TrueHoop: Minnesota Timberwolves

Brandon Roy calls it a career

June, 24, 2013
6/24/13
4:30
PM ET
Pelton By Kevin Pelton
ESPN.com
Archive
SEATTLE - Brandon Roy's basketball career came full circle on Sunday. After the University of Washington's Alumni Game, where he returned to the court where he first reached national prominence, Roy told reporters he's almost certainly played his last game in the NBA.

"I haven't come out and said it publicly, but for me mentally, I've just started to settle into living a normal life," he said. "I haven't officially announced anything, but right now I haven't thought about playing in the NBA."

This decision seems far more likely to stick than Roy's first retirement in December 2011, when he walked away from the Portland Trail Blazers after the lockout. Then, Roy was gobsmacked by the assessment that his knees had deteriorated too badly to continue playing. So when an American version of the Orthokine knee treatment that has helped several NBA players offered Roy the hope of improved health, he returned to the league with the Minnesota Timberwolves last summer.

That comeback lasted just five games before Roy suffered a setback. He underwent knee surgery in the hopes of returning, but never made it back on the court. On May 10, Minnesota waived Roy, clearing his non-guaranteed contract from the salary cap.

While Roy might not have found the second act he hoped for, last season did help him come to peace with the end of his career.

"Any time you walk away from the game, you have what ifs," Roy said. "I feel like I was able to answer those questions last year by going out there and giving it a try. For me, it's a little bit easier to walk away. It's never going to be easy, but it's a little smoother knowing I gave it a try and now it's time to move on."

Roy, who won't turn 29 until next month, enjoyed a meteoric NBA career. He arrived in the league as the 2006-07 Rookie of the Year and made three All-Star appearances and two All-NBA teams in five seasons in Portland. Had his knees cooperated, Roy would still have been in the prime of his career. Instead, he's preparing to move on to a new one, probably involving basketball and perhaps coaching.

While Roy said he plans to continue to train with the Seattle natives and UW products who spend their summers preparing to play in the NBA, his basketball exploits will probably be limited to future UW Alumni Games. On Sunday, he showed glimpses of his former self, including a vintage three-point play off the dribble. More often his knees got the better of him, and he drew nothing but air on his last two shot attempts in the fourth quarter.

Still, after getting the loudest ovation of the day from a sold-out Hec Edmundson Pavilion, Roy was at peace with a journey that took him from making $11 an hour as a dock worker while awaiting his qualifying SAT score to NBA stardom.

"I remember sitting in those nosebleed seats when I was waiting to get into school," he said. "To sit back and look at things 10, 11 years later and look back on what I've been able to accomplish over my basketball career, it's been really great. Really satisfying. We all wish we could play longer, but in my case I feel like I gave it all I had and I have a lot of great memories to look back on."

Rubio still lacks offensive efficiency

February, 6, 2013
2/06/13
4:16
PM ET
By Ryan Feldman
ESPN.com
Archive

David Sherman/NBAE/Getty ImagesRicky Rubio is still suffering from many of the same weaknesses that plagued him last season.
The Minnesota Timberwolves host the San Antonio Spurs on Wednesday night (9 ET on ESPN), and it appears that Ricky Rubio is finally recovered after suffering an ACL tear last March. But that doesn’t mean Rubio’s return has greatly benefited the Timberwolves.

The Timberwolves have a 2-8 record since Rubio returned to the starting lineup Jan. 17, but during that span he has posted solid numbers, with at least six assists in all but one start, including 14 assists Monday against Portland (tying a career high). He is averaging 8.1 points, 7.0 assists and 2.7 turnovers per game in those 10 games.

In his past five games, he’s been even better, averaging 11.2 points, 8.0 assists and 2.4 turnovers per game while shooting 46 percent (24 percent in the five games prior).

Although impressive, a deeper look into the numbers shows that Rubio is still suffering from the same weaknesses he had last season.

RUBIO HASN’T SCORED EFFICIENTLY

Rubio ranks last in the NBA in points per play among the 296 players with at least 150 offensive plays this season. He is shooting 32 percent, which also ranks last in that group. Rubio’s lack of scoring efficiency shouldn’t be a surprise, as he finished last in points per play last season among the 176 players with at least 500 plays.

Rubio’s midrange jumper is slightly improved. After shooting 33 percent on midrange shots (2-point shots outside the paint) last season, he’s up to 37 percent this season.

But he is still struggling to score at the rim and from beyond the arc. He is shooting 36 percent in the paint and is 1-for-16 on 3-point attempts this season.

The only player with as many attempts as Rubio and shooting worse from within eight feet this season is Austin Rivers of the Hornets.

Rubio is especially struggling to create his own offense off pick-and-roll plays. He has turned it over on 37 percent of pick-and-roll plays this season when he doesn’t pass the ball, which ranks last among the 113 players with at least 50 plays.

As a result, the Timberwolves have actually been more efficient offensively with Rubio on the bench. Over the past 10 games, they’re scoring seven more points per 100 possessions with Rubio off the court while shooting better and committing fewer turnovers than when he is on the floor.

WHERE RUBIO HELPS

Since he returned to the starting lineup, Rubio has helped the Timberwolves get more easy opportunities near the basket. In the past 10 games, 40 percent of Minnesota’s field goal attempts have come in the restricted area while Rubio is on the court. When he’s off the court, only 28 percent of their shots have been in the restricted area.

Rubio’s size and length also benefits the Timberwolves on the defensive end. With Rubio as a starter this season, Minnesota is allowing five fewer points per 100 possessions and forcing five more turnovers per 48 minutes with Rubio on the floor during that span.

The Timberwolves are playing without Kevin Love, who broke his hand in early January. But with or without Love, the Timberwolves’ success could depend largely on how much Rubio, and Minnesota, addresses his weaknesses moving forward.

Rubio keys: Move the ball, improve the D

December, 15, 2012
12/15/12
2:18
PM ET
By Deontay Morris, ESPN Stats & Information
ESPN.com
Dazzling point guard Ricky Rubio has been cleared to play and is expected to play Saturday against the Dallas Mavericks for the first time since suffering a torn ACL late last season.

Last season, Minnesota was 21-20 before Rubio was injured, and it finished the season losing 20 of its final 25 games after he left the lineup.

In case you need a refresher, let’s remind you of his value to the Timberwolves and look ahead to where he can improve his game.

Looking back to 2011-12
You probably recall that the key aspect Rubio brings to the Timberwolves is his tremendous court vision and passing.

The main replacement for Rubio, Luke Ridnour, has played admirably this year – but hasn’t had quite the same impact as Rubio on defense or as a playmaker.

Ridnour has reached double-digit assists once in the first 20 games this season; Rubio did it nine times in his first 20 NBA games last season.

Since the 1999-2000 season, only John Wall (8.3 APG) averaged more assists in a rookie season than Rubio. Last season, Rubio became just the fourth rookie in NBA history to average at least 10 points, 8 assists and 2 steals per game.

That performance led to his finishing second for rookie of the year behind Kyrie Irving.

Rubio had an assist percentage of 38 percent, which was second-highest among rookies in the past 10 seasons, trailing only Wall (assist percentage measures the percentage of teammate field goals a player assisted while on the floor).

When Rubio came over from Spain, there were concerns about his defense, but he was able to ease those worries.

His long arms and better-than-expected athleticism helped him be a pretty good defender.

Last season, when Rubio was on the court, Minnesota gave up just 99.6 points per 100 possessions. When Rubio was on the bench and then hurt, the Timberwolves allowed 106.8 points per 100 possessions.

Looking ahead to 2012-13
Rubio’s next step in growing as a player will be increasing his efficiency from the field.

Last season, he shot nearly 36 percent from the field and 34 percent on 3-pointers. His effective field goal percentage was just shy of 40 percent, worst on the team.

Rubio endured a 10-for-46 stretch in the seven games before the season-ending game in which he got hurt against the Los Angeles Lakers.

Rubio is aware of how much of a weakness this is and has worked diligently with assistant coach Terry Porter to improve during his recovery from injury.

He’ll get his first chance to show that against the Dallas Mavericks, whom the Timberwolves beat twice in three meetings with a healthy Rubio last season.

Rubio was just 10-for-32 from the field in those three games against the Mavericks. But, in the nearly 73 minutes he was on the floor in the two wins, the Timberwolves outscored the Mavericks by 28 points.

Kevin Love's impatient timing

July, 10, 2012
7/10/12
11:33
AM ET
Harper By Zach Harper
ESPN.com
Archive
Rocky Widner/NBAE/Getty ImagesKevin Love's impatience could hurt the Timberwolves' roster moves.

Before Ricky Rubio went down with a torn ACL, Kevin Love was experiencing a season like he never had before.

It wasn’t so much the statistical output he was throwing up at a close to historic rate; it was that the Timberwolves were winning, he was leading them, and they were battling for a playoff spot. Going into the showdown with the Lakers on March 9, when the season turned for the worse, the Timberwolves were two games over .500 more than halfway through the season for the first time since 2004-05. Everything for the Wolves was trending toward a bright future.

Then Rubio tore his ACL in the final seconds in that game against the Lakers, a 105-102 loss. After that, the team battled various injuries, and Love’s offensive efforts weren’t enough to even make most games competitive. Defensively, everybody seemed to check out, made evident by the 108.4 defensive rating the Wolves posted after Rubio's season-ending injury. Love played his last game of the season April 11, when he suffered a concussion early in the game against the Denver Nuggets.

From that point until the end of the regular season, the All-Star and all-NBA power forward sat and watched his completely overmatched team finish another season without truly getting a sniff of the playoffs. Without Rubio and Love on the floor, the Wolves showed just how little talent they had on which to build.

Seeing how far away this team is from being a playoff contender when Rubio and Love are nowhere to be seen -- coupled with the frustration surrounding a contract extension -- is probably what prompts someone to tell reporters that his patience level with the organization isn’t very high. As Jerry Zgoda reported Jan. 25 (the contract extension deadline day for Love), Love and David Kahn didn’t exactly see eye-to-eye on the negotiations.

Love (remember, he’s a Kevin McHale acquisition) wanted to commit to this area and the Wolves’ organization by accepting the five-year maximum extension, available to only one player per team during the life of this collective bargaining agreement. It’s presumed Kahn wanted to keep that option available to entice Rubio to stay in town after his rookie deal expired. To appease Love, the Wolves gave him a four-year maximum extension with an opt-out after three years.

It’s easy to see why Love is frustrated with the organization when you factor in his time here. He’s been working hard to turn into an elite player in the NBA, while the Wolves’ record has barely seen any improvement from his rookie season. He’s been the subject of trade rumors, even after having a historic 2010-11 season in which he averaged 20 points and 15 rebounds per game -- the only player other than Moses Malone to do so during the 3-point era. He wasn’t given the respect of a five-year max extension when he was practically begging to commit to a sputtering organization.

When Kevin Love told Marc J. Spears of Yahoo! Sports, "It's tough seeing all these guys that are young and older who have all played in the playoffs. When they start talking about that, I have nothing to talk about. If I don't make the playoffs next year, I don't know what will happen,” it wasn’t anything new to those that have covered the Wolves and paid attention to how Love conducts himself in front of a microphone. He’s never been shy about voicing his opinion, and that’s part of the leadership role he’s trying to command.

And Love is correct in saying the team needs to make a serious push. Before Rubio’s injury, the Wolves were well on their way to being respectable. The future was luminous, and nobody expected the end of the season to be so deflated. Now? They have just enough flexibility to make improvements to the roster but no real credit history to show they’re a destination for players wanting to win. This is what happens when you butcher the majority of your draft picks in a three-year span.

Although people shouldn’t necessarily disagree with what Love is saying, they should definitely disagree with the timing of Love’s mild "outburst." A few days before the soft open of 2012 free agency becomes a grand opening is not the time to publicly voice that your organization needs to be desperate to win now. Dealing with agents and rival GMs for coveted players (see: offer sheet to Nicolas Batum) who will enable your team to win more games isn’t helped when your best player starts beating around ultimatums.

This is where you see that while Love wants to be a leader, he still hasn’t figured out that role. Perhaps it’s immaturity or just inexperience with leading an organization. But you’re not in a market and climate that star players are dying to migrate to. To get a super team in Minnesota, you have to be surgical in the draft and get away with chicanery in trades.

By saying the team needs to make the playoffs or changes need to happen in the days before you may or may not acquire Batum just seems like horrendous timing. The Wolves had only a glimmer of hope to get away with acquiring Batum outright if Portland decided not to match. Now Portland can be open to a sign-and-trade, knowing they can demand any and all assets Minnesota has at its disposal. It would behoove Trail Blazers general manager Neil Olshey to get on the phone with Kahn and read excerpts from Spears’ article whenever Kahn says they can’t part with Derrick Williams and Nikola Pekovic to bag Batum. They can demand Luke Ridnour be included in the deal, leaving the Wolves without any point guard depth when they're trying to rehab Rubio's knee. They can ask for first-round picks that have the potential to hang over the head of the organization as the protected first-rounder from the Marko Jaric deal did from 2005 until this past draft.

Love could have applied pressure to the Timberwolves in private, but now the rest of the league has been put on alert -- things in the Twin Cities are bumpy. That doesn't help you keep future contract negotiations and trade discussions in your team's favor. It takes away any potential for possessing the upper hand when transforming your roster.

Love wants more for this organization and his career in Minnesota. There aren’t many fans that disagree with his stance or his sense of urgency. It’s justified when you see the history of the team and the frustration surrounding Kahn’s tenure with the Wolves. It just couldn’t have come at a worse time when the team is trying to put its losing ways behind it.

Love's concussion can be a scary situation

April, 12, 2012
4/12/12
11:01
AM ET
Harper By Zach Harper
ESPN.com
Archive
Kevin Love
Garrett Ellwood/NBAE/Getty Images
Kevin Love's mild concussion against Denver shouldn't be taken lightly.

I still have trouble piecing together the events of a night from 11 years ago.

From what I’ve been told and the little I remember, my rec league basketball team was up by about five or six points with under a minute to go. We had the ball and were playing Keep Away from the other team. I caught the ball somewhere before halfcourt, evaded a defender trying to foul me and began advancing the ball.

After I turned to dribble, I have no idea what happened next. The next moment I can recall is lying on the floor with a few teammates and a referee standing above me. I don’t remember getting up. I vaguely remember standing at the free throw line and have a faint recollection of how the basket looked to me as I was trying to focus in on my free throws. Nothing was in focus and I had a tunnel vision type of view as I looked toward the hoop. Miraculously, I made both free throws (or maybe my friends just told me I did to make me feel better). I honestly couldn’t tell you.

The game ended and we had our customary game recap session at a nearby Taco Bell. I don’t remember going there but I know I was there. For some reason, I drove home after this. When I pulled up to my house, an overwhelming sense of disorientation and fear came over me. I couldn’t remember how I got home, even as I was sitting in my car. I tried to figure out if I had driven myself, confused as to why I’d be in the car if I hadn’t been the one driving. I wondered if I ran any red lights or veered into occupied lanes in my 14-mile drive home.

I had a concussion. My trip to the doctor the next day confirmed this. For the next three weeks, I avoided driving because it didn’t feel safe. I couldn’t concentrate long enough to obey basic traffic laws. For a few months after the oncourt collision, I’d get splitting headaches that just randomly popped up. Before that, I’d rarely get them. It took me roughly five or six months to ever completely feel normal again, and even to this day, my short-term memory is unreliable.

Seeing Kevin Love going down in a dazed heap after JaVale McGee’s elbow accidentally implanted itself into Love’s temple was a scary sight. Whenever you see a guy on the ground, looking up at his teammates and trainer without a hint of being present, it’s an alarming and uneasy feeling. It’s also an injury the NBA is taking extremely serious.

So far this season, we’ve had a few high profile players suffer concussions. Kobe Bryant, Kyrie Irving and Mickael Pietrus have all been diagnosed with concussions to varying degrees/grades. Bryant suffered one in the All-Star Game and never missed any action after clearing the mandatory exertion tests to show he was symptom free. Irving missed three games after being accidentally kneed in the head by Dwyane Wade.

Pietrus had the most severe of these brain injuries, suffering a Grade 3 concussion when he slammed into the hardwood in Philadelphia. He missed 10 games, just coming back last night to help the Celtics in their win over Atlanta.

While Love’s concussion may not be as severe as Pietrus’, it begs the question of whether or not he should even finish the season. He was kept for precautionary measures in Denver overnight with Wolves assistant athletic trainer Andrew Tai, per Jerry Zgoda of the Star Tribune.

Minnesota, like many other teams in the league, has been banged up throughout this season. They lost Ricky Rubio due to an ACL tear, Nikola Pekovic for numerous games because of an ankle injury, JJ Barea with various ailments, and currently Luke Ridnour with a sprained ankle. Since the Rubio injury, they’ve gone 4-14 and helped extend their April losing streak to 23 straight games (their last April win came against the Warriors on April 8, 2009). They’ve fallen out of the playoff race and don’t even have a draft pick to tank for.

Ultimately, it’s up to Kevin Love and the medical staff involved in assessing concussion recovery to figure out if he should get back on the court before the 2012-13 season begins. Other than pride and wanting to get back to your teammates, there really isn’t a reason that shows the Wolves should risk putting him back in the lineup if there are any lingering symptoms past today.

Nearly a month ago, LeBron James claimed he was “too tough” to get a concussion after a collision with Grant Hill in Miami. Even if we pretend that is medically and biologically possible for James, the idea for a public figure/role model to claim toughness has precedent in preventing a head injury seems reckless at best, as Tom Haberstroh wrote about here.

There is nothing wrong with taking things slowly with this Love concussion situation and being overly cautious in when you let him get back on the court. If it means he misses the final seven games for Minnesota this season then so be it. These head injuries can be a scary byproduct of this game at any level and the consequences can stick around for a long time.

I would never pretend to have been too tough for my concussion. Pietrus wouldn’t let his ego get in the way of admitting to one and LeBron shouldn’t have scoffed at the idea. Hopefully Kevin Love and the Minnesota Timberwolves will take it as seriously as each head injury potentially is.

More special rookie: Irving or Rubio?

February, 25, 2012
2/25/12
5:24
AM ET
By Ryan Feldman, ESPN Stats & Info
ESPN.com
At the All-Star break, two rookies have separated themselves from the rest of the 2011 draft class.

Sure, Kemba Walker has the only triple-double among rookies, MarShon Brooks has proven to be a reliable scorer, Gustavo Ayón has been effective since becoming a starter, and Isaiah Thomas has been a pleasant surprise considering he was the last player drafted.

But thus far, it’s been Kyrie Irving and Ricky Rubio who have positioned themselves as the frontrunners to win Rookie of the Year. Here’s how they’ve done it:

KYRIE IRVING
Kyrie Irving
Irving
The Cavaliers were the worst in the East last season, but with Irving leading the way, they’re ninth in the conference, a game-and-a-half out of the playoffs.

Offensively, Cleveland is much better when Irving is on the floor. The Cavs score more, shoot better, have more assists and fewer turnovers.

Irving is averaging 18.1 PPG while making nearly 42 percent of his 3-point attempts.

Only one other rookie has ever averaged 18 points and made at least 40 percent of their 3-point attempts. That was Larry Bird, who averaged 21 points and shot almost 41 percent from 3-point range as a rookie.

And if Irving can improve his field goal percentage (47.6 FG pct) in the second half of the season, he has a chance of shooting 50 percent from the field, 40 percent from 3-point range, and 80 percent from the free throw line.

Only Mark Price (1987-88, 1988-89) and Steve Kerr (1991-92) have accomplished a “50-40-80” season in Cavaliers history.

RICKY RUBIO
Ricky Rubio
Rubio
The Minnesota Timberwolves had the worst record in the NBA last season (17-65). But they have as many wins this season through 34 games as they did last season. Minnesota sits 10th in the Western Conference, one game out of the playoffs.

Their top six scorers from 2010-11 remain, but the main difference this season is Rubio. When he’s on the court, the Timberwolves are +68, but when he’s off the court, they’re -28.

Teammates thrive when Rubio is in the game. He assists on nearly 39 percent of their field goals when he’s on the floor, the highest assist percentage for a rookie in the last five seasons (minimum 20 games).

Rubio has been especially effective as a distributor in the 4th quarter. He leads the NBA in 4th quarter assists this season with 64, ahead of more seasoned veterans like Jose Calderon and Deron Williams.

Rubio is fifth in the NBA in assists per game and second in steals per game. Only three rookies in NBA history -- Tim Hardaway, Mark Jackson and Phil Ford -- have averaged at least 10 points, eight assists and two steals per game, and Rubio is on pace to join them.

Rubio breaks down Sixers defense

February, 20, 2012
2/20/12
3:45
PM ET
By Ryan Feldman
ESPN.com
Archive

US Presswire
Ricky Rubio was able to find a variety of ways to score against the NBA's top-ranked defense Sunday.

The Philadelphia 76ers are the best defensive team in the NBA this season, but fell short of that distinction against Ricky Rubio and the Minnesota Timberwolves on Sunday.

Rubio scored a career-high 22 points on 7-of-17 shooting from the field, including 2-of-4 on 3-point attempts. He added five assists with only one turnover.

Rubio scored in a variety of ways on Sunday -- long jumpers (eight points), mid-range jumpers (four points), off the ball (eight points), pick-and-roll plays (eight points), and drives to the basket (eight points).

The 76ers are allowing the fewest points per play in the league this season. One of their biggest strengths on the defensive end is defending pick-and-rolls including passes, where they also rank better than all other teams in points per play allowed.

But on Sunday, Rubio shot 4-of-6 for eight points with one assist and no turnovers on seven pick-and-roll plays.

Both of Rubio's spot-up 3-pointers also came in pick-and-roll situations. Both plays came when Luke Ridnour came off a pick-and-roll on the right wing and threw a skip pass to an open Rubio on the left wing.

Jrue Holiday had trouble stopping Rubio, who scored 18 of his 22 points and dished out four assists with one turnover against the 76ers point guard.

Holiday particularly had trouble defending Rubio on pick-and-roll plays, where Rubio shot 4-of-5 for eight points and dished out four assists with only one turnover on six plays when being defended by Holiday. Such a defensive performance is atypical for Holiday -- only Raymond Felton ranks better this season at defending pick-and-roll ball-handlers among those with at least 150 plays.

Rubio displayed his offensive versatility while matched up with Holiday with 3:51 left in the fourth quarter, when Rubio came off a pick-and-roll and knocked down a 16-foot jumper to give Minnesota an 88-87 lead. That jump shot helped lead the Timberwolves to their third straight victory.

Rubio's performance against the 76ers Sunday was one of his most complete performances of the season. It's the fifth time he has had at least 10 points, five rebounds and five assists, and the Timberwolves have won all five of those games.

Among players with at least 150 plays this season, Rubio ranks 222nd out of 251 players in points per play. There is certainly plenty of room for improvement in that regard.

If his offensive scoring output continues to improve, he will be even more of an all-around threat. Over the last two games, Rubio has 40 points, 13 field goals and four 3-pointers -- the most he's had in any two-game stretch.

Rubio starting to give T-Wolves success

January, 31, 2012
1/31/12
2:15
AM ET
By Ryan Feldman, ESPN Stats & Info
ESPN.com
Since Ricky Rubio entered the starting lineup, the Timberwolves are 7-4 compared to just 3-7 with Rubio coming off the bench. Much of the Timberwolves' success lately is due to Rubio's superb play down the stretch of games.

Rubio was nearly flawless in the second half of the win over the Rockets on Monday, totaling seven assists and just one turnover while shooting 4-of-6 from the field. For the game, Rubio had 18 points, 11 assists, eight rebounds and three turnovers while shooting 6-of-10 from the field and 2-of-3 from 3-point range. It was perhaps Rubio's most complete game of the season.

In the second half of the last three games, Rubio has 18 assists and just one turnover. In those three games, the Timberwolves are +26 in the second half, including +14 in the second half of Monday's win.

In fact, it's the fourth time that Rubio has totaled at least seven rebounds and eight assists in a game, and the Timberwolves are now 4-0 in those games. Rubio has 10 double-digit assist games this season, which leads the NBA.

But the fourth quarter has been where Rubio has been at his best.

Rubio leads the NBA in fourth-quarter assists with 46. By comparison, the next-highest is Derrick Rose with 36. Over his last three games, Rubio has seven assists and zero turnovers in the fourth quarter. The Timberwolves are 2-1 in those games with a five-point loss to the Lakers sandwiched in between two wins.

During a three-game winning streak from January 16-20, Rubio had seven assists and two turnovers while the Timberwolves were a combined +33 in those fourth quarters. Rubio had 12 assists and five turnovers while his team was +45 in the second halves of those games.

Rubio is +38 in the fourth quarter this season, which ranks third in the NBA among point guards behind Derrick Rose and Jrue Holiday.

Rubio's shooting has drastically improved in the fourth quarter as compared to the first three quarters. He's shooting 42.0 percent from the field and 46.7 percent on 3-point attempts in the fourth quarter, but is shooting just 36.3 percent from the field and 30.3 percent on 3-point attempts in the first three quarters.

With Rubio's improved play since entering the starting lineup, especially late in games, the Timberwolves have exploded offensively. They've scored more than 100 points in four of their last seven games and are averaging 100.6 points in those seven games after scoring more than 100 only once in their previous nine games.

Rubio more than just a passing fancy

January, 12, 2012
1/12/12
4:00
PM ET
By ESPN Stats & Info
ESPN.com
Archive

Brace Hemmelgarn/US PresswireRicky Rubio's creative passing has made the Timberwolves a team to watch this season.
Two years after the Minnesota Timberwolves selected him fifth overall in the 2009 NBA Draft, Ricky Rubio finally made it to the Association and through 10 games he has nearly lived up to the hype that preceded his much-anticipated debut.

The Spanish Sensation has yet to see his name in the starting lineup, but his shaggy hair and bearded face have dominated nearly every Timberwolves highlight this season.

Rubio has been piling up the assists despite averaging less than 30 minutes per game. He ranks third in the league in assist per 36 minutes (9.8), behind only Rajon Rondo (10.0) and Steve Nash (11.7).

Rubio has used a variety of passes to compile his 79 assists this season. While the majority have come via chest passes, 27 percent have come off bounce passes, including nine over the last three games.

Not surprisingly, Rubio has shown a flair for the dramatic with his passing. More than one-third of his assists have been one-handed passes and nine of them have been crowd-pleasing alley-oops.

Rubio has most often set up his teammates off pick-and-roll plays, where more than 40 percent of his assists have come. But he’s become more comfortable passing on the break over the past week, dishing out 15 dimes in transition over the last three contests after compiling just nine in his first seven games.

He has also shown the skills to find open players both in the paint and on the perimeter, with a near equal distribution of assists that have led to three-pointers (28) and dunks/layups (29).

According to Hoopdata.com, his Weighted Assists average of 11.4 per game, which takes into account the added value of an assist that leads to a three-point field goal, leads the NBA.

Though Rubio’s offensive flair has dominated the headlines, he’s also been a key part of the Timberwolves’ defensive improvement this season. Minnesota has jumped from 27th in the defensive efficiency rankings in 2010-11 to 14th this year thanks partly to the defensive prowess of the Spanish guard.

The Timberwolves are allowing 14 fewer points with Rubio on the court than when he’s off the court, the second-best defensive rating on the team among players with at least 100 minutes played, according to basketballvalue.com.

Rubio’s overall impact both on offense and defense while he’s on the court is highlighted by his team-leading plus-minus of +52. Luke Ridnour, the current starting point guard, has the second-worst plus-minus on the team (-48).

Rubio has also had a huge impact on rookie Derrick Williams’ performance. Williams is averaging more than twice as many points per 36 minutes with Rubio on the court (15.9) than with Ridnour (6.8), and is making over half of his field goals when paired with Rubio, compared to just one-third with Ridnour.

-- Justin Havens, Evan Kaplan and Katie Sharp contributed to this post.

'Love'fest in Boston, but Celtics prevail

January, 3, 2011
1/03/11
11:58
PM ET
By ESPN Stats & Info
ESPN.com
Archive
There was a Kevin putting up monster numbers in the TD Garden on Monday night. But it wasn't Garnett, and this Kevin couldn’t do enough to lead his team to victory.

Minnesota Timberwolves forward Kevin Love continued his monstrous season, his 24 rebounds breaking Dikembe Mutombo’s decade-old record for most rebounds in a game on Boston’s floor.

But as has been the case since the trade for Kevin Garnett, Boston prevailed, 96-93, thanks to big games from Paul Pierce and Rajon Rondo (16 assists). The Celtics are now 7-0 against the Timberwolves since the Garnett deal, winning three times when he didn’t even play.

And since that trade, we remind you that the Celtics have the best record in the NBA. The Timberwolves have the worst.

Von Wafer
Wafer
Love may have had the night’s biggest number, but Celtics guard Von Wafer may have quietly outdone him. Wafer had 10 points and six rebounds in 15 minutes in the win. More significantly, the Celtics outscored the Timberwolves by 16 points with Wafer on the floor (they were outscored by 13 with him on the bench, and coincidentally guard Ray Allen was minus-13 for the game).

The plus-16 for Wafer was the fourth-best plus-minus in his 136 NBA games, the best since a plus-20 for the Houston Rockets in a 107-97 win over the Toronto Raptors on March 3, 2009. Monday's game was Wafer’s sixth straight with a positive plus-minus rating.

Elsewhere in the NBA:
• LeBron James matched his season high with 38 points and Dwyane Wade added 31 in the Miami Heat’s 96-82 win over the Charlotte Bobcats. They're the first pair of Heat teammates to score 30-or-more points in the same game since Wade and Mario Chalmers last season. The Heat have won 11 straight road games, the first team to do that since the 2007-2008 Rockets won 12 in a row.

Charlotte missed 18 consecutive shots in the 2nd and 3rd quarters, the longest such streak in franchise history, as well as the longest in the NBA this season, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.

• The Golden State Warriors couldn’t hold a halftime lead against one of the NBA’s best for the second straight game, losing 110-90 to the Orlando Magic. In their last two games against the Heat and Magic, the Warriors have outscored their opponents by 23 points in the first half, but have been outscored by 50 points in the second half.

Deron Williams
Williams
• Deron Williams had his 13th 20-point/10-assist game of the season in the Utah Jazz’ 102-97 win over the Detroit Pistons. His 20-10 total is four more than any other player in the NBA (Raymond Felton of the New York Knicks ranks second with nine).

• Speaking of the Knicks, they learned that they’ll have deal with basketball life without Danilo Gallinari beginning when they host the San Antonio Spurs on Tuesday. Gallinari will be out for up to three weeks with a knee injury.

With Gallinari on the floor this season, the Knicks have shot 48 percent from the field. When he’s been on the bench, they’re shooting just 43.1 percent. The Spurs defense figures to be a tough challenge. San Antonio has held its last four opponents to 37 percent shooting from the field.

Thursday Bullets

December, 30, 2010
12/30/10
3:30
PM ET

Monday Bullets

December, 27, 2010
12/27/10
5:26
PM ET
By Benjamin Polk
ESPN.com
Archive
  • Those of you who are sick of reading about how good LeBron James is, should definitely not read this fine Hoopspeak post. Although if it means anything to you, it's also about how Ron Artest didn't play so well on Saturday. I'm kidding, of course. Everybody should read it.
  • Right now, all NBA journalism is threatening to devolve into the "did you see what Blake Griffin did yesterday?" show. On a totally different note, did you see what Blake Griffin did yesterday?
  • John Wall is stunningly quick and he can do a wicked Dougie. But last night Tony Parker, like the good Spur that he is, was the one playing the extraordinarily efficient basketball. I'm sure he's also a great dancer.
  • At the Heat Index, Kevin Arnovitz tells us--exactly and exhaustively--what the Heat's defense did to the Lakers on Saturday. As always, it seems, great defense comes down to trust and a "fundamental, almost religious, devotion by the entire team" to the group concept.
  • I'm not what you might call a visual learner. Before I really understand a map or chart I usually have to go through a few rounds of staring, folding, unfolding, wearing it as pants. Nonetheless, the folks at Hoopism made a visual representation of every player on every team ever that is really pretty cool. As a Wolves' fan its hugely rewarding to see the names "Gundars Vetra," "Lance Blanks" and "Charles Shackleford" all in one place.
  • Whenever the Timberwolves win, we at A Wolf Among Wolves have ourselves a party. That this party includes extreme expressions of exasperation at aimless defense and mind-blowing shot selection just comes with the territory. Do we care that two of the Wolves' seven wins have come against the Cavs? We do, sort of.
  • Missing from my discussion of the new Suns was an assessment of the blockbuster trade that brought Marcin Gortat, Vince Carter and Mickael Pietrus into the fold. Michael Schwartz of Valley of the Suns gives us just that. Here's the short term and the long term.
  • At Basketball Prospectus, Sebastian Pruiti tells us that although Derrick Rose has indeed added the three to his arsenal, his midrange shooting has actually gotten worse. Just another example of the disappointing fact that, although Rose does almost everything beautifully, he doesn't always do it effectively.
  • Aggressively hedging screens is a great way to deter a dynamic ballhandler like Rose. But NBA Playbook tells us that if you do it too early, you could be cooked. Yes, I just made two separate Sebastian Pruiti links. It's because he's awfully smart.
  • Brian Robb of CelticsHub talks to Celtics' radio play-by-play man Sean Grande. It will make you want to listen to Celtics' games on the radio. Most interesting, I thought, was their discussion of the effect of Rajon Rondo's absence on the C's offense.
  • On the New York Times's Off the Dribble blog, Rob Mahoney describes the ebb and flow of the Thunder's fortunes as a "Spursian rhythm," which sounds awesome. He also provides a really nice chart that I had to stare at for a while. Regardless, says Mahoney, you should get ready for OKC to surge. You should also read Rob Mahoney whenever you can.
  • Please watch Kurtis Blow rap about basketball. Hear him say that "basketball is my favorite sport/I like the way they dribble up and down the court." See the strange way he stares at the camera as he lip-syncs. Notice that the players in the video seem to be playing on a six-foot hoop. Then watch Master P's (slightly PG-13) "Make 'em Say Ugh." Notice that there is a gold tank on the floor and a gorilla playing for a team called "The Hustlers." Then wonder about our weird culture.
  • Whenever someone tells me that Pau Gasol is "soft" I disagree, and reply that he's actually just "not strong." But now even Phil Jackson is getting in on it. What does it mean when your coach says that a player is "not shooting the ball with a base, he’s kind of just lollygagging, putting a soft kind of release on his shot."? That sounds like a bad thing.
  • Apparently, LeBron James literally does not know the meaning of the word "contraction." Yet another example of why I'm really glad I'm not a famous person.
  • Bethlehem Shoals gives us the final word on Kobe and LeBron (kidding again): "Not only will we never see the question of 'who's better' satisfactorily resolved," says Shoals, "what keeps it going is that, at bottom, the two represent two very different approaches to the game. It's the impossibility of one ever really surpassing the other that keeps this debate going."
  • A sad looking, 33-year-old Steve Francis has been cut from his Chinese professional team. After four games. Think about that and then think about this (check the 1:50 mark).

First Cup: Wednesday

October, 14, 2009
10/14/09
8:52
AM ET
  • Scott Cacciola of The Commercial-Appeal: "Allen Iverson's abilities are a gift, which even he recognizes. In the same way that musical prodigies can just pick up an instrument and create a song, so too can Iverson grab a basketball -- without hours of practice -- and control a game. He always has been at his best when he improvises. He would clash with his high school football and basketball coaches for missing practices, but they knew he would excel when it mattered. It was impossible to bench him. ... Iverson, no longer a brash rookie, said he has grown to understand the importance of taking care of his body, acknowledging that his long wait for a contract this summer meant sacrificing some of his preparation. Then again, he has coped with injuries before. He missed 34 games during the 2003-04 season because of problems with his right knee -- 'Shaq kneed me in my thigh,' he said -- and his right shoulder. He missed 17 games toward the end of last season with the Detroit Pistons because of a balky back, though he also was upset about his role with the team. He sees his latest challenge as a temporary setback. He is unwilling to concede anything to age. In his mind, it is a fluke."
  • Sam Amick of The Sacramento Bee: "Most of this season was taken from Francisco Garcia when the exercise ball on which he lay while lifting two 90-pound dumbbells exploded. The accident, Garcia said, is as surreal now as it was when it happened. 'Just a regular day, lifting weights,' he said. 'I was out there, on the PhysioBall. We've got an understanding that the exercise was good. We'd been doing that, and it exploded on me. ? I didn't have time to react or anything. It's crazy, man. I keep reflecting in my head. It's crazy.' Garcia said he hopes to travel occasionally with the team and maintain a strong connection. 'I want to be here as much as I can, be on the road as much as I can,' he said. 'I just want to be there with them, as a teammate, as a friend, as a leader. I think they really need me out there, even if I'm not playing.' "
  • Scott Ostler of the San Francisco Chronicle: "Stephen Jackson renounced his team captaincy Tuesday. Captain Jack is now Captive Jack. Jackson has been stewing for weeks, making it clear and public that he wants the Warriors to trade him. Nice strategy, by the way: Clamor to be traded, thereby drastically decreasing your trade value. He returned to the Warriors on Tuesday after a two-game team suspension, meeting with coach Don Nelson and general manager Larry Riley before practice. When Nelson talked to a large group of media in the early afternoon, he was happy. 'The prodigal son has returned,' said a smiling Nelson. 'It's good to have Jack back.' Nelson also said, 'He's going to be the same guy.' But when it was Jackson's turn with the media, he seemed like a very different guy, not the positive and good-humored captain many of us have grown to know and like. To say Jackson seemed bitter Tuesday is to say that the day seemed a bit moist. I'm checking with sources to see if Jackson and Nelson attended the same meeting."
  • Mike Wells of The Indianapolis Star: "From a distance, Murphy comes across as a free-spirited prankster. It turns out that's not the case. 'Murph plays the Jersey goofball a lot, but he certainly knows what's going on, so we give him a hard time,' said Pacers swingman Mike Dunleavy, who has been Murphy's teammate for seven years. 'He knows all the things that are at stake.' Murphy regained his old form last season when he averaged 14.3 points and a career-high 11.8 rebounds. He's the only player in NBA history to finish in the top five in rebounding (second) and 3-point percentage (third) in the same season. He also had 48 double-doubles, a franchise record. Murphy averaged a double-double in three of the first five years of his career. 'He's always been a terrific rebounder,' Dunleavy said. 'He sort of went back to where he was in previous years and just seemed more focused and had it all together, and when he does that he's a pretty good player.' "
  • Michael Lee of The Washington Post: "Gilbert Arenas came back from the shower, put on his backpack and lowered his head. He was ready for the Q&Arenas. Here is the full transcript. Enjoy. Q: Do you have any comment on the fine you received today? Arenas: 'Nope.' Q: Do you think the game tonight was a sign of progress? Arenas: 'Yeah, both teams played hard.' Q: How are you feeling out there on the court? Arenas: 'I feel fine.' Q: What are your thoughts on Will Bynum? Arenas: 'He's coming along well.' Q: Anything else about tonight's game? Arenas: 'No.' Q: Do you feel good about the way things are going right now, feel good about the way you are playing, feel comfortable about the new coaching staff? Arenas: 'Yep.' Q: What can you say about Flip and how is he different than what you've experienced here before? Arenas: 'He's just bringing something different than the last coach.' Q: What in particular is he bringing that's different? Arenas: (Six second pause) 'What was the question again?' Q: What are your impressions of Flip? What has he brought to this team so far? Arenas: 'It's too early to tell. Maybe next month, I'll have a better answer for you' Q: Do you have anything to say about the fine today? Arenas: 'Nope.' Q: No comment? Arenas: 'Nope' The end."
  • Mike Monroe of the San Antonio Express-News: "Kings forward Francisco Garcia suffered an injury when an inflatable exercise ball exploded. Garcia reportedly was lying on his back across a 'physio ball' while lifting dumbbells. When the ball exploded, the player fell backwards, fracturing the radius in his right wrist. He also suffered ligament damage. Garcia is expected to miss four months of play after surgery to repair the injuries. On Monday, the Kings sent a warning to the other 29 NBA teams advising them about the incident. Spurs strength and conditioning coach Mike Brungardt said the team has used exercise balls -- large, inflated balls on which players balance while doing assorted exercises -- for many years. 'We check them several times each season, and we've never had a problem,' Brungardt said. 'We'll continue to use them, but we immediately eliminated their use in some exercises after we got the report from the Kings.' Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said he could not recall a Spurs player being injured during any sort of off-court workout. 'No,' he said, 'but it made us all think. We all have all these different contraptions we're using. Odd things can happen.' "
  • Charles F. Gardner of the Journal Sentinel: "A significant decision awaits the Milwaukee Bucks by the end of the month, and it's not an easy one. Bucks general manager John Hammond faces an Oct. 31 deadline to decide whether to renew the first option year on forward Joe Alexander's cont
    ract. Alexander would be owed $2.76 million next season if the Bucks pick up the first of two option years on his rookie-scale contract. Complicating the choice is the disappointing performance turned in by Alexander during his rookie year in 2008-'09 and the injuries that plagued him in training camp a year ago and again during the current preseason. Alexander worked hard during the off-season at the Bucks' training facility and performed well in the NBA Summer League in Las Vegas, but on the first day of training camp, he was standing on the sideline due to a strained right hamstring. The 6-foot-8 Alexander has not been able to practice yet or play in the Bucks' first five exhibition games, a huge setback for a player trying to gain coach Scott Skiles' confidence and battle for time at the small forward position. Hammond declined to comment Tuesday on the Bucks' intentions."
  • Jerry Zgoda of the Star Tribune: "Jonny Flynn hasn't played a real NBA game yet, but already Timberwolves coach Kurt Rambis knows his rookie point guard can run successfully the two-man pick-and-roll play at the sport's highest level anytime and anywhere he so chooses. That's why he's not letting Flynn do it. At least not yet anyway. Rambis wants Flynn to concentrate on skills he hasn't mastered -- and those his team needs most -- in a preseason that's two games old. 'He's learning the importance of the point guard in this league,' Rambis said. 'I need him to orchestrate the offense and get his teammates involved. They're counting on him.' Oh, is that all? At the age of 20? At a position Rambis calls the most difficult to learn in the NBA?"
  • Sekou Smith of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution: "Five years into his NBA career, Marvin Williams has more than established himself in the league. The proof can be found in his numbers. For his career Williams has averaged 12.5 points, 5.5 rebounds and started in 209 of the 284 games he's played since being selected with the No. 2 overall pick in the 2005 draft. For all that, both Williams and Hawks coach Mike Woodson are convinced that there's much more the starting small forward can do. 'Marvin's come in every year since his rookie year in great shape and he's really been consistent,' Woodson said. 'But he's the one guy over the next two years that I think can really make the jump to become more of an elite scorer, mostly because he can put the ball on the floor and draw fouls. He added the 3-point shot to his game last season and I think that pushed his game to another level. Now, he has to take another step.' Does that mean folks can expect to see a more aggressive and determined Williams this season? 'I think so,' Williams said. 'I've never been one to try and do too much. I've always felt like I know my role and I try to play the best I can. At the same time, I think this preseason I've tried to be more aggressive. And it's worked out.' "
  • Bob Cooney of the Philadelphia Daily News: "As the old saying goes, there is no 'I' in team. But there is a 'me,' and Sixers forward Elton Brand has had to concentrate on the selfish part of the game a little more than usual this preseason. Besides having to absorb the new offensive and defensive schemes that have been brought in by coach Eddie Jordan, Brand has had to make sure his surgically repaired shoulder and Achilles' tendon are ready to endure what he hopes to be an 82-game regular season. He also has had to find out whether he still has what it takes to be the 20-point, 10-rebound-a-night player he has been throughout his career. Sometimes that might take away from what Jordan is trying to accomplish. But for now, the coach is OK with it. 'I like that he's aggressive,' Jordan said of the player the Sixers signed in the summer of 2008 to a 5-year, $80 million contract. 'He's putting the shoulder down, he's really looking to be assertive in the paint area.' Then came the caveat. 'I want him to execute a little better, as far as spacing for his teammates, his cutting for his teammates, not for himself,' Jordan said."
  • Frank Dell'Apa of The Boston Globe: "Rasheed Wallace, who had 20 points and nine rebounds in 25 minutes, defended his prediction the Celtics are capable of winning 72 games. 'When you play with a high caliber team, whose goals are higher than other teams in the NBA, when you play with teams that want that hardware, then, yes, those records can be broken,' he said. 'But I think we can get that 72. If we overcome injuries, I think we can get it. Just imagine if guys didn't get hurt [last season], they definitely could have gotten it. That's what we're shooting for this year.' "
  • Mike Ganter of the Toronto Sun: "And now for your actual 2009-2010 Raptors. Halfway through the pre-season, the Raptors are poised for the first time to play a game with all five of their projected starters in the lineup. Hedo Turkoglu joins the recently returned Chris Bosh to the lineup giving coach Jay Triano his first look at a starting five that also includes Jose Calderon, Andrea Bargnani and, for now, DeMar DeRozan. And it all goes down in Hartford with the Boston Celtics providing the opposition. Triano will waste no time in getting Turkoglu involved. 'Does he deserve to start because of the amount he has practised? No,' said Triano answering his own question. 'But we only have four more pre-season games and I need to put him on the floor with guys he is going to play with for the majority of the time. I'm planning on starting him with Jose, Chris, Andrea and probably DeMar.' "
  • Ira Winderman of the South Florida Sun Sentinel: "Mario Chalmers' scholarship ended Sunday. Suddenly, for the first time since Chalmers was named last season's Miami Heat opening-night starter, there is legitimate competition at point guard with the signing of free agent Carlos Arroyo. Until the Heat made the move for the eighth-year veteran, Chalmers' competition had been limited over the past year to the likes of Chris Quinn, Marcus Banks, Shaun Livingston, Luther Head and current camp longshot John Lucas III. But now there is a veteran in the mix who has started 113 NBA games, one who has served as an understudy to the likes of John Stockton, Mark Jackson and Chauncey Billups. 'I think he's landslide better than everybody,' Heat forward Michael Beasley said of Chalmers' previous competition. Beasley, in fact, said it is apparent that the signing of Arroyo has motivated Chalmers, who made the surprise jump to starter after being taken in the second round of the 2008 draft. 'I think he's taking this move and really getting competitive with it,' Beasley said of his closest friend on the team. 'Everybody knows Carlos is a great player, a vet, a scorer with court vision. He can do it all. And 'Rio now got somebody not only to go head-to-head with, but somebody to look up to, somebody to learn off of.' "
  • Lisa Dillman of the Los Angeles Times: "When so little went right -- as it did for the Clippers and their fans last season -- the temptat
    ion is to go overboard when there are the slightest signs of promise. The incumbent Chris Kaman, veteran of those flickers, urged caution after back-to-back exhibition wins and a fresh air of hope in Clippers' training camp. It took one word to get that thought across: Fresno. 'Don't read into it so much,' Kaman said Tuesday after practice. 'It's basketball. See how it goes. It happened last year. We beat the Lakers in the preseason up in Fresno.' In fact, it was Oct. 9 of last year when the Clippers crushed the Lakers in Fresno, 107-80, in their exhibition opener. And you know the injury-marred rest of the story."
  • Rick Bonnell of The Charlotte Observer: "Charlotte Bobcats coach Larry Brown says the NBA game is flawed in ways that transcend whether replacement referees are making the calls. Brown will be relieved when this labor dispute is resolved and the veteran officials return. But he's seen a pattern the past few years -- too many whistles, too many contrived rules -- that rob basketball of its natural flow. 'Until we figure out a way to get more shots and have more of a flow up-and-down the court -- which is the beauty of the game -- it's gonna be tough' to entertain fans, Brown said. So if Brown were basketball czar, what would he do? 1) Standardize rules worldwide for the NBA, college and international games. 2) Move the NBA 3-point line in slightly. 3) Permit teams to play any defense they choose without violating some anti-zone rule. Brown believes those changes would both allow and compel teams to run more and shoot more, and that's what the game needs."
  • Steve Politi of The Star-Ledger: "Bruce Ratner may have recruited Russian billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov to bail him out financially, but money is not the only obstacle. You can only wonder how foreign it must seem to Prokhorov, coming from a country where the government gets what it wants, to see how one man can become a thorn to this massive project. The case is a long shot. 'The eminent domain issue is going to be very tough for them to win,' said William Ward, a Florham Park-based attorney who handles cases related to property seizure. 'The problem they have in my perspective is that the politicians are lined up against them.' Ward, who was once the lawyer for the Meadowlands sports complex, sees another legal victory for Ratner. But Goldstein and his allies, the underdogs from the start, still have hope that the Court of Appeals will see this deal for what it is -- the government taking property to line the pockets of a developer. 'The idea that the government would force me to sell to Forest City Ratner because this is some great public benefit offends me,' Goldstein said. 'It is not. If it were a benefit, I would not be doing this. I would have left.' Had he left, the Nets would have left New Jersey already, too. They are still here in part because one man dug in and decided to play some defense. Wednesday, he takes one final shot."

First Cup: Tuesday

October, 13, 2009
10/13/09
8:58
AM ET
  • Howard Beck of The New York Times: "Coach Mike D'Antoni, ever the nonconformist, is eliminating the morning shootaround for all home games this season, starting with Tuesday's exhibition against the Philadelphia 76ers. The Knicks instead will gather for an afternoon meeting and walk-through at Madison Square Garden. The change saves everyone from having to commute twice in a day, first to the team's Westchester training center (for the shootaround), then to Midtown (for the game). It also gives players a little more time to shake off the cobwebs. So rather than roust themselves for a groggy gathering at 10 a.m., the Knicks will have the morning to themselves. They must report to the Garden by 3:30 p.m. ... The morning shootaround is a time-honored N.B.A. tradition. It serves a dual function: to prepare for the game and to give party-minded players an incentive to get to bed early. Whether it works is a matter of some debate. The routine can actually be draining. Many N.B.A. players take afternoon naps to recover from the shootaround."
  • Steve Bulpett of the Boston Herald: "Never let it be said Kevin Garnett doesn't take requests. A day after his coach noted an aspect of his game that's been missing, KG made like a DJ and spun the tune. 'I think he's getting stronger and stronger,' said Doc Rivers. 'The only thing left is today he caught a lob and dunked. An amazing dunk. Everybody was like, oh, we haven't seen that. I made the comment yesterday that the only part lacking is that he's not as explosive yet. When he did it, he yelled out, 'Oh, I can do it.' So that was good to see.' The rejuvenated Celtic was ready when asked about it later. 'I think Doc's been waiting for me to grow wings and fly,' he said. 'I'm telling him just be patient. The wings are coming. They're coming.' That Garnett's humor is back also is a good sign things are all right with his surgically repaired right knee."
  • Mike Monroe of the San Antonio Express-News: "A little more than two weeks into his first NBA training camp, rookie forward DeJuan Blair says his knees are feeling just fine, thank you. Blair arrived from the University of Pittsburgh devoid of an anterior cruciate ligament in either knee. Though the condition was never an issue for Blair in college, the Spurs' medical staff has been compulsive about monitoring him after practices and games. 'The training staff is doing an excellent job of keeping my knees in shape and strengthened,' Blair said. 'I just need to keep (being) me, and not worry about my knees. They're going to be as healthy as possible.' ... Ehen Blair takes the floor for his fourth preseason game Wednesday against the Clippers, he is likely to see time against the most ballyhooed rookie in the NBA. Blair says he is looking forward to the potential matchup with Blake Griffin, the former Oklahoma All-American. Not because Griffin was the top pick in the June draft in which Blair fell to 37th, but because it gives the two a chance to rekindle a friendship spawned during the draft process. 'I can't wait to see him,' Blair said. 'I haven't seen him since the draft. I talked to him in the summer and told him congratulations. He's a good person, and I hope everything works out for him.' "
  • Ray Ratto of the San Francisco Chronicle:"The Stephen Jackson supernova is merely the latest example of what is now the only Warriors story in the world, namely: Something Goes Wrong - Is This the Final Straw That Convinces Chris Cohan to Sell the Team? And again, we say, "It ain't got nothin' to do with it." Cohan will sell when his price, already judged exorbitant by Larry Ellison, whose wallet could eat Cohan's entire house, is met. Or when the Internal Revenue Service decides to bring the noise to his ongoing tax issues. Are there people who would love to buy the team and move it, maybe to San Jose, maybe to San Francisco? Yes, and there have been - but Cohan isn't what real-estate people call a motivated seller, even with all the horrific embarrassments he has instigated and allowed instigated in his name. Apparently, the man simply cannot be shamed."
  • Mike Bresnahan of the Los Angeles Times: "Not much new in Lamar Odom's life, other than a reality-TV star wife, a $33-million contract extension and daily games of hide-and-seek with the ever-present paparazzi. A year ago, Odom was angry when Coach Phil Jackson said the Lakers forward would be a backup instead of a starter. That's the least of his concerns now. He still has reserve status, but no longer single status after marrying Khloe Kardashian about two weeks ago, a move that shifted him from the inside pages of sports magazines to the covers of supermarket tabloids across the country. It also made nights on the town a little less, uh, private. Even if it's just Odom and his wife, it can feel like a table for eight with the phalanx of photographers zooming in on them in restaurants, clubs and the like. Because of Kardashian's popularity among gossip groupies, Odom is tracked pretty much everywhere he goes. 'It's part of what they do. It's part of the world,' he said of the paparazzi. 'Once I'm in the house and a comfortable place, they can't come on private property. If we're in a restaurant and they want to sit there and take pictures, it doesn't matter.' Doesn't matter?"
  • Mike Jones of The Washington Times: "In their first three preseason games, the Washington Wizards have provided a glimpse of what can be expected in the coming season should they remain healthy. The team has scored plenty of points behind Antawn Jamison and Caron Butler, averaging 103 points in its three outings. Coach Flip Saunders also has several different lineups and rotations at his disposal with four different shooting guard candidates and a versatile bench. That doesn't mean, however, the Wizards are ready for the regular season. Gilbert Arenas has displayed flashes of greatness with explosive third quarters (24 points and eight assists) in back-to-back outings. But he also has shown rust (12 turnovers this preseason, a 1-for-5 shooting performance in the opener). Saunders has encouraged Arenas to play with his old aggression, but the guard appears to be feeling his way along as he learns a new offense. And his teammates -- outside of holdovers Jamison, Butler and center Brendan Haywood -- are working to adjust not only to the returning floor general but also to their roles on a revamped team."
  • Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle: "Australia slept in. Being that showdowns are not what they used to be, this one did not stir the imagination of a nation the way meetings of the Rockets and Bucks did not very long ago. Then, Yao Ming played Yi Jianlian for the first time in an NBA game, and every network in China with the option, showed the game live. The audience was believed to be the largest ever for an NBA game. When Rockets rookie center David Andersen met Andrew Bogut at To
    yota Center on Monday, they figured the audience in Australia for the first NBA meeting of the Australian centers probably consisted of Andersen's three brothers, assuming they could find a website streaming the game. ... 'It won't be anything like that,' Bogut said. 'We only have three million people in our country. Probably one or two (are interested). Basketball is not huge in Australia, probably scraping in the top eight, top 10 sports. Maybe during the season, if we both have pretty decent records more people will take notice. At the moment, compared to China, maybe five percent will watch.' "
  • Darnell Mayberry of The Oklahoman: "In the Thunder's 110-105 overtime win over Phoenix, the second-year point guard displayed to his home fans the continued development he's shown throughout this preseason. Russell Westbrook scored 10 points, pulled down 10 rebounds and dished nine assists in 26 minutes. He again played with confidence and control, showing complete command of the offense and newfound patience that he lacked last season. Westbrook made five of eight shots, turned the ball over just three times and came away with two steals. 'It is the preseason, but that's all we have to judge Russell Westbrook on right now,' said Thunder coach Scott Brooks. 'We still have some work to do, but with Russell, like I've said many times before, he's only 20 years old and for the next 10 years you're going to see a lot of improvement.' "
  • Kate Fagan of The Philadelphia Inquirer: "After yesterday's practice, 76ers coach Eddie Jordan said he asked Thaddeus Young how he felt about New York City. Young responded that all cities are 'about the same to me.' 'Really? New York isn't more special?' 'Not really, they're all about the same to me,' Young repeated. Recounting the story, Jordan laughed. 'So, yeah ... he's low-maintenance,' Jordan said. 'I don't worry about Thad.' ... Young, in his third NBA season, is averaging 9.0 points and 3.3 rebounds per game. Last season, he averaged 15.3 points per game. Still, Young seems about as low-maintenance on the court as he is off of it: snagging offensive boards, scoring in transition, picking up buckets on broken-down plays. 'I'm pretty good right now,' said Young, the team's starting small forward. 'I'm just going out there and trying to do the things I've been doing - rebounding, playing defense, getting steals. Doing the little things. My offense is going to come; I'm not worried about that too much.' "
  • Ray Richardson of the Pioneer Press: "Al Jefferson's Subway diet in the offseason -- which helped him lose 31 pounds -- has given him a quicker first step at the power forward position and turned him into a role model for people with weight-loss issues. Jefferson, 24, attracted interest from the local American Heart Association, which is partnering with the five-year veteran for a six-week program known as 'Get Healthy With Big Al.' Jefferson helps kick off the program, aimed at school kids in the Twin Cities, with an appearance today at Andersen Elementary School in South Minneapolis. The program stirs memories for Jefferson, who called himself a 'chubby kid' while growing up in Prentiss, Miss. 'You have to deal with people teasing you,' Jefferson said. 'Hopefully, I can inspire and motivate kids who might be overweight and let them know they can do what I did. It's hard for kids. You want to eat everything ... all the sweets you can eat and everything else.' Jefferson weighed 293 pounds when his season ended in February because of a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee. A few days after surgery, he began his diet of ham or turkey sandwiches from Subway -- complete with lettuce, tomatoes and other vegetables. For dinner, he had salads and soups. Convinced he needed to lose weight to help rehabilitate his knee, Jefferson stuck with the diet after a 'tough first couple of weeks.' He reported to the Wolves' training camp weighing 262 pounds."
  • Brian Schmitz of the Orlando Sentinel: "Memphis Grizzlies Coach Lionel Hollins intimated that the replacement referees favored Magic center Dwight Howard when the opening whistles blew. Rookie Grizzlies center Hasheem Thabeet, 7 feet 3, picked up two quick fouls in the first few minutes, wrapping his arms around Howard in an attempt to stop him on the first play. 'Dwight Howard's a great player and Thabeet didn't get a fair share of the calls right from the start of the game,' Hollins said. 'It's not Dwight Howard against Thabeet --- it's us against the Orlando Magic.' Magic Coach Stan Van Gundy didn't see it that way after the Magic improved their preseason record to 4-0 by beating the Grizzlies 102-83 Monday night at FedEx Forum. 'That's absurd. I thought from the first play, all Thabeet did was try to grab him. It was obvious. Of course, I'm going to see it differently than Lionel,' Van Gundy said. Howard, who usually doesn't think he ever gets a break from the officials, said incredulously, 'Are you kidding? Somebody said I was getting calls?' "
  • Jason Jones of The Sacramento Bee: "Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson and a 'prestigious group of Sacramento business leaders' will announce today at Arco Arena a plan to sell out the first two Kings home games this season. Kings co-owners Joe and Gavin Maloof, Kings president of basketball operations Geoff Petrie, Westphal and members of the business group will be at the news conference. Attendance continued to decline at Arco last season as losses piled up. The Kings had only three sellouts last season."
  • A. Sherrod Blakely of MLive.com: "Will Bynum was a freshman at Arizona when Gilbert Arenas, just a few months into his NBA career with the Golden State Warriors, returned to campus. Arenas talked of the challenges he faced as a second-round pick trying to crack the rotation as a rookie with the Warriors. 'I saw the frustration in his eyes when he was talking to me,' Bynum said. 'He was telling me how hard he was working and how (not playing) just fueled him. I had kind of a similar path.' The paths of these kindred spirits crossed again this summer during workouts in Chicago with basketball strength and conditioning guru Tim Grover. 'I learned so much from (Arenas),' Bynum said. 'We talked about the game and how we could challenge ourselves in workouts everyday, trying to get better at every aspect of the game.' "
  • Mike McGraw of the Daily Herald: "Some teams look good on paper. The Bulls sound as though things are shaping up for a strong season. Since training camp began, players have been emphasizing how well they've gotten along. No doubt, the locker room is louder and livelier than it's been in the past. Excessive laughter could be heard in the hallways even after a mundane Monday practice at the Berto Center. 'The practices are fun,' Joakim Noah said. 'We're having a great time together.' Maybe that's a good sign. The Detroit Pistons, which played for the conference championship six straight years from 2003-08, are probably the best recent example of a team that got along well and carried a strong chemistry onto the court. Vetera
    n guard Lindsey Hunter played on championship teams with the Pistons and Lakers. He's seen what works and gave the current Bulls a strong review. 'It's like family and that's how you want it,' Hunter said. 'It's hard to get that, too, by the way. It's really hard to get.' "
  • Bob Wolfley of the Journal Sentinel: "You could say Marvin Fishman helped shape the way Milwaukee defines itself as a city. His role in bringing the Bucks to Milwaukee and later donating art to museums in Wisconsin from his impressive collection were part of his legacy, part of the diverse ways Fishman influenced the culture of Milwaukee. Fishman died on Friday. He was 84. Anyone who encountered Fishman over the years and talked to him at any length knew him to be smart, tough and funny. But above all else, he really loved talking about the Milwaukee Bucks. He particularly loved talking about the Bucks in the early years. That made sense because Fishman was a major reason the National Basketball Association ended up in Milwaukee."

First Cup: Monday

October, 12, 2009
10/12/09
8:53
AM ET
  • Mike Monroe of the San Antonio Express-News: "If anyone thought him guilty of unearned hubris, he followed by punctuating his performance with a basket that provided the Spurs their margin of victory in a 95-93 win. His game-winning layin, off a nice feed from Malik Hairston, gave him his 27th and 28th points of the game. By the time he headed to the locker room to receive a dose of instant humility, delivered by coach Gregg Popovich, DeJuan Blair had scored 15 of the Spurs' 33 fourth-quarter points, all in the final six-and-a-half minutes. Sunday's fourth-quarter explosion produced the second set of eye-popping statistics of the 6-foot-7, 265-pound post man's preseason. In the first preseason game, against the Rockets, he scored 16 points and grabbed 19 rebounds. Drafted in the second round because the Spurs believed him a legitimate NBA rebounder, Blair got a none-too-subtle reminder from Popovich that rebounding must remain his forte. 'He had a tough night,' Popovich said, straight-faced. 'He only had one defensive rebound.' Then, Popovich failed to suppress a grin as he told reporters from Florida, 'He's really going to enjoy reading that in the San Antonio paper.' "
  • Eddie Sefko of The Dallas Morning News: "Of all the key acquisitions the Dallas Mavericks made over the summer, Kris Humphries' arrival barely caused a ripple. Yet less than two weeks into training camp, he's provided some of the biggest tidal waves, not to mention one of the biggest dunks. The 6-8 forward has been the surprise of training camp. Apparently, he shocked Memphis' Zach Randolph, too. Humphries blew past the Grizzlies' forward twice for drives to the basket, including a thunderous two-handed throw-down that lit up the crowd and was the memorable play of the Mavericks' 114-107 win Sunday night at American Airlines Center. It's becoming routine to see Humphries making quality contributions. He had 16 points and nine rebounds (five offensive) in 21 minutes against Memphis. 'He's been very consistent,' coach Rick Carlisle said. 'He's got an all-around game and he's physical. He's been playing well since we got him in the trade. ... Look, there's still a long way to go, but he's making a strong case that he's deserving consideration for some playing time.' "
  • Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle: "Rockets general manager Daryl Morey has said Trevor Ariza does not have to become a star scorer for the acquisition to work for the Rockets, insisting Ariza's all-around production with the Lakers would be enough for the Rockets. But he and coach Rick Adelman believe Ariza is capable of more, faith that convinced Ariza to sign a five-year, $34 million contract with the Rockets. 'He's got to just play,' Adelman said. 'He's got to keep playing and trying things, can't be hesitant. As he gets hesitant, he gets around his guy and gets off-balance, rather than just be aggressive. He has to be aggressive and we'll take it from there. I thought he passed up a couple early. He's got to keep taking them. With new responsibilities, this is just part of it. You've got to keep doing it or you're not going to learn how to be aggressive, how to be a guy that attacks the other team. It's not unusual to be the way it is right now.' Adelman said he would look to put Ariza. a 6-8 swingman, in positions to do what he does best, but for now, heading into tonight's game against Milwaukee at Toyota Center, he wants to give him room to explore the scoring chances available to him. Ariza said he was 'never a volume shooter,' even in high school. But the transition could be as much about dealing with new responsibilities and expectations."
  • Jerry Zgoda of the Star Tribune: "Might the Wolves' notable new coaching staff be tougher than the team? 'Well,' forward Al Jefferson said with a pregnant pause, 'they think they are.' Their new head coach won six NBA titles with the Los Angeles Lakers as a player and assistant coach. But in a youtube.com world, Kurt Rambis just might be best remembered for those industrial-strength eyeglasses from long ago and for rising ready to fight after he was clobbered by Kevin McHale in a 1984 NBA Finals game. Rambis' search for candidates with championship pedigrees as well as both head-coaching experience and aspirations produced a staff that includes Bill Laimbeer, the most insufferable member from the Detroit Pistons' 'Bad Boys' teams of the late 1980s and early 1990s, two-time NBA All-Star guard and former Sacramento head coach Reggie Theus and Dave Wohl, an assistant coach on those 1980s Lakers teams and former New Jersey head coach. 'If the players ask about situations, these guys have actually, physically gone through it,' Rambis said. 'They've lived through losing environments, they've lived through winning environments. With all our years in the league, we've probably experienced everything and anything that all of these players are going to go through. That experience is going to be invaluable.' "
  • Michael Lee of The Washington Post: "The Timberwolves haven't reached the postseason in the four years since firing Saunders; last season, the Pistons traded away Chauncey Billups, won just 39 games and lost in the first round. Saunders said the time away made him more secure and committed to his philosophies. 'When you don't reach a goal or don't finish it, it's a disappointment,' Saunders said of his time in Detroit. 'But I do think you feel that you're there and you averaged winning 60 games a year, I think you're doing something right.' Throughout his coaching career, Saunders has usually been asked to revitalize a flailing organization, as the case is now with the Wizards. But in Detroit, Saunders had replaced Hall of Fame coach Larry Brown, who had guided the Pistons to back-to-back NBA Finals appearances and an NBA title in 2004. Saunders tweaked some things offensively and let his core group of Chauncey Billups, Rasheed Wallace, Ben Wallace, Richard Hamilton, Tayshaun Prince and Ben Wallace use some the defensive schemes that were successful under previous regimes. But near the end of his time in Detroit, many of his players tuned him out. Asked if he would've done anything differently in his three years in Detroit, Saunders said 'not at all.' He said his teams fell victim to some unfortunate circumstances."
  • Mike McGraw of the Daily Herald: "Rookies chosen with the No. 16 and 27 picks in the NBA draft usually generate low - to no - expectations upon arrival. So it's been a little surprising to see James Johnson and Taj Gibson jump into the spotlight early in the Bulls' preseason games. Johnson's game is difficult to define, but his lively athleticism and varied skills have been intriguing. After a rough opening game against Indiana, the 6-foot-9 forward from Wake Forest averaged 16 points and 7.5 rebounds, plus 5 turnovers, in his next two. Gibson has been logging significant minutes while Tyrus Thomas is out with a bruised hip, and has averaged 13.7 points. Gibson, a 6-9 power forward from USC, i
    s an older rookie who plays like a steady veteran, biding his time and knocking down midrange jumpers when the chance arrives."
  • Barbara Barker of Newsday: "Google Darko Milicic and the words 'draft bust' and you launch a never-ending Internet debate on where his selection by the Pistons with the No. 2 pick in the 2003 NBA draft ranks among the league's all-time worst picks. The 7-foot Serbian hasn't exactly had the kind of career that anyone expected when Joe Dumars picked him over Carmelo Anthony, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. This goes a long way toward explaining why there was little fanfare when the Knicks traded Quentin Richardson to obtain him from Memphis this summer. Yet a couple weeks into training camp, and it's looking like that trade could pan into a fairly savvy move. Milicic has played for a variety of coaches in Detroit, Orlando and Memphis. His best season was in 2006-07 when he averaged 8.0 points and 5.5 rebounds. This marks the first time, however, that Milicic has played in a system that fits him as well as Mike D'Antoni's up-tempo one."
  • Benjamin Hochman of The Denver Post: "To the average fan, a basketball game is a circus. Ten showmen swoosh up and down the court, a whirlwind of entertainment, from long-range shots to high-flying dunks. To Dean Oliver, basketball is a math equation. In his eyes, games are a series of possessions, and the simple way to win this game is to maximize your possessions and minimize your opponent's possessions. Asked if fans are looking at the wrong stats, Oliver said, 'To some degree, yeah.' The best-selling book 'Moneyball,' about the forward-thinking Oakland Athletics' front office, preached the benefits of on-base and slugging percentages over batting average and home runs, statistics most fans have been told for decades are the standards of offense. In basketball, Oliver has "the four factors" he regards as the holy grail -- turnovers per possession, offensive rebounding percentage, free throws made per field goals attempted and effective field-goal percentage (which gives 50 percent more credit to 3-point shots than normal field-goal percentage). 'If you can control those four things -- offensively and defensively -- you win,' he said."
  • Paul Coro of The Arizona Republic: "Amare Stoudemire worked hard to get in shape this summer after two eye surgeries but needs this preseason to find his old self. Alvin Gentry gave Stoudemire more time (29 minutes) Saturday to help get there. 'Amare's going to get better,' Gentry said. 'He's just not physically where he's going to be. I like the effort he's playing with. I think he's playing harder than he's played the last five years that I've been here. ... He just can't quite complete certain plays.' Stoudemire made four jumpers and a follow to get 13 points and five rebounds. He has not been able to get to the rim off drives or rolls. 'I need to just get comfortable again,' Stoudemire said. 'I'm still not all the way there yet as far as my rhythm.' "
  • Doug Smith of the Toronto Star: "In what's amounting to a nice dose of tough love from his coaching staff, DeRozan is finding himself in and out of games quicker that you can say "blown assignment" through four exhibitions so far. A handful of times in Toronto's 100-93 win over the Washington Wizards at the Air Canada Centre Sunday afternoon, the 20-year-old prodigy found himself walking to the bench for a quick tutorial from the coaching staff. Never mind that he scored a team-high 19 points and had a couple of highlight reel-worthy forays to the rim, the game was more about teaching lessons than piling up numbers. 'I had to take him out three or four times just to talk to him and it wasn't about getting a breath,' coach Jay Triano said after Toronto ran its pre-season record to 2-2 before a sparse crowd of 11,936. 'He's still making mistakes. ... If Hedo (Turkoglu) and Antoine Wright and Sonny Weems (all injured and unavailable) are here, maybe I take DeMar out and I'd punish him by sitting him down. The way we did it today, I took him out and we corrected it. The good thing about him is he's a great learner.' "
  • Ronald Tillery of The Commercial-Appeal: "Pound for pound, Marcus Williams might be the hardest working player on the Grizzlies' roster. That's because every pound counts for the 6-3 point guard. Williams, who signed as a free agent in the offseason, is contractually required to weigh 207 pounds with 10-percent body fat this season. He said the team checks those measurements weekly, and the results have financial considerations. Griz general manager Chris Wallace and coach Lionel Hollins insisted on the clause because of the conditioning and weight issues that plagued Williams early in his career. 'I've made it every week so far,' Williams said. 'It's just about managing your weight and putting in the work. That's what Mr. Wallace wants me to do. That's what Coach wants me to do. I feel better. My body feels better being lighter. So I think it's working out.' "
  • Rick Bonnell of The Charlotte Observer: "First-round picks in the NBA just aren't as valuable as some of you treat them. I'm not talking ALL first-round picks. Michael Jordan should feel significant regret for using top-three picks on Kwame Brown (with Washington) and Adam Morrison (with Charlotte). My point is some of us treat all first-rounders as game-changers, and that's just not consistent with reality. At least seven of the 30 first-round picks in 2006 didn't reach the summer when teams would have to decide whether to tender qualifying offers to make them restricted free agents. If roughly one out of three first-rounders were ousted that quickly, then maybe the draft isn't all it's cracked up to be. Watching the Bobcats this preseason, I've been marginally more impressed by second-rounder Derrick Brown than lottery pick Gerald Henderson. That doesn't mean Henderson is a bust and Brown is a coup. And if Ajinca doesn't work out, I still think it was a good call to trade into the 20th spot. It's rare that you have a chance that late in a draft to explore a big man's possibilities."
  • Brian Schmitz of the Orlando Sentinel: "Nobody has to remind Magic SG Vince Carter that his shooting percentage is unacceptable. 'I criticize myself for my shooting more than anybody does,' Carter said after Sunday's practice. 'I'm trying to take a different approach and not worry so much about it. I know it will come.' After three preseason games, Carter is shooting a chilly 35.4 percent from the field and is even colder from 3-point land at 17.4 percent. The eight-time all-star knows how to get easier baskets. He acknowledged that Coach Stan Van Gundy 'wants me to be more aggressive and get to the paint.' "

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