Timberwolfing at the World Cup
We still have some World Cup to go, but with Spain’s elimination on Wednesday, the presence of the Minnesota Timberwolves ended entirely. For the most part, it was a successful campaign for the Wolves-represented participants, with a good share of highlights to go around.
Let’s go down the list:
Honorable Mention – Nemanja Bjelica (Serbia)
11.3 ppg, 7.4 rpg, 2.3 apg, .419 FG%, .222 3PT%, 0.6 spg, 0.3 bpg
(Yes, I’m aware Serbia is still in the tournament, but Bjelica isn’t technically on the Wolves roster yet, hence the honorable mention. My post, my rules!)
This is really the first game action that I’ve seen of Bjelica since I first heard his name back in 2010. If you may remember, Bjelica joined Wes Johnson and Lazar Haywood at the podium the day after the 2010 NBA draft.
So far, Bjelica has looked good. He has a solid handle for a guy of his size and build, and doesn’t seem to have any fear of contact going to the rim (which, at times, has hurt him in this tournament). He’s a central player on a very talented Serbia roster, and hasn’t shied away thus far from taking big shots. If he ever does come over to the NBA, confidence will likely not be an issue for him.
Ricky Rubio (Spain)
5.4 ppg, 4.4 rpg, 5.1 apg, .385 FG%, .000 3PT%, 0.3 bpg, 3.6 spg
The first thing that may jump out with Rubio’s numbers surround his shooting. He only took (and missed) five 3-pointers in the tournament, and just 26 shots in all, but he certainly didn’t look too improved scoring the ball. Even despite this, his passing and defensive impact made him one of the better players in both group play and the Round of 16. (Eric in Madison on Canis Hoopus did a great job breaking this down in detail)
The first number that should jump out is Rubio’s steals mark. At 3.6 thefts per contest, Ricky led the tournament and it wasn’t close. He was probably the best perimeter defender of the entire tournament, in part because of his high steal rate, but also partly because of how calculated he was in making those decisions. He was always tight on his man, but would only go for the steal if the opportunity presented itself. In other words, he was less Corey Brewer on the that end of the floor, and more Jason Kidd.
Also (media day alert!), it looks like he’s put on some muscle in the offseason. He looked more confident going for rebounds, and it only made his tenacious defense even more intimidating.
JJ Barea (Puerto Rico)
22.0 ppg, 3.2 rpg, 3.2 apg, .449 FG%, .526 3PT%, 0.0 bpg, 0.6 spg
Admittedly, I didn’t see much of Puerto Rico during this year’s World Cup. In the limited time I have seen them (along with some friendlies over the past couple years), it’s pretty clear that Barea has surpassed Carlos Arroyo as “the guy” on Puerto Rico’s roster. Puerto Rico has always done well enough to stay relevant in international play, and with Arroyo, Renaldo Balkman (!!!), and JP Batista all on the roster, Barea has done a good job keeping central America in the a positive light in FIBA action.
It’s unclear what role Barea will have when he returns to Minnesota, or if he’ll remain a member of the Wolves at all. Still, his place in Puerto Rico’s depth chart isn’t in question.
Gorgui Dieng (Senegal)
16.0 ppg, 10.7 rpg, 2 apg, .420 FG%, .000 3PT%, 1.5 bpg, 1.8 spg
Dieng started off hot and fell off by the Round of 16, but when he was on, he was ON. Through the first 3 or 4 games, he was arguably the best player in any group pool, dominating in stints on both ends of the floor.
One interesting thing: that goofy fadeaway in the video above was a shot Dieng was taking, and making through several games over the past couple weeks. Nothing, including that shot, was working when they were eliminated by Spain, but the confidence he gained towards the end of his rookie season showed in the majority of his performances this summer.
His passing looks excellent, his defense is still there, and his mid-range/post game looks to have a few new tricks that we may see this season. If nothing else, he built the case that those final 18 games of the 2013-14 regular season were not a fluke.