What I’d Like to See from the Timberwolves: A Player-By-Player Breakdown

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-Kansas Practice

I don’t know if we’ll do any sort of formal “preview” of this upcoming Timberwolves and NBA season. We’ll probably come up with something, shortly before the regular season begins at the end of October. But for the next three weeks until that point comes, just about everything posted here can be considered previewy content.

Along those lines today, I felt like writing about each Timberwolves player and list one thing that I hope to see from him, this season. My only rule is that it has to be realistic. (No Pekovic 360 dunks, in other words, even though they would be cooler than anything that I list below.)

So with that for introduction, here goes, in reverse order of importance:

J.J. Barea: I’d like to see J.J. waived, bought out, traded for a future 2nd Rounder, or otherwise off of the roster, so that Glenn Robinson III can be one of the fifteen Timberwolves, this season. Barea has a place in the NBA, and that place is (Marcellus Wallace voice) “pretty f&*king far from” the role he would be asked to fill on this year’s Timberwolves roster; that being a mentor of young players who does not mind sitting out of games, sometimes in their entirety. So I would like the Wolves to get rid of J.J. (Sorry, @brianjacobson!)

Ronny Turiaf: I’d like to see Ronny be exactly the same as he was last year, save the part where he fell and broke his elbow. Turiaf does not factor into the Timberwolves future, except for any mentoring and guidance that he can give to the young guys, now. And he seems to be more than okay with that.

Glenn Robinson III: Assuming they don’t waive his partially guaranteed contract… I’d like to see Robinson shoot 35 percent from three-point range. If he can become an adequate standing shooter on offense, his potential defensive ability and versatility could make him a solid NBA rotation player. But if he can’t shoot he can’t play. So I’d like to see that first. Barring a lot of injuries, we won’t see much GR3 on the NBA court, this year. (Oh, and why 35? 35 is pretty good and might seem unrealistic, except that I doubt GR3 will be defended tightly at all and he is not a very aggressive hunter of his own shot. It’s a realistic goal for a selective shooter like I expect him to be.)

Robbie Hummel: Speaking of role player shooters, I’d like to see Robbie Hummel shoot the lights out this year. I think he has the ability, right now, to be a great–not good–NBA shooter. His minutes were jerked around endlessly last year, and it seemed to get in his head in the middle of the season. He had a long slump. In spite of the mid-season woes, Hummel still shot 36 percent from downtown. I hope that jumps up 6 or 7 points this year. He’s good enough to not only hold an NBA roster spot, but crack a decent team’s rotation. I don’t think he played as much as he should’ve, last year.

Mo Williams: I’d like to see Mo Williams show the world what happens when Ricky Rubio plays next to a shooting guard who can catch and shoot quickly and accurately. Rubio has played alongside Luke Ridnour, Kevin Martin, and J.J. Barea for much of his NBA career. None of those players is what you would really call a “catch and shoot” player. Ridnour was a point guard playing out of position, and generally shot best from the mid-range, off the dribble. Barea is a combo guard who — despite looking like a runt next to NBA big men — thrives using change of pace, and hesitation moves to score in a variety of ways off the bounce. Martin is a very good shooter, despite his form. But his release is so slow, and extends so far out in front of his body, that he is not a particularly effective floor spacer, for a shooting guard.

Rubio’s best skill is creating shots for others. When those teammates do something other than shoot, it doesn’t work as well. While I suspect Martin will start games this year next to Ricky, I think Williams will finish a lot of them. (If for no other reason than Martin’s proven struggles as a game finisher.)

Chase Budinger: I’d like to see Chase look healthy and athletic, like the guy who was a Slam Dunk Contest participant as recently as 2012. Chase is only 26 years old. After successive knee injuries and surgeries, I hope that his career isn’t effectively over, as a capable NBA player. We’ll probably know the answer to that question, within the first couple months of this season.

Corey Brewer: I’d like to see Brewer come off the bench. This has less to do with force-feeding minutes to Wiggins than it does that I really dislike the idea of Rubio and Brewer as a backcourt pairing. Ricky is an aggressive enough defender outcourt by himself, and they don’t need to go wild to set steals records. And on offense, you just can’t succeed with multiple poor shooters in the backcourt. (Some would argue that you can’t with even a single poor shooter.) So I’d like to see Brewer in a role similar to the one he had in Denver, providing his unique form of energy off the bench for 15 minutes per game.

Shabazz Muhammad: I’d like to see Shabazz add another move. Just one is fine, as he’s young with a long career ahead of him, and (by all accounts) a tremendous work ethic that should lead to other improvements along the way. But Shabazz can’t keep reverting back to the lefty hook on every single scoring attempt. He’s great at that hook, but halfway-respectable defenders will know it’s coming and he needs something else. A square-up jumper — particularly one with three-point range on it — would be a nice addition.

Zach LaVine: I’d like to see LaVine get that Shabazz Treatment, and not play in any games until the home stretch, when veterans sit out with fake injuries and fans are most interested in rookies and the upcoming draft. I don’t want LaVine to get broken down in the early part of the season, when all 30 — well, okay Philly, 29 — teams are trying like hell to win every night with largely healthy rosters. I don’t think LaVine is ready yet, and he would benefit from more practice and D-League reps than real game action in the big show.

Kevin Martin: I’d like to see Kevin Martin find a role that works for him, whether it be on this team or another one. The Wolves owe Martin $21 Million over the next three years. By that time, whatever “prime” he has left in his career will be expired. If the Wolves cannot find a suitable trade involving Martin, I hope that he either develops better chemistry with Rubio, or with a bench unit. Either way, he needs to try harder on defense.

Gorgui Dieng: I’d like to see Gorgui take another step forward as an impact defensive player. He has shown us his ability to hedge hard on ball screens and recover back to the rim. He blocks shots. He runs without waving his arms. (Okay, that last one doesn’t really matter.) I would now like to see Gorgui do a better job of holding his position against big centers. He got bullied a couple of times last season when matched up with heavier post players. Make no mistake, Gorgui’s upside is as a rim-protecting center, and to fill that role he’ll need to be able to defend the post. If he can add the weight, strength, and know-how to do that, he will be a top-four-on-his-team type of foundation player.

Thaddeus Young & Anthony Bennett: These two are a combo special, because the Wolves need at least one of them to step up and be a key guy–a top two offensive option–for this team’s future. I’d like to see clear signs of that happening with at least one of them, this year. Bennett would be preferable, since he is only in his second year and the Wolves have so much more control over his future. (Young can become an unrestricted free agent, next year.) But while Bennett is preferable, Young is more likely to do it. He’s a proven player, not just a pile of enticing physical attributes and smooth skills, yet to be carried over into successful game action. On a specific note with Bennett, I hope that he shows flashes of The Stuff that Carmelo Anthony Does. Extremely physical battles for prime post position, followed by a strong square-up to the basket, and a pick-your-poison battle with his opponent where he’s either swishing the jumper or bruising his way through around him to the rim. Bennett has huge shoulders, for a player so skilled. He needs to make those weapons.

Anyway, I’d like either Young or Bennett to look like a star, or future star, power forward, so that the Wolves can feel good about that position for the years to come.

Nikola Pekovic: I’d like to see Pek play up to or beyond his (huge) contract. He’s due to earn almost $50 Million over the next four years. Flip Saunders is already talking about managing Pek’s minutes to avoid further injuries. If Pek can dominate the low block (the way that Shaquille O’Neal would say that he should, if the Wolves were ever analyzed on TNT) and stay relatively healthy, it will either help the Wolves in their efforts to make the playoffs in the next few years, or it will allow them to trade Pek for good value, and rebuild with Gorgui at the five. Either way, his play is measured against that $50 Million price tag, so I hope he plays well, and (kind of) a lot.

Andrew Wiggins: This is a tough one because Wiggins is such an exciting prospect, but also one with legitimate question marks surrounding his potential to be an offensive superstar. He is the most important player that the Timberwolves have, if their hope is to one day contend for a championship. In his rookie season, I guess that I hope more than anything to see aggressiveness from Wiggins. It can be raw. It doesn’t have to be polished. The Wiggins comparisons that get tossed around (Young T-Mac, Paul George) make sense from a position and physical profile standpoint. But I think I might feel best about Wiggins as a young player if he instead bears some resemblance to a different-looking player; one who just won his fourth championship:

Manu Ginobili

Ginobili might be the best example of an NBA wing who has succeeded due to aggressiveness more than anything else. (Yes, he’s also amazingly skilled as a scorer and passer. I get that.) When Manu catches a pass, he’s usually moving with a purpose. That means his defender is also moving, and off balance. He doesn’t waste time, and when he goes to the basket he goes HARD. When he gets a step on his defender, he cradles the ball, lowers his shoulder, and braces for contact before he’ll reconfigure a strategy near the hoop and try to create a scoring opportunity. None of this is pretty, or requires elite ball-handling skills.

In the FreeDarko MacroPhenomenal Pro Basketball Almanac, there is a useful excerpt about Manu in the “Euro for Beginners” section about Argentina (yes, the authors acknowledge that Argentina is not actually in Europe):

“Of the play of Argentinean icon Manu Ginobili, Denver Nuggets head coach George Karl said, ‘I’m going to put it on tape and show my son how to play basketball…just put your head down and run into people, I guess that’s a new brand of basketball.'”

I’m sure Karl was frustrated when he said that. He probably just lost to the Spurs. But his point isn’t invalid: Manu drives without regard for who might be in the way. Contact results in success for the offense more often than the reverse, and he understands that.

Ginboili is a flopper, but emphasizing that too much can miss the point of just how HARD he goes to the hoop. If it was all about flopping, Kobe Bryant wouldn’t point at him and say, “That’s a bad boy right there.”

If Wiggins can develop that aggressive-bordering-on-reckless style even before he smooths out his crossover dribble and all-around handles, I think he will go a long way in cashing in on his amazing physical tools; tools which are significantly greater than the ones Manu has played out his Hall of Fame-caliber career with.

So from Wiggins in year one, I’ll be happy if we see simple, aggressive drives into the lane and the bodies of defenders.

Ricky Rubio: Like everyone else, I’d like to see Ricky improve his scoring, whether it be his (Thomas Sheppard voice) weak-ass jumper, or his finishing around the rim. He needs to improve in those areas and everybody understands that. Including Ricky.

But more than specifics about Rubio’s scoring, I’d like to see the Wolves winning games behind Rubio’s leadership like they did when he was a rookie. I’ve beaten this dead horse and will continue to do so, but the Wolves offense was better geared around Rubio’s skills when he was a rookie (they were over .500 and improving when he hurt his knee) than last year, in the full-fledged “corner offense,” built around the high-post and ball-sharing principles.

I’d love more than anything this year to see the Wolves win over 40 games because Rubio makes his teammates better with super-entertaining passes. He’ll be rewarded with a max contract and everybody is happy.

Preseason games begin this week, including a home tilt against Alexey Shved’s 76ers on Friday night.

What are you hoping to see?

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