TrueHoop: Wes Unseld
Special to ESPN.com
But Brewer wasn’t on the other end of this pass. J.J. Barea was trucking up the court and the pass sailed over his left shoulder. It bounced and kicked out of bounds before Barea could get a hand on it. With self-serious grimness, Love turned to the Minnesota bench.
“You can’t let that s--- bounce! It’ll skip [away from you],” he said, flashing a smile.
More than any other play in basketball -- more than the pick-and-roll, maybe even more than the alley-oop -- the outlet pass requires two players in a matched set to sculpt it into art. Yes: Love has thrown outlets to Kevin Martin, to Alexey Shved. But the jelly to Love’s peanut butter is Corey Brewer.
The veteran swingman is a master of the leak out. At the moment defense turns to offense, Brewer transforms from stopper to opportunist. In Denver, fast breaks consisted of multiple passes. In Minnesota, they’re single-strike, court-length bombs thanks to his unique alchemy with Love.
The outlet has been likened to a quarterback hitting a wide receiver, and Brewer finds that comparison apt.
“I played receiver -- it’s basically the same,” he said. “If I’m running a route, when I come out of my break or my cut, the ball is there. Kevin’s throwing it to a spot, so you’re actually running to the spot. So when I look at him and I know he’s going to throw it, I just try to run. If I can get in front of the last defender, I just know it’s going to drop right there. If it’s just a regular point guard, go for it. It’s like a smaller defensive back on Calvin Johnson.”
That was part of the problem with that pass to Barea. “I’m like 6-9 and J.J.’s like 5-3 so it’s tough for him to see where he’s going to catch it,” Brewer said. (Barea is listed as 6-foot on the NBA’s official website.)
If Brewer’s part in the play stems from a mix of height, speed and instincts first honed on the football field, Love’s part is based no less than on a set of unique skills and attributes first developed in his youth.
“I played with my brother three grades up when I first started organized basketball and I couldn’t quite get the ball 10 feet, so I actually had to shoot like that,” Love told the Timberwolves’ website, referring to his two-handed fling. “And I shot at a very high rate -- made a lot of shots -- that’s kind of how the accuracy developed.”
That long-distance passing accuracy, combined with Love’s clinical understanding of rebounding, has won him comparisons to Wes Unseld at least as far back as this brief profile from Sports Illustrated, when Love was a senior at Lake Oswego High. And in this short documentary on Unseld, Rick Barry says in regard to Unseld: “He wasn’t exceptionally quick, he wasn’t a great leaper, he didn’t have great size, and got as much out of what he had talent-wise as any player who’s ever played the game” -- all things that could be and have been said about Love.
Not yet convinced? Love's middle name is "Wesley," named for his father Stan’s former Washington Bullets teammate.
As teams have grown wise to the strategy, the Wolves have pulled back on it, but it can still be an effective way to throw the other team out of rhythm.
“You go away from it,” Brewer said, tying it back to football. “Just like you go away from the deep ball and then all of a sudden you hit them with [it].”
Love concurs: “You kind of have to know the time and place in the game: If the other team has gone on a run or maybe you’re down, or maybe you’re making a run of your own. It can affect the game in a lot of negative and a lot of positive ways. You just have to be a smart player and I pride myself on having a high basketball IQ, but at the same time you have to have some sort of imagination to throw that pass.”
It’s a gamble that doesn’t always pay off, but the outlet -- like a dunk or an alley-oop -- has the power to galvanize a team, and to sow doubt in an opponent.
“When we get an outlet pass, everybody gets excited,” Brewer said. “It’s an easy bucket, so your team gets fired up. And the other team, they get down. They’re like, ‘How did you let that happen?’ Coach starts getting on them, now they have to worry about it. We’re all amped.”
As a pet play, it’s a perfect option for a Timberwolves team that doesn’t rely on athleticism, but on cutting, ball movement, execution and pushing the ball on the break to get open looks. Their own defense is going to produce steals with Ricky Rubio and Brewer, but lacks rim protection. So instead, a successful defensive sequence means they stymie and frustrate the other team with good rotations and communication, in the process forcing a bad shot and opening up rebound opportunities for Love and Nikola Pekovic.
At least, that’s what it looks like when it’s clicking. It’s a state the Timberwolves have at times struggled to maintain, and after a dispiriting loss to Denver on Nov. 27 that dropped them under .500 for the first time all season, Brewer said, “We’ve got to get some kind of swag or energy.”
Hovering around .500 now and coming off an emphatic win over the 22-5 Portland Trail Blazers, it’s clear the team knows what it's capable of. The question is how to sustain it, how to build a self-propelling swag generator out of the pieces they have.
This is maybe why the connection between Love and Brewer is getting attention now, rather than back when Brewer was with the Wolves during Love’s first three years in the league. (Love’s second-ever assist in the NBA is described on NBA.com’s stats page as an “overhand pass ahead to Corey Brewer for the two-handed slam.”)
The outlet pass is an expression of what the Timberwolves were envisioning when they drafted Rubio in 2009, brought in coach Rick Adelman in 2011 and signed Martin and Brewer this past offseason. It’s a concentrated burst of the type of flash-and-grind team the Timberwolves are working to become, built on opportunism, movement and smoothly interlocking parts.
Although Love is one of the best players in the game, he’s not the kind of dynamic, all-in-one talent that Kevin Durant or LeBron James is. Whatever this Timberwolves team is going to accomplish rests on him, but he can’t do it alone. He needs the support and intuitive understanding of teammates like Brewer, and their often risky, sometimes transformational outlet passes are where it comes together.
"During the game,” Brewer said, “we kinda look at each other and he’s like, 'We're about to get one right now.' And I'm like, 'I got you.' "
Dick Raphael/US Presswire
The leader of the Celtics implored players to stay on their feet.
In the mid 1970s, legendary Celtics coach and team president Red Auerbach gathered several NBA stars, and a veteran of refereeing, to make a video. The goal? To end flopping.
That's right, nearly four decades ago, Auerbach was the Pied Piper of what has become the Stop the Flop movement, as you can see on video.
"Coaches today in high school, college and pro, are teaching the players how to fall! This is unreal!"
The Auerbach in this video is not a man who minds jabbing a finger at the camera to make a point.
Auerbach leads players like Wes Unseld and Mike Riordan through flopping scenarios. After Riordan hits the deck, Auerbach quizzes him. "Did Wes Unseld hit that man hard enough to knock him down? What went through your mind, Mike? What was your purpose when making that pick?"
Riordan says that initially he was "trying to free my teammate Elvin Hayes here for a jumpshot or a move to the hoop without the ball. But also, if I could get away with it, to draw a foul on Wes in setting that pick. To fake a foul, in other words. That was the second purpose."
Auerbach brings Hall of Fame referee Mendy Rudolph into the conversation. Rudolph jokes about how "Mike went and did some 'Hollywood acting." Rudolph's advice: Don't call a thing.
Auerbach directs another scenario, with another flop. Rudolph says "it was a great acting job by Clem Haskins. Now the contact between Mike and Clem was totally incidental, and again the officials should ignore it completely to eliminate this kind of acting in our game."
Then Rudolph adds another option for officials: "If they’re smart, again, to stop it, to stop it early in the game: Call a blocking foul on this man right here, and he’ll stop falling on the floor picking up splinters on his backside.”
"Well I happen to agree with you," says Auerbach. "I am very, very much opposed to this kind of basketball.”
"We’ve got to stop this sort of play in the NBA," replies Rudolph.
Auerbach closes the video by turning to the camera and addressing viewers:
This segment is not aimed at referees, believe me. It’s aimed at coaches, it’s aimed at players.
What are we going to do about it?
Let’s clean this thing up!
Let’s not hurt the game.
It was a historic Friday night for Boston Celtics point guard Rajon Rondo. With 10 points, 10 rebounds, and 24 assists, Rondo posted his fifth career triple-double and the first triple-double of the 2010-11 NBA season. Obviously, those numbers jump out of the box score. So let's dig into some of the history:
• The 24 assists represent the second-highest single-game total in Celtics history. The record belongs to Bob Cousy (28 against the Minneapolis Lakers on Febuary 27, 1959).
• Rondo is the second player to dish out 24 assists against the New York Knicks. The other was Guy Rodgers on December 21, 1966. The only player to ever drop more dimes against the Knicks was John Stockton (27 on Dec. 19, 1989).
• So we've established that 24 assists is a lot under any circumstances. How about 24 assists in a triple-double? According to our friends at Elias, only one other player in NBA history ever had at least 24 assists in a triple-double. On February 7, 1985, Isiah Thomas also had 24 assists in a triple-double in a 2-OT game against the Washington Bullets.
• Lest we forget, Rondo put up 17 and nine assists in the first two games of the season, respectively. Elias tells us that his total of 50 assists through the first three games of the season ties John Stockton's NBA record.
While Rondo's performance stole the statistical spotlight on Friday, let's check out some other notes from a busy night around The Association:
• Jeff Green hit the game-winner for the Oklahoma City Thunder in their win at the Detroit Pistons, but it was Kevin Durant's 30 points that led the way. Dating back to last season, he has scored at least 30 points in nine straight regular-season games. That's the longest such streak in the NBA since LeBron James' 10-game streak in the 2005-06 season.
• The New Jersey Nets knocked off the Sacramento Kings to improve to 2-0. Research from the Elias Sports Bureau indicates that the Nets are the 4th team in NBA history to start 2-0 one season after finishing a full NBA season with fewer than 20 wins. The last team to do this was the 1968-69 San Diego Rockets. That Rockets team went 37-45 and made the playoffs led by a rookie named Elvin Hayes.
• The Miami Heat rolled the Orlando Magic thanks to some suffocating defense. The Magic mustered just 70 points, which is their fewest in a game since December 2, 2005 (69 vs Grizzlies). Only 25 of those points came after halftime (four points more than the franchise-record for scoring futility in a half). The Magic's five assists set a record for fewest assists in a game in franchise history. Furthermore, the Magic's total of 21 field goals made is tied for the fewest in a single game in franchise history. Orlando hit just seven field goals in the second half. The only other time the Magic hit so few field goals in a half was on November 9, 1991 against the defending champion Chicago Bulls.
• LeBron James scored 15 points for the Heat one game after posting 16 points against the Philadelphia 76ers on Wednesday. It's the first time James has scored fewer than 20 points in back-to-back regular-season games since 2007-08.
• Chris Bosh shot just 2-for-9 from the field for the Heat, but perhaps was more important than his numbers indicated. In the past two games, the Miami Heat are +52 with him on the floor. Without Bosh on the floor, the Heat are -16.
• Dirk Nowitzki entered Friday with 80 consecutive made free throws. He hit his first two against the Grizzlies but then missed his third. Nowitzki's streak of 82 consecutive free throws made is the third-longest streak in NBA history. Micheal Williams owns the record with 97 straight during the 1992-93 and 1993-94 seasons.
• Human-rebounding machine Reggie Evans posted just two points to go along with his 14 rebounds against the Cleveland Cavaliers. In the season opener, Evans had no points and 16 rebounds. He's the third player in NBA history to grab at least 30 rebounds while scoring 10 or fewer points in the first two games of the season (joining Sam Lacey and Wes Unseld), according to Elias.
• Blake Griffin went for 14 points and 10 rebounds in the Clippers loss to the Warriors. The rookie has now started his career with consecutive double-doubles. According to Elias, he is the sixth player to debut since 1990 to post double-doubles in each of his first two career games. Coincidentally, the last player to do this was also a Clipper (albeit a more obscure one): James Singleton in 2005-06. The other players on this list are Emeka Okafor, Damon Stoudamire, Shaquille O'Neal, and Dikembe Mutombo.
Posted by Kevin Arnovitz
There's a very specific breed of NBA fan that populates the stands of Cox Pavilion at Las Vegas Summer League. This group is undyingly loyal, incredibly knowledgeable about the game its history and occasionally lacking in the self-consciousness -- or at least self-awareness -- that compels the rest of us to check certain social impulses.
I was sitting next to Clippers Coach and GM Mike Dunleavy, asking him a few questions, when a Wizards fan I've met once or twice came by. He was wearing an old-school Bullets t-shirt with a montage of photos from the glory days splattered across the front. He proceeded to stand directly in front of Mike Dunleavy and to ask me a few questions about the Wizards.
It was really one of the better moments of my career. I mean, just plumb in front of Dunleavy, with a giant photo of Wes Unseld on his shirt, asking me questions about the Wiz. Finally, Dunleavy asked this Bullets/Wizards fan whether he might move, so that he could, you know, see the basketball game.