The Three Pointer: Painless #60

AP Photo by Carlos Osorio

Game #81, Road Game #41: Minnesota 103, Detroit 115

Season Record: 21-60

1. One More Smallball Razzing

Since this will probably be my last Wolves three-pointer of the year (I’ll either do a season evaluation and/or cover the team’s press conference later this week after tomorrow’s Milwaukee tilt), it’s appropriate that I jackhammer on the anti-smallball theme one more time, eh?

Without being a conspiracy theorist, isn’t it odd that we finally got a long look at Jefferson-Gomes-Brewer-McCants-Foye the other night (a lineup one might think would be deployed on a more regular basis, given that it best reflects the five players this organization is probably most invested in right now) and tonight had not one but two stints where Al Jefferson and Chris Richard actually were allowed to play on the floor together? Now, granted, the first one was just 3:16 in the second period and the second only a tad longer at 3:33 in the fourth, which is hardly a large sample. But lo and behold, how did the Wolves and Jefferson fare in that combined 6:49?

How about plus +9, factored out at plus +1 in the first half stint and plus +8 in the second half one. If you go plus +9 in 6:49 of a 12-point loss, that means the Wolves were a miserable minus -21 in the 41:11 Jefferson and Richard didn’t play together. Here’s another interesting stat: On a night when Jefferson labored hard to get his 30 points, shooting 12-26 FG, he was 4-5 FG during his time with Richard, and thus 8-21 FG without Richard. What makes this even more skewed is that Richard had a case of the dropsies tonight; he flubbed an easy slam opportunity on a pick and roll, frittered away a basic feed into the post, and couldn’t even retain possession of a rebounded free throw in the final period. Imagine Al Jefferson playing beside a center who could not only hang on to the rock a little bit, but stick a 12-footer just often enough to deter those double-teams. Imagine Ryan Gomes guarding Tayshaun Prince instead of Rasheed Wallace.

2. The Foye-McCants Redundancy

It is quite possible that Randy Foye and Rashad McCants can find a way to co-exist in the same backcourt, especially if they realize it is the only way they both get regular rotation minutes. But in a very fundamental way, they really do have a lot of overlap in their respective games. Neither one of them is really a point guard, in that point guards are working for a seamless blend and a synergistic ensemble above all else–they are the Anthony Hopkins or Gene Hackman of hoops, capable of greatness mostly in the context of their character role. Foye and Shaddy are more like Jack Nicholson, the shooting guard of actors, a guy who is essentially himself regardless of what role he plays, a guy who elevates the ensemble by being a shining star, not a blender.

Everybody knows this about McCants, of course. Tonight he got up 17 shots (making 8, with 2-7 from 3pt range) in 30:30, and received a technical foul for banging into Rodney Stuckey heading back up the court after executing a spectacular dunk that facialed both Jason Maxiell and Amir Johnson in the 4th quarter. Foye is a little less obvious, especially if you just read his stat line in the box score instead of watching him operate an offense. Tonight, for example, he had an impressive 9/1 assist-to-turnover ratio. But what the stats don’t show is after he nailed a jumper midway through the first period for his initial points of the night, he waited three seconds on the team’s next possession to give himself a heat check and try to stick another. Later that same period, he stepped back and made a trey for his second bucket of the night. Eight seconds into the team’s very next offensive possession, he launched another trey–heat check #2 (both heat checks missed).

On a slightly more macro level, Foye very much buys into his 4th quarter mythology. Tonight, he was 4-7 FG with 4 assists after three periods. But in the final 12 minutes, he launched as many shots as he had in the first three quarters (going 2-7 FG) and doled out even more assists (5, versus zero turnovers). In other words, Foye’s governance of the offense was much more pronounced in the 4th quarter, in ways that were both good and bad.

There are worse things than two Jack Nicholsons, of course, and by that I mean that both Foye and McCants have undeniable talent. Er, offensive talent, anyway. Neither one seems to be able to play a lick of defense. Randy Wittman has loosened the reins a little bit these past couple weeks, which has certainly made the games more entertaining in the sense of showmanship and skill-rendering, but in the process the Wolves are yielding a whopping 112 points per game during the month of April, and it starts on the perimeter. Tonight, both Chauncey Billups and Ronnie Stuckey could get pretty much anywhere they wanted off the dribble, and Shaddy’s defense was equally porous and lackadaisical.

Getting a quality point guard would be a boon for this ballclub in more ways than one. It would shake up the pecking order and compel both Foye and McCants to redefine their styles and priorities. It would also nice to see Jefferson, Foye and McCants all benefit from a slick passer with good court vision who, unlike Mr. Telfair, could keep opponents honest with an accurate jumper and/or an ability to finish at the hole as well.

3. Snyder and Brewer Are Not Redundant

The largest stylstic difference the past few games has been when Brewer and Snyder have subbed in for one another. Even as Snyder’s defense has become more sporadic, he has gotten to the rim off the dribble more consistently than any of the swingmen or back court players on the roster. Brewer, on the other hand, is thankfully concentrating on defense and rebounding once more and letting the shots come to him by accident–he was an efficient 4-5 FG in 24:46 tonight as a result.

The biggest similarity between the two small forwards is they both are anxious to exploit opponents in transition and are much less effective when the pace is slow and the offense bogs down in the half court. On the odd chance that Snyder is still around next year, it might be good to see them playing together on a quintet that tries to play three-quarter court traps and just generally pressures the ball. Of course that’s best utilized when you have a shot-blocker to help clean up the gambles of pressing, which brings us back to square one (or at least point one) and the need for a pivot man to prevent small ball from becoming the fallback position.