Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Checking on Kevin and the Baby C's

The Minnesota Timberwolves going 10-2 in January and generally playing well under Kevin McHale has to rank among the most unexpected developments in the league. Over the last couple of nights, I've watched the T'Wolves on League Pass and crunched the numbers in hopes of finding some explanation--like that they've played only horrible teams, or that Sebastian Telfair died or that Al Jefferson started taking 40 shots per game. 

As much as it pains me to dampen the enthusiasm at the great Canis Hoopus, the schedule does explain some of it; of the the Baby C's 10 wins in January, only two came against .500 plus teams (@ Suns and vs. New Orleans), and the Hornets were missing David West and Tyson Chandler. But there is reason for optimism. The team is playing better on both ends of the court, and they are getting significantly greater contributions from several key guys. 

The biggest changes, by the numbers:

                                               DEC                                     JAN

FG %                                      42.8                                      45.7

OPP FG %                             48.3                                      45.3

3P FG/G                               5.1                                           7.8

3pA/G                                   15.0                                         21.4

OPP 3P/G                            8.1                                            5.1

OPP 3PA/G                         19.3                                          16.0

ORB/G                                 11.9                                          14.3

OPP FTA/G                        26.5                                          23.3

So: The Wolves are jacking up more threes, hitting them at a slightly better rate (36 percent versus 33 percent), pounding the boards a bit more, fouling less and significantly limiting their opponents' three-point shooting. 

On an individual level, the biggest changes have been in the back court. McHale named Telfair the starting PG and moved Randy Foye to the two spot, from which Foye's been jacking up six threes a game this month--double his per game attempts from deep for the rest of the year overall. He's making 45 percent of them, which is outlandish considering he's a career 37.6 percent shooter from deep.

Telfair, on paper, still looks terrible, with that ghastly sub-40 shooting percentage. But you watch the Wolvies play and you see what Canis is talking about: He's shooting less during this good run (about three shots fewer per 48 this month), dishing more and taking smarter shots. He's taking more threes, and judging from the games I saw, he's trying to shoot them only when he can set his feet and take a nice gander at the rim without a hand in his face. He's still not a starting line-up caliber PG, but, for whatever reason, the Telfair-Foye guard combo is working better than the Foye/Miller/McCants mess that came before it. 

The other big improvement has been from rookie Kevin Love. Yes, Big Kev is rebounding like a madman (20 per 48 minutes), but it's at the offensive end that Love is shining. He's already taken the same number of shots through 12 games this month that he took in 16 last month, and he's already made 15 more field goals in January than December. That translates to a 54 percent shooting clip in '09 compared to 38 percent in the last two months of '08. Huge difference. The mid-range jumper suddenly looks true (though he's still only hitting 33 percent on J's for the year) and the finish around the rim is better. Can he keep it up? 

Other changes: 

Ryan Gomes, another old Celtic, is firing up about two more shot attempts per game in January while playing four fewer minutes. He's also grabbed 65 boards in 12 games this month compared with 66 in 16 games in February, which means Gomes is crashing like he did when he was the only guy going after it a few years back in Beantown. 

Rodney Carney barely played all season, and now all of a sudden he's Rashard Lewis off the bench, with four attempts from deep per game--about 39 percent of which find the hoop.

You noticed I haven't mentioned the two most well-known guys on the team, Al Jefferson and Mike Miller. Jefferson is doing his 20-10 thing every night (more on that in the next post), and Miller...well, Miller's in what may be the worst shooting slump of his career, which means it's probably good he's shooting just five times per game.

So while Foye may be due for a slump soon, Miller's due to play better. The competition is about to get tougher (Lakers, Houston and Daddy C's in the next 10 games), but the Wolves suddenly don't look like such a lost cause.

1 comment:

  1. Well, you m ight want to look at the Wolves record. They are a below .500 team so any team they beat is good.