his teammates, who ratchet up their defensive intensity after one or two swats. As of a couple of games ago, all three Wolves centers had a net-minus in the plus-minus ratios, despite a net plus for the team overall, indicating that the squad's most effective lineups occur when they go small. But if Casey would just exhibit a little more faith and patience with his 23 year old pivotman, it would pay huge dividends. And I think that's fairly plain.

As for Hudson, well, best to use this occasion of the Knicks game, where Huddy is being hailed as the guy who bailed out the Wolves today with his last-minute trey to turn a two-point squeaker into a five-point clincher, to point out that Nate Robinson toyed with him off the dribble; and to point out that, relative to most point guards, Hudson is so inept at effectively distributing the ball that if his own jumper isn't going in, he's a huge liability. Troy Hudson was named "Player of the Game" this afternoon. Anyone who saw what Garnett and Szczerbiak did, and what Hudson didn't do, probably got a solid belly laugh out of that trivial travesty.

I found it interesting that Huddy said after the game that Casey called his number on that game-clinching three-pointer. Well, if Casey really did diagram it up on the chalkboard that Hudson should spend nearly all of the shot clock dribbling 26 feet from the basket while looking for all the world like he was unsuccessfully trying to negotiate a high pick-and-roll with KG, only to heave up a prayer before the 24-second buzzer sounded, then, boy, he certainly has a lot of faith in Troy Hudson. I'm guessing that that's not the most reliable way to beat San Antonio and Memphis and Dallas and other elite teams come spring.

3. Slow train comin' A second straight solid outing for Rashad McCants this afternoon--relatively speaking, of course. McCants canned two three-pointers and played decent defense in the first half, but couldn't hit a shot and short-circuited the defense enough to help the Knicks get back in the game when reinserted late in the 3rd quarter.

To keep their eyes on the prize, the Wolves need to keep developing McCants. To his credit, Casey is slowly bringing him along. To his credit, McCants is slowly getting better. To no one's credit it sure is taking a long long time.

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