The lockout is real, NBA games have already been cancelled, with more on the way and no end in sight. Come wallow with me as I recount some of the things I was looking forward to about this upcoming season.
Ridicule David Kahn‘s positional fetishism all you want but, albeit through a circuitous route, he has found himself a roster filled with quality basketball players. Kevin Love is one of the most unique and effective players in the league. Michael Beasley is a talented, if inefficient scorer. Derrick Williams has all the tools Beasley has, and hopefully can utilize them with a little more restraint. Luke Ridnour, Martell Webster and Wesley Johnson can all play the part of effective role players. And, Aleluya, Ricky Rubio has finally arrived. The pieces are in place, the puzzle is still unassembled.
For the first time in years, the Timberwolves also have themselves an actual basketball coach; not a long-time assistant with potential, but an actual proven, successful coach. The hiring of Rick Adelman, though complicated and convoluted, was an absolute coup. He’s among the most effective coaches in the league at managing his rotations. He’s won consistently, in different locations, and most intriguingly, in different styles. There was one style in particular that piqued my interest this summer.
I’m not the first to find some connections between the current Timberwolves roster and that of Adelman’s late nineties/early oughts Sacramento Kings. Beasley, Williams and Love each share some characteristics with Chris Webber. Rubio has more than a little Jason Williams in him. On his best days Martell Webster can do a Peja Stojakavic impression from behind the three-point line. As David Kahn pointed out, Darko Milicic was gifted with the passing acumen of Vlade Divac.
Taking this analogy to it’s logical conclusion, Johnson is then Doug Christie, Ridnour is Mike Bibby, Lazar Hayward is Corliss Williamson, Anthony Tolliver is Lawrence Funderburke, Anthony Randolph is the athletic but as-yet-undeveloped Gerald Wallace, and Wayne Ellington is Bobby Jackson without the juice.
On some (many) levels this whole exercise is silly. No one on the Timberwolves is truly a match for a Kings counterpart, in style or ability. But that’s not what this is about. I wasn’t looking forward to the Timberwolves as a duplication of the 1999 Kings. I was looking forward to a team tearing around the floor in that style.
Those Kings teams showed me basketball as I’d never seen it before. They were at the same time exquisitely precise and wildly out-of-control. There hasn’t been a team since that has played with quite the same flair.
The 7 Seconds or Less Phoenix Suns are often identified as the offspring of those Kings teams, but at best they were distant cousins. The Suns hunted shots, mostly three-pointers, for the sake of scoring. The Kings hunted aesthetics, voraciously. Movement, open space, vision, mis-direction, were the tools. Beauty was the beast. Scoring was just the bloody tracks left behind on the snow.
The Kings’ attack was multi-dimensional in a way the Suns’ was not. The Suns worked outside-in or inside-out. The Kings worked in four, sometimes five dimensions, with diagonals and zig-zags too dynamic for a telestrator. Every player was a willing and capable passer. As crazy as it sounds, I think the Timberwolves have the potential to revive that spirit and style. They have players who can score from all over the floor, but who’ve had no effective system to bind them. May I suggest collective creativity as a stand-in for said system?
While Williams, Webber and Divac received most of the credit for transforming the Kings, Adelman was behind the curtain, pulling a string here or there, but also clearing space for the amalgamation he was presented with to exist in its unique form. Last season the Timberwolves ranked 28th in the league in Ast%. The season before that they were 27th. Kurt Rambis and the Triangle Offense did not bring ball movement to Minnesota. Adelman clearly has the potential to bring a different approach.
The Kings worked because Adelman mostly let his players do what they do best. For him to make my dream a reality in Minnesota, he’ll have to put the same faith in Rubio. Beasley doesn’t appear to understand what he does best. (hint: The answer is not making contested 20 footers). As I mentioned above, I’m scared Williams has a little too much Beasley in him. Love is at his best supporting the work of those around him. No one else on the roster has the ability to single-handedly control the fate of a team, at least not in a positive direction.
In the end the variables that matter most to the Timberwolves, are Rubio, Adelman and a year of experience for each of the young pups. Without those things, this is essentially the same confused and scattered 17-65 team as last season. But what a glorious difference they could make.
Maybe my dream is a fantasy. Maybe Rick Adelman doesn’t see the ghosts of rosters past within this group. Maybe he thinks a collection of young disparate pieces is better off with a more structured traditional offense. Maybe Ricky Rubio is more Marko Jaric than Jason Williams. All I know is that things seemed to be looking up in Minnesota, and I was looking forward to watching it.