The Downward Spiral

Kevin Garnett and Wally Szczerbiak are playing smart, inspired basketball. The rest of the Timberwolves are a passel of partial talents who seem to be coming unglued rather than complementing each other. On Friday they got thumped by 20 in Orlando, 107-87. On Sunday, the Miami Heat totally dismantled them in the second half en route to a 27-point loss that wasn't that close, 97-70. There are so many people who share the blame, it is hard to know where to begin.

How about the backcourt, where not a single damn player performed to his potential during the double massacre. Orlando Magic guards were lining up with drool on their faces at the chance to roast Marko Jaric off the dribble Friday night. Marko, I understand that small, quick opponents give you trouble, but for someone with such a famously competitive rep, hurting his foot after kicking a wall in international league play, etc., your resolve seems paper-thin. On offense, you don't have much confidence in your jumper, with some justification, and you can't finish very well off the dribble. More than anybody on the team, you should be the third wheel that provides traction and maneuverability for the offense behind KG and Wally. But your offense has been fairly narrow (you've got a lot of "Stockton assists"--dishes to good jump shooters like Garnett and Szczerbiak) and while your defense is a mostly positive roller coaster, it really kills this team when it plummets.

Troy Hudson, go heal. You obviously don't have the spring or the jets to get open, and if you're not a scoring threat, you're pretty much like Aretha Franklin without a voice. And Anthony Carter, love how your subbing for Jaric coupled with a tenacious zone hacked more than 2/3 of Orlando's 21 point lead away in the first half on Friday; but all those turnovers in your second half stint sabotaged that stint, not to mention your team, which lost going away.

Trenton Hassell, it is beginning to look like this team can't afford your lack of offense. Those 10-12 point nights you chip in when things are flowing for you are quickly becoming a requirement. Can you deliver them and maintain your typically stolid D? Your salary says you should be.


Rashad McCants, you're being exposed. Your coach has been trying to protect you with limited minutes in inconsequential situations, but the need for offense on this team is so enormous right now, that you're finally beginning to see some meaningful action. It hasn't been pretty. You're making guys like Patrick Reusse, who ripped you almost from the moment of your first game, look smart. And you're making your defenders, guys who note your extraordinary skills and clamor for you to have a bigger role--people like me--look dumb.

Some quick tips. When you're running down the floor on the break and it feels like you're open, don't gesticulate and otherwise call attention to yourself. First of all, your teammates see you--peripheral vision and sharing the ball in transition are fairly basic parts of most NBA players' games. Secondly, almost every time, you're not as open as your think you are. Third, suck it up and don't pout. You're acting like a punk and I guarantee you it is starting to get on people's nerves--even your best buddy KG's nerves.

Playing defense is not heroic. You like to go for the steal, for the poke check, and you like to use your quickness to try and close out on the man you're guarding. Pay attention to the fundamentals. Stay in front of your man by using your feet more than your hands, and don't be so quick to leave your man either to rotate or double down or to dip below the picks. Nobody else loses their man as frequently as you do, and it snags a piece of your teammates' attention to their own defensive duties as a result.

On offense, by all means, continue to be aggressive, especially going to the hole. You draw fouls as well as anybody on the team already. That said, you can still cut your shots by at least a third. Too often, you shoot when you've been bottled up by a defender, and you think it's a last resort. Take a breath and start looking around for the bail-out help that's coming. Too often, you don't dish off the drive, a fact already noticed by scouts--people don't stay on their man when you start for the hoop, which is why there is so much congestion so frequently. I'm not asking you to think like a point guard, or even to be unselfish--just keep your eyes open and let your instincts flow in sync with your common sense. The more dimes you drop off the dribble, the easier the route will become for those monster left-handed jams we all love so much.

As I said, you're being exposed. You are making life difficult for Kevin McHale, who drafted you and who should already be feeling the heat for the composition of this ballclub, and for Dwane Casey, who obviously concurred in the decision to make you the first new piece in his regime. Nobody should jump to conclusions--all but a very few rookies struggle with a large learning curve and you're in the process of scaling yours. I know you like to compare yourself to Kevin Garnett--who wouldn't?--but the fact of the matter is, your rookie year thus far resembles nothing so much as a poor man's Wally Szczerbiak in his rookie year. And right now it is an extremely poor man's Wally Szczerbiak.


Things arent going to get better soon. Minnesota has Dallas at home, then San Antonio and Dallas again on the road. The odds are pretty good that at the end of this week the Wolves will be 14-17 and perhaps out of first place in the division for first time in weeks. It is the first stiff challenge for Coach Casey. The Ron Artest rumors will be deafening. Coach, Wally Szczerbiak just had the month of his life, one he likely won't repeat this season, and your team went 7-7. January is arguably your toughest month, schedule-wise, with two games apiece against Dallas and San Antonio, home games against Detroit and Indiana, and nine out of 16 on the road. Good luck.

Want more Hang Time? Britt Robson breaks down most individual Timberwolves games in his "Three-Pointers" on the City Pages's Balls! sports blog.