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Wolves' underachievement: specific disappointments

Ricky Rubio
MinnPost photo by Craig Lassig
Rubio is shooting 33.8 percent from long range this season — slightly below average, but by far his best odds of scoring.

The numbers lie.

The advanced statistics and creative computations that have revolutionized the way we view value in pro basketball over the past 10 years or so keep informing us that the Minnesota Timberwolves are a very good basketball team.

According to the authoritative Basketball Reference  website, the Wolves are ninth among the 30 NBA teams in points scored per possession (offensive efficiency) and ninth in points allowed per possession (defensive efficiency). In an attempt to boil down the true caliber of a team, the site also has a “simple rating system,” which combines point differential (how many points a ball club scores, compared with how many points it allows over the course of the season) and strength of schedule thus far. Under that metric, the Wolves are seventh overall, ahead of, among others, the Houston Rockets, Dallas Mavericks, Phoenix Suns, and, eh, the two-time defending champion Miami Heat.

Over at, the “Hollinger 2013-14 Playoff Odds” (named after John Hollinger, who is to advanced NBA stats what Bill James is to baseball sabermetrics) have finally conceded that the Wolves are not likely to make the postseason. But the site still gives them a 36.5 percent chance, compared with, say, Denver, which is accorded just a 11.1 percent chance, despite having a better won-lost record than Minnesota and beating them in their only two head-to-head matchups thus far this season.

The essential reason why the Wolves are generally overvalued in these advanced systems is because they often win the blowouts and lose the squeakers. Point differential plays a significant role in modern NBA stats, on the assumption that over an 82-game season the easy wins and tough losses will settle into the appropriate level of the team’s core talent. In other words, because the Wolves built 30-point leads on 10 different occasions during their first 40 games this season, it is supposed that they are talented enough to triumph on a fair share of close games.

This season’s Wolves have probably been the biggest exception to that rule since advanced stats came into being. Heading into Friday’s tilt against New Orleans, Minnesota has outscored its opponents by 203 points in 49 games, an average 4.1 points per game, yet currently has a losing record at 24-25. By comparison, Houston has outscored the opposition by only 3.8 points per game, yet stands at 33-17. The Wolves “Pythagorean” record — based on point differential — is currently 31-18.

The gaudy numbers the Wolves have been able to compile often make it difficult to assign individual blame for the team’s overall poor performance. Anyone scanning the stat sheet, for example, would immediately say that Kevin Love should be a legitimate MVP candidate, that Nikola Pekovic was worth every penny of that 5-year, $60 million contract signed over the summer, and that Kevin Martin has proven to be a wise acquisition. You can take it a step further and note that Ricky Rubio is currently second in all the NBA in assists-per-minute behind Chris Paul, and leads the NBA in steals-per-minute as well as total steals.

All in what has thus far been a losing cause.

What follows is my attempt to peek behind the feel-good stats and identify the specific ways in which individual members of the Timberwolves have been disappointing this season. Although I will often use numbers to buttress my case, this is a personal listing, based on specific expectations I had coming into the season. In other words, there may be areas where my disappointment stems more from my misjudgment of a player’s skill set than from that player’s failure to fulfill his potential.

On the other hand, some players get a break in this listing because of my low expectations. For example, you won’t see Corey Brewer’s poor shot selection and reckless gambles on defense cited below. There wasn’t anything in Brewer’s history to indicate he wouldn’t bring those liabilities in parcel with his virtues this season. 

For the record, I picked Minnesota to make the playoffs as the seventh seed in the rugged Western Conference (they are currently 11th) by winning approximately 45 games (they are on pace for 40 wins). The advanced stats say they are performing at a level above those expectations. In determining why they are not, I identified what I believe are the Wolves’ three biggest flaws as a team this season — their poor effective field goal percentage (a measure of two-point and three-point accuracy), the high effective field goal percentage they yield to their opponents, and their lack of depth — and drilled down from there.


The severity of the injury to Chase Budinger

This is a little bit of a cop-out — I obviously can’t, and don’t, blame Budinger for the pace of his recuperation from his second left knee injury in 18 months late last September. At the time, it was revealed that he had only a part of his meniscus removed and would miss “at least 6-8 weeks.”  He finally stepped back out on the court Jan. 8, more than 14 weeks after the surgery.

What’s more, Budinger has been wretched in the 15 games since his return. Team officials say it is more conditioning and confidence than lingering problems with the knee, but in all the measures that require a spring in one’s step — rebounds, blocks, getting to the free throw line, defending without fouling — Bud is posting career lows. Signed to a 3-year, $15-million deal in July, he was expected to open up the floor with his three-point shooting and otherwise thrive in coach Rick Adelman’s offensive system, which he learned when they were together his first two seasons in Houston.

Instead, his effective field goal percentage is an atrocious 41.6 percent, and his true shooting percentage, which factors in free throws, doesn’t help because he has only gotten to the free throw line 6 times in 240 minutes thus far this season. His lack of production has really damaged the Wolves’ accuracy and depth on offense.

The passive-aggressive offense of Kevin Martin

On the surface, Martin is enjoying a fine first season with the Wolves, averaging 19.1 points per game and draining 40.2 percent of his three-pointers for a team that desperately needs his outside shooting.

But watching Martin play this season has frequently been mystifying, and, nearly as often, annoying. He came into this season ranked 20th all-time in career true shooting percentage because of his ability to nail the three-pointer and frequently get to the free-throw line, the most efficient places to score in the modern NBA. He honed these skills under Adelman in Sacramento and thrived under Adelman in Houston. He openly lobbied to play under Adelman in Minnesota. He joined a pair of bigs, Love and Pekovic, whose talents were ideally suited to giving him room to operate, and now had a point guard in Rubio who excelled at getting him the ball where and when he wanted it.

This season, Martin has frequently squandered this cornucopia of situational benefits. He regularly turns down makeable shots from three-point territory, especially coming down the floor in transition. Conversely, he often goes at his man and awkwardly puts up difficult two-pointers in hopes of drawing the foul. With some notable exceptions, such as his game-winner at Golden State, he has disappeared in clutch moments since his scintillating play in the first month of the season. It seems as if defenses can successfully negate him if they make it a point of emphasis in their game plan.

Martin’s poor decision-making has cost the Wolves. His three-point percentage and accuracy from the free throw line (88.2 percent) are both above his already glittering career averages, but his true shooting percentage is the lowest since his rookie season in 2004-05. The reason for this lack of efficiency is that K-Mart isn’t getting to the line — his ratio of free throws to field goal attempts is the lowest of his 10-year career — and jacking up more two-point shots than ever before, while making just 44.1 percent of them. Consequently, his ratio of three-point shots to overall field goal attempts is the third-lowest of his 10-year NBA tenure.

Martin’s defense has always been well below average, and this season has seen little or no improvement in that area. He makes his bones via his efficient scoring and has been a disappointment in that area thus far this season.

The rim protection of Nikola Pekovic and Kevin Love

Nobody should have rightfully expected the “Bruise Brothers” tandem of Pek and Love to block a lot of shots. Both are decidedly earthbound performers, who thrive on low-post offense not because of their hops, but via their strength at getting near the basket in the NBA scrum, and then using the guile of their footwork and (for Love) their up-fakes.

But last season, Pek was an effective defender when he came out to challenge the pick and roll. Part of this was because he had a savvy defensive teammate, Andrei Kirilenko or Dante Cunningham, who could fill in behind him to catch the “roll” man. And part of it was that opponents weren’t running the high pick-and-roll, out beyond the elbow area near the free throw line, as often, which takes the big galoot too far from the hoops without enough quickness to recover.

A healthy Kevin Love means he is the one who most often must fill behind Pek this season, and that isn’t happening nearly as often as it should be. Now Love is such a stupendous offensive player that criticizing this aspect of his game is like the opposite of putting lipstick on a pig — like shaving a Mohawk into a peacock? And he has become adept at drawing charges. But his failure to actively contest shots at the rim, paired with Pek’s proclivity to stray too far and leave himself in no man’s land, is a major reason (along with Brewer’s gambling and Martin’s ineptitude) why all five Wolves starters rank among the bottom 50 NBA players in their opponent’s field goal percentage at the rim.

The shooting of Ricky Rubio

I’ve dealt with this topic extensively, with this column probably the best link to my take on Rubio’s shooting woes this year. Suffice to say that it was reasonable to expect improved accuracy from the third-year point guard, and instead he has posted the lowest effective field goal and true shooting percentages of his career.

Two quick points: I have long believed that the mechanics of Rubio’s shot were horribly askew, especially the way he uses his off-hand to support the shot. President of Basketball Operations Flip Saunders disagrees, claiming during my interview with him last month that Rubio’s high free-throw percentage indicates sound mechanics, and that his biggest obstacle is likely that he tries to pass the ball for an assist up to the last second, never mentally or physically putting himself in position to score.

Wednesday’s game at Oklahoma City supports Saunders’ view. With Pekovic, Love and Brewer all absent from the starting lineup, we saw a different Rubio, one hunting for his offense. He attempted 10 shots in the first quarter alone, and later dribbled behind a pick and, rather than wait for the roll, immediately went up straight and true and buried the jumper. It was such a rare and jolting sight for Wolves fans to behold, that it dramatized Rubio’s need to hunt for his own shot more often. (He finished 6-for-12 from the field Wednesday.)

The second point is that Rubio needs to emulate Jason Kidd, another extraordinary distributor who couldn’t make a shot early in his career. Kidd steadily honed his three-pointer, to the point where that was almost all he attempted late in his career. Rubio is shooting 33.8 percent from long range this season — slightly below average, but by far his best odds of scoring. The Wolves would benefit from him establishing the trey as a signature shot, compelling opponents to either guard it or live with the results. Because even 33.8 percentage on three-pointers amounts to an effective field goal percentage of 50.7, above the NBA average of 49.7—and the Wolves’ team total of 48.1.

The 2013 draft by Flip Saunders

Saunders was frank about having the first round of the draft unfold in a manner that deprived Minnesota of their first few preferred options, causing him to trade the ninth overall pick to Utah in exchange for the 14th and 21st picks. And he was honest with me last month in saying that he didn’t expect either of those two picks, Shabazz Muhammad and Gorgui Dieng, to contribute much to the ball club this season.

Mission accomplished. I didn’t have particularly high expectations either, but figured the pair would log more than a collective 227 minutes through the first 49 games. Yes, some of that can be blamed on Adelman’s reluctance to play either rookie, but the fact remains that both are extremely raw; playing them is an inherent risk that trades short-term ineptitude for long-term development.

The problem is that the Wolves are in “win now” mode and have suffered from a lack of quality depth, especially at point guard. The pick the Wolves traded to Utah was used on Trey Burke, a point guard who has been the starter for the Jazz and a notable sparkplug for their offense. Reportedly the next player on the Wolves’ board had they chosen to keep the ninth pick was C.J. McCollum, a combo guard who was out with an injury until January but has still managed to play more minutes that either Muhammad or Dieng for a Portland team that is 35-14.

Maybe one or both of the players Saunders drafted will pan out. But not securing any meaningful depth out of that draft during a pivotal year in the team’s push for respectability qualifies as a disappointment.

The distribution of point guard minutes and absence of trust in his bench by Rick Adelman

This is another topic I’ve dealt with at some length in other columns. Put bluntly, I greatly admire Adelman but believe he has not had a good year coaching this team. My specific disappointments revolve around the way he has — or hasn’t — used his bench, and more specifically the rotation of his point guards.

In my view, the nadir of Adelman’s season to date was pulling Rubio for the entire fourth quarter in favor of J.J. Barea in the loss to Memphis last Friday. Rubio had just dazzled the crowd with a penultimate display of how to orchestrate an offense without scoring yourself, while simultaneously serving as a defensive catalyst throughout the third quarter. He had six assists in the period alone, and could have had two or three more if his teammates were aware and coordinated enough to handle his passes.

It was thrilling, and it was that combination of sizzle and substance that makes Rubio a special talent and a natural box-office draw. Not incidentally, it also saw Rubio riding a much-needed wave of confidence and panache less than two weeks after enduring the toughest stretch of healthy playing time in his career thus far.

Adelman canceled all that on the basis of a couple of three-pointers from Barea early in the fourth quarter. He maintained after the game that he and his staff all believed Barea gave the Wolves the best chance to win the game. Since the Wolves lost anyway, that is a damning indictment of either your own judgment or your level of trust in a player regarded as a team cornerstone by most everyone associated with the franchise.

Before and after the Memphis debacle, Adelman’s decision to rely on Barea as a backup point guard has been chronically disappointing — especially because his misplaced faith in Barea becomes even more acute in the fourth quarter. One of the more remarkable statistics this season is that Barea has logged 355 minutes in the fourth quarter, compared with 236 minutes for Rubio. Even accounting for blowouts when the starters are resting, that is a ridiculous disparity.

Barea at the point presents a host of problems. Partly owing to his diminutive stature, he has difficulty feeding the post, where Pek and Love reside as offensive cornerstones. Because the position requires sharing the ball, he drives to the hoop and draws the foul much less frequently than when he is a shooting guard. And because he is not especially adept at feeding his teammates, he frequently has to bail himself out with a last-option jumper, lowering his field goal percentage. His effective field goal and true shooting percentages are the lowest since his rookie season.

The Wolves might be better served going to a natural distributor behind Rubio, even if it is a fellow poor shooter such as A.J. Price. Let Barea be Barea, and if he is hot, let him burn as a shooting guard until he cools off.

Which brings us, as a final disappointment, to Adelman’s season-long mistrust in his bench. Part of this is because injuries deprived him of trusted veterans such as Budinger and center Ronny Turiaf for significant chunks of the season. Part of it is that because of the lackluster draft and the frontloading of star salaries, the Wolves truly don’t have great depth.

But one possible cause of the Wolves’ perhaps unprecedented combination of blowout wins and close losses has been Adelman’s refusal to give his bench much playing time, especially when Budinger and Turiaf were sidelined. You win by 20 or 25 points instead of 10 or 15 points when you keep your starters in longer than necessary. And perhaps you sap their energy level during the NBA grind enough so that it is tougher to maintain in close contests.

That doesn’t mean Adelman is solely, or even chiefly, to blame for the disparity between the Wolves’ Cadillac statistics and their pedestrian won-lost record. But his inability to elevate this team with his proven talent is a disappointing drop-off from what I expected this season.

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Comments (11)

Great list.

Something I've thought about regarding Adelman's [lack of] trust in his bench:

Might it be that it takes special talent to run his high-post offense?

The two focal players, Love and Pek, are about as unique as they come at their respective positions in today's NBA. It's hardly fair to expect, say, Dante Cunningham (or Derrick Williams, earlier this year) to facilitate the offense from the high post or extended elbow the way that Love has learned to do. And on the low block, it kind of goes without saying that Pekovic has physical capabilities and timing that are basically unmatched in the league. You would never want to see Turiaf or Dieng attempt the sorts of scoring plays that Pek consistently succeeds with.

It can't lead to continuity is what I'm saying, I guess.

With BOTH Love and Pek out against the Thunder, the Wolves were surprisingly competitive. That isn't to say they're even remotely close to as good of a team without them (they lost the game, after all), but there might be a titch more ability there than sometimes meets the eye, and the constraint might be the difficulty that they have running an unusual offensive system.

Final point, before I'm rambling too much on this: Adelman often talks about "making the defense work," suggesting that using lots of the shot clock is a good thing. That might be true, in his system, when Love and Pekovic are constantly seeking out better and better opportunities (free throws, usually). But when it's lesser players with the same marching orders, it might just lead to too many contested Shved jumpers, or JJ kamikaze drives to beat an expiring clock.

Great stuff Andy

Good to have you back. (For those who don't know, Andy has his own excellent site at
I hear what you are saying. At the same time, Adelman has won consistently in Portland, Sacramento and Houston, with a variety of different players. He won with Kevin Duckworth in the middle, if I'm not mistaken. He won with Yao and he even won a surprisingly amount with Chuck Hayes. He cajoled Ron Artest into some of the best years of his career, long after Metta's prime. He is universally known as a player's coach, which is odd considering the treatment he has accorded, say, Rubio. (On the other hand, Barea and Cunningham must be very happy with him.)
Nevertheless, I keep remembering the kind words Derrick Williams had for him as he headed out the door. Maybe it was just a classy departure, or maybe Adelman really does explain in some detail why a player does or doesn't play during games.
But as to your greater point, about continuity: All season long, I have regarded Martin as the key to this offense, especially once it was clear that Love was healthy and back in beast mode. Without Love, Pek has much more difficulty with opponents doubling down at odd angles, and has to chase many more defensive rebounds (he has the offensive glass covered). But Martin is the guy who needs to thrive from beyond the arc, so that Love doesn't bear the load out there (especially with Barea having an off year from distance and Budinger hurt) and to further space the floor. The impetus for this column, in fact, was/is my ongoing disappointment with K-Mart. I wrote about him right after the first of the year and didn't want to repeat myself, so began to figure out other disappointments.
As for "working the defense," that unfortunately is old school. I have grown accustomed to seeing players turn down layups, both on drives and in transition, in order to dish out or pull up for three-pointers. It is the new way of the NBA and it happens because the open trey is probably the most effective shot in the game right now. And players should take them--especially Martin--regardless of how many seconds are left on the clock.

Excellent column again

It was hard to watch that Memphis game with Rubio on the bench. The only guy Barea seems to help besides himself is Cunningham who he seems adept at feeding for those 12-15 foot jumpers. Barea's signature move seems to be diving into traffic (kamikaze for sure) and either losing the ball for a one and out or making a hero play. He changes the whole dynamic of the team when he is playing point. I think at the end of close games you need Rubio to distribute to the shooters, you don't need to lament that you don't have a fourth scoring option. I'd guess that with Rubio the points per possession go up in those situations. Late in a close game with Barea in everyone is looking for their hero shot and it is either one and out or turn overs due to poor ball handling.

Lately Rubio has been shooting better I think and the bench has been stepping up a lot more so I haven't abandoned hope for this year but I might if Rubio doesn't start getting more fourth quarter minutes in the close ones.

Always look forward to your columns. Hope you'll write about the Lynx as well although it's probably harder to write a column about a team that just wins and dominates all the time.

Thanks. I enjoy the Lynx from afar

On the few occasions I have watched the Lynx I have really enjoyed them and find it a very seductive style of play. But alas, I need a life and after six months of the NBA along with a fairly year-round diet of reviewing music and the occasional political column, I can't add another beat to the mix. I choose my wife and son--although I must say that the Lynx complicate it more than I would have imagined, especially seeing what a great coach Reeves is and with JimPete on the staff. The charisma of the players speaks for itself.
Agree that Rubio is shooting better. I really enjoyed his shot hunting versus OKC. I also agree that with Turiaf and Bud back in the rotation Adelman is much more comfortable with his bench.
Thanks once again for chiming in.

after another debacle

Well, Friday night was typical and disappointing. So, thoughts on underachieving: Looking at all the positive stats this team is producing it is hard to say they are underachieving as individuals except in a few places. But they have been putting up great stats. The ESPN announcers last night kept naming this stat and that stat that the Wolves were excelling in. The only place they are really underachieving is in won/loss.

I know Adelman is a "hall of fame" coach and pretty much everyone knows more than me, but usually when a team that is perceived to be loaded with talent underachieves the blame falls to the coach. If this were the Vikings or Twins or Gophers the fans would be crying for a new coach. I think because the Wolves have had such a dismal record and so many poor coaches that Adelman is put up on a pedestal and people are afraid to point the finger at him. The players have to attend to their own business out on the court: make their plays, play within the bounds set by the coach. But the coach decides who plays, the coach manipulates the team to get the most out of the players, in the fourth quarter the coach needs to be motivating and guiding the team. This many fourth quarter failures with all these gaudy stats for me points at the coach. He was a huge upgrade when he came but it is hard to believe he's "hall of fame" if his teams have been failing like this all these years.

You got three good quarters every night and then it falls apart. Even in the blow outs they coast through the fourth most nights. I'm about done watching these guys for this year because this is just too too old: blow out or fold up, oh, so predicable.

Adelman and backlash

I actually think the restraint on Adelman is appropriate. Believe me, he is a Hall of Fame caliber coach. He has significantly improved three of the five teams he has coached over his long career--Portland, Sacramento and Houston--while failing to make the playoffs for three years in Golden State long ago. One could argue that he has also significantly improved the Wolves too--it was Adelman who promoted Pek over Darko, urged the removal of Beasley, Wes Johnson and Anthony Randolph, and argued for the need to acquire a wing stopper on defense, prompting the Wolves to bid for Batum and sign Kirilenko.
That is a formidable track record and one that has benefited the Timberwolves franchise.
All that said, I obviously believe, and have written, that he has not been an effective coach thus far this season and I have tried to sort out my admiration for him and be as honest as possible in where he has let this team down. I continue to believe his 4th quarter rotations, especially playing Barea more than Rubio is most egregious.
One last point: The NBA is such a glorious game that I can't help but keep watching, regardless of where the Wolves actually fare at the end of the season. These are the greatest athletes on earth and this, to me anyway, is the forum for the greatest balance between individual exploits and the need for team synergy.

I couldn't really stay away...

Even though I wanted to. Saturday's game, although another loss, was very enjoyable. You knew they were going to fade away at the end but they were very competitive for three and a half quarters. I think someone above, Britt maybe, commented on how Rubio's shot is often affected by his pass first inclination. The way his shot has been falling latey seems to agree with that. It seemed like the whole team stepped up Saturday. This morning's Star Trib had some comments from Adelman about his fourth quarter substitutions. Fair enough. I still think there is something missing in the character of this team that they can't push through to some victories in close games. Seems like they should be winning half of those close ones. What would be the point of making the playoffs where they will be facing a better team in the first round and any game will be close? Something is missing, maybe just one player with a can do mentality. Got me.

Metrics aren't perfect, they're just...better?

It's funny how the advanced metrics make it so much easier (or is that "more efficient") to talk about some of the finer things in the game - comparing offensive rebounding percentage or true shooting percentage is much more instructive when comparing players than looking at a box score. But this year's Timberwolves are a shining example of why you can't aggregate disparate statistical categories hope to gain much insight (though you can get a very broad idea). I think the same is true of almost any all-in-one measurement such as PER.

But what I think hurts this team (or rather, counters initial high statistical expectations) is our lack of two-way players. For me, Pekovic is probably our best player on both ends, and after that, it takes some mental gymnastics to calculate value on offense versus value on defense. My gut says Love, but that's because I think while his defense is middling (help defense particularly, as noted by Britt above - I still feel that's a side effect of his desire for boards), he's a top 5 weapon on offense. Rubio is the only other viable candidate (Dante's 20-foot jumper is just not always reliable), but his problems are on offense, and I don't think they can be covered up by his ability to create for others - he simply needs to learn to shoot (and Flip's assertion about FT% being indicative of good form is laughable - ask Shawn Marion). While it's a long read and doesn't mention Rubio until the end, this Grantland piece captures some of my thinking on the subject (though it should be noted that the data used was from last year, when Love was hurt and Rubio was coming off surgery):

Minor nitpick re: Barea in Memphis game - he hit those threes at 7:58 and 7:30 left in the quarter (not early), and subs came out at 7:00. It's tough to pull a guy who might just be getting hot like that.

Great stuff as always, Britt.

EVP and metrics


From what I understand, the EVP piece is catching a new technology in its formative stage, before all the bugs and obvious flaws have been worked out of it. Certainly any system that regards Kevin Love as relatively un-valuable is fatally flawed, in my view.
Agree on the lack of two-way players. Wolves are sorely missing Kirilenko right now, made even more acute when we can watch the beneficial effect he has had on Brooklyn since his return from injury.
But then again he missed all those games because of injury--that nagging back which will apparently never allow him to get to 70, let alone 82, games played in a season again.

I wouldn't cast it aside just yet

From that small bit of insight from the article, it appears EVP is quantifying what I'm seeing with my own eyes: Ricky's combined inability and unwillingness to shoot are hurting this team, to the point where his playmaking on offense does not make up for it. Regarding Love, his impact is not only hurt by his injury-plagued performance in '12-'13, but also small sample size (he was hurt, and for games he was healthy, I don't know if Target Center had SportVU cameras installed, so it could be all data collected in other arenas). I'm not saying this technology doesn't have flaws, but a reasonable amount of information can be pulled from it - I hope someone in the Timberwolves front office knows how best to use this data to cut down on ineffective sets and to maximize our own talent (and if they don't, I'm available).

Good list

I understand each item, even if I disagree with some. A brief one of my own:

- Everyone's inability to make open shots in close games: Zach Harper had this on 1500ESPN a while ago, and the Memphis game symbolized it well. They're getting open shots and not making them.
- The lack of a leader to pull everyone together and get them to shape up: It's really the only thing I play GM about in my mind. Outside help is unlikely at this point, so someone has to keep everyone in line and lead by example by letting the process dictate the results instead of vice versa.
- Their inability to stop shots at the rim or prevent open 3s: I understand how personnel plays a role in this, but not being able to do either well hurts them (though they did well with this against Portland's main outside threats).
- Brewer's on-the-ball defense: I don't think it's too much to ask that he can stop the decent perimeter scorers more than he does.
- Rubio's pick-and-roll defense: It really hurts my contention that he's a top-5 PG defender when he struggles in this area (though his teammates might not be helping that)
- The lack of a cohesive bench unit: Mixing starters in helps fix this, but a bench that can be self-sufficient is partially why Adelman's other teams have been good, and they just haven't found a complementary group yet. Brewer could be part of this conversation, since he's the starter who shouldn't be guaranteed to play in crunch time.
- Their sloppiness at the free throw line: It just seems like they don't focus as much as they should.
- Their reliance on isos: I get why it works when it does with Love/Martin/Pek, but it turns the game into a spacing and outside shooting one, and that doesn't suit Rubio and Brewer (or any other wing they'd put out there), so it comes down making an outside or midrange shot or hoping there isn't a double team.
- Love's post passing out of double teams: It's the one flaw in his offensive game, and for a team based on offensive movement, they should be able to beat teams if he gets doubled on the block.
- Their inability to beat bad teams or the best teams: Their record against the bottom 15 teams (based on Net Rating) is 18-8 (could easily be 23-3 or 22-4), and their record against the teams higher than them in Net Rating is 3-14. They're obviously not as good as their Net Rating suggests, but they shouldn't be losing over 80% of their games to those teams, especially since Phoenix is 8-7 against those same teams.