On Tap: The Minnesota Timberwolves

Kurt —  December 2, 2005

If the Lakers are going to do something rare and win the second game of a back-to-back (they are 5-16 in the last 21), the game at Staples tonight is going to need to resemble the first half of the win in Utah.

Specifically, Kobe was not the sole offensive focus and his teammates knocked down shots (for the game, Kobe and Odom combined to shoot an unimpressive 36.4% eFG%). You knew the 6 of 6 three-point shooting would decline, but the fact remains that for one night Smush and other players stepped up. Same in overtime — Sasha is showing signs of maturing into a solid NBA player (and not just because of that shot but in the last couple of games overall).

Luke Walton started the second half against Utah and I think he should remain in the first five for a while — the offense just flows better with him in the game (he is a +11 total in the last two games and now has a Roland Rating of +9). That said, the Lakers are not a better defensive team when he is on the floor and other guys (Smush, Kobe, Mihm) will have to pick up some of the slack at that end. Mihm seemed to against Utah, which is why he led the team with a +19.

And no, Kobe was not fouled on that last shot, but that’s the advantage of having a superstar on your team, sometimes you get those calls.

That brings us to tonight. Did you know if the playoffs started today the 7-6 T-Wolves would be the three seed?

The Timberwolves continue to play good overall defense this season, with a defensive rating of 102 (points per 100 possessions), tied with the Lakers for fifth in the league. Teams are shooting just 44.7% on them. That is a dramatic improvement from last year when Flip Saunders was the coach (by the way, Flip’s Pistons are 19th in the league in defense right now — the man does not appear to be a good defensive coach).

Trenton Hassell slowed Kobe to a 12 of 26 night when these two played last month and the Lakers as a team shot just 42.3%. Outside of Kobe and Odom the Lakers shot just 40.3%, which brings us back to the fact the rest of the Lakers need to step up like they did last night. Also, the T-Wolves stymied the Lakers with a zone defense late in that last game that the Lakers will see more of and need to execute better against.

Minnesota is shooting the ball well so far this season, with a team eFG% of 49.8%, fifth best in the league (compared to the Lakers 44.9%). What hurts them offensively is they are the worst offensive rebounding team in the league (just 21.9% of their misses) — for the Lakers to win they need to keep that T-Wolves off that glass.

While the media just talks about him allegedly being unhappy and trade rumors, Kevin Garnett continues to play like an MVP — he has a PER of 27.2, fifth best in the league. He is averaging 22.2 points and 10.7 rebounds per 40 minutes, while shooting 56.7% (EFG%). Crazy good numbers.

This is a team that the Lakers should see as a peer — right about their talent level and a team that needs to play its best every night if they are going to make the playoffs. Sure it’s the second game in as many nights, but these are the kind of games playoff teams find a way to win.

to On Tap: The Minnesota Timberwolves

  1. if we get this game .500 seems very feasible with the bobcats coming to visit on sunday. before the big ol’ road trip.

    have you done your 0.1 to 0.9 daddy’s evaluation system to come up with an estimated december win total yet? you were pretty close last month.


  2. I still think Kobe struggles to play in the flow of the game.

    Kobe either looks to score or looks to run the offense and his approach looks very unnatural. A casual viewer can tell when he’s made a concious decision to either play the team game or take over.

    He does not seem to be able to intertwine both mentalities. He plays outside the game.

    In contrast, Shaq, Duncan, and Steve Nash are better able to juggle the team and individual mentalities. They are not artificiallly switching on and off a light switch, they are in the flow of the game.


  3. The Shaq and Duncan comparisons are not accurate. As post players they need someone to get them the ball. Thereby are unable to dominate a game without collusion with at least another player. Nash? That’s why he won the MVP award last year. He is a remarkable player.

    However, as poorly as Kobe played against the Jazz (when was the last great game he played?) it was his ability to dominate in the opening minutes of OT that allowed the Lakers to win that game.


  4. It’s true, comparing post players with perimeter players is a stretch.

    Dominating overtime or the final two minutes of regulation is one of Kobe Bryant’s special traits. This is what sets him apart from many of his peers.

    What separates Magic Johnson, Michael Jordan, Larry Bird, and a few other great leaders from Bryant was their ability to play within the game even when they are taking over.

    Bryant cannot yet do this. He either plays one way or the other but not both. This is a challenge he will have to figure out.


  5. Tony, I’m curious if you thought Kobe played outside the offense back in say 2000, when the team had Shaq/Rice/a young Horry, etc.? What I’m asking is do you think Kobe would be more disciplined if he had better weapons around him? You’re comparing this season’s Kobe to Nash, Duncan, MJ, other guys who have had better players around them than Kobe does right now, which may be unfair.

    I think you could make a case for this either way, I’m just curious what you (and others) think.


  6. I’m with Tony on Kobe’s inability to combine scoring and getting others involved. If my memories of the Kobe/Shaq era are correct, Kobe would pick his spots just as he does now. The difference was that when Kobe chose to get his teammates involved he had Shaq (and others) to carry the offensive load.

    This was actually a very effective combo b/c Shaq was/is unable to take over at the end of games b/c of his total inability to make free-throws. Therefore, when Kobe decided to take over at the end of games it was a good thing.

    In hindsight, Kobe’s need to take over the game at times is probably what bothered Shaq so much. Shaq didn’t mind Kobe getting his points so much as he minded standing around twiddling his thumbs while Kobe would do his own thing.

    Unfortunately, I doubt that Kobe will be able to change this part of his game.


  7. It was good to watch other players doing well last night. Yeah, Sasha has definitely stepped it up in the past few games and I like watching him play – he’s one of those hustle players that is just fun to see, especially when he can hit his shots. But it was good seeing Smush playing well again and Walton distributing well and Lamar almost hitting the triple double.

    What’s a bit scary to me is that for the most part, the individuals on the team played pretty well last night (except Kobe, where it was actually a bit painful to watch), but it just seems like they have no idea how to win games. They controlled the whole game and just really couldn’t close out at the end. The same is true when they’re behind – the Lakes generally stay pretty close and then crumble at the end. This team is much younger and more inexperienced compared to the teams of the recent past. There’s decent talent there under the surface, but until they get some experience and learn how to close out games, it’s going to be very tough going.


  8. What is scary is that this team plays like the Clippers played last year.


  9. Kurt –

    To answer your question…

    Do I think Kobe would be more disciplined if he had better players around him?

    Maybe…but he would still struggle transitioning back and forth from the team game to his own game.

    Kobe’s greatness falls short in that he has not shown the ability to make his teamates better. And, he has not pushed them to overachieve as a unit.


  10. it’s only about 8 minutes into the 2nd quarter, but my god. i love this team.

    if this is a glimpse into the future when things start to click more…


  11. The defense melted down in the 4th quarter. Where’s Rick Fox when you need him? He might not have been the best defender, but I can’t help but think he would’ve taken a few hard fouls to slow things down.

    Maybe we could use a Hassell or Bowen? I think Sprewell could fill that role in limited minutes.

    Of course, Spree is probably wondering why his name isn’t on the all-star ballot this year, so it might be a moot point.