Just Returns

William Bohl —  June 2, 2014 — 13 Comments

2013 NBA Draft Lottery

This weekend, Kevin Love took a well-publicized trip to Boston, feeding the frenzy surrounding the bizarre courtship that’s underway for him, a player under contract for the 2014-15 season. Some may view the jaunt to Beantown as little more than a 25-year-old multimillionaire kicking back in one of America’s finest cities; the more cynical among us look at it as a calculated maneuver to inform the Wolves front office (and, perhaps, the fan base) that he’s already begun to move on. Continue Reading…

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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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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 2012-13 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.

Kevin Martin came to the Timberwolves via a July 11th sign-and-trade deal, inking a 4 year, $27.75 million contract, and immediately became the best shooting guard in Minnesota history. For a team that ranked dead last in the NBA in perimeter shooting in 2013-14 and in the bottom half of the league in free throw percentage, K-Mart was a sight for sore eyes. Employing unconventional (though effective) shot mechanics, the tenth-year man from Western Carolina brought a 38.5% career mark from outside the arc to Minneapolis. Between Martin, a healthy Kevin Love and a healthy Chase Budinger, the Timberwolves had every reason to hope their offensive woes would be solved, at least partially, by the sheer force of success from three-point land. Observers also wondered if his ability to get to the foul line (where he converts 86.9% of the time, 24th-best in NBA history) would return after a year of being utilized primarily as a spot-up shooter in Oklahoma City.

The results were somewhat mixed. Statistically, Martin turned in a season on par with his per-36 minute career averages. He scored 21.5 points, grabbed 3.4 rebounds and dished out 2.0 assists on 43/39/89 shooting splits. Over his decade in the league, those numbers are 20.9 points, 3.8 rebounds and 2.3 assists on 44/39/87 splits. On the surface, he seemed like the same guy he’s always been, but once you look a little closer, you begin to see that wasn’t exactly the case.

Continue Reading…

If standing next to Zach Galifianakis is the Michael Jordan of this picture, the Mickey Mouse shirt is the Scottie Pippen

If standing next to Zach Galifianakis is the Michael Jordan of this picture, the Mickey Mouse shirt is the Scottie Pippen

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.

Here’s something I didn’t expect to see when I pulled up Nikola Pekovic’s page on Basketball Reference: in 2013-14, he improved his points-per-36-minutes, his PER, his true shooting percentage and his field goal percentage, and held just about every other category steady. Somehow I thought he had been a little worse this year than last. Maybe it only seems weird because of the price tag that comes along with those numbers. In 2012-13 he did it all for $4.8 million; in 2013-14 he made $12.1 million. Continue Reading…

Let’s get some things out of the way. We all know that the Wolves’ bench was terrible this season. There are a number of reasons for this: J.J. Barea running the show; injuries to Chase Budinger, Nikola Pekovic and Ronny Turiaf; the lack of second-unit wing scorers and three-point shooters. And while all of these things forced him into a more prominent offensive role than one might deem advisable, none of these things are specifically Dante Cunningham’s fault. He is an undersized four with incredible hops, a great motor and an occasionally accurate midrange jumper. It’s unwise to expect much more than that.

But still, in the season’s first three months, when the Wolves lost all of those close games and their bench was particularly awful and they could have really used some production from anybody at all, Dante Cunningham was terrible. In the first 31 games of the season, he hit just 42.9% of his 177 field goals, the great majority of them wide open jumpers and none of them threes. In that time he attempted just 10 free throws. That’s low efficiency offense right there.

Even his vaunted defensive energy was inconsistent this season. When Pekovic and Turiaf were hurt and before Gorgui Dieng discovered himself, the Wolves really needed Cunningham in defensive freakout mode. Much of the time, it didn’t happen.

And all of this before Cunningham allegedly did some terrible things:

The woman, who is not named in the complaint, told police he kicked down a locked bedroom door, grabbed her around the neck and slammed her against the wall, choking her for 15 to 20 seconds during which she could not breathe.

“Victim’s eyes were watering and she felt like she was being strangled to death,” the complaint alleges.

Nice. Just a few days after being released from jail, Cunningham violated his restraining order by allegedly texting “terroristic threats” (that is to say, a threat to “directly or indirectly, to commit any crime of violence with the purpose to terrorize another”) to that same woman. I say “allegedly” there, but police actually confiscated his phone and reviewed the offending messages. There’s not a whole lot of reason to doubt the charge. It’s also worth noting that Cunningham has made no effort to deny any of it.

At the very least, Cunningham is guilty of some egregiously poor decision-making–not to mention being a massive, aggro jerk–of a kind that makes discussing his value to the Wolves’ bench seem crass and irrelevant. I’m sorry I had to do that. The reality is likely much, much worse. Given the terms of the collective bargaining agreement, the Wolves had no option but to play Cunningham his usual minutes over the final games of the season, blithe and gross though it may have seemed. But now Cunningham is a free agent; the Wolves have the luxury of letting him fade away without a sound.

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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 2012-13 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.

“When J.J. Barea gets that steely glint in his eye, the possession is only ending one of two ways, and neither are not shooting. You saw that glint most often this past season somewhere around the mid-third quarter, at the point where the Wolves had let the lead slip enough that it was in jeopardy, or else had fought back enough that it was within striking distance. As Barea received the ball on the inbounds pass, someone on our row of the media section would likely mutter, “It’s going up.” Or maybe as Barea brought the ball across the half-court and held one hand up in a fist, someone would joke, “That’s the number of passes that are going to happen on this play.””

Recognize that? It was Steve McPherson’s roster review of J.J. Barea in May of 2013. Tempted as I was to make the backup point guard’s review nothing but the above quote, plus several pictures of him arguing with officials and links to unflattering videos such as this one, I ultimately decided any evaluation of Barea’s season ought to be more nuanced than that. Continue Reading…

Businger

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.

Who is Chase Budinger? And is it more troubling if we don’t know the answer to that question, or if we do? We are talking, after all, about a player who was brought over from Houston as a key piece of the puzzle to fix the Wolves’ offensive woes, a guy who was supposed to be a seasoned vet of former head coach Rick Adelman’s system. And yet in two seasons on the Wolves, Budinger has played in only 64 games and for just 1,259 minutes. By contrast, Terrence Jones — who was selected by Houston with the 18th pick acquired from Minnesota for Budinger — has played 2,354 minutes in that same stretch. J.J. Barea played 1,471 minutes this season alone. So have we seen enough to know? Or is the fact that we’ve seen so little the more telling thing? Continue Reading…

In the wee hours of Sunday morning, Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports dropped one of his patented “bombs“, which is usually fun, because he (often unexpectedly) reports a big piece of league news. But in this instance, for Timberwolves fans, the Woj-bomb was more of a vague reference to a landmine somewhere along Flip Saunders’ path, which wasn’t much fun to wake up to. Continue Reading…

Last week, in reviewing Othyus Jeffers’ brief tenure with the Wolves, I made mention of the thin line separating NBA rotation players from D-Leaguers. The same could be said of the margin between making an NBA roster out of training camp and finding yourself on the outside looking in. In this most recent Timberwolves’ preseason, four players were competing for the team’s final two roster spots. AJ Price and second-round pick Lorenzo Brown were vying to be the team’s third point guard. And Robbie Hummel and Jeffers were competing for the team’s final wing spot.

Hummel, a not-terribly-athletic 24-year-old rookie with two surgically reconstructed knees may have seemed like the longshot of the two. But he had two things going for him that Jeffers did not: First, Hummel had a reputation as a three-point shooter. And the Wolves, still in morning-after mode after the worst outside shooting season basically ever, were desperate for three-point shooters. Second, Hummel’s size (he’s not the 6’8″ he’s listed at, but he’s still a big guard) allows him to guard multiple positions. Jeffers can’t say the same. Hummel made the team.

Let’s take the last part first. Hummel is indeed a versatile defender who can guard twos, threes and the occasional four. He doesn’t lock anyone down or create holy chaos like Corey Brewer, and you certainly wouldn’t want to stick him on your opponent’s most dynamic scorer, but his court awareness, body positioning and great effort generally mitigate his lack of footspeed. He grabs some rebounds he probably shouldn’t be able to grab; he contests some shots you wouldn’t think he could contest. The Wolves were able to plug him into various spots in the lineup throughout the year without being punished too severely for it.

All of these are useful things. If Hummel had turned out to be a great or even above-average three-point shooter, they would feel like nice corollary benefits. (As in: “Wow, what a shooter–and how nice that he plays hard and can passably guard three positions!”) But Hummel was not an above-average three-point shooter; he was an exactly average three-point shooter, (I mean exactly: both the league as a whole and Hummel himself hit 36% of their threes). And hitting wide-open, spot-up threes is by far the best thing Hummel does. Once he moves inside the arc, things get dicey. 27.3% of Hummel’s field goal attempts came in the dreaded “long-two” zone–and he hit just 29.2% of those shots. He isn’t quick or skilled enough to create space for himself off the dribble and he isn’t athletic enough to hit contested shots.

And so, despite his average three-point shooting, despite his skill at spotting up in open space on the floor, Hummel’s True Shooting rate was a deeply below-average 49.2%. In other words, he wasn’t really helping the team much offensively. Indeed, Hummel’s mediocrity was a contributing factor to the Wolves’ difficulties off the bench this season and their general lack of outside shooting by players not named Kevin. I would be surprised if Hummel finds himself in a Wolves uniform again next season.

 

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It was all downhill from here.

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.

In one of the season’s final games, a loss at home to the Chicago Bulls, FSN North color analyst Jim Petersen issued a plea for Timberwolves fans to keep hope alive for Alexey Shved. It was a long, frustrating season for the second-year man from Belgorod, Russia, and Petersen, being the positive force that he is, attempted to highlight his strengths – size and athleticism. “Don’t give up on him,” said Jim Pete. “He can still find a way to put it together.”

When Shved arrived, I was excited at the prospect of a combo guard with passing acumen, leaping ability and a solid jump shot – which is the bill of goods we were sold in July of 2012. The first two months of his career were solid enough to warrant cautious optimism… but then everything fell apart. He was in the rotation through the middle of January, but never produced nearly enough to stay there, and his minutes waned as the season drew to a closeHis slight build puts him at a disadvantage on the defensive end to begin with, and the rigors of the long NBA season, plus the nightly chore of running through and around large, screening bigs, wore him out. Offensively, he did a few good things in his rookie season, but nothing went right in 2013-14. Running the pick and roll at the NBA level is a riddle he’s never solved; his inconsistent shot mechanics leave him prone to long stretches of futility.

To put it bluntly, and to politely disobey the inestimable Jim Petersen: I’m giving up on Alexey Shved. Continue Reading…