4518528819_3c3d41112d_o

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…

RUUUUFIO

After being tantalized (or annoyed) with the slow release of the upcoming NBA schedule via the Twitter accounts of Adrian Wojnarowski and others all day Wednesday, the full slate of the Timberwolves’ 2014-15 games was released by the team at 5:00 PM central. Here is a succinct rundown of a few particulars, first from the Wolves’ official website: Continue Reading…

LoveTraded

The Summer of Love is finished.

Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports is reporting the Minnesota Timberwolves and Cleveland Cavaliers have agreed to a trade that will send Kevin Love to the Cavs in exchange for Andrew Wiggins, Anthony Bennett and a 2015 first round pick. Also, Love is finally getting his five-year deal with a “firm agreement” that Love will opt out of his deal in 2015 and sign a five-year, $120 million-plus deal. From YahooContinue Reading…

012413_thad-young_600

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.

(Getty Images)

(Getty Images)

The Minnesota Timberwolves made a free agency play today.

According to Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports, the Wolves have agreed to a one-year deal with former Portland Trail Blazers backup point guard Maurice Williams. The deal nets Williams $3.75 million, according to Woj, and gives the Wolves and Wolves’ fans the backup point guard they’ve been craving.

Continue Reading…

UPDATE: Here’s a better video from our friends at BallisLife.com.

At the Seattle Pro-Am today, Zach LaVine won the 2015 NBA Slam Dunk championship, presented by… let’s just guess it’s still Sprite.

I’m having a hard time figuring out which one was my favorite dunk from this HoopMixTape Instagram. It could have been the off-the-bounce, around-the-back dunk. It could have been the off-the-backboard, 360 two-handed dunk. It could have been the off-the-bounce, between-the-legs dunk that made a regulation hoop look like the Nerf hoop I had in my bedroom. It could have been the cup-the-ball, full windmill dunk that he makes look SO much easier than it really should be. It could have been the step-inside-the-free-throw-line windmill that made me pee a little.

OK, it was a lot. I don’t want to choose a favorite dunk, just like most parents don’t want to choose a favorite child. He’s going to be so fun to have for the next 4 to 30 years.

This is not altered in any way.

This is not altered in any way.

HUMMEL2K

Several random thoughts, in bullet form, on the Wolves’ re-signing of forward Robbie Hummel and what it means for the roster moving forward:

– First things first: on a personal level, I’m really happy Hummel is coming back, with a fully guaranteed contract to boot. After blowing out both knees in college and toiling in the Spanish ACB for a season, it’s nice to see him rewarded with a little bit of security. He’s affable, smart, seems like a good teammate and is great to the media (which fans may not care much about, but those of us at AWAW all appreciate it).

– As far as on-court contributions go, the general feeling is that Hummel outperformed what his offensive statistics showed during his rookie season in the NBA. 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.

Continue Reading…

glengarry-glen-ross

I was going to start this post by saying, “Summer League is not really about wins and losses,” but then realized I was hedging: Summer League is NOT about wins and losses. What it is is a living breathing existential paradox. On the one hand, it’s an inherently fragile and unstable arrangement, a weird bardo region where agglomerations of rookies, sophomores and journeymen masquerade as NBA teams while competing for the glory of … something via a tournament that each team seems more interested in losing. On the other, it’s where professional basketball reaches maximum entropy, an undifferentiated state where possessions are born and die in a vacuum without accumulating any meaning beyond their short lifespans.

So how did the Wolves do? Well, they finished 2-4 but see above. The returns on rookies Zach LaVine and Glenn Robinson III — both based on what I got to see of them and talking to other media members and the buzz on Twitter — are good overall. In last night’s consolation game (the team’s fourth in four days), LaVine had 22 points, including going 9-10 from the line, a very positive sign for a player about whom there are some questions with regard to his physicality in getting to the rim through contact. Robinson had 17 and, although he struggled with his shot to the tune of 2-6 from distance, his overall game looked solid, if not particularly polished. Overall, he’s shot 38.5% in Summer League, but neither his jumper nor LaVine’s (who shot .397) look broken. Like most rookies, they need to adjust to the speed of the game, the length of the 3-point line and hundred other little things.

They both seem to feel pretty secure in their self-assessments after their first taste of quasi-NBA action.

“I’m a very confident person and I always hold myself to high standards,” said LaVine after the Wolves final game, a 97-78 pantsing of the Pelicans. “You know, there’s a lot of doubters on me and I always like changing people’s minds. You know, ‘Am I NBA ready?’ and things like that.”

LaVine’s tack of “prove the haters wrong” is a time-tested one, a solid choice for a rookie and one that works pretty well as he continues to navigate the fallout from his less-than-ideal word choice after being picked by the Wolves. He went on to tick off all the right things to work on and/or show in Summer League.

“Show people that I can play point guard, run the team, knock down shots, play good defense and help the team win. I know we didn’t win many games, but we competed and that’s the main thing coming out here: getting a feel for the game and competing.”

Summer League might be wearing me down to a nubbin, but LaVine was very positive about the experience. “This is one of the coolest things,” he said. “I feel like I’m going to be in it next year as well and it’s really enjoyable. It’s good for the fans and there’s a lot of excitement getting out there with your team.”

He also continued to flash some considerable charm when I asked him about how he’s enjoyed Las Vegas outside of the basketball so far. “Hey I’m 19: there ain’t much for a 19 year old to do in Vegas. But I kick it in my hotel. Me and my whole family went bowling. I beat my little sister and my dad in bowling — no, wait: my dad beat me. I’m not very good.”

Glenn of House Robinson, Third of His Name, King of the And-ones and the Second Round was as steady in talking about his game as he was on the court, where he neither over- nor underwhelmed but instead did chunks of good stuff here and there. Basically, perfectly whelmed.

On the broadcast of the Wolves’ first Summer League game, Mateen Cleaves commented that he thought Robinson’s game might actually work better in the NBA than in college and I think Robinson’s Summer League performance showed flashes of this. He’s athletic and a capable finisher, but not an overwhelming physical force at the college level the way, say, Derrick Williams was. Williams’ physicality hasn’t translated so far at the NBA level, but Robinson’s — which is more reliant on opportunism at the rim — could, especially if he gets his 3-point shot sorted out enough to make people bite on it.

“On the court with a point guard like Zach or with Ricky Rubio, I love penetrating and reading other players,” he said. “I think it’ll be fun. I think my game definitely fits the NBA style.”

Most heartwarmingly, he said he was a big fan of NBA 2K and when I asked him about which teams he uses, he said, “Man, now I just play with the Timberwolves.” There’s something so endearingly sweet about a guy getting drafted and then playing with the team who drafted him before he’s even hit the court with them.

Of course, this Wolves Summer League team had to endure the swirl of rumors and jokes (many of them by me) about whether Andrew Wiggins and Anthony Bennett were going to suit up for them in Vegas. There’s still a lot of uncertainty surrounding the roster, but that’s nothing new at this point in the year. Last year, the Wolves player who looked the best coming out of Summer League was center Chris Johnson, who was waived before the season started.

The one thing you can count on is A LOT of Glengarry Glen Ross jokes in recaps this season.

Tyler the Creator, who look very much like Andrew Wiggins

You have most likely seen the reports that the Cavaliers have relented a bit in their unwillingness to include Andrew Wiggins in a deal for Kevin Love. Here is the original story from the Lake Country News Herald:

Up until this point, it was assumed the Cavs wanted to hang onto Wiggins, largely because of comments made by Coach David Blatt. However, a source said James wants the 6-10, 250-pound Love on the roster. And, what James wants, he normally gets.

Cleveland’s original reluctance may simply have been a negotiating tactic–though if it was, they seem to have given up on it rather early in the game–but the lack of consensus around this issue has been shocking to me. Check it out, two out of four Grantland writers and seven out of 12 NBA GM’s would not move Wiggins for Love. Experts! So let me understand this. You would refuse a trade to pair one of the league’s ten-best players (which is, by the way, a statement of fact), a floor-spacing, glass-eating, high-post passing, outlet machine, with LeBron James while both are in their primes.  Which trade would give you the most formidable Big Three in the league (yeah, I capitalized that) and would automatically make you the favorite in the East. And you refuse this trade because one day, when LeBron is in his thirties and has played some 50,000 NBA minutes, Wiggins has a chance of becoming…one of the leauge’s ten-best players? I understand that it’s painful to let a player with as much talent as Wiggins walk–I’d say we Wolves fans know exactly how painful that is actually–but Cleveland really has no choice.

From the Wolves’ perspective, this is the only trade that has a chance of getting them even close to equal value. Klay Thompson is a nice player and everything, and Flip is right to insist that he be involved in any discussion with Golden State. (Although, please, Kevin Love for David Lee, Harrison Barnes and a future first rounder from a team that would likely be picking in the twenties? That is a hilarious joke!) But, as Zach pointed out some weeks ago, that trade feels, at my most optimistic, like a one-way-ticket to possibly competing for the eighth seed. You’ve just given up one of the two best players in franchise history in exchange for a lot of salary and not much hope for getting better.

No thanks. I’d much rather play out the season with Love on the roster and pray that the animal spirits bless the Wolves with some miraculous change in fortune. (It could happen!!!!!) Barring that, a player of Wiggins’ potential–or at least a draft pick that gives you the hope of landing such a player–is the only way to make this completely depressing situation feel even a little ok.