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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…

As Steve discussed earlier, the precise relationship between the Summer League and competition is a little foggy. We know the wins and losses mean almost nothing; we know that two thirds of the Wolves’ Summer League roster won’t be around in September. And yet it was still a little disheartening to see the stagnant mess that was the Wolves’ offense for much of the tournament. And it was still pretty cool to see that offense turn itself on and really flow as it did in the team’s final game, against the Pelicans. What do we take away from this? Well, for one, I think we discover what happens when Shabazz Muhammad takes half of your team’s shots.

I think we also discovered that most of the players the Wolves invited to Summer League really lacked the dynamism to get a real look in the NBA. Sorry to fans of Matt Janning, Dennis Horner, D.J. Kennedy and Markel Starks, who all showed flashes of skill but all struggled, for various reasons, to really hang.  Jordan Morgan some charges and worked the glass, but his lack of size, skill and explosiveness really showed. Brady Heslip is, without a doubt, one of the purest shooters I have ever seen. Heslip is so pure, in fact, that it’s a damn shame he looked so overmatched in every other phase of the game. Depending on what happens with Kevin Love, the Wolves will probably have an open roster spot or two. Unfortunately, I don’t think any of these guys have a real shot. So: on to some players who we might be seeing in the fall.

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How should a superstar be? Should he be a grudge-carrying sociopath like Michael Jordan? A mercurial loner, a la Kareem? An ebulliant cheerleader like Magic? Or a Duncan-esque Buddha? Should he be a high-volume one-on-one scorer or a group-first facilitator? We tend to talk as if there is one way to be great in the NBA, a set template that every elite player must follow. We measure success in championships and then retrofit our champions such that they suddenly, upon winning, fit that very template. Dirk, for instance, miraculously transformed himself overnight from a beta-male into lionhearted champ, without changing an ounce of his game or personality. Kobe went from bratty wunderkind to Jordan’s heir to petulant ball-hog and back to Jordan’s heir again, all in one career. For some reason, we seem more comfortable molding superstars–and all players, really–into templates that are familiar-unto-cliche than in appreciating the overflows of wild identity that make them so fascinating to begin with.

So: Kevin Love. When the collective mind attempts to process the idea of Love as a superstar, said mind melts. Love crashes the computer. First of all, as Ricky Rubio, in his perfectly plainspoken way, put it last month, Love is not a leader. He is a little sulky on the court and tends to retreat into his own bad mood when things go wrong. He’s not a primary ball-handler and so doesn’t drive the offense in the way that the league’s other elite players do. He leads the Wolves’ simply through the force of his production, but he doesn’t project gravitas like LeBron and Durant and Chris Paul. What’s more, he doesn’t really look like an elite player (and I don’t mean what you think I mean). Love is among the first wave of superstars to fully exploit the margins of the most high efficiency spots on the floor: the three-point line; the paint; the free-throw line. And while Kevin Durant gets a similarly high yield from those spots, Durant comes by that yield in more recognizably superstar-ish ways (if a 6’10″ human bird with an impeccable handle could ever be called recognizable). He slashes to the hoop out of isolations; he takes leaning, Jordan-esque, off-the-bounce jumpers.

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We’re kicking off our offseason coverage here at A Wolf Among Wolves with a comprehensive roster review of the team from this past season, looking at how each player’s 2013-14 went and what we see for them going forward. One player a day for the next couple weeks, starting with the bench and rolling up to the starters.

As a human, Corey Brewer is about as steady as they come: good-natured, jovial, with a broad smile and an easy manner, quick (but not overeager) to crack jokes in the locker room, nearly always willing to talk. It’s hard not to be won over by him. After his 51-point outburst against the Rockets late in the season, he said, “I felt like I was in high school again! Everything was going in, but I was just playing, I wasn’t even thinking about it until somebody was like, ‘Yo, you got 44. You can get 50 tonight.’ I was like yeah okay whatever. I actually got 50!”

But on the court — and that 51-point game folds neatly into this point as well — calling Brewer mercurial does a disservice to mercury. If a player like Kevin Love is a noble gas — destined for a double-double nearly every night, more or less immune to the vicissitudes of individual matchups — then Corey Brewer is francium, an element whose most stable isotope has a half-life of 22 minutes. Continue Reading…

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The season is nearly over, and heaven help me, I’ve given into the temptation to daydream. For the third straight season, realistic hopes for the playoffs have been dashed, leaving some (many?) bitter and disappointed about what might have been. We all know about the team’s struggles in the clutch (and superclutch), injury bugs biting Big Pek and K-Mart during the stretch run, the woes of the bench unit, accusations that Rick Adelman is sleepwalking through his final season, and on, and on, and on.

During the first quarter of Monday night’s loss to the Warriors, all I could think about is how much fun a 7-game series between the Wolves and Warriors would be. Continue Reading…

I’m a teacher, which means I do a lot of grading and — honestly — I hate it. But I thought for a change of pace I’d try out the handy platform created by our TrueHoop buddies over at Raptors Republic to recap a game that, honestly, was way more fun and entertaining than it had any right to be, given injuries to Pekovic, Love and Martin.

(PRO TIP: The Chrome browser and the recap grades generator are sniping at each other in the locker room. Neither is taking accountability for the disagreement. For now, you’ll probably have better luck reading the grades post if we run the Firefox browser play.

In case this horrible basketball analogy isn’t clear, Chrome hates the grades generator for some reason we can’t figure out right now. Look at it in Firefox and it’s fine — Zach Harper)

Portland Trail Blazers 117 FinalRecap | Box Score 110 Minnesota Timberwolves
Dante Cunningham, PF 39 MIN | 6-16 FG | 2-6 FT | 10 REB | 2 AST | 1 STL | 1 BLK | 0 TO | 14 PTS | +4Starting in his second game of the season after Kevin Love was held out with a quad contusion, Cunningham brought the kind of energy we often associate with him, but haven’t always seen this season. Yes: he shot his fair share of midrange jumpers and only managed a .375 shooting percentage, but he racked up two big dunks early plus one big block on C.J. McCollum that were a big part of the energetic start that kept the Wolves in the game for the first three and a half quarters.

Corey Brewer, SF 39 MIN | 11-23 FG | 4-6 FT | 7 REB | 2 AST | 0 STL | 1 BLK | 0 TO | 26 PTS | +6Brewer as a primary offensive option is a terrifying proposition, but such are the contorted positions that injuries to your top three scorers can put you in. With 26 points (the last ones coming when the game was already out of reach), he barely edged Ricky Rubio to lead the team in scoring and he did it with his signature blend wanton recklessness on the break and ill-advised long-range shots. Technically, he only shot one 3-pointer according to the box score, but he took a lot of long twos from near the corner. Nonetheless, his crazy energy was a big part of the Wolves nearly overcoming all their injuries in this one. As he said after the game, “We have to look at it like as long as we play as hard as we can we have a chance to win.” It’s not clear exactly how much of a chance they had, really: Although they hung tough through most of the game, it always seemed like Portland was going to be able to go back to their starters and finish it off.

Chase Budinger, SF 29 MIN | 6-12 FG | 4-5 FT | 5 REB | 1 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 3 TO | 19 PTS | +19Budinger’s return to full-strength continues to be a work in progress, but he really showed a lot of improvement in this game, racking up a very strong 19 points on 50% shooting in his first start of the year. After the game, he referred to this game as a “stepping stone,” and that seems right. It’s hard to know if there’s a distinct corner for a player to turn on their way back from injury, or if that kind of thing is only apparent in reverse. If the injuries force Budinger to step up a little sooner and a little quicker without putting him at risk, this run of games prior to the All-Star break with him starting could augur well for the team’s production after the break.

Ronny Turiaf, C 38 MIN | 4-8 FG | 0-0 FT | 13 REB | 3 AST | 0 STL | 3 BLK | 1 TO | 8 PTS | +8Turiaf is just a joy to watch play, and he is more or less the definition of the largely undefinable “veteran leadership” for a team. His block on Wes Matthews as the first half wound down kept the game within one point for the Wolves going into the break, and that sense of nearly playing the Blazers even through 24 minutes meant a lot to their solid third quarter play. Much like Budinger, this extended run right now could pay dividends when the injured starters return.

Ricky Rubio, PG 39 MIN | 8-19 FG | 7-8 FT | 2 REB | 9 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 3 TO | 25 PTS | +5This was a great all-around effort from Rubio, who still took the loss pretty hard. Lacking Martin, Love and Pekovic meant that he was his own last resort, and he stepped into that role solidly, notching a new career and season high with 25 points. Sure, it came on 8-19 shooting, but there are plenty of players out there who would shoot that much and miss that much and never blink. It would be wrong to think this is the kind of point production we should be expecting from Rubio in general, but it’s clear that he’s been in a funk for much of the season and there’s some reason to hope that the shifting roles that injury is forcing on the team might do something to shake up his game.

Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, PF 4 MIN | 0-1 FG | 0-0 FT | 1 REB | 0 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 0 PTS | -6Four minutes wasn’t much to judge Mbah a Moute on. He continues to be an able replacement for Derrick Williams, in that he doesn’t play much and doesn’t do much.

Robbie Hummel, SF 5 MIN | 0-0 FG | 0-0 FT | 2 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 0 PTS | -4After notching 17 minutes against OKC after not playing since early January, Hummel didn’t get into the game against New Orleans and then made little impact last night. It seems like Adelman’s early season model of workmanlike play has fallen out of the rotation, but it’s hard to complain that much when it means more room to see what the next guy down the list has to offer.

Shabazz Muhammad, SF 17 MIN | 4-8 FG | 4-5 FT | 2 REB | 0 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 12 PTS | -19Shabazz finally managed to get some solid run in a game, notching season highs in both minutes and points. He looked aggressive, particularly on the block where his strength helped him get good lucks from the left post an a flurry of hook shots in the early going.It wasn’t all gravy, though: He still got hot over an offensive foul call that was — in my opinion — a 50/50 call. You could have made an argument for the contact as incidental, but it also speaks to some of the recklessness he still plays with, and then his visible anger with the call doesn’t speak well to keeping your head down and playing the game no matter what knocks you take. He also had a few moments that looked out of place in an NBA game. At one point in the fourth quarter, Nicolas Batum was clearly giving him the 3-pointer. Muhammad thought about the shot, took a couple dribbles and then jacked it up, missing. It seemed clear that Batum was baiting him into taking it and he fell for it hook, line and sinker. His play early was good, his play late less so. If he can maintain the kind of aggressiveness and energy he showed early throughout all his playing time, he can be helpful.

Gorgui Dieng, C 9 MIN | 0-1 FG | 0-0 FT | 5 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 0 PTS | -16At one point, when Aldridge was taking it to Cunningham, it seemed like Adelman went to Dieng in hopes that his length would bother Aldridge a little more. It didn’t. Dieng’s game is still raw and his rim protection wasn’t a factor against a team that was relying on jumpshots from Matthews and Aldridge with Lillard in foul trouble.

J.J. Barea, PG 14 MIN | 1-7 FG | 4-4 FT | 3 REB | 0 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 6 PTS | -18It seems plain that Barea is not a good fit for this roster the way the season is playing out. The vision of Barea as a sixth man off the bench to provide a spark within the context of a well-oiled offensive machine just isn’t happening. Any kind of championship experience he was supposed to bring from his run with the Mavericks has evaporated. It’s like the Wolves wanted to start a spin-off from a hit show, but instead of Frasier, they’ve gotten a Paul Krapence.Barea seems completely incapable of running an offense, instead only using the players around him as safety cones to navigate on his way to a generally bad jumper or a cannonballing foray to the rim. I would never question his competitive spirit, but right now, with this team, it’s like fire trapped with no place to go and putting him in the game is creating a backdraft.

Alexey Shved, PG 6 MIN | 0-2 FG | 0-0 FT | 0 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 0 PTS | -14The only thing equal to Shved’s terrifying appearance in mask and Iron Curtain-stength hair gel was his ineffectiveness on the court.

Kevin Love, PF DNP LEFT QUAD CONTUSION MIN | FG | FT | REB | AST | STL | BLK | TO | PTS | I think he was wearing the same checkered shirt I bought at Target a couple weeks ago. It’s a good shirt, but I’d be surprised if he actually got it there, although I can’t not be entertained by the idea of Kevin Love shopping at the Roseville Super Target.

Rick AdelmanI don’t honestly believe there was very much that Adelman could have directly done to win this game, but running Barea as the primary ballhandler for stretches certainly didn’t help. If you want to credit Adelman for instilling the right kind of mentality in the team going in, for getting them to understand that they were going to have to jump on the Blazers right away and play with energy the whole night, then that’s to his credit. But Adelman continues to lean heavily on Barea in stretches that seem to stymie the team’s momentum. Not that he has a lot of options for PGs on the bench since Shved as the primary ballhandler seems just as ill-advised. I miss Luke Ridnour.

One Thing We Saw

  1. Looking at this game on the schedule, it would have been reasonable to chalk it up as a loss just looking at the lack of Pekovic, looking at Portland’s record and success, and looking at playing the second game of a back-to-back. Add in missing Love and Martin and by all rights this should have been a blowout. (Consider that statistically the Wolves regular starting lineup has an average PER of 18.6. Last night’s starters? Average of 11.5.) But it wasn’t. The Wolves rallied together in spite of it all, which is about all you could hope for in this situation. In any project that’s spread over months and months, there are going to be days when the odds are stacked against you, when circumstances are going to make a direct success nearly impossible. I continue to believe these are the times when you can learn the most about the project. Maybe Shabazz never gets extended run the rest of the season. Maybe they won’t need him to get much run. But if and when there’s a time when he does further down the line, it’s only with experiences like the one from last night that he’ll have a chance for success.

MiamiHeat

The game between the Miami Heat and the Minnesota Timberwolves last night turned out to be a disaster on the court. We know the drill. Kevin Love missed the game due to the death of his grandmother (our thoughts are with the Love family during this time) and the Wolves tried to piece together an attack against the back-to-back champions that just happen to employ the best player in the world. James did his usual absurdity on the court with 21 points, 14 rebounds, eight assists and 9-of-12 shooting from the field in just 31 minutes. He did have seven turnovers but he was probably just experimenting with certain passing plays during the game, knowing the outcome was already decided.

I didn’t have much to do after the game. The Heat locker room was packed. I watched them eat some kind of pasta dinner, saw Greg Oden try to squeeze through a small locker room, and found out that Chris Andersen allegedly has never paid a cent for his copious amounts of tattoos. I saw Lee Jenkins from Sports Illustrated talking to Shane Battier and got excited about whatever story he’s working on. I wasn’t going to go into the Wolves’ locker room. There’s no point after a game like that when they’re missing their best player.

At a certain point, I hightailed it to The Depot to grab a drink and a bite to eat with Myles Brown, our old friend. When I went home, The Crow was on TV and I started watching the final hour of the movie. In the big shootout scene towards the end, I noticed something ridiculous (you know… outside of the premise that a guitar player was murdered with his fiancé before a crow brings him back to life to avenge the wrong doings).

Check out the shootout scene and let me know if you notice anything strange:

Now, it’s a little hard to tell because of the cutaways but I’m fairly certain that The Crow fellow fires about 28 shots with those two guns. Your standard handgun will hold roughly 16 bullets. Some handguns can hold 20 shots but I’m guessing these lower level villains sitting at the table that don’t have credited character names are rolling with your run of the mill 9mm guns. Your standard six-shooter holds six bullets; that’s why they don’t call them eight-shooters or octo-guns.

When I watched that scene last night, I couldn’t believe how many shots this birdman fired with these two guns. Watching it happen, it just seemed to defy all logic and yet at the same time it made perfect sense. A murdered musician was back for blood and not even getting shot would stop him from getting his revenge. Neither would a seemingly finite amount of bullets in the two firearms he was unloading.

This movie is so weird to watch on a lot of levels. It’s a B-movie quality production in terms of the cast and execution of the acting. It’s really poorly done while the quality of the look and execution of the aesthetics is incredible. Knowing that Brandon Lee was accidentally killed in the process of filming this movie adds another eerie quality to the experience, even nearly 20 years after it came out. It’s odd thinking of the shoddiness of the movie knowing that in one of the flashback scenes filmed near the end of the production, Lee was accidentally killed on set by a gunshot wound.

Watching this movie after Saturday night’s loss, I kept thinking about how weird it is that movies like this just suspend certain levels of reality. I can buy into a guy being brought back to life by a crow. I’ve seen Dr. Doolittle before (that’s what happens, right?). I know it can happen. But watching/hearing the number of shots firing from those two pistols seemed both unnecessary and yet made sense at the exact same time. It made me feel a lot like what I had just seen in the Wolves’ loss to the Heat.

They shot 29.3% in that game. It’s unlikely you’ll beat a team when you shoot under 30% in a game. It’s happened four times since 1985-86, according to basketball-reference. Although one of those did come against the defending champion San Antonio Spurs in 2003. The Wolves just started firing up shots. A lot of shots. Shots that didn’t really make any sense. Shots that seemed like they should be out of ammo and yet they kept slinging them. And when you’re without your best player against the best team in the world (I don’t care what the records are right now), maybe that’s what you have to do. You settle for chaos and home to come out of the rubble with your hand raised high.

It’s not a good strategy. And it’s certainly not the strategy the Wolves tried to employ. However, they took shots and missed them. Just keep firing; eventually you’ll take out the creepy mob guy and avenge your own demise.

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“One down!” bellowed Nikola Pekovic in the locker room after the game.

“Eighty-one to go,” replied Ronny Turiaf with a bit more reserve. Moments earlier, Shabazz Muhammad had inadvertently knocked a cup of Gatorade over next to Turiaf’s chair, and Turiaf had not been pleased. Gorgui Dieng had tried to calm the waters. “Come on,” he said. “It doesn’t matter. We won.” Continue Reading…

The conversation around Nikola Pekovic’s contract negotiations has been robust around here. That is a great thing. That said, I want to make a point about Big Pek’s production over the past two seasons and what effect playing with good players has/will have on that production.

It should first be noted that Pekovic is not a great defensive rebounder. This is a little strange to me since he is so incredibly strong; one would think that he would be able to hold perfect rebounding position on every shot. This is probably one area in which his lack of length and leaping ability really hamper his production. And as many people have pointed out, his defensive rebounding numbers were a bit lower when he played alongside Love two seasons ago. This makes sense because defensive rebounding is a zero sum game; if, like Love, you grab every single defensive board out there, there are going to be fewer to go around for your teammates. But Pekovic’s offensive rebounding numbers were actually higher two seasons ago. As a matter of fact, he was second in the league in offensive rebounding rate that year.  The fact that teams pay Love so much attention on the offensive glass means that Pek has more space to grab boards of his own. So I think you can expect his offensive rebounding numbers to go up playing with Love this season.

And, for what its worth, his usage rate was only slightly lower last season than two years ago, when Love was gobbling up offensive possessions like he was Bernard King. Of course, the Wolves did not have a volume perimeter scorer like Kevin Martin that year. But, if you ask me, the Rubio-Pek pick-and-roll is so effective and plays so well to both players’ strengths, that I don’t think you’ll see them stray too far from it.  What’s more, that pick-and-roll should be much more effective with shooters around to space the floor. Remember how clogged the lane became whenever Rubio would prepare to drive last season? That problem should be cleared up. Though his volume will probably drop, I think you’ll see Pekovic score more efficiently this season.

All of that said, what commenter Mac and others are saying is true: Pekovic’s agent truly has almost no leverage in this negotiation. Accepting the qualifying offer means sacrificing at least $6 million during Pek’s prime earning years. That’s money that, depending on his production and health, Pekovic may never recoup, even after he becomes an unrestricted free agent next year.

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.

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