This is an unusually late game wrap for a number of reasons. First, I could not watch the entire game on Friday. My roommate just turned 30, we hosted a little party for that occasion (that later in the night had a chance encounter with Alexey Shved and much of the Wolves roster, which was fun–Shved is a humble dude, very approachable by
losers superfans like myself), and while the game was on, I wasn’t able to pay close enough attention to feel like my game wrap would provide anything very meaningful. Second, the Wolves have three days off between Friday’s game and Tuesday’s matchup with the Sixers (at Philly, 6:00 CST) so I thought posting in the middle of the downtime would be of more value to readers. Third, this won’t be as much a “game wrap” as some observations about Wolves and NBA issues.
Alexey Shved: Starting to make shots, now what’s his ideal role?
We start with Shved not because of the aforementioned bar conversation but because he played a helluva game on Friday versus Milwaukee. In 32 minutes off the bench, Alexey chipped in 16 points and 5 assists, making 4 of 6 from three. He also showed off some defensive chops, staying in front of electric off-guard Monta Ellis, forcing him into jumpers that he usually missed. Shved’s hot perimeter shooting is a recent trend as he progresses to the mean of what his European stats suggest his American shooting numbers *should* look like. (He was 2-5 and 3-6 from downtown in the two prior games.) After beginning the season in a shooting funk, he’s now above 30 percent from 3 (31.3%) and almost above 40 percent from the floor (39.8%). A favorite shooting spot of Shved’s seems to be the wing, which would make him totally unlike most other NBA shooters who thrive in the corner where the shot is both shorter and easier to aim with the baseline serving as a ruler to draw a straight line to the rim. Wing threes off the catch will be valuable any time, but especially when Ricky Rubio returns and [presumably] shares the floor with Shved for extended minutes. A favorite pass of Ricky’s is the one-handed skip pass to the opposite left wing. He’ll be happy to have Shved standing there, ready to fire.
This raises the question of whether Alexey Shved should be the starting shooting guard. I say yes, for three basic reasons. One, he is notoriously slow to start games and I think there is benefit in getting those weaker minutes out of the way as quickly as possible so that he can get into a groove by the 2nd or 3rd Quarter, instead of just the 4th. Per Joan Niesen’s recent story on Shved, he’s scored 84 of his 156 points this season in the fourth quarter. Two, I think J.J. Barea should be playing a more-limited role, as an initiator of, well, just about everything, for a few minutes with a second unit. It’s no secret that J.J. dominates the ball. It shouldn’t be a secret that his playing style annoys a large percentage of Wolves fans. It might be more effective, and popular with the team, if they carved out a little “Eddie House on the 2008 Celtics” type of gunner slot for him with fewer minutes but a chance each night to provide a burst of buckets before a quick hook. Three, and most important, I want to see a Ricky Rubio-Alexey Shved backcourt. Now (or in a week or so when Ricky returns to the game floor) and for the next ten years. This isn’t a Parker-Ginobili, or Westbrook-Harden thing, where they both score a lot and should therefore be staggered. Sure, Rubio and Shved both like to initiate off the dribble. But Shved is showing an ability to catch and shoot, and we know that Ricky is a pure passer. The two need to form a chemistry that combines their affinity for ball movement and dribble-penetration skills. Here’s hoping that we see a starting backcourt of Ricky Rubio and Alexey Shved sooner than later.
K-Love: Keep shooting.
Kevin Love was 1 for 7 from downtown on Friday, further lowering his percentage from that range to a paltry 19.4 percent. In 6 games, Love has made 7 three-point shots, and missed 29 of them.
But he needs to keep chucking away. Like Shved, there is the simple theory that he’s bound to regress (or progress, what’s the appropriate verb here?) to the mean. He’s a career 36.2 percent three shooter whose recent seasons suggest accuracy even higher than that. By combining elite rebounding with perimeter-shooting ability, Love causes fits for opposing coaches trying to set appropriate matchups and rotations. I doubt very much that Love will stop shooting threes, and I hope he does not. Multiple misses in Friday’s game were of the “in and out” variety. Britt Robson described how Love’s improved shooting will help the team as a whole:
But it is Love upon whom the offense will most likely rise or fall. The floor spacing he’ll create when those three-pointers start going in is going to really help Pekovic get better positioning down near the hoop, just as Love’s absence reduced Pek’s attempts and accuracy right at the rim earlier this season. Kirilenko will use that space to pass and move more freely in Adelman’s motion offense. And no matter how much opponents invite Rubio to shoot, they aren’t going to prevent the Wolves from rising above 24th place in fast-break points when he returns.
Ricky Back to Practice: Wowwing with flashy passes.
Ricky Rubio participated in a full practice today, and apparently turned heads with a pass through Josh Howard’s legs to an open teammate. From the AP:
The Timberwolves will practice again Monday before a back-to-back at Philadelphia and Boston starting on Tuesday. It would seem to be asking a lot for Rubio to return that quickly. The Wolves are off Thursday and then host Cleveland on Friday night, but it’s still far too soon to predict when he will play.
A big indicator could be how his body responds on Monday to the strenuous workout. Adelman said it was already clear that Rubio still has a good handle on the offense and his responsibilities running the show.
“That’s there. He showed that today,” Adelman said. “He passed the ball very well, got to spots. That’s always going to be there. It’s just going to be his conditioning and his legs and how long can he go? That’s going to be the biggest thing.”
And it didn’t hurt to see a few of those flashy passes he’s known for, either.
“Today we didn’t have any alley-oops,” Rubio said with a smile. “But I hope soon we have some of those.”
Scoring Champ: Historically low?
As I write this, Kobe Bryant is leading the NBA in scoring with 26.9 points per game. Other than Allen Iverson’s 1998-99 scoring title (26.8 PPG) this would be the lowest since Paul Arizin of the 1956-57 Philadelphia Warriors. I thought that James Harden on the Rockets might top 30 a game this year. So far, he’s too cold with his shot (42.7 percent from the field) and unselfish (5.4 assists per game) to get anywhere close. Harden averages 24.1 per game right now.
Miami has now won 6 in a row. Oklahoma City has won 5 in a row. Last year’s NBA Finalists are looking mighty strong in the early season. If key players are healthy, a rematch seems quite likely. Of course, you never know how a full season will play out and what things will look like in May (last year’s Celtics were under .500 at the halfway point, only to be 6 minutes away from the Finals) but early signs point to LeBron-KD II.
No game til Tuesday. I’ll have the typical “game wrap” after that one. Until then.
Season Record: 7-8