Young trio gives Timberwolves hope
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.