The Timberwolves travel to Cleveland tonight to face Kyrie Irving and the Cavaliers. Artwork by Holly Grimsrud (hollygrimsrudart.com)
Andy G: Last night, the Timberwolves beat the Knicks and improved their record to 3-0. This marks only the second time in 25 seasons of franchise existence that the team won its first three games. Setting aside what that statistic says about the past, it is a small, early accomplishment worth feeling good about on the season’s first Monday morning. An undefeated start is especially impressive considering that the Wolves faced Kevin Durant and Carmelo Anthony in consecutive matchups.
The Wolves won the game at the foul line, where they made 29 out of a whopping 38 attempts. (The Knicks only shot 13.) After a blowout first quarter of steals and pass-ahead assists to Brewer and Love, it was all about survival. Carmelo eventually started making shots and the Knicks cut the deficit to 2 with 4:48 to go. But Kevin Martin converted a technical foul free throw, followed it up with a three-pointer (his fifth of the night; he scored a wildly-efficient 30 points on 12 shots) and the game never got close again.
Patrick J, what’s up with the crazy free throw disparity?
In their last televised game of the preseason, the playoff-hopeful Timberwolves easily defeated the blown-up and rebuilding Celtics. It’s difficult to glean much from a preseason game, and doubly so when the opponent is severely undermanned and the score differential stretches beyond 20 in the second half. Had the result been flipped and the Wolves were blown out, there would be reason for some panic; especially since Rick Adelman played his starters for almost as many minutes as they will log when the games count. But the game played out about like it should have — at least if you are a Wolves fan with some degree of optimism for this season — and the execution was just inconsistent enough to make certain conclusions difficult to come by.
The pick-and-roll defense doesn’t look particularly good. The Wolves will not be “blitzing” ball screen this year the way that Miami and other more athletic teams will. With a more conservative approach, then, there shouldn’t be breakdowns leading to open baskets near the rim, or over-helping in ways that leave wide open shooters in the corners. Those things happened sometimes, in this game. But there were also positives on that end. Corey Brewer, while sometimes getting burned — including once on the wing so badly that Gerald Wallace walked in for a big dunk — was disruptively aggressive and parlayed some loose balls into transition offense. Nikola Pekovic continues to “wall up” (h/t Jim Pete) and play solid if not spectacular position help defense. I mean, they held their opponent to 89 points. The defense couldn’t have been too bad.
My takeaway from this game — or my thought after watching it anyway — pertains to the team’s three-point shooting. Without digging into the gory details, you already know this was a weakness last year. The Wolves were the worst perimeter shooting team in the NBA by a wide margin. Tonight, they shot 25 threes, which is kind of a lot. They made 10 of them — good for 40-percent accuracy — which is very good. Kevin Martin, the roster’s offseason shot in the arm, converted an impressive 5 for 8 from downtown. Ricky Rubio and Alexey Shved, a pair of young guards in desperate need of better shooting efficiency, shot a combined 3 for 5 from three.
But I’m most interested in the team’s best player, Kevin Love. Continue reading
Patrick J: The Wolves were defeated by the Raptors last night 104-97. The Raps are a surprisingly good 3-1 on the preseason.
A few notes:
*Kevin Love: Kevin Love played like Kevin Love. He looks more and more like Daniel Plainview by the year. Which is actually pretty cool, because that’s the kind of ruthless competitiveness the Wolves need in order to become an elite team in the Western Conference. Love played well in the minutes he got last night, shooting 9-19 (Eds. Note: Many of those missed shots were misses of his own putbacks, for which he got credit for offensive rebounds, which eventually led to makes.) K-Love is in great shape, and, barring injury, he should be a shoo-in on the All-Star team this season.
*Ricky Rubio: Ricky shot like Ricky, which is to say, 0-7. But he made an impact whilst on the floor, finding open cutters and shooters unlike any other Wolves player entrusted with the ball whilst Ricky was on the bench. Ricky had 6 assists in 28 minutes, and this was good for a +8. He’s (obviously) a very legit point guard coming into this season, and will only improve when he has real wing options off the pick and roll. (Chase, get well soon! You too, Kevin Mart!)
What’s your take?
Here’s a snapshot of what the Wolves’ offensive sets have often looked like. Hi-Tech stuff here (don’t mind the DVR pause bar).
THE WOLVES SO FAR
So, there’s been a lot written already about the Wolves and the players’ individual performances so far during the preseason.
Patrick J: One angle that has gotten less attention is some of the sets that the Wolves have tried to run – with, shall we say, “mixed” results.
The set basically looks like this: Ricky takes the inbounds pass, dribbles past half court, quickly passes to a wing and cuts through to the strongside corner. The idea is that a post–often Kevin Love–will make himself available for a high-post entry. Then, the ball is in Love’s hands and the offense flows from there. The idea, I think is that Love will either be able to score the ball from the elbow, take a dribble and pass or score, or drive the ball off of a jab fake and get to the rim.
This offensive set seems to meet with limited success. The fly in the ointment is Ricky. Two reasons: (1) he isn’t great without the ball in his hands, and (2) he isn’t a credible threat to make a kickout catch-and-shoot opportunity from the corner. So, his defender can basically fade to crowd the high post and make the options for the high-post man that much more difficult to execute.
So, if this is to be one of the Wolves’ go-to sets, can it work? Should Kevin Martin basically have the Rubio responsibility–if and when he’s healthy again–to put a real threat in the strong-side corner? What gives?
For better or worse I went into my first media day without much of a plan, beyond “take an extra hour for lunch.” I wasn’t sure exactly where to go. (Thanks Darren Wolfson for pointing me toward the press room.) Or how to act as a newbie in a room stock full of veteran sports reporters. (Thanks Britt Robson for the pointers.) I had no questions prepared. (So I didn’t ask any!)
But despite my naivete on the logistics and intramedia etiquette, I felt I had a pretty good idea of what to expect in terms of interview answers from the players and the coach. I’ve read enough newspapers and watched enough SportsCenter to know that media day is not usually the time for candor or nuance when discussing a season on the immediate horizon.
Against this backdrop of low expectations, I must say that I was pleasantly surprised. Sid Hartman asked Coach Adelman for a starting five; a notoriously skirted question for a team about to break for camp. Adelman listed Ricky Rubio, Kevin Martin, Kevin Love and Nikola Pekovic as four locks. After some hemming and hawing, he confirmed what many of us already suspect: Corey Brewer will probably be the starting small forward.
Ricky’s Summer Camp
We’re t-minus 10 days from the beginning of Timberwolves training camp, and it’s time to begin musing about the upcoming season.
We know the big news from the offseason:
- Flip Saunders is now running the show, with Milt Newton riding shotgun and Bobby Jackson in the mix too. David Kahn is gone.
- Rick Adelman and Nik Pekovic are back.
- Love and Budinger are reportedly healthy. Word on the street is that Love is in shape. If true, this is a very good thing.
- Corey Brewer and Kevin Martin are in.
- Luke Ridnour is gone. So is Andrei Kirilenko. (Mikhail Prokhorov apparently made AK an offer he couldn’t refuse. Can’t really blame him.)
- J.J. Barea’s still here, and as far as I know, he’s also still divorced. Alexey Shved is still here, and as far as I know, he’s still partying. (Eds. Note: I actually don’t know that, I just like to think he is.)
- Shabazz Muhammad and Gorgui Dieng got drafted.
- AJ Price might come to camp and compete for prime real estate at the end of the Wolves’ bench.
- Ricky Rubio has been bicycling and kayaking through Europe. He took a break recently to play for Spain in Eurobasket.
- Oh, and Derrick Williams still has a pulse. (Eds. Note: That is confirmed based on his tweets, unless someone’s ghost-tweeting from his Twitter. Whether or not he has improved his footwork to a semi-competent level remains unconfirmed.)
All in all, this year’s team has the makings of a good one….(more below the fold)
Kevin Love and Jonah Hill: Studies in Weight Fluctuations
The roster is mostly set. (C’mon, Pek, sign that dotted line…) The coaching staff seems to be in place, replete with a (David) Adelman for Billy Bayno swap and Shawn Respert proxying for the late Pete Newell as the Wolves new big man coach instead of teaching Ricky Rubio how to make a jump shot.
That said, there’s a lot to be optimistic about. Rick Adelman will be back. The Wolves lost a wing, but added a pretty good one to replace him. Two or three actually, depending on how Shabazz Muhammad plays out. Most important, Kevin Love, Ricky Rubio, and others whose major, or niggling, injuries derailed the Wolves’ 2012-13 season are all reportedly healthy for 2013-14.
So now you’re looking at a rotation that might be something like this:
PG: Ricky Rubio, J.J. Barea, Alexey Shved
SG: Kevin Martin, Shabazz Muhammad, Alexey Shved
SF: Chase Budinger, Corey Brewer, Shabazz Muhammad
PF: Kevin Love, Dante Cunningham, Derrick Williams (!)
C: Nikola Pekovic, Gorgui Dieng, Chris Johnson
Our team should be pretty good.
That’s a nice segue into today’s edition of Punch-Drunk Wolves’ INBOX feature.
Alexey loves the land of 10,000 (frozen) lakes. It’s like Moscow.
Alexey Shved: Minneapolis is Moscow and Moscow is Minneapolis and I like Moscow so therefore I like Minneapolis
Andy G: Amid all of the
pre-draft Playoffs craze, we haven’t devoted nearly enough (any?) attention to our favorite Timberwolf, Alexey Shved.
For some background, in case anyone forgot, here is the best visual representation of how Shved met “The Rookie Wall”:
It was tough to watch, both as a fan of Shved the player, and the Timberwolves team. His off-season will be as important to the team as anything it does in the draft or free agency. The team needs help at shooting guard in a bad way, and Alexey has had/might continue to have the opportunity to make the job his. He just needs to get [a lot] stronger and more consistent with his jump shot.
He gave an interview in Russia recently, which was partially interpreted in a Canis Hoopus thread by commenter RussianBeesnyestEenterest.com (I love that moniker, btw.) Shved had this to say about his rookie season, and hitting the rookie wall:
“I was not able to sustain that level of play for the season – mainly because it was very tiring. Other players also warned me that could happen to me. Avoiding these slumps was not possible though. Playing 82 games in five and a half months – that’s quite a prize (ironic). It is, for example, possible to have 5 games in just 7 days! And if the coaching staff gives you 25 to 30 minutes of playing time it is very hard to give them good basketball until the end of such a stretch. At the end of the day I had very pleasing games and very unpleasing ones. It gave me experience. And for next season, I will know what to expect right from the start. Of course I will work to ensure that I will play much more consistently.”
Importantly, he goes on to say that he’s returning to Minnesota on June 25 to work individually with the team on his off-season program.
If the choppy Charlie Bucket photoshopping doesn’t make clear, I’m not devoting much time to this. The draft lottery. It’s tonight. 7:00 on ESPN. Kevin Love will be there, representing the Wolves. I’d guess that Adam Silver or some Ernst & Young executive will announce the results around 7:30.
The reason I’m skimping on the LOTTERY PREVIEW is that it’s almost a foregone conclusion that the Wolves will pick 9th (81.3 percent chance) or 10th (12.2 percent chance). Who knows, maybe that will be a blessing in disguise? The high end of the lottery has not been very kind to Minnesota. The highest pick in team history, Derrick Williams, was chosen 2nd and will probably not be an NBA starter next season, his third in the league. Third overall, the team has selected Christian Laettner and O.J. Mayo. One never played for the Wolves. The other, well, we wish hadn’t. Fourth overall the Wolves have taken Donyell Marshall and Wesley Johnson. Bust, and… major bust.
[This is Part 1 of a season review series. This post looks back in time at the season that was. A subsequent post (or two!) will use what we learned this season to take a prospective look ahead at what the Timberwolves should look like in 2013-14 and beyond.]
1. Season Highlight?
Andy G: Win over the Thunder, December 20, 2012
I’ll kick this thing off. The highlight moment of the season is an easy choice for me: the win over OKC on Thursday Night TNT. It was December 20th, Christmas time. Spirits were high with the Wolves moving to 2 games over .500 (the last point in the season in which this was the case) with a 13-11 record. All of Alexey Shved (the lead guard for the Rubio-less portion of the season), Kevin Love, and Nikola Pekovic were dominant. Pek was pick-and-rolling bigger and stronger than the top team in the West could handle. Love spread the floor with three-point bombs, scoring 28 points along with 11 boards and 7 assists (career high?). He was awesome and looked the part of an MVP candidate. And young Alexey Shved was the orchestrator of everything. Pre-ROOKIE WALL Shved was something to behold and legit reason for Timberwolves optimism. His skillset was on display in that win over Russell Westbrook and the Thunder. Shved had a whopping 12 assists that night. Oh yeah, and JJ was GREAT JJ. He killed it during #WinningTime. All in all, that was a major highlight at a point in the season when the team had statewide interest and expectations of a playoff run.
Patrick J: Concur. OKC, December 20th, or “The Proof of Kahncept Game”
The Wolves’ victory over OKC was one the few games this season at Target Center I got to attend–I was back in Minnesota visiting family and had good tickets with Andy G & co to see what I expected to be an overmatched but spiteful Wolves squad take on the best team in the West, the Oklahoma City Thunder. Good JJ came out in full force that night — the goodest JJ that JJ can be. The rest of the team synced that night, the Wolves snapped a long OKC winning streak. Shved was Olympics Shved, Love owned, and it was basically the team we expected to see in 2012-13, minus Rubio. Imagine the potential of that team plus Rubio. I often do, and it’s a pretty amazing highlight given the way things actually turned out.
2. Season Lowlight?
Patrick J: The K-Love/Woj interview immediately prior to Rubio return.
Timberwolves owner Glen Taylor
Timberwolves owner Glen Taylor did a long interview with Ray Richardson that appeared in the Pioneer Press on Sunday. There’s a lot there, and it’s worth reading in full: Taylor talks about the status of Rick Adelman and David Kahn for next season, as well as how the Brandon Roy debacle has played out.
Yet much of the interview is cryptic, leaving one to read between the lines for meaningful subtext. My takes are below the fold.
David Kahn: Back in the saddle for at least one more season
Ric Bucher reports the Wolves are set to extend David Kahn as POBO for at least one more season. And no, Flip Saunders didn’t turn down the Gophers coaching gig because he’s already secretly agreed to replace Kahn at 600 1st Ave:
Latest on Flip Saunders and Minnesota Timberwolves: source says David Kahn’s position as GM is secure and that the one-year option on his contract, if it has not been exercised already by the TWolves, will be shortly.
via Ric Bucher’s post on Basketball | Latest updates on Sulia.
What does this mean? More below the fold.
Why hasn’t Alexey Shved played more point guard this season?
Andy G: First things first: The Wolves won by 31 points last night. On the road. On the tail end of a back-to-back. That never happens. I guess I should mention that it came against the Phoenix Suns and — unlike the last time the Wolves played (and lost) in Phoenix — it wasn’t a WESLEY JOHNSON REVENGE GAME. (Wes shot 2 for 12 from the floor.) I’d ask for your thoughts on the game, but I doubt yours are any different than mine, which could be summed up as: Nice to get a win, nice to see Chase Budinger contributing right away, but Phoenix is horrible and we’re in the thick of Tanking Season. If any of that is incorrect, let me know.
Patrick J: Ditto. We like those wins, and as much as that, we like how the team performs so far with Chase on the floor. Granted, they aren’t playing worldbeaters – SAC and PHO are peer teams at best – but still, you see the potential there. It’s almost enough to make me wish I knew how it looked at full strength, with Kevin Love on the floor. But not quite. We’re in the dog days of the season, writing posts that feature Youtube vids of our favorite college prospects whom we’re watching in the NCAA tourney, and are far, far, far from playoff contention. Do you agree that you’d rather K-Love stay away the rest of the season so as not to risk reinjuring his hand, or (let’s just assume this for a fun hypothetical), do you want to see him return so we can see whether a healthy Wolves squad with a few rusty pieces can compete with the Murderer’s Row schedule they have coming up?
Jrue Holiday and the Philadelphia 76ers come to Target Center tonight
Tonight it’s back to the grind. The Philadelphia 76ers come to town for a 7 PM (FSN) tilt at Target Center.
The 76ers are 22-29 on the season, 6-16 on the road. If the season ended today, the Sixers would be the 9th seed in the East. They’re sniffing the playoffs. Every game matters.
The Wolves are 19-31, and 12-13 at home. They’ve lost 16 of their last 19. The playoffs are pipe dream, but the Wolves are still trying to win now – no one’s calling in the tanks yet. A deal before Thursday’s trade deadline does not appear imminent. But you never put it past Wolves POBO David Kahn to find a way to move pieces. (We floated this on Twitter earlier today for fun, and it provoked some, errrm, “strong” reactions (here, here, here.)
What does this mean for tonight’s game? We’re not looking at a Battle of the Titans, but we are looking at a couple of relatively evenly-matched teams. Both teams have stuff to prove. It’s a winnable game. It will be fun.
So who are these 76ers I speak of? Continue reading
The Wolves’ hipsters take on Thunder’s hipsters tonight in OKC
The Wolves got a nice win over Atlanta last night at Target Center. Tonight they have the Thunder, in Oklahoma City, on the wrong end of a back-to-back against the team with the second-best record in the NBA. As nice as last night’s tilt was, the Wolves are in for a long night if they aren’t ready from the get-go tonight.
The Thunder are really good (26-8). They have freak athletes (see Westbrook, Russell; Ibaka, Serge; and, of course, Durant, Kevin). They don’t have James Harden anymore, but they do have a former Mr. Efficiency, Kevin Martin, whom they received for Harden and who missed the last game OKC played against Minnesota, when the Wolves beat the Thunder 99-93 in Minneapolis on December 20th in one of the signature wins of the post-Garnett era.
Could Kevin Love occupy a season on another team’s bench after the trade deadline?
Kevin Love: 2012-13 Return Uncertain
Wolves fans learned today that All-Star forward Kevin Love may miss the rest of the 2012-13 season.
How big is the loss? It’s hard to say. Love missed the Wolves’ first nine games with a broken hand and the Wolves went 5-4 record. They were 9-9 in games he played after he returned November 21st, and they’re now 1-1 since he exited the lineup January 5th. So in terms of the W-L column, the team has been basically the same with or without him.
But the W-L column aside, one thing is for certain: Kevin Love did not play well in his limited time in the lineup after returning from breaking a bone in his hand while doing knuckle pushups under the supervision of his personal trainer in his downtown Minneapolis condo.
You don’t need stats to describe what was before every observer’s eyes: in his brief foray back, K-Love couldn’t shoot. He couldn’t run the floor. He stopped the ball too often.
Love just wasn’t the same guy we came to like last season. He was out of shape. He was disgusted with the team. He may have been – and may still be – jealous of Ricky Rubio.
Love just never came ready to play after the Olympics. That was definitely his best 2012 moment, unless you count his co-starring role as “Wes” in a great commercial with Kyrie Irving.
On and off the floor, it was pretty much a perfect storm of crappy-ness. This was a wasted season for Love, and one that should have been his time to cement his claim as the game’s best power forward.
Now, there’s another question looming: should the Wolves trade Kevin Love? Possibilities below the fold..
1. Kevin Love broke his hand. Again.
This was the big news to hit Twitter in the hours leading up to the game. Kevin Love had an MRI exam done on his right hand and it showed that he re-fractured the same bone that he previously broke during the preseason. Given that Love came back earlier than expected from the last fracture injury and never regained his shooting form (or anything remotely close to it) I think it’s fair to expect the team to take better caution this time around. Love’s latest injury could likely be a fatal blow to the Wolves’ playoff chances. Even if the team can hover around the .500 mark, they’ll do so while watching competitors like Houston (20-14), Denver (19-16), and yes, probably the Lakers (15-17) claim ownership of those final spots with records 5 to 10 games over .500. Portland, currently 18-15, could continue to look like a playoff team, but I personally don’t think they’re that good. One high ankle sprain to Nic Batum or LaMarcus Aldridge (or Wes Matthews or Dame Lillard) would probably mean a losing streak for the shallow Blazers roster. In any case, the Western Conference is loaded and Kevin Love playing so few minutes of good basketball this year is going to keep the Wolves out of the playoffs, barring a major surprise.
2. Blazers Shooting
Last night Portland attempted 24 three-point shots and made 16 of them. 48 points from downtown on 66.67 percent shooting is going to mean a win for almost any team against any opponent. Some of them were open, but that happens. The three-point line is never covered perfectly, and certainly not against a team that also has a matchup problem in the post like LaMarcus Aldridge and a capable playmaker like Damian Lillard. In his press conference, Adelman first pointed the finger at his own team’s lack of effort but then conceded that Portland made just about everything. Damian Lillard’s threes (3-5) were tough to stop because they came off the dribble. Wes Matthews’ threes (5-7) were tough to stop because some were ridiculous fade-aways. Nic Batum’s threes (5-6) were tough to stop because he’s 6’8″ and releases the ball high without even a split second of hesitation.
“I think Minnesota at times plays better without Love.”
-George Karl, following last night’s Wolves-Nuggets game.
It didn’t take George Karl’s comments to detonate the nuclear bomb of Kevin Love derision that followed last night’s surprising win at Denver. This is 2013 after all, when public opinions bare in a matter of seconds. By the time an NBA coach finishes a post-game presser (let alone by the time his remarks are published by the Star Tribune) fans have already had it out on the interwebs on whatever the night’s hot issue. Last night, the Timberwolves rallied to overcome a 10-point deficit and win at Denver; a place only the Miami Heat had left victorious before. Kevin Love became a hot-button issue because his third quarter hand injury coincided exactly with the moment the comeback began. In other words, it looked like they were going to lose before Love got hurt and left the game. And then they won it without him.
Wes Johnson Jerseys: Worthless? Or just worth less than they used to be?
Okay, folks, the Wolves are winners again. Hallelujah, rejoice. They beat the Phoenix Suns 111-107 last night at home.
They did it without Golden Boy Ricky Rubio, about whom I’d written a slurptastic game preview, in which I suggested Rubio and Love were/are/will be the keys to the Wolves winning anything significant. Kirilenko, Shved, and Pek are nice bit pieces – nicer than we’ve had since 2004-05 – but they’re dispensible in different ways. Rubio and Love aren’t, unless we’d flip one of them for someone even better. Pau Gasol probably doesn’t qualify, for those of you still fantasizing about a Love-Gasol trade. If you’re reading, that includes you, Kevin Love.)
A few thoughts from last night’s game:
Mike Beasley, suited up like a closer.
The Wolves have lost four of their last five games. They are 3-2 since Ricky Rubio returned from injury. (Ricky sat out against Miami, because it was the second game of a back-to-back.) Rubio’s role is going to get bigger, and soon. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: give the kid more minutes.
He’s the key to our winning. Not JJ, not Ridnour, not Mal Lee, not Brandon Roy. Certainly not Josh Howard, Will Conroy, Troy Hudson, Sam Cassell, or Pooh Richardson. Not Derrick Williams, and not Dante Cunningham.
Ricky. Just Ricky. Throw K-Love in there too.
That’s what the Wolves basically have: two stars. One is still having his minutes limited (he’s now cleared to play 24 minutes, up from 18), basically nullifying his ability to make an impact by doing what he does – help the team win in lots of non-box score ways while on the floor. The other is out of shape and acting pouty and playing poorly.
Neither star is playing well. The Wolves are losing. End of story.
No need to overthink it. It’s great when guys like AK47 and Pek can carry the team to wins, and we love seeing Shved outperform expectations, but that’s not going to be a blueprint for winning in the playoffs. Which is what we want to do.
So what can be done?