There are a lot of rookie clichés that can be deployed about Alexey Shved: the rookie wall, a tale of two halves, he needs to add strength, needs to get comfortable, has to look for his shot, etc. If you talk to him—which almost no one ever got to as the season wore on because he would duck out immediately following games—you would hear a lot of clichés as well, but maybe that was down to Shved trying to get a grip on a language that’s still elusive.
The same thing happens with Rubio. I lamented to Zach one night that it’s too bad we can’t have a crack Spanish translator there so we could ask very specific questions that could garner specific, hopefully insightful answers from the Catalonian wunderkind. (And yes I know that’s mixing Spain and Germany—multiculturalism!) But instead all we get are bromides about competing, playing hard, playing as a team, and then crazy people in the skyway yelling at Zach that they don’t need a translator. (True story.)
With Shved, it’s even worse. His tongue rarely betrayed him in postgame interviews, even though it seemed like he was always on guard against it, a shy young man deeply concerned about saying the wrong thing. But as the season wore on and his game gradually began to betray him, his reluctance to talk grew and grew, until eventually it was easier to catch a glimpse of him, hood up, by waiting near the visitors’ locker room on the way to the arena exit than by heading into the Wolves’ locker room.
It would have been easy to pile on to Shved for his late-season performance, but I tried to resist. Without resorting to statistical measures, my memory of his rookie year was an impressive quick start spurred by injuries to the rest of the guard rotation, a major stumble prior to some missed games thanks to a sprained ankle, a minor resurgence following the sprain, and then a long slow descent into futility and frustration.
Looking at the breakdown of the season in 10 game chunks at NBA.com more or less confirms this pattern. Here’s a snapshot:
The breakdown immediately following the midpoint of the season is stark. His double-digit points per game average plunges to 7.3, then 7.0, then 5.6 and finally 4.3. His 3-point shooting absolutely craters at 21.4% between games 41–50. He stops getting to the line; his free throw shooting gets worse; his assists drop off. It’s more than worth noting that a typical season in the Euroleague is about 30 games, with perhaps a dozen more for tournaments—almost exactly half a season in the NBA.
Towards the end, when Adelman was barely giving him time on the floor (his minutes per game having fallen from a high of 33.9 in games 21–30 to just 14.3 in 61–70) he just looked numb. Shell-shocked. Chances are, you’ve experienced something like this in your life before. When I started getting in better shape a few years ago, I began by doing a lot of running. At first, 3 miles at a time. Then 4.5. Eventually, I ran a 10K, figuring it wasn’t so different than running two 5Ks back-to-back. It wasn’t. By the end of it I actually felt BETTER than at the beginning. Eventually, I decided to string a 10K together with my usual 4.5 mile route, which meant about 10 miles of running. And it went great!
Until I got 8 miles in. It was a hot day and I hadn’t brought any water. I found myself two-plus miles from my house, exhausted, barely able to put one foot in front of the other, hoping some enterprising soul had put a water fountain on the East River Parkway somewhere. My hips hurt, which I hadn’t even really realized was possible.
The thing is, whenever you dive neck deep into something, the wall is out there and it’s coming for you. In Shved’s case, some of it was because teams began to get tape on him, began to see how to goad him into bad shots. But some of it was just something inside of Shved that he needs to tackle and overcome. A full NBA offseason would ideally provide him with the chance to get stronger, a little quicker. He needs to learn to get his shot off faster, and to not only take what the defense is giving him, but also push the defense to give him what he wants.
He needs to attack the rim more, needs to be able to switch fluidly between looking for teammates and looking for his own shot—something, incidentally, that Rubio needs to do as well. Right now, you can practically hear their brains clicking over from DISTRIBUTE to ATTACK. If you watch LeBron James at work, you can see that it’s nearly impossible to tell whether he’s committing to scoring or preparing to set up a teammate.
Not that Shved is going to become LeBron or needs to. In fact, what he needs more than anything next season is the thing that was denied so many Timberwolves players in this injury-riddled season: a clear role with a margin of error that can allow for mistakes and growth. Shved has been through the fire and now the best thing for him is to be coming off the bench in specific spots to do specific things. Adelman was consist in lamenting Shved’s lack of off-the-ball abilities, which he also said wasn’t an unusual problem among rookies in the NBA. It would be great next season to see Shved get the chance to come into the game and work specifically to get good off-the-ball looks for five minutes at a time, or to work on drive-and-kicks coming in the flow of the offense.
If Shved can be given the chance to evolve more naturally next season, it’s possible we look back at his half-promising, half-demoralizing rookie year not as the failure it kind of feels like now, but as merely the first great challenge that helps forge a successful career in the NBA.