Timberwolves Summer League Rewind

Shabazz Muhammad at Timberwolves Summer League

“Here’s what we need you to do Shabazz…”
(Photo credit: Chase Stevens / Las Vegas Review Journal)

While the Summer League rolls on tonight and tomorrow, the Timberwolves’ participation in the tournament ended this past Friday.  After falling to the D-League Select team for the second time on Thursday, the Wolves were bounced out of the tournament, wrapping up with a consolation game on Friday – their fifth game in as many nights.

The Pups finished the tournament with a 3-3 record.  Their wins came against the Heat, Kings, and Blazers, while they lost to the D-League team twice and lost at the buzzer to the Suns.  What did we learn from the Timberwolves Summer League session?  I think there are a few takeaways from the week.

  1. Shabazz Muhammad is going to work his tail off to get meaningful minutes.
  2. As Flip alluded to during one of the broadcasts, Gorgui Dieng is ready to play in the NBA from a defensive standpoint, but has a good amount of work to do on the other end of the floor.
  3. Beyond Muhammad and Dieng, there is likely only to be one open roster spot and a few guys from this team made a decent case for that spot.

#1 – Shabazz’s role on the Wolves this coming season

With the return of Chase Budinger and the signings of Kevin Martin and Corey Brewer, Muhammad is joining a herd of solid wings now on the roster.  Shabazz didn’t light the Summer League on fire by any stretch.  In fact, he had one very strong game and then a bunch of mediocre ones, struggling to find his shot from the floor (37% for the tournament) and from the free throw line (35% …?!?!).  He didn’t rebound necessarily well (2.2 per game) and turned the ball over twice a game.

This isn’t meant to be a “world is on fire / he’s going to be a bust” proclamation, but I would feel a lot better about Muhammad if he led the team in scoring (he was fourth) and played a little bit better overall.  Shabazz is going to have to come in and learn Adelman’s system and turn on the defensive effort and team approach to earn his minutes.  We have seen what Adelman has done with Derrick Williams over the past two seasons and the team can’t afford to have that repeat itself with Muhammad … and that is on Shabazz to “fix”.

One of the biggest nuggets of information during the broadcasts were comments made by Sam Mitchell who said it might be of benefit for Muhammad to spend some time in the D-League this coming year to play big minutes.  If the Pups play well to start the season and are not using Muhammad in the regular rotation, I have a hard time debating this.  If the team has a week where they are only playing two games and/or are on the road for a two or three game swing with travel days in between, it also makes sense to ask Shabazz to go down to the D-League and play heavy minutes as a way to keep him fresh and hopefully expedite the learning curve a bit.  The negative connotation of being sent (“down”) to the D-League seems to be going away slowly but surely and if positioned correctly, should not be viewed as a demotion or be a problem for Muhammad.

#2 – Gorgui Dieng’s role on the Wolves

In about 15 minutes of action per game, Dieng showed flashes of strong basketball.  While averaging 4.8ppg, the center shot the ball well from the floor (55%) and the line (71%) and showed the ability to hit an open jump shot and a few moves around the paint with decent footwork.  Dieng also averaged 1.2 blocks per game over the course of the tournament.

With the assumption that Nikola Pekovic is back, Dieng, Chris Johnson, and Ronnie Turiaf will all be vying for backup minutes at the center position (along with the expectation that Kevin Love will see some minutes here as well).  Dieng showed enough to me that he can certainly fill in with spot minutes and not look completely out of his element.  Will there be a learning curve?  Of course.  But Dieng will have the benefit of not being forced out there and relied upon for huge contributions with this squad.  What he needs to do is be a sponge and absorb everything he can – learn a few offensive moves, study opponents’ tendencies to be a better defender, etc.

Everything that Dieng says in interviews is positive.  He’s only played basketball for six years and my opinion is that he will be able to play in this league and be a net-positive contributor for the Wolves down the line.

#3 – Who is going to take the last roster spot

Barring something close to a blockbuster deal (Barea and Williams for XXX, or similar) there is likely one roster spot open and that person will likely come from this Summer League team.  Here is what the roster currently looks like:

  1. Ricky Rubio – PG
  2. JJ Barea – PG
  3. Alexey Shved – PG/SG
  4. Kevin Martin – SG
  5. Corey Brewer – SG/SF
  6. Shabazz Muhammad – SG/SF
  7. Chase Budinger – SF
  8. Dante Cunningham – SF/PF
  9. Kevin Love – PF
  10. Derrick Williams – PF
  11. Nikola Pekovic – C
  12. Ronnie Turiaf – C
  13. Chris Johnson – C
  14. Gorgui Dieng – C
  15. ???

Who has earned that spot?  Here are the players that are up for consideration in my opinion, based on their play in Las Vegas.  I’m rank ordering this with the most likely player being:

Robbie Hummel – I thought Robbie looked great in Las Vegas.  He looked leaner and a bit quicker.  He also took care of the dirty work for the team, trying to draw charges and leading the team in rebounding (5.8rpg).  You need players like Hummel at the end of your lineup to be ready to come in at random moments, create chaos, give up a few fouls, etc.  Barring injury – knowing his past – I think Hummel earned the spot on the Wolves opening night roster.

Othyus Jeffers – This selection actually changed when I looked through the full numbers, comparing Jeffers to McCamey.  I thought both were relatively solid at the wing positions for the Timberwolves Summer League squad.  However, Jeffers rebounded the ball a little bit better (3.8 vs. 2.0pg), turned the ball over less (0.8 vs. 1.8pg), and committed less fouls (0.8 vs. 2.2pg).  Jeffers also shot over 50% during the week and looked like someone worthy of a spot on an NBA roster.  Given the Wolves’ needs for a defensive minded wing on the bench, I would not be surprised if Jeffers was selected over Hummel (and others).

Demetri McCamey – Everything that was just mentioned above in the comparison between the two, with the Wolves’ roster needs included, McCamey would be my third choice/preference to make the team.

Lorenzo Brown – I don’t see the need for Brown on the Wolves right now, particularly when you consider Ricky Rubio is going to be play 35+ minutes a night, and then have JJ Barea and Alexey Shved as potential sparkplugs coming off the bench to play point guard for a few minutes.  Add this to the fact that there is no longer a need to play Brown as a small SG/wing and it all aggregates to Brown being the odd man out.

Lorenzo had a very strong final game in the tournament, but there were also a handful of moments where all I could do was cringe.  He was a bit of a chucker, which would be OK if he was shooting somewhere north of his 39% for the week.  I also noticed that Brown struggled to produce at the end of a handful of quarters, whether that was finding a teammate for a basket or pounding the ball into the floor while the clock ticked down and then missing a shot.  Brown is another candidate to send to the D-League and have him play big minutes down there and learn.

Kee Kee Clark – It is a good problem to have when you haven’t even touched on the leading scorer for the team until now.  I thought Clark played well in Las Vegas, starting three games for the squad and leading the team with 8.7ppg.  However, I can’t justify putting him in the 15th slot on the roster based on the four names above.  One bizarre note for Kee Kee – he didn’t attempt a single free throw in Las Vegas, playing just under 20mpg.  I didn’t think that was possible.

So that just about sums up the week from Las Vegas and what decisions Flip Saunders and crew have to make over the coming weeks.  Dear NBA season, please hurry up and get here!  Here is a page that will provide the basics on the Wolves’ performance in Vegas.

Do you have any lasting impressions from Timberwolves Summer League play?  Who would you like to see get that last roster spot?  (LeBron James is not an acceptable answer.)