Whoooooaaaaaaaaaaa Nellie! Basketball is almost back. I mean… it’s not real basketball; it’s preseason basketball. But we get to finally get a glimpse into what the Minnesota Timberwolves have been doing with themselves during the offseason and first week of training camp.
This season on A Wolf Among Wolves (or AWAW as the kids say), we’ll try to have a brief game day preview taking from the ESPN.com 5-on-5 model. We’ll be going with a 3-on-3 look with either myself, Ben and Steve or two of us and a guest or one of us and two guests. Basically, it will be some combination of three people and three questions about the incoming opponent or what we are looking for in the upcoming game. Or maybe we’ll just talk movies.
For tonight’s preseason opener in Fargo, I’ve assembled the trio of myself and two bloggers from the fantastic TrueHoop Pacers blog EightPointsNineSeconds.com. Jared Wade and Tim Donahue were kind enough to share their thoughts on Lou Amundson, a key matchup if this game mattered, and the Granger-Love scuffle.
Without further ado, let’s talk some Wolves-Pacers.
1. Lou Amundson has left the Indiana Pacers and is now on the Minnesota Timberwolves. What exactly does he bring to this team?
Tim Donahue, EightPointsNineSeconds: Amundson was a guy who was very useful during the regular season, but not so much during the playoffs. He brings good energy, and was a surprisingly good shot blocker, despite being extremely undersized for a center. Lou’s the type of player that good teams find a use for, but there is a diminishing return. In the playoffs, his complete lack of any offensive game made him a liability.
Jared Wade, EightPointsNineSeconds: He’s a fun energy guy to watch play, but he is a rather limited player. He was a huge asset to the Pacers last season, however, as his versatility to fill in at center after Jeff Foster retired was invaluable. So it was tough to ever really get upset by his shortcomings. He gave it his all, rebounded admirably for his size, blocked way more shots than I thought possible and rarely made bad decisions. He also has the discipline to maintain good spacing down low even when the lane clogs up, which left him open for a good number of easy dump offs. I credit this to his perimeter background, and his days in Phoenix and Golden State, where offensive positioning was a priority. But more than anything, think about him in MLB terms: he’s a mop-up guy. You never want to have to rely on him in a big game, but he is a reliable professional who is good at doing what he can do — and should never be put in a position where he has to do anything more.
Zach Harper, AWolfAmongWolves: I’m excited for Lou to be on this roster because of his energy. That may seem like a cliché, “everybody gets a trophy in little league” mentality, but we saw last year that when things got rough, the roster didn’t have a ton of guys to come in and give a little spark. This season, the Wolves will have both Lou Amundson and Dante Cunningham to bring a little ruckus when needed. He’s a good rebounder, a solid shot-blocker, and when he played with Steve Nash, he had a high field goal percentage. Maybe that can happen again when Rubio comes back.
2. Let’s pretend this is a game that matters in any way, shape, or form: what’s the top matchup for a Wolves-Pacers showdown in a meaningful game?
Donahue: Kevin Love vs. David West. Each is the most important player on their team. I’m sure I don’t have to explain Love’s importance or skill, but how the Pacers/West deal with him is their biggest challenge. West was the foundation of the Pacer success last year. The offense runs through him, both as a passer and a scorer.
Wade: Kevin Love/David West, mainly because he is by far Minnesota’s best player while the Pacers don’t really have one. You’re unlikely to see a starting five, on a good team, with as much parity as the Pacers. Granger is still their most dangerous player, West is their most reliable, Hibbert can be their most dominant, George is their most dynamic, and Hill has been, on a few occasions, their most cold blooded. So, presuming one team’s bench doesn’t decimate the other’s, Indiana should be able to win most games by having three of its starters win their matchups. Sounds overly simple, and certainly is, but that will always be more important to the Pacers than any single matchup. Meanwhile, for Minnesota, it would seem that if Love gets out-played on any given night, they will need someone else to exceed expectations.
Harper: While I think the Love-West matchup probably is the most important showdown, I think I’m more interested in how Andrei Kirilenko handles Danny Granger during a real game. Last season, Granger and Love got into a scuffle and then Danny went off to bury the Wolves at the Target Center in those horribly cursed Muskies jerseys. The Wolves didn’t have anybody to slow him down once he got going. Wes Johnson couldn’t do it and Michael Beasley… well… yeah. Now, it seems like the Wolves have at least one specialist to throw at a guy like that and try to slow him down. AK is probably more of a 4 defensively, but I’d like to see if he still has it against most wing players.
3. Last season, Danny Granger seemed a bit cranky. In fact, he and Kevin Love got into a verbal scuffle at the Target Center during a game. Is Granger crazy enough to attack a team with Nikola Pekovic on the roster ever again?
Donahue: Sure. I like Danny a lot, but sometimes, he gets wrapped up in some silliness. It can get a little tiring, but it’s still way better than the years of dealing with Stephen Jackson or Ron Artest. As to Pekovic, he’s easily distracted simply by throwing him a live baby to eat.
Wade: Yes. It wasn’t just Love’s skin that Granger got under last year. The whole league seemingly took issue with him at times. He famously jawed with LeBronand got testy with Dwyane in Indiana’s chippy playoff series against Miami. He also played a supporting role in Larry Sanders of the Bucks losing his damn mind for no apparent reason. Throw in the Love incident and the team-wide criticism levied by Derrick Rose after the Pacers’ so-called over-celebration after a win in Chicago, and it seems as though this whole team just has a way of pissing people off. Given the disrespect they feel by the lack of national attention they receive, I’m sure most of the guys on the team don’t mind that reputation at all. They think they’re as good — and tough — as anyone.
Harper: I guess it doesn’t matter if anybody else believes Danny Granger is tough; it only matters if he believes he’s tough. Challenging Pekovic’s squad seems like the kind of mistake that ends with you losing the deed to your country, but Granger might be at that stage of his career in which he needs a little extra motivation to break out of shooting slumps. He certainly fired himself up against the Wolves and ended up torching the Pups. But you don’t have Dahntay Jones now to try to disarm Pek with immediate jokes. Good luck, Indiana.
Place: Fargodome in Fargo, North Dakota
Time: 7pm Central Time
Viewing and listening pleasure: There isn’t any radio or TV, unfortunately. **Oh whoops, I dropped this. And this too. Jeez, I’m clumsy.
Records: First game of preseason, son
It’s preseason! No need to feel anything but confident right now. That’s why we’re going with five full Darkos of confidence.
** – Just FYI. Let’s pretend there were links to live video streams that may involve a certain basketball game. These aren’t guaranteed to work tonight. They’re just our best bet of catching the action if they do. Enjoy and if you find a better source, please leave it in the comments.