Sunday, July 25, 2010

Kahn Says Wolves Improved, But Is It so?


Granted: S*&# happens. But if David Kahn knows what he is doing, I mean, really knows, really has some sort of plan.... If that were the case, how would/how could the Timberwolves end up with the same back-up point guard they play the 2008-2009 season with, that of course being the estimable Sebastien Telfair? Granted, Kahn acquired Telfair because he had a cheap contract that the Wolves could buy out of cheaply. No sooner, of course, had Kahn done the acquiring than first-string, second-year "1" Jonny Flynn went down for the first quarter of the season with an injury. And guess who is one of only two "1"'s on the Wolves' roster. You guessed it. Now, don't get me wrong. If the Wolves get into a gun-fight somewhere along the line, Telfair has shown himself to be prepared. But, for a basketball game, not so much.

Original Article

Not to jump too quickly on the David Kahn-Non-Bandwagon, but let's be honest, hope does not spring eternal in the breasts of T-Wolves fans. So when Kahn says the Wolves are improved, "vastly, no question" over the roster he inherited a year ago, one can hardly help but ask, "Who's he kidding?"

Strib reporter Jerry Zgoda helpfully provided a side-by-side on Thursday, July 15.


Then: Al Jefferson, Jason Collins, Mark Madsen
Now: Darko Milicic, Nikola Pekovic, Ryan Hollins

Jefferson is the only proven NBA ball player among 'em, though of course it was proven only that he can play offense, not defense. Zgoda goes on to point out that the Wolves went 2-31 after Darko's acquisition last spring. Any improvement here remains to be seen, though it's true that an improvement on defense even at the loss of some offense might on balance be a good thing.

Power Forward

Then: Jefferson, Kevin Love, Craig Smith
Now: Love, Michael Beasley, Hollins

The same questions have always surrounded Love as Jefferson--i.e. can he defend? The good news with Beasley is you get a different set of questions. Well, one of 'em is the same. Can the two natural power forwards play together? Kahn promises they will, but that's what he said about Flynn and Sessions, and he also promises that Milicic is going to get a lot of minutes, too. So, can Beasley play the 3? Is his head screwed on straight, or no?

In the end, I can't help but think if there's an improvement here, it's going to be Beasley out-scoring even Big Al. And where, then, does that leave Kevin "I Wanna Be a Starter" Love?

Small Forward

Then: Corey Brewer, Ryan Gomes, Rodney Carney
Now: Brewer, Wesley Johnson, Lazar Hayward

Wesley Johnson is not better than Ryan Gomes today, I don't think, though his upside--especially on a cost-basis, medium-term--is much better. And the fact is that Brewer was never better than Gomes either, so if there's an immediate improvement here, it probably comes from Beasley moving down to the 3, and not these guys, and it depends on Milicic's alleged improvement at the post to ripple down through the roster. If you don't think Milicic is the savior, then the Milicic-Love-Beasley dream isn't worth much, either.

Shooting Guard

Then: Mike Miller, Randy Foye, Bobby Brown
Now: Martell Webster, Wayne Ellington, Brewer and/or Johnson

Whaddya know about Webster? Me, neither. But he's gotta be better than the most reluctantly shooting shooting guard you ever saw (Miller, a perfect teammate for LeBron and Dwayne for exactly that reason, but not ideal for a team with no other perimeter shooters). But, Ellington may be the real star of this group and of the Wolves' 2009 draft. If so, then this is one pretty good group that Kahn has assembled--a guy who scores on the run (Webster), a catch and shoot guy (Ellington) and a defensive stopper (Brewer).

Point Guard

Then: Foye, Sebastien Telfair
Now: Jonny Flynn, Ramon Sessions, Luke Ridnour

The question remains, Do the Wolves have an NBA "1" on their roster, or don't they? If so, frankly, it might be Ridnour, though Kahn and coach Kurt Rambis are not going to have the nerve to start Ridnour ahead of the much-hyped Flynn. Which in turn means that Flynn has the proverbial break-out or we're just biding our time for Ricky Rubio, who is a proven NBA "1" to approximately the same degree that Flynn is and Foye was. That's a whole lotta hopin' if you ask me.


Can the Wolves really master the NBA's most complex offense? Is it a fool's errand to put them on that track? Yes, it is, unless Flynn, Beasley and Wesley Johnson suddenly show a mastery thereof...but, hey, 2 of them will be running it for the first time this year. Rambis needs a new schtick, if you ask me. Wrong guy at the wrong time.


It is exactly the kind of bravado that Kahn and Rambis have exhibited with that "much improved" talk and that triangle offense that really worries me. If Flynn, et al, continue to struggle with the latter, the Wolves are not going to be improved this year, and the stress on all of the players will continue to rise--and, particularly, on that new front line of Milicic, Love and Beasley, all of whom Kahn preferred to Al Jefferson.


The best 5-some the Wolves can put out there will consist of Ridnour, Ellington, Brewer, Milicic, and Love or Beasley. They won't start, but they'll finish. But, is this really better than Jefferson, Love, Brewer, Miller and Foye? Or Jefferson, Love, Brewer, Miller and Flynn? Maybe, defensively. But there's a potential for a lot of unhappiness among guys who are not getting "their" minutes. Love and Beasley will be the key guys under that microscope.

The T-Wolves won 15 last year. This year's improved roster, "vastly, no question," seems poised to win 20. Then in 2011-2012 we finally find out whether Rubio represents an improvement or not.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

SDSU Loading Up on Minnesota Forwards

Word is that Megan Stuart (2011) of Roseville has verballed South Dakota State. And, apropos of this story I wrote up in May, Stuart, too, is a 'tweener at the forward spot. She looks on paper a lot like her fellow SDSU 2011 recruit Mariah Clarin of Princeton, as both are forwards. Clarin is only 5-11 but plays notoriously big for her size and so should be competing with Stuart for minutes.

Here's the May article:

Wow, what is it with the South Dakota State University Jackrabbits women's basketball team? I mean, aside from the fact that, under coach Aaron Johnston, they've become the #1 team in the Ninth Federal Reserve District.

What I mean is that, with a verbal from Mariah Clarin of Princeton, SDSU is now officially hoarding all the 4s (big forwards) from Minnesota that it can get its hands on. This coming year they'll have junior Jenna Sunnarborg from Osseo, sophomore Leah Dietel from Jordan, and freshmen Hannah Strop from New Prague and Megan Waytashek from Centennial. All of that on top of Maria Boever of Worthington, a 2010 graduate, and Stacie Oistad of Sartell, a 2009 grad.

Of course, it would be silly to question whether there's a method to the madness. Of course there is. Johnston became the Jackrabbits' interim head coach late in the 1999-2000 season, and in 10-and-a-half years he's won 248 games while losing 76 (.765). Lest you complain that much of that came in D2, well, that's wrong. It's already 6 years since SDSU joined D1, and they've been even better in D1, winning 143 while losing 43 (.768). Against the Big 10, they're 5-3 (.625). I don't know how Johnston hasn't been picked up by a major school.

So if you're on a roll, and the Jackrabbits most assuredly are that, you keep doing what you're doing. And one of the things they've been doing, again, is hoarding those 4s from Minnesota. Oistad was the prototype. As a senior (in 2009), the 6-footer started 10 games, played in 35 for an average of 21 minutes and scored 8 points with 4 rebounds.

Of course, Oistad had some other notable Minnesotans as teammates, specifically guard Megan Vogel from St. Peter, class of 2007, who finished up as the Jacks' #2 all-time scorer with 1,850 points.

But sticking to the forwards, the next Minnesotan was the 6-1 Boever. Her main claim to fame in these parts (Minneapolis-St. Paul) is making the game-winning shot at the buzzer in a 59-58 upset of the Gophers at Williams Arena in 2007. In 2010, she led the Jacks in scoring and rebounding at 14 points and 7 boards.

Next on board was the 6-2 Sunnarborg, who started 13 games and played in 33 this past year as a sophomore. She scored 8 points per game with 4 boards in 16.5 minutes of play. Meanwhile, the 6-1 Dietel started 4 games and played in 23 for a total of 17 minutes, and shot 50 percent to Sunnarborg's 46 but attempted barely one-quarter as many shots as Sunnarborg did. So she scored just 4 points per game with 4 boards. Sunnarborg also blocked 41 shots while Dietel blocked just 1. That would seem to say something about athleticism or aggressiveness or something.

Joining the fun next year will be the incoming freshmen Strop, a 6-f00ter, and the 6-2 Waytashek, both of whom can play further away from the hoop than Dietel or Sunnarborg but who can also mix it up pretty good inside. Waytashek is probably the most highly regarded Minnesotan the Jacks have ever lured down to the briar patch and one would expect her to contribute right away while Strop, like Dietel, might need a year to get her bearings. This might be Brookings, SD, but it's still D1.

Finally, there's the 5-11 Clarin. She's a 4 in high school and her main claim to fame is her leaping ability. She hasn't been asked to show anything away from the hoop, and so she hasn't. So, as a 4, she seems a bit undersized compared to the girls who have come to Brookings ahead of her. We'll see.

And we'll see if Johnston and his Jacks can keep the momentum going without Boever and Ketty Cornemann, 2 of SDSU's 10-point-plus scorers last year. But the Jacks look good at the guard spots with starters Macie Michelson of Marshall, MN, and Kristin Rotert, and sometime starter Jill Young all returning. Michelson was last year's assist leader with 4 per game to go with 9 points, while Rotert was the #2 scorer at 12.6 ppg. Young started 14 games, scored 8 points per game and was the #2 3-point shooter after Rotert.

Then, up front they've got the aforementioned Minnesotans plus 5-11 senior Jennifer Schuttloffel and 6-2 soph Katie Lingle. If the Jacks go with a 3-guard set, as seems likely, then Sunnarborg and Dietel are next in line in terms of experience, Lingle is next in terms of size, but Waytashek may be next in terms of pure talent.

But it will be the guards who make the Jacks go, or not. Michelson will continue to handle the ball, Rotert and Young will step up the scoring and effectively replace all of the points and more of the departed Boever and Cornemann. The question then is who will replace Rotert's own scoring, and that will have to be Sunnarborg or Dietel or Waytashek.

In summary, the prospects are for something less ambitious than 2009's 32-2 record but equal to or better than last year's 23-11. In order to do that and return to the NCAA tournament,the Jacks' Minnesota forward are going to have to be part of the solution. And considering the number and percentage of scholarships that are going to the breed (Minnesota 4s), they're going to have to be a big part of the Jacks' continuing success for at least the next 5 years.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Mpls. North Dynasty At An End?

The word on the street (which, as you know, means as read at is the Minneapolis school officials are discouraging kids from enrolling at Mpls. North High School. A 2007 report showed that 72 percent of north Mpls. high school students were failing. The school has been labeled "a dropout factory" and Mpls. City Councilman Don Samuels was widely quoted saying that north Mpls. residents should "burn North High down."

I am not qualified to speak to academics at North High or why the current drama is taking place and taking the shape that it is, though it would appear foolish to think that the academic debate and news from the North High basketball scene are unrelated. Specifically, the word is that the North girls basketball powerhouse is breaking up. Super-7th grader (last season/class of 2015) T. T. Starks has already transfered to Hopkins, and is already playing for the Royals this summer. And keep in mind that Starks is the daughter of North High coach Tara Starks. Meanwhile, star guard Chelsey McGee is rumored to be moving with former North star and now coach Tamara Moore at a new charter school called Prairie Seed.

I haven't heard any word of outbound transfers among the North boys, but of course the North boys didn't lose in the section final last season to the eventual state champ on a last second bucket, as did the girls. The boys didn't come into tis-coming season rated among the top 5 in their class, maybe the top 2, as the did girls. But the boys have won five state titles in the multi-class era in 1980, 1995, 1996, 1997 and 2003--more than any school except Hopkins--and produced one of the greatest, if not the greatest Minnesota boys basketball player ever in Khalid El-Amin.

Meanwhile, the Lady Polars played in an unprecedented 9 straight state championship games, winning in 1998, 1999, 2003, 2004 and 2005 under legendary coach Faith Johnson Patterson. Patterson must have seen the handwriting on the wall in deciding to move downtown to DeLaSalle last year.

The immediate impact would seem to be clearing the way for a repeat Class AAA title for Benilde-St. Margaret's. Longer term, we may be seeing one of the top 5 Minnesota high school basketball dynasties falling by the wayside. If so, the quality and style of Polar basketball will be missed.