Zgoda: Digesting the Wolves' preseason opener

  • Blog Post by: Jerry Zgoda
  • December 19, 2011 - 2:27 AM

Yes, it's only preseason.

Yes, it's only one game.

Yes, it's only the Bucks.

Still, you've got to come away from Saturday's 117-96 victory encourage it not all atwitter if you're a Wolves fan, even though you know they're not going to start every game by hitting 10 of 11 threes in the first half like they did Saturday.

You'll find the game story from Saturday here and the notebook with Brandon Jennings' comments about those "all hype" comments he made about Ricky Rubio 2 1/2 years ago here.

Also, while I'm thinking of it...Join me for a live chat Monday at noon from the Wolves' free lunchtime scrimmage at Target Center.

You can find the link to the chat then at

Now, as for Saturday's game:

* Of course, there was Rubio's debut, which should suggest to the many doubters that he's not going to be a Jonny Flynn-ish bust.

OK, so he's probably not as great as those fans who came to his see debut and went all agog every time he made even the simplest of plays.

Sure, his jump shot isn't the prettiest thing in the world -- he went 1 for 4 from the field but 4 for 4 from the line -- but from just one night you can tell he's going to make his teammates happy -- and maybe wealthy -- because of his passing.

If you can be a star averaging maybe 8 points a game, this guy can in time be it.

He almost always found the open man with the right pass at the right time and would have reached double digits in assists rather than his 7 assist, 6 point, 6 rebound night if his teammates had converted more of his set-ups.

In particular that that alley-oop pass Derrick Williams lost control of after Rubio had already set him up nicely for a thunderous dunk.

When asked if fans are going to see a lot more of those alley-oop dunks from Rubio, Williams said, "Hopefully, if he still passes me the ball since I missed the last one."

Other thoughts:

* For those who have wondered how much, or little, Rick Adelman will be able to play Williams, Kevin Love, Michael Beasley  together...well, if first impressions mean anything, this is going to be their best frontcourt lineup except for maybe the nights they play Dwight Howard or Andrew Bynum.

Adelman started Darko Milicic because he went with last year's starters for familiarity's sake and because of the matchup with Bucks center Andrew Bogut.

Milicic neutralized Bogut and the way he's played in camp so far will give Adelman the option to go big if he wants, but...

The Wolves changed the game with a 31-12 run that closed the first half and showed that for whatever that Williams-Love-Bealsey frontcourt is going to give up on the defensive, it might get back and then some on the offensive end.

All three guys are, for their positions, quick, particularly now that Love has lost those 25 pounds.

"They were much quicker than us tonight," Bucks coach Scott Skiles said.

He was referring to the entire game, but it was never more obvious that in that closing first-half run when the Wolves started to move the ball the way Adelman envisions they will and clobbered the Bucks with their three-point shooting.

But it wasn't just J.J. Barea and Wayne Ellington -- two backcourt shooters -- doing the damage.

Love, Williams, Beasley combined to make six in the half's final 5:46. Love finished the night 4 for 7 on 3s, Williams 3 for 4, Beasley 1 for 1.

OK, I know it's one night, but these guys are going to drive power forwards and centers nuts trying to cover them on the perimeter.

"It's not going to be fun," Love said about the opposition. "I wouldn't like to play against us."

Williams for now is best suited to play power forward, and that's where Adelman has told him to concentrate after watching Williams struggle trying to defend out on the floor at the small-forward spot during camp.

He's not quick enough and he's unaccustomed to chasing guys out there at the 3, but at the 4 he's going to be quicker than almost everyone he comes across.

Love just might be better playing center than he is at power forward. Yes, he has considerably less bulk but it looks like his agility is going to make him a better defender and he commented after the game that he'll be better at that simply because he's going to have more stamina in the fourth quarter now.

He had another double-double by halftime -- 15 points and 11 rebounds -- Saturday, just like he did 16 times last season.

He finished with with 21 and 15 and Beasley had 21 and 6 and neither guy played in the fourth quarter because the game was already decided.

If the Wolves are going to play those guys together a lot -- and it seems pretty clear already Adelman will -- other things will try to exploit them at the defensive end, which is what Skiles says his Bucks indeed will do when the two teams meet in the season's second game, Dec. 27. (Not to mention in Wednesday's preseason finale at Milwaukee).

"If they're going to go small, which they will do, we have to be able to go to Bogs and get some baskets at the other end if they have small people on him," Skiles said, referring to Bogut. "We tried to do that, but with limited success tonight."

* Adelman knows how to maximize players' strengths -- see his decision with Williams so far as some small example -- and minimize their deficiencies, which eventually you're going to see to individual player's performances and in team defense and decision making.

This team still made plenty of defensive mistakes and turnovers on Saturday, but they got better as the game progresses and at least you can tell there are principles and strategy here with the defensive plan.

They're going to get better. Remember, they've had just eight practices together so far. Give 'em a season.

* Speaking of putting players in position to succeed...that two point guard look proved intriguing, if used with the right moderation and in the right situations.

Barea played more (26:26)  than he might have expected, much of it alongside Rubio.

The two players combined for 13 assists and 20 points (Barea 14, Rubio 6).

"No question, I like it," Barea said of that two point-guard combination much like when he played with Jason Kidd or Jason Terry in Dallas. "And he did a great job."

Barea won't guarantee this team will shoot 90 percent (10-for-11) in the first half every night, but...

"I know we can score the ball," Barea said. "I don't know if we're going to be that good every night. This team, if we play defense and rebound every night, you never know what could happen. We've got people who can score on this team. I'm excited for this team."

* Rubio turned his ankle in the first half and briefly went to the locker room to have his ankles re-taped but declared it "nothing" after the game.


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