Minnesota Timberwolves 92 – Sacramento Kings 80

November 2, 2012. Associated Press – Jim Mone.

In the home and season opener for the Minnesota Timberwolves, the T-wolves knocked off an inferior Sacramento Kings team by a score of 92-80 for their first win of the 2012-13 season. Fans got to witness a completely different style of basketball and a revamped roster, led by newcomer Andrei Kirilenko and second-year Timberpup JJ Barea.

Left without team leaders Kevin Love and Ricky Rubio until approximately mid-December, the Pups were not as offensively competent as they will be at full strength. However, their matured team IQ was on full display against a very young and undeveloped Kings squad. For the Kings, there were flashes of great basketball, but also glimpses of absolute immaturity – as shown by Isaiah Thomas’ missed fast-break layup and Thomas Robinson’s double dribble.

The biggest difference in this game came down to foul trouble and team defense, as the Kings committed 34 fouls to the Wolves 17. Demarcus Cousins was especially hampered by foul trouble, as he was only able to play 25 minutes while scoring a mere 11 points.

The top performances of the night came from Andrei Kirilenko and JJ Barea. AK-47 put on a defensive clinic for all eyes to witness while having an extremely efficient night scoring. Kirilenko finished with the following stat line: 10 points (4-7 from the field), 7 rebounds, 5 assists and 1 block in 30 minutes of play. The addition by subtraction of trading Wes Johnson, combined with the addition of Kirilenko, made the Timberwolves wing play look like a much improved area, even with Derrick Williams and Chase Budinger having off-nights.

JJ Barea ultimately was the key to thoroughly manipulating the Kings team defense as JJ used his speed to find holes in the defense and got to the rim very effectively. The Puerto Rican was a game-high +26 on the floor and had what I believe to be his best game as a Pup. He finished with 21 points (6-11 from the field, 8-8 from the free-throw line), 5 assists, 4 rebounds and only 1 turnover in 27 minutes. It was performances like these in the 2010 playoffs that prompted the Wolves to sign Barea and I am sure they were very pleased by his performance of last night. It also helped that Barea’s matchup was one of the only other PGs in the league who is smaller than him (Isaiah Thomas, 5’9”).

Three-point shooting was a major concern last night, and following last night’s performance many of those same concerns were not alleviated. As a team, the Wolves shot a combined 2-17 (12%) from downtown and newcomers Brandon Roy and Chase Budinger – who are supposed to be big answers to the team’s shooting woes – went a combined 0-10 from three-point range. The fact that Minnesota shot so poorly and was able to win by a healthy margin appears to be a good problem to have, but after watching so many threes rattle off the rim last night it remains a little concerning. The loss of K-Love was obviously going to take a toll on the Wolves’ ability to shoot the long ball, but the Pups will need to have a few players step up and start knocking down some threes.

Brandon Roy played his first regular season NBA game since 2010 and had an efficient yet quiet night. Roy was most notable in his directing of the offense and his smooth passing. In 30 minutes, Roy finished with 10 points (4-14 shooting), 6 assists, 5 rebounds and only 1 turnover. He also drew a very clutch offensive foul on a driving Tyreke Evans with 3:45 left in the game, another display of the veteran savvy he brings to the end of games. Overall, I thought Roy had a decent game and if he can start knocking down more shots – particularly from three – we should have an above-average starting SG. It must be noted that it is very evident on the court that Roy’s foot speed and cutting ability are a shadow of his former abilities. However, Roy is smart enough and is an adequately capable passer and spot shooter, which should allow him to continue to be a very nice player in this league should his knees not fail him.

In his NBA debut, Alexey Shved struggled to gain any sort of rhythm and looked nervous and scared in front of all those Target Center fans. The skinny and lanky Russian import was indecisive and did not look confident with or without the ball, and it is clear that the nerves of his first NBA game were contributing to his obvious timidity on the court. I am not trying to bash the guy, because I sincerely believe that his abilities in the pick-and-roll are enough to potentially make him a very effective second option in this Adelman offense. However, it may take some time – and a weight and strength program – to get the Russian up to speed.

Nikola Pekovic had a relatively quiet night, and Sacramento’s frontcourt did a nice job defending the slimmed down center. In 32 minutes, Pek finished with 9 points (2-8 shooting), 5 rebounds and 1 block. Getting his Timberwolves debut was Greg Stiemsma, who played a very good game in Pek’s stead off the bench. Stiemsma brought hustle and tremendous defense and was everything that Darko could not be last night. In only 16 minutes, Stiemsma finished with 9 points (3-7 shooting), 7 rebounds and a very impressive 4 blocked shots. Now, the Steamer may not have a very pretty jump shot, but the energy and shot-blocking he brought was a huge difference maker and was something the Pups desperately lacked last season.

Alongside Stiemsma in the second unit frontcourt was new addition Dante Cunningham, who also provided tremendous defense on the low block. The thing I loved seeing the most out of Cunningham is his obvious understanding of his role and his knowing exactly where he fits with this team. Last year we had to put up with Anthony Tolliver hoisting up every three-pointer he could get his hands on, but Cunningham instead focuses on running set plays, setting screens, and taking shots only when adequately set up for him. It is not to make him appear timid, but to recognize that he understands the limitations of his game and instead focuses on his strengths. Cunningham finished with 7 points (3-6 shooting), 9 rebounds, and a +21 in 25 minutes.

The biggest off-nights came from Derrick Williams, Alexey Shved, Chase Budinger, and Luke Ridnour. While Ridnour did not play excessively poorly, it was more so that Barea greatly outplayed him and so limited the team’s starting PG to only 20 minutes. D-Will struggled mightily, scoring 8 points off a horrendous 3-12 shooting and failing to maintain body control on his drives and cuts. Williams needs to slow the game down for himself, and find a way to get quick separation in order to get more space on his shots. Budinger also shot 3-12 from the field including missing all 5 of his three-pointers, and will need to start draining the outside shot if he is to be particularly effective in this offense.

Overall, it was a nice win for our Pups and a solid start to a season when considering the absence of Kevin Love and Ricky Rubio. Here are my three stars of the game:

  1. JJ Barea
  2. Andrei Kirilenko
  3. Greg Stiemsma