|William Bohl: The Isolation Blues
There are many reasons why the Minnesota Timberwolves have underachieved thus far,
leaving them mired six games out of the West’s final playoff spot, sporting a 25-28
record that doesn’t jive with their solid point differential. Some of the problems were
expected – the Wolves struggle to generate stops late in close games, but they weren’t
built to be a defensive juggernaut in the first place. Health has been a problem for both
Kevin Martin and Nikola Pekovic – but a perusal of their injury histories indicates such
a thing was likely to happen at some point in the season.
Some of Minnesota’s problems are complete surprises. The healthy returns of Kevin
Love and Chase Budinger, as well as the free agent acquisition of Kevin Martin, led
many observers to predict a dramatic improvement on both the Wolves’ 3 point and
effective field goal percentages; instead, the team’s 3 point success rate has only
improved from dead last in 2012-13 to 25th this season, and their eFG% is just .006
higher than it was last year, despite vastly improved personnel. Though the point’s
been thoroughly discussed (and enumerated, nicely, by our own Zach Harper) I’d be
remiss if I didn’t at least mention the Timberwolves’ 1-12 record in games decided by
4 points or fewer – a factoid that will encapsulate the enduring legacy of this team,
unless they drastically reverse course down the stretch.
For many forlorn fans, hope of witnessing a postseason berth for the first time in a
decade is flickering in the wind. The brunt of their displeasure, if social media is any
indication, is borne by J.J. Barea. Signed to a 4 year, $19 million deal during the 2011
post-lockout free agent frenzy, the Timberwolves’ brass hoped the diminutive Puerto
Rican could be an energy guy off the bench, as well as (somewhat of a) culture-
changer. Having played a role in Dallas’ title run, Barea brought instant ring credibility
to a locker room full of guys who hadn’t experienced much winning at the NBA level.
In a moment of refreshing candor, he spelled out the Wolves’ problems at the end of
his first season with the team. Whether his comments were a diagnosis or common
knowledge, wholesale changes were made that summer.
Fast forward to now, and any goodwill Barea engendered early appears to have
evaporated. Looking strictly at the numbers, it’s difficult to pinpoint why; his per-36
minute statistics are right on par with his career averages. It’s all about the eye test
with Barea – he runs the point for the Wolves’ second unit, and for the first unit when
Ricky Rubio finds himself in early foul trouble (which happens more often than you’d
think). Since he’s a streaky shooter (and decision-maker), Rick Adelman is often
tempted to leave Barea in games far longer than he probably should, when things are
going well. His hot streaks can carry the entire team’s offense, but his cold streaks
are painful to watch, a litany of ill-advised kamikaze missions to the rim, circular
dribbling, and isolation jumpers.
Nowhere are Barea’s faults highlighted more vividly than at the ends of quarters.
When the Wolves gain possession with fewer than 35 seconds left in a quarter, it’s a
safe bet that they’ll hold for one attempt at the end of the shot clock – common
practice in the NBA. The strategy is sound – the Wolves’ transition defense leaves a
lot to be desired...CONTINUE READING A WOLF AMONG WOLVES