Reusse: It's on Adelman to help Johnson, Williams become factors

  • Article by: PATRICK REUSSE , Star Tribune
  • Updated: July 18, 2012 - 9:51 PM

The Wolves coach needs to find a way to make two high draft choices more productive.

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Timberwolves coach Rick Adelman

Photo: Genevieve Ross, Star Tribune file

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The complaints are endless from the sporting public and the media.

We get on Rick Anderson when a Twins pitcher doesn't show improvement and Joe Vavra when a Twins hitter remains stuck in a slump.

We get on Tubby Smith when Ralph Sampson III is less of a player as a senior than as a freshman. We get on Don Lucia when Blake Wheeler doesn't come close to expectations with the Gophers, then goes on to have a decent NHL career.

If you want to criticize a manager or coach, an assistant or a coordinator, the quick shot is to ask, "Who has he made better?''

It was such a shock when Rick Adelman, an NBA coach with an outstanding résumé, took the Timberwolves job last summer that there was no need to ask the question, since there was never a whisper of criticism.

Instantly, Adelman gave credibility to what had become a slapstick operation. And you could see the sideline acumen. When Adelman drew up a last-second play, it was one that would produce an excellent chance at the needed basket.

The Wolves were 21-19 entering a Target Center game with the Los Angeles Lakers on March 9. They lost Ricky Rubio late in the game because of a season-ending knee injury, lost that night, and went a hapless 5-20 the rest of the way.

The season reviews talked of the dreadful second season of Wes Johnson, the No. 4 overall selection in 2010, and the disappointing rookie year from Derrick Williams, No. 2 overall in 2011.

Neither the media nor the public asked: Why was Johnson so much worse than in 2010-11? And, why was Williams as erratic and confused on the court in Game 66 as he was at season's start?

When Johnson took a jumper as a rookie, the fans in Target Center felt there was a reasonable chance it would fall. When he did so last season, the fans were groaning as soon as the ball left his right hand.

There's a good chance that Johnson never will be a 28-minute guy on a successful team. He probably will spend a few years at the bottom of NBA boxscores, then wind up his career playing in Turkey or the Philippines.

For sure, something like that will be his fate, if Adelman and his coaches are not able to bring back some of the confidence that Johnson showed on offense as a rookie. OK, his confidence was hit-and-miss in 2010-11, but it was always miss last season.

How does an outside shooter function so much more poorly with the creative Rubio as his point guard than he did a year earlier with a harried Luke Ridnour bouncing the ball off his knee?

Johnson is 6-7 and he's an athlete. He's not a ballhandler, but when he stays smooth, he can make shots. I don't see how a player with his physical abilities can remain the liability he was in Adelman's first season.

The Williams case is more mysterious. There were times when he was treated more like a second-rounder than the No. 2 overall selection. Adelman waved off with disdain the idea that the thick, 6-8 Williams could play small forward and join Kevin Love and Nikola Pekovic on the front court.

You couldn't really argue when watching Williams look slow and lost while trying to defend the position. Derrick was told at season's end to go home and lose some weight.

He doesn't exactly have the look of a prison camp survivor, as did Love a year ago, but you can notice the missing 15 to 20 pounds watching Williams in the Las Vegas Summer League.

Plus, he had septum surgery, which means he's going to enter his second NBA season carrying less bulk and breathing easier. He should be applauded for that, yet it sounds as if Adelman continues to disdain the idea of Williams as the forward opposite Love.

The gentlemen telecasting Tuesday night's summer game said they had asked Adelman if Williams could play the "3,'' and the coach harrumphed: "He never has before.''

Right now, it would be rash to make the following claim about Wes Johnson, but I do know this: A coaching legend should be embarrassed if he can't fit Derrick Williams into his team and turn the 21-year-old into a productive NBA player.

Patrick Reusse can be heard noon-4 weekdays on 1500-AM. preusse@startribune.com

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