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.

 

alexey-shved-goes-trick-or-treating-1024x576

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…

NBA: Orlando Magic at Minnesota Timberwolves

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.

Men who are 6-foot-10 and 249 pounds are not often called a small thing, but Ronny Turiaf was definitely one of the small things that the Timberwolves could have used more of. Even sidelined for a big chunk of the first half of the season with a radial head fracture to his right elbow suffered in the second game of the year and then troubled by a knee injury that limited him in the second half, Turiaf was a vocal leader of the team. And when he actually played, the Wolves were 16-14, good for a winning percentage of .533 — better than their .488 season. And although Gorgui Dieng blossomed late and showed flashes of being the kind of defensive presence on the interior the Wolves sorely need, it was actually Turiaf who led the team in both blocks per game (1.6) and blocks per 36 minutes (3.0). Continue Reading…

ShabazzMatazz

As I’ve written here probably too many times, first round picks — especially lottery picks — come with certain expectations because of where they were drafted. Some of that makes sense. A team is a failure/bad and their “reward” for being such is an opportunity to improve by selecting from the best young players coming into the league. The hope is these players will improve things right away, when often that’s not the case at all. The biggest improvements come from veterans on the team, not rookies coming through and setting the league on fire.  Continue Reading…

 

If you’ve driven around 7th street and First avenue, you’ll notice there is some construction with Block E and the Target Center. The renovation process to update an old, fairly outdated arena is underway and we’ve finally received some artist renderings of what the outside will look like. Architectural Alliance and Sink Combos Dethlefs have been approved as the architecture and engineering team that will improve the Target Center, and as you can see from the renderings above, the designs for the exterior of the Target Center look fantastic.

Here is the full release from the Timberwolves:

New initial renderings for the redesigned Target Center were released today during the Minneapolis City Council’s Community Development & Regulatory Services Committee meeting.

The renderings represent initial design ideas from the design team, and final renderings will be produced as part of the full design process.

The committee also approved a contract with Architectural Alliance and Sink Combs Dethlefs as the architecture and engineering team to update and improve Target Center. Following this meeting, the Ways & Means Committee will hear the recommendation on May 19. On May 23, the full City Council will vote on whether to approve the design team selection.

Target Center is a City-owned community asset that’s been heavily used for 23 years. It is the 22nd busiest building in the nation, and 51st busiest in the world. It hosts about 200 events annually, and about a million visitors pass through its doors every year.

A large portion of the investment in renovations will go toward enhancing the visitor experience for all events, including basketball games, concerts and family shows. This will include improving the flow of entering and exiting the building as well as moving around inside Target Center. The renovated Target Center will also be more integrated into the downtown Minneapolis neighborhood. The transformed facility will be more transparent, giving patrons new views of downtown, while also allowing people outside the building to see the activity inside.  Additionally, visitors at all price levels will benefit from new amenities, including a new scoreboard, new seats and additional gathering spaces throughout the arena.

Assuming this gets pulled off properly, the Target Center could end up being a great place for a game experience, which may help improve upon the 27th best (or fourth worst depending on how you want to spin it) attendance in the league. A playoff team would also presumably improve upon said weak attendance.

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.

Othyus Jeffers is incredibly good at basketball. He is so good, in fact, that he has been named the Co-MVP of (arguably) the second-best professional league in the world, which means he is among the best 500 basketball players alive today. He is 6’5″, which is very tall by almost any standard you could imagine. He is probably stronger and quicker and more skilled and more athletically explosive than anyone you will ever know personally. Also, his name sounds like the name of a fictional space gladiator. Wouldn’t it be cool if you could say any of these things about yourself?

But Othyus Jeffers has a weird life because in professional basketball being the 300th best player in the world is wildly different from being the 500th best. The 300th-best player might be a rotation player on an NBA playoff team. He has a decent chance of keeping his job for an entire season and then coming back the next year. He has a good chance of a salary in the millions. But the 500th-best player’s life is not like that. This player scrapes by on a wage slightly lower than that of a first-year public-school teacher in New Mexico (which is to say: very low). He might play basketball in many different leagues in many different countries in the same year. He might get a fleeting chance to play in the league of his dreams, catch 34 minutes of burn over seven days and then get waived. He might currently be playing for a team called…The Talk ‘N Text Tropang Texters of the Philippine Basketball Association.

(That is a real basketball team! Say ‘text’ again!) As anyone who watched the Wolves’ Summer League squad, or who make a point of following the NBDL’s Iowa Energy, Othyus Jeffers does a lot of things really well. He attacks the basket with passion. He runs the floor. He rebounds and defends like he has murder in his heart. But the margins between that 300th-best player and that 500th-best player are very fine. If you are an off-guard who can’t shoot the three and aren’t quite long enough to guard the league’s bigger perimeter players, it doesn’t quite matter how hard you fight for boards or how lustily you throw yourself at the basket. Your road to the NBA will be a hard one.

I have very warm feelings for Othyus Jeffers. My sense of moral justice wants to believe there’s a place in the league for someone with such great desire and resolve.  But the NBA is a cold place. You can approach a 1:30 pm Summer League game–mostly a venue for 22-year-olds in weird practice jerseys to hoist 10 threes in eight minutes of court time–like it’s game 7 of the apocalypse; you, an undersized off-guard, can average 9.9 boards a game in the D-League (really!); you can throw a tomahawk on every Filipino who gets between you and the rim…you can do all that and still barely get the faintest look in the show.

PRICE

Luckily, someone thought to snap a photo during one of A.J. Price’s infrequent and brief appearances on the floor.

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.

What a strange, uneven, and relatively anonymous season it was for Anthony Jordan Price, better known as A.J., backup point guard to the backup point guard for the Minnesota Timberwolves. He was signed late in the free agency period last offseason (September 27th, just four days prior to training camp) and released before the end of the regular season (on April 3rd); in between, he never appeared in more than five consecutive games, tallied 99 total minutes on the floor, underwent an emergency appendectomy, and missed every free throw he attempted (yep – both of them). Continue Reading…

Adelman Photo

Monday morning, Rick Adelman took the stage outside the Wolves’ training facility and announced what many have long suspected: the 67-year-old is officially retiring from coaching in the NBA. He will remain with the organization as an advisor, but his days dealing with the worry of game-planning, roster construction, and the hassles of trekking across North America are over.

“It’s a real grind. You get some time off in the summer, but it’s pretty much on your mind all the time,” Adelman said. “There’s some sadness, but there’s also a relief. I’m ready and my wife’s ready to move on to another phase. We’re looking forward to that.” Continue Reading…

Gary Oldman Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead

Rosencrantz: We might as well be dead. Do you think death could possibly be a boat?

Guildenstern: No, no, no … Death is … not. Death isn’t. You take my meaning. Death is the ultimate negative. Not-being. You can’t not-be on a boat.

Rosencrantz: I’ve frequently not been on boats.

Guildenstern: No, no, no — what you’ve been is not on boats.

—Tom Stoppard

There’s a natural tendency for us to want endings to resonate. It’s why we put so much stock in things like the finales of Breaking Bad or True Detective or Lost. An ending is supposed to cast light back on what came before, to contextualize an experience, to put a punctuation mark on it. Even those of us who are pretty much okay with ambiguous endings like the fade at the end of The Sopranos or Don Gately waking up alone on a beach on the last page of Infinite Jest can still get suckered by that craving for some kind of final chord, whether resolved or suspended, a giant crash of three pianos playing a giant E at the end of “A Day In the Life.”

When this kind of closure fails to appear in sports, it’s doubly troubling. Every team — like more or less every person — likes to imagine themselves at the center of whatever story is being told, but the truth is that every season is only going to offer up one main character, one triumphant hero. There’s a reason Sports Illustrated puts out a handsomely bound edition that collects everything written about the Super Bowl or World Series or NBA Champions. Collected into a narrative that ends in crowning victory, everything starts to make sense.

But along the way, major supporting characters, minor supporting characters and extras all fall under the blade in service of that bigger story. If the eventual NBA champion is the hero of The Odyssey, enduring detours and overcoming challenges on the long road home, the runner-up is the hero of Hamlet, coming tantalizingly close to victory only to be felled at the last moment.

Which makes the 2013-14 Minnesota Timberwolves sort of like Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. Continue Reading…

Hand-in-face-of-Stephen-Curry

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…