Archives For Steve McPherson

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To make the fifteen man cutoff for rosters at 5 pm ET on Monday, the Wolves were going to have to cut (or trade someone). Although Chase Budinger’s name had surfaced in trade rumors with Indiana and Cleveland, nothing concrete was likely to happen there prior to the deadline, so that essentially left the Wolves to decide between J.J. Barea, Glenn Robinson III and Robbie Hummel. Obviously, solidifying the fifteenth man on the roster is not exactly a major thing, but that it was Barea who was bought out does in fact say something about the direction of the team. Continue Reading…

As the Timberwolves’ roster came together this offseason, everyone who’s played their share of NBA 2K over the years knew that this team was going to be a fun one in this year’s edition, but I’m not sure anyone knew just how eerily the game would replicate real life. The first clip above is from Monday’s Dunks After Dark event, shot with the Phantom Cam and showing in glorious slow-mo one of the first tastes we got of what is sure to be a regular connection: the Rubio-to-Wiggins alley-oop.

But the actual first taste of this came in NBA 2K15’s “Momentous” trailer, which was released earlier this week. Aside from being the reverse angle, it’s almost an exact copy of the alley-oop the pair put together on Monday night.

I wasn’t prepared for how interesting watching an NBA team practice was going to be. When the assembled media was granted access to the Timberwolves’ first day of training camp for the last half hour, we filed in and sat down on the north side of the Taylor Center’s court. The players were going up and down, divided into three sets that matched last night’s squads for the Dunks After Dark scrimmages — black, white and gold.

The coaches on the floor — Flip Saunders, Ryan Saunders and Sidney Lowe — set up a drill on dealing with the pick and roll, working on specific calls and approaches. Some of it may have seemed basic, but training camp is about getting everyone on the same page. It’s a way to say, “This is how we do things.” To that end, it’s not a test just of learning specific things, but a test of how well a player learns things in general, how coachable a player is.

Continue Reading…

Dunks After Dark Wrap-Up

Steve McPherson —  September 30, 2014 — 3 Comments

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In the grandest barnstorming tradition, the Minnesota Timberwolves descended on the 4,500-seat Taylor Center on the campus of Minnesota State University Mankato for Dunks After Dark last night. One hundred percent completely sober students filled the arena to capacity quickly once the doors opened at 11 pm and they mugged for NBA TV’s cameras while being entertained for a good hour by DJ Mad Mardigan and an assortment of breakdancers and trampoline dunkers. As anticipation built for the Wolves to take the floor, the energy thrummed and the building pulsed with all the casual fun of basketball without playoff implications, without the pressure of filling a big arena, without the freight of the NBA proper.

But let’s not kid ourselves: in terms of actual basketball, last night meant less than nothing in the grand scheme of things, so let’s celebrate that with a bunch of GIFs of dunks and fun stuff, plus a couple observations. All GIFs are courtesy of the incomparable CJ Fogler. Continue Reading…

As 2K Sports is wont to do, they’ve been dribbling out bits of footage here and there leading up to the release of NBA 2K15 on October 7. Their latest trailer is called “Momentous” and features lots of pretty visuals, precise details, “Scenario” by A Tribe Called Quest and — most importantly — a glimpse at this year’s Timberwolves.  Continue Reading…

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Spend just about any amount of time examining Shabazz Muhammad’s offensive game and you will conclude it’s weird. Listed at 6-6 and 222 lbs (although if his offseason regimen is working — and it looks like it is — that should be a bit lower this year), is undersized for a small forward, yet 22% of his offense last season came out of post-ups, according to MySynergySports. 34 total possessions is hardly a representative sample size, but at 0.94 points per possession on those plays, Muhammad ranked 39th in the NBA on post-ups. Continue Reading…

(Note: There is an awesome Iverson jersey in a pickup basketball game in the above video.)

Here is something I didn’t write about when it happened because, well, I wasn’t sure it was a good idea. A press credential is, after all, something given, not taken. When you’re not a beat guy with a large local or national organization to stand behind you, there’s little profit in pushing the limits, so you stick to your lane. When players are grousing in the locker room and it’s not part of a media scrum, it seems like the right thing to do is keep it off the record.

So let’s go anonymous with this: After yet another loss down the stretch for the Wolves last season (I can’t remember which), one of the Wolves’ players was told that he had to do a meet-and-greet with fans after he was done in the locker room. He immediately launched into voluble complaints — not about fulfilling the commitment, but about the fans themselves.

“Did you hear it out there?” he asked. Continue Reading…

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If you’re only familiar with Ricky Rubio’s public side — his play on the court, his commercials, the clip of him telling Alexey Shved to change his face and enjoy — you probably think of him as joyous, effervescent, puppy dog-ish. But his demeanor in the locker room is often a bit different. This might be due to change, though, with the impending departure of Kevin Love.

For clarity’s sake, let me say I don’t think Kevin Love is a dour guy. Just as the “Kevin Love” he presents to the general public is one facet of him, so is the “Kevin Love” he presents to the media in the locker room. In the time since I’ve been part of that media, he has been generally surly and for perfectly good reasons. He has at times struggled to present himself the way he’s wanted, partly through his own fault and partly through circumstance. His reaction to this over the past few years has been to more or less shut himself down during the media scrums. In the few situations where I’ve engaged him one-on-one he’s been warmer and more forthcoming, if only a bit.

When it’s been bad, he’s looked completely demoralized. But the norm these last two seasons has been Love seated in front of his locker, head down, not making eye contact with anyone, providing more or less stock answers, except when he’s calling out teammates. He is not, however, generally the last guy out of the showers.

That would be Rubio. Continue Reading…

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Every offseason brings change. Sometimes it’s massive, sometimes it’s more subtle. Sadly, it looks like the Wolves are more or less standing pat this offseason and looking to … hang on, my producer’s telling me something … Well, I guess we’ll talk more about THAT later but now is the time to introduce a new member of the A Wolf Among Wolves family, Tim Faklis, who joins us fresh off a lot of terrific work over at Canis Hoopus. I got to know Tim a bit personally over this last year as we waited uncomfortably for Kevin Love or Ricky Rubio or (that one time) Corey Brewer to finally emerge from the back of the locker room, plus I’ve been a big fan of his work with CH, a site that continues to do a bang up job supporting the whole Wolves fan community both with quality writing and active and engaged discussion.

We asked Tim to join us because stalwart AWAW writer and professional hair model Zach Harper has taken his talents to South Beach, where he’ll be getting to cover LeBron James up close for the whole … hang on, producer again … Anyways, we hear it’s real nice there most of the time. He’ll continue to cover the Wolves, mostly for away games, but we thought it would be a good idea to stick to a solid three-man rotation at home games, most likely meaning that Bill Bohl gets to move up a slot and not stack all the unwanted box scores next to his computer. Good luck with that, Tim. Continue Reading…

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With the likelihood of a swap with Love-for-Wiggins at its core looking more likely, a lot of fans have apparently shifted their focus for the time being onto what else will come along with this trade exchanging proven superstar for potential superstar. The big problem with moving Love for a swingman is the enormous hole left at the power forward position, especially given Dante Cunningham’s expiring deal (and whether or not the team exercises its option for him, he isn’t a viable starter). Sure, there’s the potential for Gorgui Dieng to get some minutes at the four as a supersized PF next to Pekovic, which could surely create some excellent and interesting high-low action given the passing skills that Dieng showed off in college, but Dieng is also not an every-game starter at power forward.

So the question becomes who the Wolves can get back in the trade to man the four spot, and it seems like people are waffling over the still-raw-but-possibly-better-than-we-thought-last-year Anthony Bennett or the largely unsung and in some cases unknown Thaddeus Young, who could be routed from Philadelphia should they be brought into the deal.

Now if you know me, you know I like Thad Young. I wrote about him for the New York Times and HoopChalk prior to last season, essentially lauding his evolution into a true smallball power forward and noting that if he could add the 3-pointer back into his game — he shot ~35% in his second and third seasons — he could become even better. (Also worth noting that he was most successful from 3-point range on the left wing — Love’s favorite spot.)

This past season he did re-introduce the 3-pointer, but it didn’t go super well. He only shot 31% from 3-point range, but I think it’s worth remembering that he more or less hadn’t taken a 3-point shot in a game for three years (34 3PA in those three years combined) and that he was on an atrocious Sixers team where the offense wasn’t designed to get him 3-point looks. With seven years of experience but still just 26 years old, I still think Thaddeus Young can be a tremendous player in the league, if not a marquee star.

That veteran experience is what I’m more interested in talking about than his specific game, though. It’s true that Bennett looked much better in Summer League than he did at any point last year, and it’s true that he was dealing with a host of physical issues from rehabilitating an injury to his shoulder to sleep apnea (for which he’s since had surgery to remove his tonsils and adenoids). There’s every reasonable expectation that, given the right environment, he can evolve into a very good basketball player.

But that’s the sticking point: environment. There’s a natural tendency to look at a player’s skillset and potential and believe it will blossom one way or another, but it’s more complicated than that. Simply put, if the Wolves are already going to be giving heavy minutes to Andrew Wiggins and Zach LaVine, it’s going to be very difficult to also give heavy minutes to Bennett. Three years down the line, a starting lineup with LaVine, Wiggins and Bennett could be great, but I just don’t think they get there if they’re all having to start this season, or even just play heavy minutes.

First and second year players simply need to be surrounded by veterans to reach their full potential. If this trade goes down and if it involves Kevin Martin and if the Wolves feel they need to start Wiggins over Brewer, that means the longest tenured starter would be Pekovic, with four years of NBA experience. Rubio has three, and just barely given that he’s played 180 games in those three years. Young more than doubles Rubio’s experience and nearly doubles Pekovic’s.

Now obviously the kind of veteran leader he can be matters, but so far he’s shown himself to be quiet and steady, plus he hasn’t needed the team to be designed around getting him looks for him still to be the best player on the floor for the Sixers the last two years.

You need balance on a team, not just to be successful, but to grow. Young versus Bennett probably won’t change the win total of next year’s Wolves very much — and I don’t expect them to be good in the sense of making the playoffs either way — but a team on which Wiggins, LaVine and Bennett are all getting heavy minutes would not only be not very good next year, but it would stunt all of their development. It’s better for LaVine and Wiggins to be finding their feet next to a veteran like Young, even if he leaves after next season by not picking up his player option. If he does leave, that’s nearly $10 million in cap space.

The bottom line here is that playing a bunch of potentially great rookies might work in NBA 2K15, but doing so in the real world not only hurts the team’s present prospects but also their future ones. The Baby Bulls of the early 2000s are instructive here. They were not only a 21-win team in 2002 when they had Tyson Chandler and Eddy Curry as rookies plus Jamal Crawford and Marcus Fizer as sophomores, but they stayed bad for years.

No matter a player’s potential, growth curves are not inevitable. Developing one rookie is ideal. Two simultaneously is a challenge but possibly worth the payoff if it works. Giving three young players big minutes is likely to compromise all of their development and hamstring the team for years.