For Friday night’s game preview against the New Orleans Hornets (or Pelicans) we’ve partnered with Christian Blanks from Swarmandsting.com. We’ve posed a few questions to one another on several hot topics for both teams.
The Pups come into Friday’s game off of a win at home on Wednesday night against the Nuggets, putting the team above the .500 line at 10-9 and in third place in the Northwest division. Despite giving up 100+ points, the Wolves were able to get the win behind big performances from Pekovic and Barea. Wednesday’s game broke a streak of 14 games in which the Wolves gave up 100+ points and lost.
The rebuilding Hornets are currently last in the Western Conference with a 5-16 record and enter Friday’s game off of a loss Wednesday night against the Thunder. The loss extended their losing streak to five games. As their record suggests, it has been a struggle so far this season for the Hornets, particularly on the offensive end, with the team 28th in the league in scoring at 91.5 ppg.
Rather than crunch the numbers any further, let’s go straight to a source. Here’s our Q&A …
Hornets Question #1 for Christian:
The Hornets have two high profile rookies on their squad, one is playing well (Davis) while the other is struggling (Rivers). What can we expect from the two of them on Friday night and what are their particular strengths and weaknesses?
Although Austin Rivers is struggling he is slowly but surely getting better. I think Rivers is a clear cut example of a player that may have left college a year or two prematurely, but fortunately for Rivers he was drafted by a New Orleans Hornets team that desperately needs him. Not too many rookies ever would average almost 27 minutes per game while only averaging 6.5 points, 2 assist, and 2 rebounds. Rivers production has been extremely sporadic this season and has not been consistent at all. With that being said I would not expect too much form Rivers in the Timberwolves first matchup against the Hornets, or even the second on January 11th; but come March 17th expect Austin Rivers to be a more “seasoned” NBA rookie, scoring in double-digits at a higher rate.
Anthony Davis has missed 11 straight games due to an ankle injury but it was good to see him play 25 minutes in the loss to the Washington Wizards Tuesday night. Davis came off the bench and did not miss a beat in his return, posting 13 points, 8 rebounds, 3 steals, and 3 blocks. Davis has been pretty consistent in his production, averaging 16 points, 8 rebounds, and 2 blocks. It will be interesting to see how Davis will fare against former USA teammate Kevin Love. It will be a good test for Davis as Love is such a dominant rebounder and low post presence. Love’s rebounding fundamentals may keep Davis off the boards a bit if they are matched up against each other. Although I would expect Davis to continue his production level against the T-wolves on Friday as he will be on the floor for the majority of the game, barring injuries or foul trouble.
Pups Question #1 for John:
I know that Kevin Love is simply a “beast” on the offensive side but how will he match on the defensive end against the Hornets? The Hornets rely heavily on their bigs Ryan Anderson, Anthony Davis, and even Robin Lopez some for the majority of their scoring. Will Love be chasing around Anderson who can spread the floor and shoot the lights out? Or will Love be down low guarding Davis and Lopez who both have a slight height and athleticism advantage?
Love’s individual play on the defensive side of the ball is actually pretty solid. He doesn’t get any recognition here because he isn’t very good at team defense, rotations, and/or blocking shots. Given those limitations, I believe this easily gets tied together when thinking more holistically at “defense” and perceptions of Love. (Which to be honest has largely been the case when thinking about players in the NBA for as long as I can remember.)
While I don’t think he’ll have much of a problem matching up against Anderson (assuming he is mentally “in” the game), you might see the team go small and put Love at the 5 and AK47 at the 4. Kirilenko is a defensive stud and can definitely handle Anderson. If that were to happen, I wouldn’t be too worried about Love’s disadvantages vs. Davis as Love will play solid man on man defense on the floor and will be able to push him around to bit to make him as uncomfortable as possible.
The Wolves have a ton of flexibility on their front line, which is also their core strength given the players mentioned above, along with Nikola Pekovic, Dante Cunningham, and Derrick Williams.
Hornets Question #2 for Christian:
This team hit the reset button when it traded Chris Paul. What’s the next step in the process for the team and what are your expectations for that coming to fruition? On a related note, how or where does Eric Gordon fit in with the Hornets or do you expect him to be moved?
The Hornets have made some great strides in building a great team. There was only so much the Hornets could do this past off-season when it came to acquiring players. Unfortunately for the Hornets, they had a few bad contracts in Emeka Okafor and Trevor Ariza. Many may have forgotten at this point but the Hornets are paying Rashard Lewis $13 million this season as a result of them buying out his $21 million contract. This past off-season was huge for the Hornets, with all the new pieces they added, but this upcoming off-season will be the one that makes or breaks them. The Hornets will have almost $20 million in cap space to spend and as of right now it looks like the Hornets will be in the lottery once again. The Hornets have set themselves up to be the next great team, they just need to continue building and develop players such as Austin Rivers.
In regard to Eric Gordon, I cannot wait for him to come back. The way the Hornets are playing, he seems to be the missing link. With Ryan Anderson leading the league in 3-pointers and Grevis Vasquez averaging almost 9 assists, having Gordon out there will only make their jobs easier. In almost every game since the pre-season the Hornets offense has looked stagnant at times forcing Anderson to shoot a contested 3. Eric Gordon is a prolific scorer and will fit right in with the Hornets right away. I would not expect Gordon to be moved, especially with him dealing with knee injuries, there is no way the Hornets will receive enough value back for Gordon in a trade.
Pups Question #2 for Big Al:
What is going on with Kevin Love and Timberwolves management? It seems Kevin Love is near demanding for a trade, do you see that as a possibility or is Love just blowing smoke? What will make Kevin Love happy in Minnesota?
Kevin Love’s recent comments come to no surprise for diligent Timberwolves fans, as he has explicitly stated his frustration with personnel turnover and team competitiveness spanning the past two seasons. I have mixed reactions to Love’s recent comment with Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports, and I will begin by stating that K-Love has every right to be frustrated with Timberwolves management. While I differ from nearly every other Timberwolves fan in demanding that David Kahn be fired as the team’s general manager, I do believe that the team has missed out on many potential opportunities to improve the team since Love’s arrival, beginning with the trade of Al Jefferson for a measly two protected first-round draft choices. Selling low on Big Al cost the team the chance to potentially acquire a valuable piece for the team, and Minnesota has most notably misfired on multiple high lottery picks over the past five years. It is completely up to the Wolves brass to evaluate talent and to select players that can provide long-term value for the franchise, and there is really no excuse for poor selections of Jonny Flynn (no. 6 overall) and Wesley Johnson (no. 4 overall).
While I strongly believe that there is merit and validation behind Love’s recent statements, I question the purpose behind and timing of the interview in which Love appeared to alienate his teammates and management. Following the uproar caused by the interview, Love came right back and stated that he would love to spend the rest of his career in Minnesota and that much of the story was taken out of context. However, it comes as no surprise that we may only see Kevin in Minnesota blue for the remainder of his contract (which contains an ETO after 2014-15). Love, a former UCLA star with Los Angeles ties, would make perfect sense as a Laker. His outgoing personality and great competitive fire may be too much for a small market team with financial constraints and an inability to lure marquee free agents. In my eyes, the future of Kevin Love in Minnesota lies in the hands of teammate and emerging star Ricky Rubio, who very well may be the most valuable player to the Wolves. Love, who was not offered the maximum 5-year contract because Timberwolves management intends on saving the designated player tag for Rubio, has an ongoing personal feud with owner Glen Taylor and GM David Kahn which is increasingly creating friction between management and players.
With all of that said, I adamantly trust Love when he states his affection for the team and organization, as they have shown him nothing but support and he has quickly become a sports hero throughout the state. The Timberwolves have a few important decisions to make which will have large implications for the future of the team. What will the Wolves do with Derrick Williams? Is Alexey Shved the long-term answer at SG? Will Kahn return as GM next season or will the team attempt to appease Love by hiring a much more proven candidate?
Hornets Question #3 for Christian:
From afar, I’ve been impressed with Monty Williams’ coaching style and demeanor. He signed the four year extension this summer and is locked up. Do you see him as the long term answer, or do you think he’s good for a young team but would eventually need to be replaced for the team to become a title contender?
As the Hornets grow as a team Monty Williams will grow as a coach. This is almost a perfect situation, we all know the Hornets are not championship contenders right now so that gives Williams time to learn his players and better his coaching style. Without Eric Gordon and the fact that Coach Williams is coaching a lot of these players for the first time, makes any short-term success a bonus. Right now, no I do not think Williams coaching style would work with a veteran team such as the Spurs or Lakers. But he is perfect for this Hornets team and he will be around for a while.
Pups Question #3 for John:
Being in a tough division with the Thunder, Nuggets, Trail Blazers, and Jazz, do you see the Timberwolves making the playoffs? If so do you believe they can contend? If not what are some missing pieces to the puzzle in Minnesota?
The Twolves should be in the playoffs this season. With the return of Ricky Rubio coming any day now, this team should start to win more frequently come January – March and secure its spot in the playoffs. Given the key injuries this team has already dealt with (Rubio, Love, Budinger, Roy …) it is a “win” in my book that they have been able to tread water to this point in the season.
I don’t see the Pups as contenders this season at all. There are too many new faces and missing pieces coming and going to really build the necessary familiarity between teammates. However, with another offseason forthcoming and the ability to tinker with the pieces, I would expect the Wolves to be a surprise contender next season. I say surprise because no one will really talk about them going into the season unless they pull off an upset in the first round this year.
They need to tinker with their SG and SF rotation still. The Brandon Roy signing looks like it isn’t going to pan out. Chase Budinger was playing well but he is also up for a new contract after this year. Beyond AK47 and Alexey Shved – who has been playing very well – there isn’t much to choose from. This might be answered via trade with Derrick Williams or one of our backup PG’s (Ridnour or Barea). It might come from the draft. Either way, it needs to happen between now and the start of next year’s season in order for the Wolves to be legitimate contenders, even with a very stacked conference.
Bonus: Hornets Questions #4 for Christian:
I have to ask, Hornets or Pelicans and why?
Hornets. I have been trying to get used to saying New Orleans Pelicans and it just does not seem to roll smoothly off the tongue as an NBA team names should. I am very much open to change and excited for the New Orleans to undergo such a huge change that would bring more ownership to their NBA franchise, but the Pelicans? The new proposed logo looks great and the colors look somewhat unique (they seem to resemble the Cleveland Cavaliers colors), but the purple and teal is a classic. Charlotte wants the Hornets name and color back for a reason. I personally would not dump the Hornets for the Pelicans, but it could be worse. I was not a big fan of the Oklahoma City Thunder at first either so maybe it will just take some time to get adjusted.
We hope you enjoyed the preview for this Friday’s match-up between the Pups and Cavs. Again, you can read more from Andrew at swarmandsting.com and/or follow him on Twitter. You can read more from John and Big Al on Timberpups.com and/or follow @Timberpupsblog and John on Twitter.