Sometimes you just want to know what the future holds. You look into your crystal ball, but all you see is fog, so you ransack your house looking for that Ouija board you got in college. You don’t find it, so you go on a peyote-fueled drive through the deserts of Mexico, looking for that shaman who your buddy says changed his life. You make it back into the States in one piece.
It’s three games into the Wolves preseason, and you’re now wondering if the Wolves are going to be any good this year. “Will they make the playoffs?” “What will Adelman’s rotations look like?” “Will Nikola Pekovic raze a village in frustration after a tough loss and get slapped with a season-long suspension?”
At Punch-Drunk Wolves, we have the answers. A few emerging impressions about this year’s team are below the fold.
1. Brandon Roy will be good (if he stays healthy…duh)
We tweeted about this last night:it’s nice to see a Wolves 2-guard who is physical, fundamentally sound, and can get to the line. We haven’t had one of those since JR Rider, and despite concerns about his health, Roy appears to be one.
Joan Nielsen’s profile of Roy hit the nail on the head: every time he does something out there, it’s cringe-inducing because you don’t know if his legs are going to completely collapse from under him. But until that happens, it’s all good: Roy leads when he’s on the court, and though he’s clearly less explosive now than when he was in his prime with Portland, he looks to have adjusted his game to make lemonade out of the lemons god gave him.
And that’s a very good thing for the Wolves. I’d like to see Adelman give Roy the ball more as the lead guard – at least until Rubio gets back, or unless Shved emerges as a starting point guard – but overall B-Roy’s performance suggests he could be a very nice surprise.
2. Alexey Shved will be good too!
Shved’s play so far bears out what we saw in last summer’s Olympics: he can dribble, pass, and shoot, and he can do them all with style. His play in London wasn’t a sham. He’s the real deal.
A few more pointed observations:
- Shved isn’t as skinny as people were saying for a long time. He looks to have a thin, but relatively well developed hoops body. He’s long, and dare I say it, he’s also athletic.
- That said, Shved does need to add muscle. Here’s what the Wolves do: have Shved follow Pek around during the daytime hours. And bring back Mark Madsen and have him follow Mad Dog around after the sun sets. In the end, they’ll have a dynamic guard who’s both ripped and well rested.
- Oh, and while they’re at it, the Wolves should bring back Rubio too, not just because he’s a helluva ballplayer, but also because he’s a great defender. I guess you can’t mend a broken knee overnight. But Alexey needs a defensive mentor like Rubio. Maybe it’s Kirilenko, who knows. But Hinrich owned Shved last night in the 4th quarter. Alexey needs to get his self over those high ball screens, or he’s going to have a hard time staying on the floor when it matters.
- As with Roy, Adelman should play Shved more at the point, at least until Rubio’s back. Despite my misgivings about Shved’s defense, I’d like to see more rotations featuring Shved and Ridnour, with Shved as the lead and Ridnour in position to hit corner treys. Both guys would be more productive and valuable. And Ridnour could defend the point, if that made sense based on the matchups. (Along the same lines, I wish Adelman would do the same with Roy and JJ Barea. Roy is under control when he plays and Barea isn’t, so having Brandon in there with JJ could help rein in Barea. Alexey isn’t always under control either, so Job #1 – reining in Barea – is less likely if you’re looking at a second unit of Shved and Barea.)
3. Derrick Williams? Maybe not that good
Is this the guy Rick Adelman was raving about? I sure haven’t seen that guy. Has anyone seen him? His face should be put on the back of a milk carton. Send Bayno and a rescue team, asap.
A few specifics:
- Shooting. I’ve long thought Thrill would end up improving his long-range shooting, but I’m starting to give up on that idea. His form looks the same as it did last year (bad) and so does his confidence (also bad).
- Intensity. Is Williams playing harder? Adelman said so repeatedly. Again, don’t see it. Williams looks lost, like the game is moving too fast for him.
- The need for a go-to move. We’ve said it before and will keep saying it: Williams needs to muck it up as a power face-up guy if he wants to beast in this league. (Think STAT, back when STAT was good. Someone please send Thrill a box of old Phoenix game tapes. kthxbai.)
4. Is Dante Cunningham salvageable? Is Derrick Williams?
In certain ways, Cunningham looks sort of like the guy Williams was supposed to be. They’re different kinds of players, obviously, but consider the following.
Imagine you’re taking a test, blind. (A blind test? Whatever. The kind where you don’t know which is which.) And imagine you have one guy who looks like a caged lion freed at feeding time, and another who looks like a yawnstipating benchwarmer. One guy is willing to mix it up inside and who also appears to be able to step up his intensity on D, and another who isn’t making much of an impact on the interior on either offense or defense. You’ve got one who’s playing like a tasty filet, while the other’s like that half-cooked chuck steak you got last week at Sizzler.
Which one is Cunningham? Which is Williams? You already know the answer, of course, at least so far.
In Williams’ case, you can tell yourself you’re getting a decent steak meal when you’re heading out to the Sizzler, but when get there and dig in, you know you’re getting low-grade product.
To be fair, I didn’t see the Wolves’ second preseason game – apparently Williams’ best so far – because League Pass gremlins hid the game, so I’m looking at a tiny, skewed sample. But still, Williams is a major disappointment so far, with the rhetoric being far from the reality. He’s got a lot of learning to do before he can become a difference-maker for the Wolves.
5. Chase Budinger: A whole lotta “meh”
A lot of fans welcomed Bud’s arrival ahead of the draft last summer with at least lukewarm enthusiasm, including me. They/we said a lot of things. “Bud can make threes,” they/we said. “Bud’s an average wing,” said others/me.“Maybe even above-average.” Best of all, we were all able to say, “He’s better than Wes Johnson.”
Budinger has put up decent numbers so far this preseason, scoring 14 points apiece in each of the first two games before putting up 6 in a 2-11 stinker Saturday night.
Problem is, Bud doesn’t look like he’s got much of a motor on him. Jim Pete reported that Bud wasn’t playing hard enough to stay on the floor for Kevin McHale last year in Houston. And when you see him play, you kinda see why. There’s not much intensity. He’s tentative going after loose balls. And so on and so forth.
That’s too bad, because Bud’s a rare commodity in today’s NBA: a guy who can shoot the lights out, get invited to be in Sprite Slam Dunk contests, and keep his head up despite being the only confirmed albino in the League. So if Budinger is like an endangered species, it’s one that will likely face extinction – at least in terms of NBA relevance – if Bud doesn’t start coming with more fire out there. [Insert joke here.]
What’s the moral of the story? There are some good things, and some bad. It’s the Wolves. It’s the preseason. The early preseason. It probably doesn’t mean very much. But there are some surprises, already, considering the priors that we rolled out of training camp with.
That’s what I have for now. What else should we be keeping an eye on?