Will Zach LaVine eliminate any of his weaknesses in his second season?
The Timberwolves regular, real season begins on Wednesday night at the Staples Center. They play against the Lakers at 9:30 CST on ESPN. On Friday, they play at Denver; a game that will be broadcast on Fox Sports North Plus. Then, on Monday, they play against the Portland Trail Blazers. This will be their home opener and will undoubtedly feature an emotional tribute to the team’s recently fallen leader, Flip Saunders.
Flip’s passing is going to weigh heavily on this team for a while, but the games will be played. The show will go on. I am qualified on neither a personal-relationship basis, or a simple “writing chops” basis to dig deep into the happy story of Flip’s life or the sad story of his death. The best I can offer on this tragedy are some words about what Flip accomplished in rebuilding this Timberwolves team, setting it in such a positive direction. I did that yesterday afternoon when the news broke and I could not focus on basketball. This is my awkward way of saying that I am going to move on, as far as this blog is concerned, and write about basketball again. As many have written in the past 24 hours, Flip understood better than most that “at the end of the day,” basketball is supposed to be fun. That is how I view it, and to me, it is fun that the Timberwolves are about to begin another season, and that is what I wanted to write about tonight.
For this piece, which I guess is ostensibly a “season preview,” I thought it would be fun to break down the Wolves roster by positions, and pose what I find to be important questions facing each player in the season ahead. Some of these will involve stats, some will involve style of play, and some will be a bit more big-picture or random. I’ll offer some quick guesses at my own questions, and open it up to commenters to weigh in on where they agree or disagree.
I’ll go through the positions in (what I believe to be) reverse order of importance to the Wolves future, for DRAMATIC EFFECT.
Without further ado…
[Eds note: This post is running longer than I anticipated, so this will be Part I, and I’ll publish a Part II either tomorrow or Wednesday that covers Wiggins and then the big men.]
THE POINT GUARDS
- How many minutes per game will appease “Professor Miller?”
When this season opens, and as long as Ricky Rubio is healthy (knocks on all of the wood) Andre Miller will be this team’s backup point guard. I think it seems reasonable to assume that a healthy Rubio will average about 35 minutes per contest. Given that neither he nor Miller are very good shooters, they will probably not share the floor much. This means that there might only be about 13 minutes per game for Miller – and that is if they play rookie Tyus Jones ZERO, and they play Zach LaVine exclusively off the ball. If the plans to prioritize development are sincere, Jones will probably see a few spot minutes here and there, and LaVine will probably play some point, too. (The part about Jones is especially likely, given the Wolves lack of a D-League affiliate where he might otherwise have spent most of the year.) Miller is going to turn 40 years old (!) in March, so his expectations for playing time might be realistically low. But consider that he finished last year in Sacramento, playing for his favorite coach George Karl, and was logging over 20 minutes per game.
My guess: Miller will be okay sitting some games out completely — with some communications and “heads up” from the coaches — but will expect some floor time, too. I think he will probably average 12 minutes per game and be happy enough with that.
- Does Tyus have any interesting upside, and will we see any teases of it this year?
Tyus Jones was possibly the most acclaimed prep basketball star in Minnesota history. He was widely considered one of the very best prospects in his national class throughout his entire high school career, eventually made the McDonald’s All America Team, and chose to attend Duke, instead of, well, every other basketball powerhouse. In his lone season in Durham, he earned third team All ACC honors, led the Blue Devils to a national championship and was named Most Outstanding Player of the Final Four.
If that was all that you knew about him, you would probably imagine someone who looks a lot different than Jones does. From McDonald’s games past, you might imagine somebody who looks like Jonathan Bender or Kobe Bryant or, locally, Kris Humphries. Somebody big, strong and super athletic.
But Jones is none of those things. He is only 6’1″ and very skinny. He plays with a nice pace, but is not particularly explosive. He has a lot of physical development ahead of him, if he is going to make an impact at the NBA level the way that he did in high school and college.
What I am curious to see is if there are early signs — this season — of upside that exceeds “quality backup point guard.” I notice people putting this type of ceiling on Jones’s potential, before he plays a single game. Given that Jones has been much, much better than his peers through this point in his life, and he has won championships at every level, through this point in his life, I suspect he imagines an NBA career that involves him making an impact on games; a career better than just backup duty. As a point guard, I suspect Jones envisions himself running a high-power offense — like he did at Duke — with not only smart decisions and crisp passes, but clever plays, too. Once the speed of the NBA game slows sufficiently down for him, and his body matures, can he do some of the things that Chris Paul does to clear so much space for himself around the elbows, shrugging off defenders with hand-check-deterring flops, and just generally make a positive impact on team performance?
My guess: He is one year away from showing us much to be excited about, but he may have a bright future and long career ahead of him.
- Will Ricky Rubio run the Wolves offense, or will it be run from the bench?