by Myles Brown

Getting the Point
Is it possible for the first contest in a long season of relatively low expectations to be a ‘must win’?

If Randy Wittman’s substitution patterns were any indication, then the answer was a resounding ‘yes.’

Journeyman Kevin Ollie began the fourth quarter at point guard for the Wolves and produced an underwhelmingly efficient box score: 0-1 fg, 1-2 ft, 1 point, 0 rebounds, 0 assists, 0 turnovers…10:05 minutes. Hardly a highlight package by Ollie, but the offense still ran smoothly. He was quick and decisive in initiating movement and stayed out of the way, giving the teams scorers (McCants, Miller, Love and Jefferson) room to produce. Which was essentially the opposite of how Randy ‘Fourth Quarter’ Foye handled things in the third.

Foye logged all 12 third quarter minutes and his line almost completely encapsulates his forcefully impotent play: 2-4 fg, 1-2 3pt, 5 points, 0 rebounds, 0 assists, 2 turnovers. Granted, Ollie isn’t half the athlete or scorer that Foye is, so he can’t freelance as Foye would. But as has been mentioned in this space before, Foye’s freelancing is more of a wanderlust that leads him to pass primarily after his own scoring opportunities are gone. He doesn’t consistently display the natural playmaking abilities greater guards of his mold do and it comes at the expense of the offense.

Foye finished the third with a series of poor possesions that dwindled a 76-70 lead with 1:50 remaining, down to a 76-77 deficit as the horn sounded. Driving into a closed lane, Foye committs himself to a mid-air pass to Craig Smith who was in no position to score himself as evidenced by the subsequent shortarmed hook. On the next trip upcourt, Foye dribbles away fourteen seconds of the shot clock while surverying his options before tossing up a contested–and missed–three-pointer. Of course after the game Wittman simply cited Ollie’s “good play” as the sole reason for his extended minutes-but if I may play Quotemonger for moment–it was hard to read the subtext of such a statement as anything other than “Good = Better than Randy.”

Foye is a fine talent. He is an efficient three-point shooter, a respectable slasher, shoots well off the bounce and can finish at the rim. But he’s not a point guard. He doesn’t have the vision or the keen sense of timing and space a natural does. He’s certainly capable of creating for others, but not enough to entrust him with the execution of an offense. Of course, if one were to acknowledge this, the problem would be what to do next. Randy isn’t a cancerous player at all, but he has been stubbornly confident in his capabilities as a point guard and should that expriment end with him on the bench, it would be quite the blow to his ego.

More importantly, should he land on the bench, it would be next the only player on the team who has more of his ego at stake in Rashad McCants. Risking two of his key players becoming malcontents may be more than Wittman is willing to risk, but it’s clear he’s going to have at least one. But moving Foye to the starting shooting guard position isn’t really an option. Talent that he may be, it’s still unclear whether he can exploit his talents within the framework of the Jefferson/Miller Inside-Out Combo, which was a major talking point of the draft day trade. Besides, quite honestly, he’s not a better shooting guard than McCants. And Shaddy knows it, which would only further his persecution complex. Putting them together as a second team backcourt isn’t much of a solution either, as it’s easier to envision them fighting for shots than complementing each other.

So maybe the best bet is to just give them both what they want–to an extent. Start McCants at the two and let Foye run the second team. A starting point who can effectively direct traffic should curtail any of Shaddy’s attempts to veer off course and Foye would be free to freelance with Brewer in his backcourt.

The Best Defense?

Fade into Obscurity:

Anthony Randolph, Jason Thompson (14% each), Joey Dorsey, Danilo Gallinari, Roy Hibbert, Serge Ibaka, Robin Lopez, JaVale McGee, Brandon Rush, Sean Singletary, Bill Walker, DJ White (7% each)

“Sh*t, Jason Thompson is forgotten already. Can you name what school he attended? Do you know what position he plays? Do you have any idea about how he even looks? Exactly. And he’s playing in Sacramento? LOL.”—Khalid Salaam

Khalid said that in the magazine’s 2008-09 Rookies Most Likely To… preview. I read it and LOL’ed. I showed it to my homie and he LOL’ed. Funny thing about it was even when Thompson took the court midway through the first quarter, I still didn’t know who the hell he was. It just wouldn’t stick. Neither would Al Jefferson. He must’ve read the issue and LOL’ed too, cause he didn’t take Thompson seriously at all. The rookie scored as soon as he touched the ball with a seven foot hook and scored the teams next basket on an eighteen footer. Then Jefferson inexplicably picked up his second foul after slapping Thompson’s arm on a twenty footer during the ensuing possession. It was a less than subtle reminder that the Wolves brand of smallball just isn’t going to work. Undersized teams usually run, but undersized teams usually don’t have a player best suited for halfcourt as their centerpiece.

Al quietly-and easily-put together another 20/10 game, but Spencer Hawes, Miki Moore & Jason Thompson combined to go 16-24 from the field for 38 points and 24 rebounds. Though he has shown some improvment in his rotation, Jefferson jumped at practically every pump fake and failed to box out on a few occasions that led to easy Kings putbacks. If he is ever to turn into an intimidating defensive presence, it certainly won’t be overnight. Opposing teams with any semblance of a post presence will pummel the Wolves in the paint and there won’t be much Wittman can do about it aside from throwing a Jason Collins or Brian Cardinal in at center to eat space. Looking at the roster, the more enticing option may be to run.

Minnesota had 25 assists on Wednesday night, and it wasn’t hard to imagine this team averaging 100 points a game. Mike Miller stretches the defense with his shooting and gets to the basket as well as anyone else. Kevin Love does ignite a break with his outlet passing, McCants can work well as a cutter or slashing with the ball and Al Jefferson is still a beast. For such a low level team, the Wolves are particularly deep. Six players had double digit scoring and Corey Brewer just missed the mark with eight. If a balance can be struck between Jefferson’s post game and the teams open court finishers, enough firepower may be gathered to compensate for their lack of defense. Cause let’s face it, this team will never defend. In addition to the frontcourt massacre, John Effing Salmons went 9-17 and finished with 24 points and 8 assists. The lone King without a crown on the night was Kevin Martin, goaded by the Wolves lone defender Corey Brewer into a woeful 5-19, including a missed opportunity to tie at the buzzer.

So yes, it’s only the first game of the season, but this was also undoubtedly the Wolves worst opponent of the season. They looked good, but it’s only going to get harder.

Almost Forgot…

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