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INBOX: Wolves Beat Boston, Derrick Williams Trade Rumors

Nikola Pekovic's emergence was key to last night's victory and is critical to the Timberwolves' long-term prospects

Nikola Pekovic’s emergence was key to last night’s victory and is critical to the Timberwolves’ long-term prospects (Artwork brought to you by Holly G)

Andy G: I closed yesterday’s post with: “If last night’s loss was an eye opener for the defense, perhaps a renewed focus can keep the Celtics under 90 points tonight and give the fans an enjoyable win to watch.”

Well, the Wolves held Boston to just 88 points, won by 18, and gave the fans a win that was mostly enjoyable to watch. Despite some first-half struggles from the Kevins, the Wolves used a combination of transition offense, J.J. Barea Hero Ball, and Nikola Pekovic glass eating to take a five-point lead after two quarters. In the second half, Kevin Martin calibrated his three-point range (he was short on just about everything in the first) and Kevin Love showed off hook shots while also grinding out foul-draws to the tune of a workmanlike 23 points and 12 rebounds. The 7 turnovers on his line are evidence of some of his struggles in this game. Robbie Hummel advanced the “positive correlation guy” narrative drum that I’m beating, with 8 points in 20 minutes of (+14) basketball. On defense, Adelman said that they wanted to make Boston a jumpshooting team. They pretty much succeeded at this. Early on, those jumpers went in. Later on, they didn’t. The lead grew and the Wolves cruised to a comfortable win. This team seems like a good front runner.

Let me get back to Pekovic for a moment because I think his performance gets to a bigger-picture issue with this team. With Ricky Rubio being such a non scorer (3 points combined in the two games this weekend) and nobody on the team possessing elite shot creating in the traditional mold of a LeBron/Melo/Wade/Kobe nature, I think one of the keys on nights like last night is to pound the offensive glass. There will be games like this one (the Cleveland loss was a good example) where the offense sputters and they’ll need an alternate route to points. Pek had 8 offensive boards last night and scored 20 points on 8-9 shooting. Most of these were putbacks.

As the Wolves continue to refine their offense — currently the league’s 9th best — the challenge will be to maximize all of the immense talents of Rubio, Martin, Brewer, Love and Pek. In the early part of this season, Pek seemed almost like an odd man out, often losing shot opportunities to aggressive bucket hunters Love and Martin. One way he can unquestionably add value is to do what he did last night and crash the boards. After his huge game last night, his offensive rebounding percentage is up to 11.1 percent. Last season’s was 13.1 percent. It’d be nice to see him focus on getting back to this one skill that will be hugely important, particularly if Rick staggers his bench rotations like he did over the weekend, pairing Pekovic with Barea. J.J. is certain to create “Kobe Assist” opportunities with his kamikaze drives that usually draw an extra defender and often times clank off the rim.

All in all, a solid win over a bad team. Adelman emphasized after the game that good teams MUST win at home. He said that you then try to split on the road. Taken literally, he’s describing a path to winning three fourths of regular season games. While that’s a bit optimistic for this team (it’d be 61 or 62 wins, which even the most optimistic would be impressed by) it’s clear that Rick expects to win this season.

What else is happening?

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INBOX: A Quick Look at the Top 10 Picks in Last Year’s Draft

Yesterday Andy G and I ended up with a LONG email thread on this year’s rookies. We decided to post an ABRIDGED version of our tongue-in-cheek assessments of the top 10 picks in last year’s draft. Because, you know, it’s never too early to publish knee-jerk reactions on the Internet about players you’ve barely seen.

Without further adieu:

10. Jimmer Fredette, Sacramento Kings

JIMMER! The BYU sensation is off to a slow start. Although I expect improvement, the early signs are not good. Jimmer averaged 29 points per game, last year. That number is now down to 7.6, and only 11.9 per 36 minutes. What’s worse, he’s shooting a miserable 34 percent from the floor, and only 28 percent from downtown, where he KILLED IT in college (and well beyond the pro three-line).

In his defense: He’s ALREADY undergone a coaching change (BOOGIE!) and he’s playing with some world-class BALL STOPPERS in Tyreke, Thornton, and JOHN SALMONS! I half-predicted a King resurgence this year, and so far, they’ve made me look like a fool. Jimmer is not in anything close to an ideal scenario and the numbers are playing that out. - Andy G

9. Kemba Walker, Charlotte Bobcats

The Bobcats are WAY lucky Kemba fell to them at #9. The only thing not to like about Walker’s season so far is that Paul Silas isn’t starting him. But that’ll come. Before the draft, I didn’t think Kemba had the scoring and passing ability necessary to star in the NBA. When his stock slid and it was Michael Jordan who finally picked him, I was sure MJ had himself the next Nate Robinson.

I couldn’t have been more wrong. Walker should supplant D.J. Augustin as the Bobcats’ starting PG before season’s end and he’s sure to connect with blog favorite BYRON MULLENS for more of these.

Kemba’s numbers aren’t staggering—he’s shooting only 38% from the floor and averaging 11.3 ppg (17.5 per 36)—but you can just tell that some guys can play and Walker is one of them. (Brandon Jennings is another. Apparently they bring out the best in each other.) In hindsight, I’d take Kemba third in last year’s draft. - Patrick J

8. Brandon Knight, Detroit Pistons

We’ll see the latest COACH CAL product on Wednesday Night at Target Center. As a young scorer, he’s off to a nice start. Knight’s set-shot is falling at a 41.4 percent clip from downtown and he’s scoring 11.9 points per game (14.1/36 minutes) as a very-young rookie. He’s got a great NBA point guard body, but doesn’t seem to have point guard instincts. Or maybe I’m just spoiled from watching Ricky Rubio. Either way, Knight is off to a decent start–more as a scorer than passer. On that terrible, aging Pistons team, he should be committed to as the number-one guard even more than his 30 minutes/game suggest. Oh, and he’d be wise to pass the ball to Greg Monroe. That’s a way to gather easy assists. - AG

7. BISMACK BIYOMBO, Charlotte Bobcats

Well, at least MJ went 1-for-2 in this draft. - PJ

6. JAN VESELY, Washington Wi-ZARDS

Jan is the worst player on the worst team in the NBA. What does he have going for him?

Her, I suppose. - AG

5. Jonas Valančiūnas, Toronto Raptors

It’s unclear what’s going to happen first, the next full lunar eclipse or Jonas suiting up for the Raps. - PJ

4. TRISTAN THOMPSON!, Cleveland Cavaliers

Twenty-year old bigs who produce 16 and 10 per 36 minutes are nice to have. It’s even nicer when they shoot better than 50 percent from the floor and have a motor like a Dodge Charger.

But Tristan needs to touch up his free throw shooting and learn to pass. His team is trying to be competitive—the Cavs are currently sporting a 6-6 record—so he’ll have to earn his minutes. 18 mins/game won’t be enough to make a splash, but Tristan’s time is coming. - AG

3. Enes Kanter, Utah Jazz

Kanter has two claims to fame:

  1. Dominating Ohio State all-American Jared Sullinger in the 2010 Nike Hoop Summit.
  2. Having a first name that’s nearly interchangeable withAnus.”

AK is in a logjam in Utah’s frontcourt, competing against Al Jefferson, Paul Millsap, and Derrick Favors for tick. He’s only playing 13.5 mpg and averaging 4.4 pts, but his still-decent PER (16.6) shows why the stats kids still believe Anus will come out smelling like roses. -PJ

2. Derrick Williams, Wolves

In many respects, Derrick Williams is what we thought he was. He’s a power forward with perimeter skills and leaping ability.

What we don’t know: Does Derrick Williams have a post game? Will we ever find out? Will he be traded for a veteran wing player?

Lots of question marks. He seems like a hard worker who will have a long-and-productive career. Without a DOUBT, he’s better than the recent Syracuse picks. I’d say there’s a real question whether he stays in Minnesota, though. Unless Love makes it CLEAR to the front office that he’s headed elsewhere in the future, I think there’s a positional problem for Williams that will never be quite fixed. I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s dealt sometime before this deadline, or around draft time 2012, perhaps to get the Wolves a lottery pick. Of course, he’ll need to snap out of this recent slump to have much value. I’ve got confidence in him, but does Rick Adelman? - AG

1. Kyrie Irving, Cleveland Cavaliers

Irving is what we thought he’d be. He has put up nice numbers—his 17.7 ppg rank first among rookies and his 5.3 apg rank second to Ricky Rubio’s 8.3 apg—and is as EFFICIENT as was billed: Kyrie’s shooting 42% from range, 87% from the stripe, and sporting a PER of 22.3.

Beyond the numbers, what’s really impressive is how comfortable Irving looks after playing only 11 games in his college career. As great as Ricky Rubio has been for the Timberwolves, it’s not obvious that Rubio is or will be the better player. They should have a fun rivalry, starting with competing for this year’s Rookie of the Year award. - PJ

Which dark horse rookies do you like?

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