2017 Offseason

Robbie Hummel Retires from Basketball

(Photo by David Sherman/NBAE via Getty Images)

There’s a lot going on in Minnesota basketball at the moment – the Lynx are champions again, the new-look Timberwolves are in China to play their final exhibition games before returning home to kick off the season on the 18th, and expectations are high for the Gopher men to build on their solid 2016-17 campaign. So you’d be forgiven if a small piece of news slipped by you, unnoticed, on Tuesday night:

After 5 seasons in professional basketball, including two in the NBA with the Timberwolves, Robbie Hummel has called it a career.

Hummel first came to national attention as a freshman with the 2008-09 Purdue Boilermakers, an upstart group that included fellow future NBA players E’Twaun Moore and JuJuan Johnson, who defied expectations to finish second in the Big Ten and won an NCAA Tournament game. Hummel continued to play at a high level throughout his college career, finishing with averages of 14 points, 6.8 boards, and 2.1 assists on 44/39/84 shooting splits, but injuries began to pop up his sophomore year and never seemed to fully go away. First it was back spasms and a broken vertebrae; next, minor knee surgery; next, a torn ACL just as he was gearing up for what should have been a very successful senior season. He redshirted and returned to play 35 games in 2011-12, but his athleticism had dwindled, and he was no longer considered to be the potential first-round pick many had him pegged for early on.

In what would be David Kahn’s final draft pick, the Wolves wound up selecting Hummel with the 3rd-to-last selection of the 2012 NBA Draft. He spent his first pro season with a Spanish club in the ACB, where he averaged 10 points and 4 rebounds on 48/42/89 shooting splits. Having proven his health, and having shown off his shooting touch, Rick Adelman and Flip Saunders decided to bring him over for the 2013-14 campaign.

Hummel’s tenure with the Wolves was more interesting than many fans may remember. It was clear that he’d endeared himself to the coaching staff right away, as evidenced by the fact that he was the pick to start at shooting guard during an early November game when Kevin Martin was a late scratch. His playing time was inconsistent; there were nights he was clearly in the rotation, nights he was relegated to garbage time, and nights he never got off the bench. He finished his first season with averages of 3.4 points and 2.5 rebounds on 49% True Shooting in 53 games.

The Wolves brought Hummel back during the summer of 2014, but Year 2 in Minneapolis didn’t go nearly as well. Though the team did well in trading Kevin Love for Andrew Wiggins and drafting Zach LaVine, neither  teenager was ready for all the responsibility they were given, and the Wolves soon became a contender for the worst record in the league. Ricky Rubio, Kevin Martin, Nikola Pekovic and several other key players suffered serious injuries. Thad Young, Mo Williams and Corey Brewer were all dealt away. The back half of the bench became a comically depressing revolving door of 10-day guys and cranky veterans who were itching to bail.

But, through it all, there was Robbie Hummel, who did a stretch as the team’s backup center for a couple of weeks at the height of their injury epidemic. Watching him try to handle Larry Sanders during one tilt with the Milwaukee Bucks remains the saddest, yet most admirable Timberwolves effort I’ve watched with my own eyes, just barely edging out the time I watched “shooting guard” Luke Ridnour try to guard Joe Johnson for 30 minutes. The injury bug eventually came for Hummel, as well – he missed two months with a broken bone in his hand, returning for the season’s final two weeks, when the tankathon was in full effect.

He finished his second season with the Wolves averaging 4.4 points and 3.0 rebounds on 54% True Shooting. The Wolves decided not to bring him back, so he spent a season with Milano of the Italian League, but that effort was cut short by yet another injury, this one to his shoulder. In the fall of 2016 he signed with the Denver Nuggets, but didn’t make the final roster out of camp, so he played last season with the Russian club Khimki alongside former Wolves teammate Alexey Shved.

It seems as though his final season was a restless one; it was pretty clear from this June interview that the travel, distance and injuries were starting to weigh heavily on him. His story is a good reminder, as are the two Wolves teams he played on, that good health should never be taken for granted. It’s a shame he had so many injuries – anyone who recalls his early seasons at Purdue can tell you what a force he was prior to all of them.

Alas, good for him that he’s got another gig lined up, covering college basketball for the Big Ten Network and ESPN. He was an easy guy to root for; when I think of the most approachable Wolves players in my time covering the team, Hummel and Jeff Adrien come immediately to mind (how’s that for a random duo?). Glad to see he could walk away on his own terms and is on to something else.

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2 thoughts on “Robbie Hummel Retires from Basketball

  1. Good basketball player – would have been fun to see without the knee injury which limited his ability to do those things he did in college. Couldn’t always make the play – but he knew what he was expected to do, and was always in position, and often effective. Good memories.

  2. I respect guys like Hummel. Let’s be honest. He’s not the most talented guy. He simply lacks most elite NBA God-given gifts. He had good size in college and OK size for what he did in the NBA. He was just athletic enough to get by. He had no outstanding ‘freak’ skill to lean on. But he was just a baller. Had a great feel for the game, tried hard all the time, played smart. It would be great to meld Hummel’s approach and feel for the game with Wiggins’ raw physical talent. He has what Wiggin’s doesn’t (and Wiggins hasn’t proven himself to be skilled enough to overcome his lack of feel for the game and lack of quality to his approach) and Wiggins has what Hummel never had (a physical advantage, above average NBA athletic ability). Talent is a funny thing and in a way Hummel is very talented. There’s lots of not that athletic, too often injured 6’8″ guys who didn’t have it in them to sniff the NBA. In the NBA you can coast on natural ability and physical advantages quite a bit, but to be great you also need the right approach, effort, and to at least develop a really good feel for the game (if you don’t have a great instinct for it from the get go).

    I don’t mean this to be a knock at him. Early injuries probably robbed him of some athletic ability that could have kept him in the league. But he was always marginal in that respect and in the outstanding skills/advantage department. But he proved resourceful, tough and smart. And determined.

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