Timberwolves Early Season Defense

At the end of the sequence, Teague is frantically chasing after Klay. It’s far too late now, but it wasn’t his man to begin with. Jimmy Butler has his back turned from Klay, looking towards Steph, but Teague is right by Curry. They wouldn’t switch if they didn’t have to, since Teague is undersized and ill-equipped to guard Klay; even Butler struggled and he’s considered to be one of the best  on-ball defenders in the entire league.

Jim Barnett, Golden States color commentator, was saying that he thinks Teague is a better defender than former Wolves point guard Ricky Rubio because Ricky went after steals, didn’t commit to solid positional defense. Jimmy seems to be focused on passing lanes a bit, too. Just stay with Klay.

I get that trapping players on the baseline is part of Thibodeau’s strategy but half of the floor is wide open with too many playmakers on GS. They’re more likely to give Golden State an open 3 than to force a bad pass or turnover.

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Looking at this still image here signals some immediate alarms: both Teague and Butler are facing the opposite direction of Klay and Curry, the two deadliest 3pt shooters possibly in NBA history. Teague was anticipating that Andre was going to drive to the middle of the lane and so he slid over a few feet to help.

Curry is still his man, though. Butler sees Klay running below the basket and basically just shrugs and doesn’t move, meaning that Teague is now supposed to switch onto Klay and cover half the space of the court in time to contest a man with the fastest catch-and-shoot release in the league. Good thinking, Jimmy.

These were the sort of scenarios that Butler was supposed to help the Timberwolves with. They currently have a defensive rating of 110.7, 27th worst in the league. Instead of being glued to Klay, shutting him down as best as he could, Butler spent most of his energy chasing after passing lanes or shirking his responsibility to his assignment.

The off-ball movement by Klay is simple and straightforward, but the array of passes that lead the ball to him was pretty incredible. A key pass could easily be missed due to the speed of the sequence. Andre doesn’t end up driving as Teague expects, hedging slightly in the middle, but instead spots Klay running on the baseline and passes to Draymond to the right, closer towards the top of the key.

Andre leaves the corner immediately after passing the ball to Draymond, bringing the man that’s defending him along with him. If Andre would have held onto the ball and stayed in the corner, it could have ended with a short pass and Andre’s defender sliding over to cover Klay, preventing or at least getting a hand up for the shot. Andre clears the area.

Draymond understands what Andre and Klay are doing and whips a pass to the corner and bang – a perfect 3, all net. It happens in just under 5 seconds, from when Klay is standing in the 3pt line in the left corner to when the ball is released from his hands on the right side of the court. Jimmy remains on the left side of the court. These mistakes are what Golden State builds so many wins on. They’re just too good to be ignored; they require you to focus or else. Some credit should go to Curry just for being Curry, as Butler seemed overly concerned with his location rather than Klay.

Two problems with the situation below: Wiggins, standing to the left hesitantly, and Bjelica, standing directly beneath the rim, are staring over at Draymond, who’s standing alone at the top of the key. Draymond only makes 1.3 threes per game on average. He’s a streaky shooter and doesn’t really like to shoot, prefers to be the playmaker for the other shooters. He doesn’t need or deserve the attention of two defenders standing in space.

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Wiggins slides down a couple of feet and pops back out towards Draymond, as if Javelle McGee would ever think to turn around and pass it back to Draymond. McGee is a one note rim-runner: he’s going to dunk the ball. Teague and Deng on the right are in position to move over and contest McGee at the rim. Deng is a lengthy center, fully capable of performing such a task. Teague had just helped to double-team one of the leagues best ball handlers.

McGee can be trapped easily, broken down, a quick strip of the ball and the Wolves are off on a fast break. Teague just stands and watches and Deng takes too long to turn his head. Wiggins halfheartedly slashes his arm towards McGee, doesn’t get any ball and retreats back to the 3pt line. Bjelica is still under the rim. If he would’ve read the situation properly, instead of looking over at Draymond, he could have seen that Curry had to pass it to McGee.

Knowing this, Bjelica could have positioned himself outside of the restricted zone and set himself up to take a charge. Bjelica isn’t a shot blocker by any means, but of all the options he could have went with, he decided to take a couple steps back and look up at McGee slamming down an easy dunk.

These quick decisions on the court should be a major focus or concern for the coach, especially for one who is so famous for his defensive strategies. Instead, Thibodeaus young team doesn’t have the mind-reading instincts that a coherent defense can produce. They don’t play off each other or pay attention to each others movements. They didn’t communicate at all when McGee had the ball at the elbow staring down all of them and the rim before him.

Golden State re-invented the way teams defend, though most teams don’t have the talent to even slightly mimic their sets.  They are all connected on a five-man weave made of string: when Draymond jerks left to the baseline, Klay immediately jerks right to cover the 3pt line where Draymond had just departed from.

They are an efficient defensive think tank, making decisions as a group, helping each other and rarely being completely beat off of the dribble. The Wolves hit Golden State early with their young star center, Karl-Anthony Towns, through a pick & roll set at the elbow with Jeff Teague.

They had success doing these screen options, Towns is there most consistent scorer, and yet they barely returned to the play. They did it again to start the 3rd quarter, appropriately taking advantage of the older, flat-footed Golden State center, Zaza Pachulia. Towns scores and is fouled by a ham-fisted Zaza. Most coaches would go right back to that play the next time they’re down the floor. If it works, keep doing it until the other team figures out how to make it not work. Right?

They couldn’t identify the weakness in Golden States defense, which doesn’t bode well for their awarenes of their own defensive shortcomings. It has been a dissapointing start to the season for the Timberwolves, their franchise imbued with new star talent, jerseys, and a colorful new court design. But all the toys can’t cover up their sloth-like defensive performances. They need to improve fast if they want to make the playoffs.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Lost Boy – Short Film Review


A visually stunning sci-fi short film that relies entirely on visual imagery to tell its story. The plot is rather vague and ambiguous, but there are several very clever cinematography tricks used against the backdrop of a desolate, dark landscape.

It seamlessly uses the pan across an object, swipe to a different character, pan, swipe, different character. The slow pans move in closer to the subject following each successive swipe, just like Spielberg did in Jaws as Brody watched the town folk swim in the water while he sat back and nervously watched.

In this story, the antagonist isn’t a shark, though, it’s a large android-like figure with a red band of light covering his eyes, like Cyclops from X-Men. He is chasing after a cyberpunk-looking figure, who’s often running in slow motion, the background a constant source of tension. The ‘cyclops’ weaves in and out of the frame horizontally, creating a demonic aura, though we don’t completely understand his moral position by the end of it.

Great world-building and production design, though it plays out more like a music video than an actual narrative. I couldn’t tell you the motivations of the characters if I tried, but whatever they are, they looked cool going after them. Personally, I would have liked the terminator-style chase sequence to be a bit more frantic and have a little less slow motion. The slow motion implies that we care deeply for this character’s livelihood, but we don’t. Speed it up and it becomes more energetic, intense, and engaging, instead of just simply pretty to look at.

Directed by Ash Thorp and Anthony Scott Burns

The Argument – Director’s Cut


A fantastic short film about a man and his baby…and diapers. I can’t pinpoint it exactly, but “The Argument” really was a unique experience for me. It amplified my fear of the responsibility of children, something I’d like to avoid. The story is about a man whose spouse is frustrated with him (we only hear her at the beginning, never see her) and is left alone with his baby when it needs to be changed and there aren’t any clean diapers.

There’s a great tracking shot, cut up into several segments, but all following the father from behind as he carries his baby through the streets and into the grocery store. The baby is crying as he rocks him slightly. There is a distinct lack of music throughout, only the sounds of the crying and the dialogue from the various characters.

After grabbing a pack of diapers recommended by a nearby customer, presumably a mother, he gets in line to buy them. He gets a few looks from other customers; we really feel like we are peering through the eyes of a desperate father scrambling to keep his domestic life together. He ends up finding out that he doesn’t have any money on him. The clerk is stubborn and doesn’t budge despite his pleas.

The clerk says herself, “It’s not my store”, so it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense that she then goes on to chase after him through the parking lot, almost getting run over by an oncoming vehicle. She could have simply yelled out, “thief!”, and the manager wouldn’t or at least shouldn’t have put any blame on her. Maybe there’s a sign in the employee lunch area stating the requirement to physically chase any thief by foot; I don’t know.

A great ‘day-in-the-life’ short film; simple, but powerful in its depiction of the anxieties of parenthood.

Written & Directed by Clara Aranovich

Starring Melvil Poupaud and Naomi Collier.

 

The Dig – New Short Film & Review

A new short film directed by Joseph Kosinski, the filmmaker behind Tron: Legacy and Oblivion. It’s the first footage shot on the new CineAlta VENICE Full Frame Camera and, as one would expect, it looks fantastic. It doesn’t hurt that they hired Kosinski, who has been criticized for being too focused on creating brilliant, symmetrical imagery and not enough focus on narrative and character. He’s a technical artist, not a traditional storyteller.

I saw Oblivion in IMAX and was pretty blown away by the precision behind each individual shot. He creates sequences like he’s building a high-speed bullet train, not a slower, more bumpy train with twists and turns. It can be temporarily awe-inspiring, but I’ve never had the urge to go back and re-watch Oblivion. It’s an empty shell of a story.

The plot of “The Dig” is somewhat ludicrous. It features two janitors who look like LA models dressing up like janitors. They look totally out of place and their employers should be skeptical of their motives. They look like the type of people who wouldn’t even put on a janitors uniform, let alone actually work as one. As it turns out, they are performing an inside job to steal the new Sony camera (clever!).

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It’s fun to watch, though, as it’s basically just an excuse to show off the mighty prowess of the new Sony camera. Their are plenty of gliding, omniscient aerial shots, and some typical but beautiful helicopter shots of skyscrapers at night. You could count the cop car on the side of the road as one moment of decent tension, but the film is mainly a mystery involving two suspect janitors, not a Hitchcockian slow-burner.

Directed by Joseph Kosinski

Cinematography by Claudio Miranda, ASC.

Starring Taylor Kitsch and Lily Collins

 

 

 

Baby Driver (2017) – Film Review

The opening to Edgar Wright’s “Baby Driver” feels a bit braggadocios, a bit indulgent, and a bit too similar to a recent Apple commercial. All in one take, the opening tracking shot follows our main character, Baby, played by Ansel Elgort, as he walks freely through the streets, crossing roads, passing murals, and avoiding bystanders. Each set piece he walks by correlates with the words in the song he’s listening to with his signature earbuds, always at hand and usually blaring full volume.

It’s a clever opening, though very self-referential: “Shaun of the Dead” featured one of the greatest one take tracking shots ever with Simon Pegg’s character bumbling through his town, ignorant of the blood and zombies surrounding him as he yawns his way through the vacant streets. The movie slows down a bit after the opening street dance/music video, getting into the reality of Baby’s life as a getaway driver for low-life, high-stake criminals.

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The leader of the operation is Doc, played smugly by Kevin Spacey. Jamie Foxx plays the confrontational character, even having a line in the movie commenting about the crazy position being filled already, by him. Jon Hamm plays a more sedated role as Buddy, another member of the crew; he wants to get the job done and get out of town with his girlfriend as soon as possible.

Baby drives as a result of a traumatic childhood experience involving a car wreck and the death of his mother. He has permanent ringing issues in his ears as a result of the accident, hence the constant music. The soundtrack is the lifeblood of the movie: the characters question it constantly, but when the music starts, Baby switches gears and turns into an 11th grade version of Ryan Gosling in “Drive”. He’s slick and intelligent, knowing the routes by heart, able to intuitively escape from seemingly inescapable scenarios.

Lily James plays Deborah, a young girl that works as a waitress at the diner where Baby’s mother used to wait tables. He’s a regular at the diner and soon garners her attention with a few of his songs and some friendly conversation. They have a runaway vibe throughout, though their relationship can’t be entirely filled out due to his responsibilities to Doc as the whiz-kid driver.

The movie has a lot of heart and clearly a lot of passion for the art of fast-speed driving. The coordination that had to happen to clear the roads and perform the spinning, sliding car donuts must have been exhausting. “Baby Driver” is an exhilarating chase movie made by one of the most inventive action directors of the decade.

It (2017) – Film Review

“It” wasn’t supposed to garner the biggest September box office opening of all time. “It” had been in development turmoil for awhile, swapping directors, dropping Will Coulter as the actor to play Pennywise, and generally being bogged down by a bad streak of Stephen King movies. The Dark Tower was a disaster both financially and critically. But despite all of the doubts, the team behind “It” moved past it through great casting, a distinct visual palette, and a star turn from Bill Skarsgard as Pennywise the Dancing Clown.

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Finn Wolfhard, the main character from Netflix’s Stranger Things, plays the wise-cracking Richie in “It”, a change in tone from his earnest TV persona. He swears and brags about sex he’s never had. He brings a great comedic lightness to the movie, an important glue character that ties the group of troubled kids together.

Bill, played by Jaeden Lieberher, is the stuttering older brother of Georgie, the infamous victim of Pennywise’s sewer tricks. He has an emotional arc surrounding his brother that’s very intense and heartfelt. It’s made all the better by the filmmakers choosing to focus only on the characters as children, not flashing back and forth between their adult years. That will be the sequel, apparently.

Sophia Lillis plays Beverly, the tomboy girl with both an undeserved reputation at school and a hostile relationship with her heated father. She’s looking for someone to latch onto, and the losers, the main group of kids that hangout together, including Bill and Richie, a sympathetic fat boy and a home-schooled outsider, are the first she finds. She is more mature and even looks three years older than all of them. She fits in within their little squad very quickly.

Pennywise isn’t just a scary killer clown; he’s a monster capable of transporting and morphing into different entities. His mouth can shape-shift into a long, wide black hole filled with a hundred spears of teeth. But the natural physical gestures performed by Bill Skarsgard are plenty creepy enough.

An “It” producer said in a press interview that they consciously created a strategy to keep Skarsgard out of the late night circuits and press junket interviews. By doing this, the producer explained, the viewer would see Pennywise the monster first and Skarsgard the actor second. His piercing eyes and odd lip movements are huge aspects of the performance, and his real-life interviews don’t mask these intense features/expressions that landed him the role in the first place. If his face were all over magazine covers, the mystique of the Pennywise look wouldn’t be as immediate or as thrilling. Viewers would look at the clown and be able to point out the quirky gestures of the Swedish actor.

Bill Skarsgard made some sort of comment comparing his performance as Pennywise to Heath Ledger as the Joker in The Dark Knight. I don’t know the context of his actual statement, but if he was saying that he had taken inspiration from Ledger’s Joker, it’s very apparent within the film. He shakes his head and laughs hoarsely at the kids, mimicking their state of absolute terror in the same way Ledger laughed as he was beat down by Batman while being interrogated. The reckless, unfiltered joy in the chaos and violence. They share a lot of common qualities in their performances, though Ledger’s makeup was dried and peeling and Pennywise’s face has been intricately painted and adjusted with CGI effects.

The new Stephen King adaption is a definite success on a long checklist of big-screen failures. “It” is a classic, well-known story with a tantalizingly creepy, enduring villain. If you’re worried about “It 2: The Adults”, be reassured that Pennywise will return and be as welcome as he has been in 2017. He’s a timeless character that will always hold some sort of grasp on audience’s fears.

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