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The Part About The Treason

So this happened last night in the Timberwolves’ 115-99 loss to the Sacramento Kings:

There are plenty of reasons why teammates can get testy when they’re losing, and many of them have been outlined in fine fashion by Ben Polk over at A Wolf Among Wolves. There were turnovers and defensive lapses. There was laziness. I understand that the Wolves are missing Rubio’s assists, but it’s becoming clear that he brings so much more than that. Most concretely, he brings perimeter defensive and ball hawking instincts. Yes, he gambles and loses, but he also has the length to make it worth it and had (and hopefully has again) the lateral quickness to often compensate for those gambles. But he also brought a joyousness to the game that the Wolves are sorely lacking.

But this particular fracas actually grew from some very demonstrably bad play on the offensive end by J.J. Barea. Last night, Howlin’ T-Wolf opined that Barea is the most frustrating player on the roster, which I wasn’t immediately buying. Sure, Barea is maddening, but he at least plays to his strengths, I said, given that he’s a little guy who penetrates and creates havoc. Milicic and Johnson are more frustrating because they won’t even play their games—Milicic is a giant who refuses to expend the small amount of energy it would take to turn a soft finger roll into an emphatic dunk and Johnson continues to believe he’s a spot-up 3-point threat. But after watching the sequence of plays that led to that near donnybrook between Love and Barea, I’m inclined to agree with him.

The Timberwolves weren’t playing very well already, but it really seems to begin with this sequence:

Love sets a slip screen for Barea and then rolls wide open to the hoop, calling for the ball. He gets great post position which he then has to give up because Barea doesn’t get him the ball. Instead, the ball is swung to a not very wide open Ellington who bricks the three. Love fails to get back on defense (which is totally on him) and this leads to some beautiful ball rotation and an open 3 by Marcus Thornton.

By way of response, Barea charges back down the court and takes a heat-check 3 with 16 seconds left on the shot clock and Love is left to try and outrebound four-fifths of the Kings’ players. He fails:

This next play is where I think the testiness starts to bubble to the surface:

After the missed shot by the Kings, Barea grabs the rebound and I think you can see Love say something to Barea as he turns upcourt. You can also see that Barea doesn’t acknowledge whatever Love is saying, but instead charges into the lane, never looking for anyone to pass to, and putting up a heavily contest layup with 19 seconds on the shot clock. Love is once again the only Timberwolf who tried for the offensive rebound.

This is where Love really loses it:

Barea brings the ball up again and Love sets the screen for a curling Ellington. Love has decent if not great post position and calls for the ball but instead Ellington takes a screen from Derrick Williams. At this point, Love is completely open at the 3-point line for a spot-up jumper, but instead, Ellington takes the much harder pull-up 3 and airballs it. Love throws his arms up and then just stands there.

Now, this is not to say that Love doesn’t share his part of the blame. He often fails to get back on defense, and that’s on him. But Barea was just playing a particularly shitty brand of basketball right here, and it’s clear from his play and also Ellington’s just how much this team misses Rubio. One of the things that consistently impressed me about Rubio was the way he would bring the ball up the court, hand held aloft to call a play and in total control. He just exuded the feeling that he knew what he was doing. Barea, on the other hand, seems determined in this sequence to play “hero ball” of the worst kind. He jacks up a three and then doesn’t even call a play, just barrels into the paint and throws up a terrible layup. He deserved whatever tongue-lashing Love gave him, and probably more.

Steve McPherson

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14 comments
  1. thinktank said:

    Fantastic analysis. Thanks.

  2. Jesse Norell said:

    Hey Steve! Was pleasantly surprised to see your writing linked to from the NBA.com blog. I hope you are well. Thanks for the insight as I was trying to figure out what happened last night. I am a fan of JJ Barea creating havoc, but he seemed to do so within the system of the offense in Dallas during the playoffs last year and was more effective within his role. Hero ball is the right phrase for it… and I hate hero ball.

  3. John Doe said:

    Very well done. I’m bookmarking this blog in hopes of seeing more content of this quality.

  4. Jesse said:

    Great writing, I don’t even know how I ended up at this site, but I think it was linked from BDL on Yahoo! Sports. Regardless, you deserve a spot writing for one of those big sites, bc your analysis is excellent and better than most of the generic garbage I heard on ESPN/TNT halftime analysis. Great work!!

  5. Ivan said:

    Very much enjoyed this article. Excellent break down and video. It confirmed what I thought about Barea lately.

  6. CL said:

    “He often fails to get back on defense, and that’s on him.” Can’t really blame the guy when he’s the only one going for offensive rebounds.

  7. Moses Ali said:

    I agree with everything you analyzed except for Love’s failure to get on defense. It is very hard when you run to the paint from the three point line to fight four defenders for the offensive rebound and get back on defense the first one. Barea always make that mistake; he jacks out contested 3-point shots (25% chance) with no teammate in the paint with “zero” chance for offensive rebound. He never follows the offensive plan or get his teammates open shots! We should have traded him to a contender where he plays a very small role player off the bench and got a decent shooting guard in exchange. That way we would have given Malcolm Lee a chance and improved our wing player.

    • I might be wrong, but I think Love himself would put it on him to get back on defense. It’s one thing to say Barea wasn’t getting him the ball—that’s Barea’s fault. But to say that Barea’s shots were to blame for Love not getting back on D seems like an excuse. Now, I’m not saying it’s necessarily even physically possible that he gets back based on the way that play worked out, but I think most players want to accept that responsibility for what they can change.

      All that said, I think a large part of Love’s frustration was due to the fact that Barea wasn’t letting the offense get set up, leading to tough offensive rebounding chances for Love.

  8. dwb said:

    Nice writeup. Love’s frustrations are entirely understandable, especially considering how used he must’ve gotten to Rubio’s consummate court presence. The thing that impressed me most about Ricky, besides his obvious court vision, defensive pestering and just generally being in the right place and doing the right thing at the right times, was how in control he was running the offense. It’s not often you have a 21 year old rookie who is as comfortable in telling older, more experienced teammates where to go on the court to get a play started. And since Rubio had that uncanny knack for getting the ball in shooting position to the open man (with Love perhaps most often benefiting) it’s hardly surprising that as de facto leader of the team, Kevin might be missing his fallen friend more keenly than others. Feeling his absence, especially by comparison, could well lead to some extra frustration.

  9. dwb said:

    Actually, let me amend my previous statement about Ricky telling older, “more experienced” teammates where to go on the court. Obviously, despite his relative youth, Rubio having played professionally since a very early age (14? 15?) is actually more experienced in running pro players on the court than many of his teammates. I tend to forget just how experienced he truly is. That being said, I love his competitiveness, and even more, his sense of “team”. He is one of the few NBA types I actually believe is all about, and only about winning. That attitude, coupled with his talent and flair on the court, I think make him the best and most exciting thing to happen to the Wolves, certainly since Love, and maybe ever. And yeah, if it didn’t come through clearly, I am a dedicated Rubio fan. He’s arguably the most fun, most exciting player to watch in the league. He’s already right there in those terms with Kobe, Wade, LBJ, Nash, Paul, Rose and Blake.

  10. Moses Ali said:

    Another factor in Love’s frustration is that neither Barea nor somehow Ridnour filled up the void that Rubio left defensively and offensive pace control. None of our wings stepped up ether!There is no excuse that we lost our young start (Rubio). Most good teams have been playing without their alfa dogs and still performing. See Houston playing without Lowery and K mart. See Denver playing without Gallinari and Nene for a while and still competing for the playoffs. Same thing for Memphis without Randolph for most of the season. Even Chicago still holding its first spot without Rose against good teams. Good teams don’t collapse because of one star. No excuse especially that the Kings were without their best player (Tayrek Evans) That is why Love is so frustrated. No one is stepping up and unfairly, that makes him look bad as a star that is not carrying his team on his back. Give that same squad with the same efforts in the Kings game to Kobe or LeBron and they will also feel the same way Love felt.

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