Wolves in Summer

Benjamin Polk —  July 24, 2013 — 5 Comments

Past NBA Summer Leagues have been characterized by a distinctly midnight basketball feel. Stripped down strategic approaches; players unfamiliar with each other and their systems; the deep desire to show and prove–all of these things have typically led to a kind of league-wide Nellie-ball fever. Breakneck pace and hypertrophic scoring were the rule. But the vibe was different this year. Perhaps  the presence and success of the D-League Select team, a group of grown men playing for their lives, added a note of seriousness to the proceedings. Perhaps it was the fact that teams like Phoenix had loaded their roster with experienced NBA players. Or maybe it was simply as David Thorpe suggested: The vogue for strongside pressure defense took the air out of the ball. But for whatever reason, defense (and competitiveness) enjoyed a bit of a renaissance while offenses were less manic.

As for the Wolves, their Summer League contingent shot the ball well, especially from distance (47.7% overall, 42.5% from three) which was an incredible relief to see from any team wearing a T-Wolves jersey–and I don’t care if those jerseys are ridiculous short-sleeved practice jerseys that make the players look like eight-year-olds or if none of those players ever step onto the Target Center floor.  They defended energetically and frequently well; they turned the ball over at an incredible volume. That’s pretty much the recipe for a 3-3 team, which, ultimately, who cares. In any event, here are some observations from the week.

First Round Blues

I actually felt, early on, that Shabazz Muhammad acquitted himself rather well. He didn’t set the world on fire in the first games, but he impressed me by not forcing his own offense and by making solid passes within the flow of the half court. He was active on the offensive glass. He showed solid defensive effort, even if his skills and navigating screens aren’t nearly there and he didn’t seem to be harshing anybody’s mellow with any kind of surly attitude. But as the week went on and he started struggling with his shot, things started to look a little uglier.

In the manner of gunners everywhere, he started hunting for looks. And in this context, we started to see many of the warning signs that followed him through his college career: poor shot selection; insufficient creativity and athleticism in creating a shot; trouble getting his shot off in traffic. Compounding these problems, he showed some suspiciously Beasley-esque ball-stopping behavior. Once his head was down and he began his move, that shot was going up. Even worse, the frustration was clearly affecting him on the defensive end, where his effort and focus flagged as the week went on.

In his courtside interview, Flip Saunders suggested that Muhammad’s struggles were a function of his being asked, for the first time, to play within an offensive structure. This is probably true; and its still quite possible that Muhammad, with a lot of work and guidance, can develop a niche NBA game that plays to his strengths and minimizes his weaknesses. But this was not a good start.

Gorgeous Gorgui

On the bright side, Gorgui Dieng looked ready to step into an NBA backup center role tomorrow. Granted, in the Summer League, being a long-armed seven footer with Pitino-fueled defensive hunger will get you pretty much anywhere you need to go–but those things are pretty helpful in the NBA, too. As with Muhammad, and everybody else, Dieng’s weaknesses were on full display. In outmuscling Dieng on the block and easily moving him out of rebounding position, the D-League Select Team’s wide-bodied Darnell Jackson exposed Dieng’s slight build and lack of physical strength. This is, without a doubt, going to be a problem for Dieng next season; along with his shaky post game, its the main reason we’re talking about him as a backup rather than a starter

But Dieng displayed his skill in containing the pick-and-roll (which, in today’s NBA, is perhaps even more important for a big man than defending the post), he blocked or altered just about every shot that came is way, and he even showed that nice touch from 15 feet. That was nice.

Men and Boys

One thing about Summer League that has not changed: Older players and players with NBA experience look like men among boys. We saw it all over the place in Las Vegas. Jonas Valanciunas, John Henson, the Morris twins–these guys were sonning kids left and right. That was true, to a lesser extent, for the Wolves. Chris Johnson and Othyus Jeffers looked like dudes who were too grown up to be playing this game. This is not to say that either one should make the Wolves’ roster and both players showed off their weaknesses as well as their strengths–in Johnson’s case, his spindly frame and lack of a post game; in Jeffers’, his difficulty creating his own shot. But there’s got to be a place in the league for an energetic, long-armed seven footer who loves to dunk and block shots, even if he does weigh 150 pounds (or whatever). Similarly, I’ve got to believe that some team out there could use a strong, massively competitive, perimeter defending two. That seems like something that every team could use.

At the Point

There was an interesting side battle going on between the Wolves’ three point guards, Kee-Kee Clark, Lorenzo Brown and Demitri McCamey. All three shot over 50% from three, which, again, was strange and wonderful. All three played about 20 minutes per game and turned the ball over 1.8 times per contest. Brown, the Wolves’ second-round draft pick from NC State, had the better assist numbers, with 2.2 a game, while Clark was the most efficient scorer at 54% (though he did not attempt a free-throw). Still, Clark seemed to me to be that a member of that awesome terrifying club: the undersized, shoot-first point guard (and the Wolves already have one of those). And despite his nice numbers, Brown looked very much like a rookie in his first professional action. He was susceptible to traps and he made some strange, hurried decisions in traffic. For my money, though, of the three, McCamey was the most solid defender and the most poised captain of the offense. It’s not even clear that the Wolves will carry a third point guard on their roster (although their injury history suggests its not a bad idea) and if they do, I would think that, since they drafted Brown, they will want to see what he can do. But I wouldn’t mind seeing McCamey at their pre-season camp either.

 

Benjamin Polk

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5 responses to Wolves in Summer

  1. What were your thoughts on Brandon Paul and Robbie Hummel? In your opinion which player is the most likely to fill out the Wolves roster?

  2. Benjamin Polk July 24, 2013 at 3:07 pm

    Yeah I ran out of space to talk about those guys. I actually really like Brandon Paul even though he has no floor game and is not really explosive. I thought he played with great energy on defense and made good use of those freakishly long arms. He shot it pretty well from outside and was great in the open court. I think a year or two in the D-League and some hard work on his offensive skills could turn him into an NBA player. As for Hummel, you have to root for the guy and he really had the look of a veteran out there…but I’m not sure he’s athletic enough right now to play in the league. He shot over %40 from three in Spain last year and if he can do that at the NBA level I think he’s got a shot. But I think that what he saw in summer league was that when his shot wasn’t falling, he didn’t have too much to offer.

    My guess is that Lorenzo Brown will fill out that roster spot although he could certainly also use a year in the D-League.

  3. Brown could work as an off guard, replacing Ridnour, if his shot is as true as it looked in Las Vegas behind the arc. I mean, it’s not broken since he shot 35% in his junior year. We didn’t see how well he could shoot off the dribble though which will hurt his chance at playing at the SG spot. He has a problem with inconsistent effort and if he can apply some hard work on his outside shot and defensive ability, he’ll get some minutes.

    Meanwhile, McCamey has a great feel for the game but is too slow. Paul is the exact opposite since he plays to erratic.

  4. I kind of thought Shved was our 3rd backup PG along with filling in some SG/wing minutes?

    Shabazz’s performance is obviously really disappointing, but I’m glad about Dieng. I have a feeling I’m going to be bitter that we just missed out on Kentavious all season…

  5. I still believe that a player like Shabazz Muhammed will be an excellent addition on a winning, up-swinging team. He’s the type of guy who has won a lot of basketball games from a young age, and he will not concede easily to a, end-of-the-bench cheerleading type role. From what I’ve heard, he’s used to being featured on the teams he plays for and he has too much pride to back out of the spotlight. If the top of the pack (Love, Rubio, and Martin) can get shit done and win some games early, the buzz around the team will have Muhammed hungering for some of the action. At this point he could easily become a very valuable spark off the bench much similar to the way Derrick Williams had been in his rookie year before Rubio was lost for the season. How Muhammed stands apart from Williams, however, is that he has much more of the, ‘I’ll-stare-you-in-the-eyes-and-let-you-know-that-you’re-going-to-be-my-bitch-for-the-rest-of-the-game’ instinct à la Kobe Bryant. In the most elite league in the world you need players like this to win.

    As long as Rick Adelman gets real and promotes some serious defensive attitude (I’m talking wall-sits and close-out-drills in morning practices) the offensive minded core of the team will routinely find ways to score more points than the other team and Muhammed will be quick to join in on the onslaught.

    One final point: I believe that Rick Adelman must habitually put Muhammed into direct competition with Corey Brewer in practice. Brewer is a less skilled basketball player than Muhammed is, but he will play a lot more than Shabazz will because of his proven ability to be an invaluable cog on winning teams. This relationship will teach Muhammed early that effort and defensive vigilance will be necessary for him to steal minutes from Brewer and enter the rotation.

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