Since I decided to get up and watch our favorite new TWolves at 3:00 this morning, I might as well do a brief game wrap. Russia handled the Chinese from start to finish in what was perhaps a more-impressive victory than the opener versus overmatched Great Britain. While the stat lines of Alexey Shved and Andrei Kirilenko were a bit more modest than the first game, the players looked just as good and played as important of roles in another one-sided affair.
Like everyone else (even non-Wolves fans, it’s beginning to seem) I’m mostly watching these Russian games for Alexey Shved. He is one of the more intriguing international prospects in recent NBA history for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is the flair he brings with him on the hardwood. In tonight’s game, that caught up to him a time or two; making a couple of unforced turnovers. One came on a two-on-one fast break when his nearing-patented-status between-the-legs pass was intercepted by China and taken the other way. Late in the game, on a three-on-one break, he flipped the ball over his head, missing who I think was the intended target (AK-47) but finding a different teammate for an alley-oop. The camera immediately panned to Coach David Blatt, who turned away, shaking his head. But Blatt didn’t yank him — why would he? Shved was playing really well. In the first half, when Russian built the lead that would never dwindle to below 15 or so, Shved was controlling everything. He was better than AK-47 on offense in this game. A common action sequence is Shved driving hard to his right, usually off a ball screen, and looking for three basic options: 1) a flash-cutter through the lane; usually AK-47; 2) a perimeter shooter on the opposite wing–a common Rubio decision; or 3) his own jump shot. Although I can’t be sure, that seems to be his order of preference. In watching him, I get the sense that his decisions are sometimes predetermined. He doesn’t have quite the degree of “head on a swivel” that Ricky has. But nevertheless, he’s an unselfish playmaker whose game will fit brilliantly in a Rick Adelman offense.
Let’s do another paragraph on Shved. He hit some tough dribble jumpers tonight. Mo Williams kinda stuff. When his shot is seriously contested, it sometimes gets flat. But it also goes in, and when it misses, it’s right there, almost always straight on. Another quality that I love about Shved, and completely distinguishes him from Jonny Flynn–a Timberwolf whose unnecessary flash became a major annoyance of fans–is that he does not always dominate the ball. When there’s a shove-ahead pass, he makes it. He makes easy, crisp passes when he’s not playing pick-and-roll. Man, he and Ricky would be a fun backcourt to play with for that reason among many others. At one point, China shifted to a zone defense when man was getting torched. On the very first possession, Shved, looked off the defense and hit AK for a lob dunk over the top of the D. Shved also showed cutting ability, necessary if he’s to play off the ball. On one play he passed and cut hard backdoor, only to immediately reverse course and come hard off a down screen. Late in the game, he cut backdoor and dunked over #15 on China. He can cut. What I don’t know is whether he is much of a catch-and-shoot player. I just haven’t seen him try it, mainly because he’s usually dribbling off screens or cutting backdoor. Perhaps he’ll be doing those two things for the Wolves and catch-and-shoots will be less important for him.
Question: Is it too early to wonder if Shved should have waited until after the Olympics to sign an NBA contract? I wonder what his market value will seem like when these games are through. I realize there’s an injury risk for any active basketball player without a contract, but it is possible that Alexey cost himself millions by signing before–rather than after–the Olympics.
I knew I loved this guy’s offense, but I didn’t know until tonight that he actually played for Pete Carril at Princeton. It isn’t surprising then that his team is constantly in motion, penalizing overzealous defenders with the sharpest of back cuts. Oh, and China was ready to get after them tonight. They were getting burned all
night morning long. Russia should contend for a medal. If they play the U.S.A., they’ll certainly counter the Americans’ greatest strength: pressure defense. But with Tyson Chandler protecting the paint, I’d still expect the U.S. to win comfortably. I hope it’s a game we get to see.
Kirilenko played a very solid game. What stands out is the cutting. He cuts backdoor and across his defender’s face. When he sees Shved driving, he waits one moment, and then slips into the paint with his hands ready. On defense, AK is sly. He backs off his man only to reach back and poke the ball away. (4 steals today.) He has a knack for creeping up on unsuspecting pass receivers and poking the ball loose. He also takes the ball and immediately looks up court. AK appears to enjoy running the floor. His lateral quickness isn’t great, but he’s adept at using his length to play good defense.
Russia’s next game is a big one. They face Spain early Saturday morning, 5:15 Central Time. Set your alarm clocks, or your DVR’s.