NBA

Young trio giving Timberwolves hope

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Charley Rosen

Charley Rosen is FOXSports.com's NBA analyst and author of 17 sports books, the current ones being Bullpen Diaries: Mariano Rivera, Bronx Dreams, Pinstripe Legends, and the Future of the New York Yankees and Crazy Basketball: A Life In and Out of Bounds.

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Game Time: Hornets 97, Timberwolves 96

There's no question that Al Jefferson, Kevin Love and Jonny Flynn comprise the foundation of the T-Wolves' hopes for a competitive future. Let's see how this trio performed in this tough home loss in order to discern how viable Minnesota's hopes really are. Al Jefferson had a nice game — 17 points on 8-for-12 shooting and 16 rebounds. He was a willing passer and refrained from forcing any shots. Most of his buckets came on put-backs, one on a jumper and a couple of his trademark jump-hooks. His effectiveness in the low-post was sharply diminished because the Hornets doubled him on just about every touch down there. A solid, winning outing on the offensive end, yet A.J. didn't seem to be able to establish any kind of rhythm within the parameters of the triangle offense. On defense, Jefferson showed quick hands and slow feet, and his defensive intensity lessened as the game wore on. He showed absolutely no inclination to closely guard any opponent who received the ball more than 15-feet from the basket — even to the point of choosing not to throw his hand at subsequent shots that he knew he couldn't block. Prognosis: In order to be a key player on a competitive team, Jefferson needs to develop his face-up game more and buckle down on defense. Kevin Love eats offensive rebounds for his in-game snacks. He had terrific anticipation, works hard to get optimum position and has great hands. Moreover, Love is a top-notch passer (especially when feeding the pivot) and has a nice release on his jumpers. Even more impressive, when shooting in heavy traffic, he was 3-3. This represents a huge advance over his inability to finish last season, but he's using his body to greater advantage and has a much better understanding of where the open angles are. He is, however, very slow with the ball and lacks any kind of a go-to move. The only jump-hook he attempted was a brick. Love's most significant problems, though, are on defense, where his lumbering lateral movements are a severe hindrance. Anybody who can face-and-go has Love at his mercy. On several such developments, Love's cries of "Help!" could be heard above the crowd noise. In addition, he's not very quick off his feet — a flaw that cost him three defensive rebounds. And of his 11 total rebounds, four were not challenged. Prognosis: Love's proper niche is as a role player and with a sky-closing shot-blocker behind him, he'd be an outstanding one. But with Jefferson being just a hair quicker than he is, Love's defensive shortcomings are extremely costly. Jonny Flynn is extremely strong and quick when taking his right hand to the rim. He was under control until the last couple of minutes, but until then, he made good decisions with the ball — hence, his nine assists as against only two turnovers. He's a good-enough shooter, but there's room for improvement here. And, as with most young players, he's much more comfortable on the run than playing half-court. It's clear that Flynn's left hand is not as nearly developed as his right hand. Indeed, he drove left only once and was fortunately fouled while putting up an awkward shot with his right hand. Also, in the last two minutes, he was unable to create anything close to a good look either for himself of for any of his teammates. Instead, he shot a long-distance air-ball and missed badly on a running floater. On the defensive end, Flynn's game was much less evolved. His balance was poor, he was taken out of every play that involved his having to deal with a high screen and he gave whomever he was guarding too much room. But Flynn saved his worst defensive mistake for the penultimate play of the game: The T-Wolves were up by one, there were only 5.9 seconds left in the game, and the Hornets had a side in-bounds with Chris Paul responsible for making the critical pass. Flynn, of course, was charged with defending CP3. But after Paul delivered the ball in-bounds, Flynn turned his head to see what was happening 25-feet from the basket — whereupon Paul made a back-door cut, received a pass and scored an uncontested layup that won the game. Prognosis: Flynn has the goods to be an outstanding point guard, but he's got a lot of learning to do. Here's a quick look at the rest of the team:
  • Ryan Gomes is a terrific stand-still shooter who — as befits his veteran status — knows how to play the game. He also plays good position on defense. He would be a valuable bench player.
  • Corey Brewer missed six layups, made only 1-of-5 free throws, showed a questionable handle and was lost when playing weak-side defense. But he did play acceptable defense, and his superior athleticism was evident on the run.
  • Wayne Ellington can presumably shoot, but he can't pass, handle, or defend.
  • Ramon Sessions ran the offense with efficiency but also tried to force his way into the middle.
  • Ryan Hollins can run and moves well without the ball, but his hands are bad. How bad? After he flubbed a relatively easy pass from Love, Kurt Rambis shouted out the following instruction to Love: "Next time throw the ball right at his (bleeping) nose!" The T-Wolves' triangle offense was rudimentary — just some corner screens, some poorly executed speed-cuts and some fairly effective dive cuts. When they had to play half-court sets, they mostly relied on high screens and handoffs and had no money plays to depend on in emergencies. They also hurt themselves by committing a host of unforced turnovers — mostly charges and foolish dribbling in crowds. Their defense was very loose — both in the paint and on the perimeter. Even so, they played hard all the way. Prognosis: The T-Wolves are still several players away from being consistently competitive. But Rambis has them playing as well as they are able to play, which is all a coach can do under any circumstances.

    Vox Populi

    My feeling is that Carmelo Anthony's game lacks absolutely nothing. He can shoot, drive, post-up, run, score in bunches and play adequate defense. He also has the size and strength to match up against anybody. Most importantly, in last year's playoffs, he proved that he can be a team leader. In your opinion, what aspects of his game still need work? — Aaron Ju, South Pasadena, CA

    You forget to mention that he is equally effective driving both right and left, and that he's an improving passer. While Anthony is certainly capable of playing effective defense, he only does this on a periodic basis. He needs to develop more consistency here, which is understandably difficult considering how much energy he has to expend as Denver's go-to scorer. 'Melo still has trouble making high-degree-of-difficulty passes when he's double-teamed. More often than not, his passes out of such situations will gain no advantage. He also tends to force the ball into crowds — hence, his career assist and turnover totals are virtually equal at 3.09 assists to 3.08 turnovers. Moreover, his shot selection is often questionable. Consistency remains another problem. Sometimes he just doesn't show up — as evidenced by his rather lackadaisical performance in Game 6 of last season's conference finals against the Lakers. That's why I would also question his leadership qualities. Anthony isn't much of a verbal presence in the locker room, and there's no doubt that Chauncey Billups is the Nuggets' leader. However, since Anthony is still only 25 and since NBA players usually don't attain the peak of their physical, mental and emotional abilities until they're 28, it's to be expected that the parameters of his excellence are still expanding.

    Straight Shooting

    While the opinions and information provided by several bloggers are of considerable interest, some are egregiously misinformed. For example, the blogger who swore that I deliberately omitted supplying career stats for blocked shots and steals in my recent evaluation of the NBA's best centers. The charge was that these particular numbers were ignored only because they would have weakened my claim that both Bill Russell and Wilt Chamberlain were better than Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. In fact, it would have been meaningless to list Kareem's totals in these two categories, simply because steals and blocked shots weren't officially tabulated until the 1973-74 season after both Chamberlain and Russell had retired. Therefore, a factual comparison would have been literally impossible. Several other self-proclaimed experts stated that the accomplishments of Chamberlain and Russell should be trivialized because they mostly faced "6-foot-5 white centers who couldn't dribble with their off-hands." This is patently ridiculous. During Russell's career, he routinely faced such outstanding centers as Willis Reed, Walt Bellamy, Nate Thurmond (who only played power forward when he teamed with Wilt in San Francisco and was otherwise one of the best-ever defensive centers), Wes Unseld, Jerry Lucas, Wayne Embry, Elvin Hayes (for one season only), Paul Silas, Ray Scott and Zelmo Beaty. For Wilt, add Dave Cowens and five seasons worth of confrontations with the Big E. Not a stiff among them. Indeed, the overall quality of the centers who opposed Chamberlain and Russell is far superior to — and much more physical than — today's men in the middle. Plus, Wilt and Russ went head to head numerous times during the 10 seasons in which their careers overlapped.

    Travels with Charley

    Here's are the specifics of the most gratifying — and at the same time — the most potentially dangerous game of 3-on-3 that I ever played. While enrolled in a graduate program at Hofstra University (a Masters degree in medieval English literature), I hooked up with two players on the varsity team. Dave Brownbill was 6-foot-1, a sharpshooter with legitimate 30-foot range (!), and also blessed with spectacular hops. He didn't play much defense but had the 3-point line been in existence, he could easily have been a 12th man on an NBA roster. Barry White was a lithe 6-foot-7 do-it-all player who definitely had the stuff to be an NBA-quality small forward. Eventually, Barry was drafted by the Baltimore Bullets and was a sensation in training camp. But there was an unofficial quota system in effect, and some ordinary white guy made the team instead of Barry. Indeed, both of them were born too early — although Barry went on to have a terrific career playing in France. Anyway, one hot summer's day we were driving around Queens looking for a run. When we couldn't find one, we stopped at a well-kept outdoor court on Hillside Avenue just south of the entrance to the parkway that led to the Throggs Neck Bridge. After shooting around for a few minutes, we decided to play H-O-R-S-E, with the conditions that we each had to shoot only with our off hands and that no dunks or layups were permitted. Laughing and giggling as we repeatedly shot air balls and awkward backboard bangers, we soon attracted an audience of six — three stylishly dressed young women and three athletic-looking sneaker-wearing gents who ranged from about 6-foot-1 to 6-foot-4. They all began loudly chortling at our lame shots. The insults commenced when it was obvious that we were ignoring them. We were wimps — and worse. Even the three girls could beat us. Then Dave flashed them a smirk that really riled them. "Hey, you #(&^$#@)! We'll spot you nine in an 11 game!" "Nah," said Dave. "We don't want to embarrass you in front of your ladies." "Embarrass US!" After a few more minutes of belligerent bantering, they proposed the following terms for a 3-on-3 game: 11 baskets, make-it-take-it, if we lost, we'd have to forfeit our sneakers and our basketball. Our spot would be that we'd have the first possession, and none of them would be allowed to warm up. The tallest of the high-flying dudes pulled out a thick roll of bills held together by a rubber band — if all the unseen notes equaled the 20 that showed, the roll must have been worth at least $300. The roll was neatly placed immediately behind the out-of-bounds metal pole that supported the basket — and, should we prove victorious, the money would be ours. It's a deal! Just before our three opponents stepped onto the court, the tallest one pulled a black metallic object from the waistband of his sweat-suit and handed it to one of the girls. "It's a gun," I said. "Ain't nothing I've never seen before," Dave said with a shrug. "Let's roast these turkeys." And — with Dave burying long-distance bombs, Barry slashing to the rim for earthquake dunks and me setting teeth-rattling screens — that's exactly what we proceeded to do. In fact, we scored 11 consecutive baskets. At first, our opponents were shocked when we started the game utilizing our on-hands, then they became increasingly angry. "You #@%^*)^%# cheaters! Playing us for fools!" Immediately after the last basket, Dave scampered over to the roll of bills, and the tall guy responded by racing over to recover his gun from his girlfriend. Both Barry and I shouted, "Dave! Don't!" But Dave scooped up the roll, positioned himself directly under the basket, and then, from a standstill, rose up and power-dunked the money. The rubber band broke upon hitting the concrete surface, and the bills (they were all 20s) started dispersing in the breeze. Meanwhile, hoping that they'd refrain from shooting us in the back, Dave, Barry and I ran a fast-break to my car. "Don't you #&!_?*s ever come back here again!" And, of course, we never did.
  • Tagged: Pelicans, Timberwolves, Al Jefferson, Chris Paul, Kevin Love, Jonny Flynn

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