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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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The Wolves have taken Andre Roberson of Colorado with the 26th pick. Again, I would be very surprised if they walked out of the draft with three guaranteed contracts on their books, but just for fun, or in case I’m wrong somehow, here are his college stats, as per Draft Express.

Update: Sure enough, the Wolves appear to have sold this pick to the Warriors (who then moved it to OKC). Makes sense since they didn’t want another guaranteed deal on their hands…but I wonder why they didn’t manage to wrangle a future late-first round pick out of the deal.

Update Update: Turns out Malcolm Lee and a 2014 Golden State second-rounder were also part of this deal. All about cap space it appears. So long Malcolm Lee.

 

 

Kentavious Caldwell-Pope,

Every year ESPN’s TrueHoop Network runs its own Mock Draft with picks from all the member blogs. Here are the results of that draft with a couple thoughts on the Timberwolves’ two first-round picks. Continue Reading…

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Well, it’s not Timberwolves playoff basketball, but it’s still the best basketball there is. Come on down to Grumpy’s Downtown this Wednesday, May 1 to watch a couple games with Ben Polk, Zach Harper and myself. Right now, the schedule is still up in the air, but we’re definitely looking at Indiana/Atlanta and Boston/New York, plus hopefully Oklahoma City/Houston, provided Houston can take one off the Thunder tonight. Whatever the match-ups, it’s sure to be a fun time. We’ll be packing AWAW hoodies that you can buy as well. Games are likely to start at 6 pm, so that’s when we’ll be there. Come on down and say, “Hi!”

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Its a given that this Timberwolves’ season has been a bitter disappointment. I always believed that prognosticating before the year even began was foolish; the calculus of variables was just too ornate to ever settle confidently on one outcome. I think its safe to say, though, that the year has become something close to the worst-case-scenario. Yes, Andrei Kirilenko returned to his mid-oughts form–at least until fatigue and injury robbed him of a little of his vivacity–and Ricky Rubio has made incredible strides in his recovery. But Kevin Love’s injury, and the plague of injuries to key players that has infected the team all year long, has negated all of that.

Still, it could be so much worse. You could be a Wolves’ fan of four years ago, wondering if Randy Wittman could turn things around, hoping that Randy Foye and Rashad McCants could one day justify their lottery status. Remember that? Or even worse: you could be a Phoenix Sun’s fan right now.  If that were the case, you would have endured a recent 10-game losing streak and a road record of 8-32, not to mention an entire season of Michael Beasley and Wes Johnson. You know what that’s like and it’s no fun. The “core” of your team would be Goran Dragic, Marcin Gortat and Jared Dudley, fine players, to be sure, but nothing to build a team around. Your most recent lottery pick, Kendall Marshall, would look, and play ball, like a member of Das Racist. You would be placing your hopes for the future on the only front office with a claim to being worse on draft day than the Wolves. You would be cheering very hard for PJ Tucker and also for the Morris twins.

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This nice young man just got his 1,000th win.

In many ways, Rick Adelman’s 1,000th win resembled his 703rd loss. As in Friday night’s game against Toronto, his team enjoyed spells of real ease, in which an overmatched opponent appeared ready to fold the tent and cede the game. In this one, the Wolves cruised to an 11-point lead in the first quarter. They dropped a 12-0 run in the second quarter and a 10-0 run late in the third. But as in their loss to Toronto, they repeatedly gave those leads back with stretches of unfocused play. That is what young teams do I guess, especially one whose primary ballhandlers include an emotional, turnover-prone 22-year-old, a 5’8″ shot-chucking black hole and the fourth Karamazov brother (the skinny, depressed-looking one with the wildly inconsistent shooting mechanics).

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Roy “Dr.” Hibbert

The Wolves’ street-clothes squad boasts a pretty impressive resume. You’ve got multiple All-Star appearances, a Defensive Player of the Year, a former Most Improved Player candidate, even some MVP votes. What’s more, whoever has been dressing Nikola Pekovic deserves a firm handshake. That fitted herringbone blazer? the deep pink tie? the open-collar-plus-gold-chain combo? Dynamite.

In contrast, no one would say that the Wolves’ actual active roster is brimming with talent. In essence, you have a future-superstar with a sub-40% shooting percentage leading a crew of backups and D-Leaguers. This is a team that can compete for victories under certain circumstances–like when the Washington Wizards lay a total egg on the road, or when, say, the Spurs rest all of their good players–but that on most nights has very little chance to win. (I should mention: no shame in being a backup or a D-Leaguer. The NBA is much the better for the Dante Cunninghams and J.J. Bareas and even the Chris Johnsons of the world.)

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Utah Jazz v Minnesota Timberwolves

Last night’s loss to the Utah Jazz followed an all too typical pattern for recent Wolves’ losses. A malaise-filled start leads either to the other team getting out to a big lead or the Wolves hanging around while the other team lolls about in the doldrums as well. If the lead is a thick one, the other team will hold them at arm’s length; if it’s slim, they will eventually push away. At this point, the Wolves mount a comeback—often led furiously by Ricky Rubio’s wounded competitive spirit—that falls inevitably short.

You can choose to see this global lack of effort as just a lack of effort or you can find root causes for it, such as the way players are not so much playing out of position as out of role, and that there’s not much balance in the offense. Pekovic, in particular, is wearing down, I think, from being the only player on the Wolves who does work in the paint. Williams is a shooter and (on a good day) a slasher who can rebound; Cunningham rebounds, but mostly takes midrange jumpers on offense; Stiemsma is not a force down low; neither is Chris Johnson. I know Love does a lot of his damage from outside, but he will also set up on the block and put in some work there from time to time. But with only Pek there, no one else is wearing teams down physically, which in turn wears Pek down. This little sequence right here both shows how Pek is losing some of his aggressiveness and provides a handy metaphor for the entire Wolves team right now. Continue Reading…

Shved

David Thorpe is a guy who knows basketball, so when he talks (or in this case, writes) everyone would do well to listen. Here’s his take on Alexey Shved’s game so far in the NBA:

Shved’s moxie, toughness and basketball IQ have helped him fit right into Rick Adelman’s offensive system. But by no means has he been a sharpshooter. More troublesome, though, is that he’s been less than average on ball screens.

First of all, his decision-making with the ball in his hands on ball screens is bad. He often settles for long 2s or 3s after dribbling sideways across the court, or even a bit backward. The 3-point shot is already long without having your momentum flow backwards before shooting it. That’s the biggest reason he’s much better in spot-up shots than off the dribble.

His angle of attack on ball screens is also too often flat, instead of sharp, meaning he isn’t attacking the lead foot or shoulder of the big man hedging on defense. When he does, he gets into the lane easily and good things follow: short runners, layups or easy kick-outs to wide-open shooters. But poor angles mean he is not a threat to score or pass, and therefore the defense stays solid.

I’d also like to see Shved lower his hips at the point of attack, which will enable him to split the defenders easier or beat them with speed. He’s far too upright now to do so without being a huge turnover risk.

The numbers bear out what Thorpe says about Shved’s 3-point shooting: According to Synergy, he’s shooting just 27.6% on 3-pointers when he’s the pick-and-roll ball handler versus 36.5% when he’s spotting up. And I wouldn’t take issue with Shved’s angle of attack being too flat in the pick and roll, but I think you also can’t ignore the fact that the Wolves legendarily awful 3-point shooting also means that teams can clog the paint without fear of reprisal from distance. As Ben observed in his wrap-up of last night’s game, when the Wolves went small and forced Asik to cover Love on the perimeter, it opened up driving lanes for Shved, which he feasted on. Check out this pair of beautiful lay-ins:

But Love went 0-7 and the Wolves as a team only shot 25% from downtown, so the paint closed up eventually. It would behoove Shved to get lower and attack sharper, but it would help everyone if the Wolves could buy a basket from deep more than once every four times.

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Today the Wolves confirmed reports aout Malcolm Lee and his injured right knee.

The Minnesota Timberwolves today announced that guard Malcolm Lee has suffered a chrondal injury in his right knee and will be out indefinitely. Lee and the organization are in the process of further evaluating the injury to determine the next steps for treatment. Once a determination is made, an update to his status will be provided. The injury occurred in the second quarter of Minnesota’s 108-105 win vs. Denver on Wednesday night.

Lee, a second-year guard from UCLA, is averaging 4.9 points and 2.4 rebounds in 18.1 minutes per game this season. He has started 12 of the last 13 games for Minnesota and has appeared in 16 games overall. Lee scored a career-high 10 points at Philadelphia on Dec. 4.

For those of us who aren’t med students, a chrondal injury is one to the articular cartilage of the knee. Not helpful? Basically, without knowing the severity of the injury, it’s hard to know what this means for Lee’s prospects. According to this website (which has a picture of snowboarding, so you know they know what’s up), treatment could be non-surgical or go all the way up to debridement (which is what Roy had done on his arthritic knee) or microfracture surgery. Time will tell. For what it’s worth, chrondal injuries are degenerative, which doesn’t sound very good.

What this does, however, is clear the way for Alexey Shved to start at shooting guard. According to Jerry Zgoda over at the Star Tribune, Shved wore the white starter’s jersey in practice today. Coincidentally, that’s same color as the whole starting lineup now.