The final score might alarm casual fans, or even incite some good old fashioned Timberwolves jokes. But it really shouldn’t. First, international basketball — particularly at the level played by CSKA Moscow — is very close to the NBA. Recent “Dream Teams” that included LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Kobe Bryant and Carmelo Anthony have had close calls en route to gold medals in recent Olympics. Certain members of tonight’s version of CSKA — definitely Milos Teodosic, Nenad Krstic and Victor Khryapa — would crack most NBA rotations. Teodosic — previously unknown to me; now my favorite non-NBA player not named Khalid El-Amin — played like some best-of-both-worlds combination of Ricky Rubio and Jimmer Fredette. When you add this to the fact that Rick Adelman sat his first unit for all of Winning Time, including an entire overtime, the loss isn’t alarming. At all.
Moving beyond that, I’m resorting to bullets. It’s preseason after all, and not worth over-analyzing…
* Adelman handed the keys to Alexey Shved and Derrick Williams, and let them go try to get a win. I have no way of knowing if this was an actual “test” or just Rick ensuring that he doesn’t over-work his starting five. In any event, Alexey struggled offensively, shooting just 2-12 from the field. His 4 assists to 1 turnover was impressive, and would’ve been better had he not been paired with non catch-and-shooters Williams and Turiaf. Shved still waits outcourt for a ball screen. The offense run by the first team — one looking more high-post/Princeton-y — was not available to the second unit, because that just ain’t what Alexey’s about. He made some good plays and some bad ones, but the late-in-the-shot clock desperation that killed him at times last year was on full display tonight.
* Derrick Williams played a big role in tonight’s game. On the plus side, he scored 21 points in 30 minutes. He drew enough fouls to shoot 12 free throws. He pulled down 9 rebounds, finished well around the basket, and — at the power forward position, anyway — looked like a superior athlete. On the minus side, his instincts upon catching a pass look just as confused and hesitant as the last two years. His scoopy shots around the basket worked tonight against an inferior opponent devoid of an athlete of his caliber. In The Association, I’m just afraid it’ll be the Same Old Same Old. Oh, and he missed 5 of those 12 free throws. On balance, he played a decent game.
* After a shaky opening, the first unit started to click in the second quarter. Ricky Rubio looks better than I remember in last year’s ongoing rehabilitation process. On both ends of the floor he looks athletic and aggressive. Kevin Love is still reliable. When opponents get overaggresive, one post feed to Love followed by a strong pivot and a head fake takes care of the problem. Love punishes reckless defense with foul draws. The Wolves first team was trying to run a wing-entry offense that involved a lot of post passing. Kevin Love had 5 assists, which was 2 more than Ricky Rubio. The cutting between Martin and Brewer is pretty clearly designed to discourage pressure defense and create backdoor layups. Both Love and Pek missed an open cutter, but that will come. I suppose it’s an open question as to how Ricky’s ball skills mesh with a passing offense, but I’d say that’s a bridge we’ll cross when we come to it. Anything that gets defenses off balance is good for Minnesota; a team without a natural one-on-one creator of offense.
* Brewer seemed to improve in his time in Denver, but his energy-level and non-stop motion has not changed. Whether he’s leaking out for dunks, or just curling hard off a down screen, everything Brewer does is full speed. He misses a left corner three and follows his shot only to miss again. But the defense is so scrambled up trying to follow him around that Pekovic is there to clean up the mess for two points. I think a strong offensive rebounding team like Minnesota’s will benefit some from Brewer’s wild cuts and drives.
That’s all for tonight. Next game is Wednesday at Toronto. I’d guess Adelman will change up the rotation a bit, particularly with the second unit to give some different players a chance to show something.