It’s Playoffs Week at the Howard Pulley Pro-Am. I had yet to make it over to Eagan this summer for the state’s best offseason run. My dad called to tell me he’d be there. Still, I was on the fence (Minneapolis to Eagan feels like such a trek on a Tuesday Night), until Royce White tweeted that he’d be playing. After all, what else was I going to do that beats getting a rare look at the 2012 first rounder from Iowa State? (That I’m now blogging about it should help answer that question.)
Monthly Archives: July 2013
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.
I caught myself day dreaming about sky hooks yesterday. I’m not sure why. Long day in the office? Not enough *real* basketball to keep my mind occupied? Whatever the case, I was specifically thinking about Kareem Abdul-Jabbar — the NBA’s all time scoring leader — and his supposedly unstoppable go-to move. First, why hasn’t anybody copied the sky hook? Second, why isn’t Kareem — a six-time MVP and champion — discussed more in G.O.A.T. debates? (Seriously, look at his basketball-reference page.) And finally, it occurred to me that almost every book I’ve read on basketball history has a section on Kareem. His career arc was interesting for multiple reasons, but mostly because he spent most of the 1970s as the league’s best player and most of the 80s as a champion with Magic Johnson receiving more of the credit.
With that in mind, I thought I’d scrap together some of the better stuff I’ve read on Lew Alcindor/Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is likewise a dominating player. He is not the defensive force that Russell or Walton was, but he is so consistently good on offense that he changes the texture of every game he plays…
He was very tall and his height was a matter of some conjecture. He listed his height as 7’2″. Other very tall young men, seven feet even, who had played against him, swore he was at least 7’4″. Some, not given to exaggeration, said he was surely 7’6″. What most people did not see was the grace, the agility so rare in any man, but truly astonishing in a man of his height; they saw only the height, which was greater than their own. Failing to see the grace, they also failed to see the passion, which was brilliantly concealed, hidden behind two layers of masks, first a protective eyepiece which was a mask to the face, and then the face itself which was a mask to the soul. They saw the lack of emotion and decided that Kareem did not care as they cared…
His play had, if anything, too much consistency to it. His good games were forgotten, his bad ones remembered. He had played for much of his career on weak teams or on teams poorly designed for him. Often too much depended on him, and because he was so dominating a force, opposing teams always knew that the key to stopping the Lakers was stopping Kareem. His teams, strong in their regular-season records, tended to wear down in playoff games. Opponents always based their strategy on stopping him and he rarely got very much help from referees. He was held, fouled and elbowed more than any otehr player in the league, all with the semitacit approval of the referees; for in truth, if they did not allow his opponents some small advantage there would be no way of stopping him.
Not Shawn Respert.
Which player did you work with the most in Minnesota? Maybe Ricky Rubio?
SR: I worked a little bit with Ricky Rubio but the main guys I worked with were the post players and the big forwards. It’s kind of ironic to do that considering I played the point and the shooting guard positions my whole life. But it was a comfortable transition for me because in my mind I always knew what I wanted my bigs to do. And that’s how I tried to train them and develop them.
In Case You Missed It (or are just too young to know) Respert was a RI-DIC-ULOUSLY good shooter at Michigan State. His NBA career flopped and we now know that was largely due to his private battle with cancer. If Shawn could do one thing, it was shoot a basketball and I’ve assumed throughout his short tenure on the Timberwolves staff that he was — you know — working as a shooting coach.
Not so, apparently.
Craig Kilborn’s decision to step away from hosting “The Late Late Show” remains the biggest tragedy in television history. From his time spent as a SportsCenter anchor to hosting The Daily Show to his move to CBS where he followed David Letterman in the 12:30 slot, “Kilby” was the best there was in late-night TV. He also happens to be a native Minnesotan (Hastings) and an athlete (scholarship basketball player at Montana State). To bring this closer to the Punch-Drunk Wolves home, Kilborn once practiced with our own Minnesota Timberwolves.
With all of this in mind, one way to preserve his legacy is the occasional “Five Questions!” post, where we pose — you know — five questions. Kilby used to do the same.
1. Summer League in Vegas: Did we learn anything?
Maybe. Certainly not very much. The players to watch were Shabazz Muhammad and Gorgui Dieng. Neither amazed. Both showed flashes. The situations they found themselves in — particularly so in Muhammad’s case — were just so unlike anything they’ll see during the regular season that it’s difficult to extrapolate. I was pleasantly surprised by Dieng’s willingness to take jumpers. His form looks good enough.
With Shabazz, the clear question is whether he can blend shooting with passing. At different times in Vegas he did each, but rarely did the decision appear derived from instinct. It always seemed premeditated. That’s not a very good sign for his rookie year, but he should get better. Plus, as a limited role player off the bench, he’d hardly be unique if he erred heavily on the side of “gunner.” If he makes more than 40 percent of his shots, he’ll be fine.
2. The Pekovic Contract: What the hell is taking so long?
From ESPN TrueHoop’s assessment of the Las Vegas Summer League’s top rookies, here’s Justin Verrier’s take on Shabazz Muhammad:
Shabazz Muhammad, Timberwolves
8.5 PPG, 2.2 RPG, 0.8 APG, 41 FG%, 38 3P%
The good: The fit is there. Muhammad has the build of your everyday athletic, break-you-off-dribble wing scorer, but he thrived at UCLA mostly in situations where he didn’t have to dribble — off the catch, running the break, posting up. And on a team like the Timberwolves, with a scorer/rebounder and ball handler as its two cornerstones, it’s those “other” areas where Muhammad will need to do his work.
Despite the lure always present at summer league to isolate everything, Muhammad primarily stuck to that script, floating around the arc and running off screens, and looked right doing so. His rebound numbers in Vegas were ho-hum, but he can be a great wing rebounder with his size, if he puts in the effort. He also shot 41.1 percent from 3, better than his college average (38 percent).
The bad: The production was not there. The 20-year-old (we hope) Muhammad averaged just 8.5 points on 41 percent shooting. Which isn’t awful. But when a player who lives off offense can’t produce, particularly against inferior competition, the deficiencies in the rest of his game become more noticeable. And in Muhammad’s case that’s his ambivalence toward passing (five total assists) and mediocre defense despite the tools to be pretty good.
Bottom line: Muhammad has a lot to work with, and you’re inclined to dismiss some of the disappointment to playing a defined and limited role, but it’s hard to write all that off after a drama-filled freshman season. That age stuff doesn’t matter anymore, but can he be happy with an even smaller role in snowy Minnesota than the one he griped about in Los Angeles?
— Justin Verrier
It’s hard to argue with Verrier’s take. We know the following: