The 5-4 record of the Minnesota Timberwolves is defined by crosswinds: In one direction blows a continuous breeze of injuries: damaged knees, bizarre knuckle and foot ailments, an ankle sprain (to a player seemingly-immune to such things), with the sum being a depleted roster and lots of improvisation we didn’t expect. The other blows all the way from Eastern Europe – Moscow to be exact, improbably flitting CSKA stars Andrei Kirilenko and Alexey Shved into Timberwolves POBO David Kahn’s lap all the way over here in Minneapolis.
Kirilenko and Shved have exceeded expectations and helped the Wolves team gather needed wins in a competitive Western Conference. Kirilenko is the team’s MVP by a wide margin, thriving under Rick Adelman’s player-movement offense, perhaps to a degree never reached before in his career, even in his prime as a member of the Utah Jazz.
Kirilenko is playing at a high level, and is being paid as such; last offseason, he inked a two-year deal worth $20 Million, which includes a player option on the second year – worth about $10.2 Million – allowing him to explore free agency if he chooses. All things considered, it isn’t a great contract, only because with the level of play he’s quickly reached, we would all wish he were locked up for 3-4 years instead of just one.
Shved’s contract, on the other hand, is looking mighty fine.
First, the terms: Alexey is under contract for this season, and the two after that, for less than $10 Million. After that, he’s a restricted free agent, meaning the Wolves can match any offer he receives on the open market.
Next, consider that Shved turns 24 years old on December 16 (party details TBA), which means that he should enter his prime quicker than a typical star rookie who would be a sophomore in college. By comparison, Manu Ginobili entered the NBA at 25, and contributed to three championships in his first five seasons. (And while we’re on Manu, Oceanary of Canis Hoopus drew a Ginobili/Shved comparison a while back.)
Shved’s learning curve at this advanced-rookie age appears steep. After two “deer in headlights” games, he cut his hair and regained the Olympic swag. In Games 3 through 9, he’s is averaging 12.3 points and 4.9 assists per game off the bench. His play is earning more and more tick, including 33 minutes of productive action in the Wolves’ last game, in which he score 22 points, had 7 assists, and led a somewhat-heroic effort in trying to carry the gimpy Wolves to an improbable win over Golden State.
Alexey is not flying under the radar. HoopSpeak/Grantland’s X’s & O’s guru, Brett Koremenos, devoted some of his recent post to Shved, writing:
Earlier in the week I tweeted out that despite some horrid shooting numbers, Minnesota’s Alexey Shved was still able to provide solid production for injury-plagued squad. The scary part — for both the team and the league — is that the young Russian import is doing just that without a real notion of how to play at this level. Shved merely reacts to things happening on the court right now rather than anticipating them, which should come as no surprise given he’s never played at anywhere near this level of competition on a consistent basis before this season.
It would be a mistake, however, to think that simply gaining more experience is the only thing holding Shved back. This type of growth can’t just be taken for granted, as some players stay maddeningly incapable of understanding the finer nuances of the game. If Shved is willing to put in the time to really master the craft, his upside as a scorer and playmaker is through the roof.
Specifically, Shved must improve at drawing fouls (he seems to be doing this on a game-to-game basis, hopefully it continues) and protecting the ball against aggressive pick-and-roll defense. If he does, he could become a star player very soon. Which the Wolves desperately need.
Getting back to his contract, do you remember when he signed it? That’s right – it was just before the Summer Games in London, on July 25.
Why is this important? Because Shved was a star in the Olympics, drawing not only the attention of Punch-Drunk Wolves (In July, we really, really, really, enjoyed watching Shved.) but also those outside the Wolves-fan blogosphere. Yahoo’s Dan Devine paid special attention to Shved in the Bronze Medal Game when he out-dueled the aforementioned-and-compared Ginobili.
With his national team vying for its first Olympic medal since the fall of the Soviet Union, Russia’s 23-year-old point guard found himself in a fourth-quarter duel with one of the greatest big-game performers in the history of international basketball … and he didn’t give an inch. More than that? He won, alerting the basketball-watching world to the rise of an exciting new star that’s about to streak across the sea and into the NBA…
Shved found his offensive rhythm and rose to the occasion in Sunday morning’s bronze medal matchup with Argentina. As a result, those of us who woke up early got treated to quite a show, as the promising young guard stood toe-to-toe with the legendary Manu Ginobili in the fourth quarter…He finished with 25 points, seven assists, five rebounds — and, most importantly, just one turnover — in nearly 33 minutes. He was an absolute star in the absolute biggest moments on Sunday. And now, he’s off to Minnesota, where the Timberwolves and their fans are absolutely giddy to unwrap their brand new present.
Giddy is right.
After making himself an Olympic household name and showing off skills similar to those Ricky Rubio used to take the NBA by storm just a few months earlier, Alexey Shved was a prized commodity, and the Timberwolves had him already locked up for a bargain rate. You won’t hear the Wolves bragging about this accomplishment (well, let’s hope not at least–is Kahn still taking those public-speaking courses?) because they don’t want to brag that they fleeced a possible foundational player and his agent. But the timing of Shved’s deal was a sneaky-effective move by the Wolves, getting out in front of a star performance in London.
While David Kahn has managed to get most things wrong – especially on draft night – his foresight here is a huge feather in his cap. If Rubio & Shved end up the next Parker & Ginobili, or anything even close, Kahn’s legacy looks a whole lot different than we’d have thought a few months ago.
I’ll leave you with some food for thought.
Fact: When you factor in the Grizzlies’ Number 1 power ranking, it’s possible that the NBA’s Executive of the Year race will be between David Kahn and Chris Wallace. Which, of course, means the Apocalypse is officially upon us.
Get your bottled water and canned food now.