Happy Thanksgiving Minnesota. In light of the holiday we at Timberpups brought together some bright Timberwolves minds to discuss a few key topics currently surrounding our favorite NBA franchise. Our first guest Kyle Ratke (@Kyle_Ratke) is a web editorial associate for the Minnesota Timberwolves and Lynx. Representing Howlin’ T-Wolf are Derek James (@DerekJamesNBA) and Tom Westerholm (@Tom_NBA), and writer for A Wolf Among Wolves Billy Bohl (@BreakTheHuddle) also joins us. Lastly, both myself (@glenhoops) and Zach Bennett (@ZacharyBD) decided to give it a go as well. Enjoy your turkey day Wolves fans!
1. What has been the nicest surprise so far for Minnesota?
Kyle: The biggest surprise so far is Robbie Hummel being implemented into the rotation after almost missing out on being on the team in Training Camp. His minutes could change with the addition of Mbah a Moute, but at least the Wolves know they have other guy on the bench they can depend on. And Adelman likes him. That’s a big factor, too. He plays the game right.
Derek: Being around .500? No, really. It sounds simple but after a decade of struggling, this is nice to see. Not only that, they’re number one in total assists, number two in total rebounds and third in points per game. And they’ve been an average defensive team, which has been a bit of a surprise so far. All of this has been really nice so far.
Tom: Ricky Rubio’s 3-point shooting. Rubio, who has been shooting extremely poorly overall (34 percent! How?!!) has been largely ignored behind the arc, which has enabled him to shoot 46 percent. Once again: 46 FREAKING PERCENT. That’s simultaneously so bad and so good, but the 3-point shooting has been a nice surprise.
Billy: Corey Brewer’s contributions on the offensive end. Everyone knew what he would bring to the table defensively – and he’s been every bit as good advertised – but he’s scoring at a career rate (14.4 points per game) and doing it efficiently (especially at the rim, where he’s shooting 62%). While Kevin Love gets (and deserves) credit for throwing beautiful outlet passes, Brewer has been the one leaking out at the right time and finishing in transition. Definitely a pleasant and unexpected surprise.
Zach: Kevin Martin’s production. I anticipated him being good, but this good? No, can’t say I envisioned it. Scoring over 20 points a game shooting over 40 percent from the field and the three-point line, not to mention his ability to get to the foul line, has been huge so far.
Alex: When the Wolves signed Kevin Martin, we knew that we were getting a very productive scorer who would immediately help improve the teams three-point shooting. What we did not expect, however, was for Kevin Love and Martin to become one of the most lethal scoring combos in the NBA. Martin, who operates perfectly in Rick Adelman’s corner offense, has been everything we expected and more while sporting around a 20 PER. Even after a rough three game span in which he shot a combined 17-49, he is still averaging 22.5 points per game while providing Ricky Rubio with a legitimate backcourt mate.
2. How big of an issue are Rubio’s scoring struggles and what can he do to improve his efficiency on the offensive end?
Kyle: It’s obviously something the Wolves would like to see improve a bit, but with offensive weapons like Love, Martin and Pekovic (and the return of Budinger), the Wolves don’t need him to score 15. His outside shot looked like it was developing in training camp and who knows, it still might. It’s very early. I always look at a guy like Jason Kidd and get encouraged on his advancements as a shooter. Granted, Rubio hopes to do that a bit earlier than Kidd did in his career.
Derek: You know, with Kevin Love, Kevin Martin and Nikola Pekovic, I’m not really worried about it. As I mentioned above, the Timberwolves aren’t having problems putting the ball through the hoop, so it’s not like he’s really hurting this team. It would be even better if he could knock that percentage up a few ticks, but he has the benefit of being able to gradually work towards that with the other scorers on this team. What could he do? Continue to work on his mechanics and build confidence as well as improving as a finisher at the rim. As others have said, he doesn’t have to improve by much and that incremental improvement is certainly realistic.
Tom: I kind of covered this above. I don’t know, can he fix the fact that he can’t score around the rim? Like at all? Maybe he should just keep camping out behind the 3-point line until he can figure out how to make a layup.
Billy: He needs to get better at finishing at inside, where he’s making less than 44% of his shots. He’s improved his three-point shooting considerably (43%) but he’s still a mess in the midrange game. I’d still argue he’s an efficient offensive player overall, just not an efficient shooter. Rubio is one of the best defensive point guards in the league, and when you consider his passing acumen, it more than compensates for the fact that his overall offensive game is still a work in progress.
Zach: His three-point shooting was runner-up for biggest surprise, almost. However, he’s still struggling inside-the-arc and especially around the rim. Rubio’s assist account for 20 of the Wolves points per game (According to StatVU) so his contributions there, and on defense, make him very potent. If he could drive and finish with the intent to score, i think he could elevate his game to another level offensively.
Alex: Even with all of the scoring this team has done, Rubio has struggled getting good shots and has conspicuously demonstrated his inability to hit mid-range jump shots at a reasonable rate. Opposing teams have focused on giving him an extra step when he comes off screens, baiting him to shoot. Rubio needs to either (a) dramatically improve his shooting off the dribble, or (b) recognize his struggles shooting the ball and take a more passive approach on the pick-and-roll. I do not believe that Ricky shooting too little will lose the Wolves games, but I do believe that him shooting too much could definitely put the team in increasingly tougher spots against top notch opponents.
3. What do you make of the acquisition of Luc Richard Mbah a Moute and how will he fit into Rick Adelman’s rotation?
Kyle: Anytime you can get a good defender on the team, it’s a plus. D-Will had plenty of potential and I honestly think he’ll do good things in this league. With this team and Adelman’s offense, though, he just didn’t fit. Do you know who does fit? Mbah a Moute, a guy who can guard the 2, 3 and 4. I think he’ll be a big part of the rotation until Chase returns and then we’ll go from there. It will do wonders for Brewer, too. The guy has had to guard the toughest guys in the league. A break is needed.
Derek: I’m a fan of the trade. Mbah a Moute will provide the Timberwolves with a player that fits Rick Adelman’s vision for the team more than Derrick Williams did. Adelman has praised Robbie Hummel, the player who takes minutes from Williams, for not doing anything that he can’t do, which is where Williams failed and Mbah a Moute succeeds. In addition to Corey Brewer, the Timberwolves will now have another perimeter defender. He’s no scorer, but you have to remember that Chase Budinger is returning from injury soon and will offset that.
Tom: He fits Adelman’s rotation by being a competent wing off the bench. Minnesota’s bench mob has been pretty mediocre, and although LRMAM is not a scorer and won’t help with any of the offensive woes, his defense is certainly above average and will probably range between good and very good against most second units. He also adds a certain amount of flexibility. His post defense is quite good, and the Wolves could be planning on using him to back up Kevin Love as well as Corey Brewer (and eventually, we hope, Chase Budinger).
Billy: I’m a sucker for defense and hustle guys, and that’s what Luc Mbah a Moute is, so I like it. The Wolves save money and acquire a useful rotation player in exchange for someone who couldn’t fit into the system (Derrick Williams). It’s a smart deal.
Zach: Many called for a change and they got one, I’m optimistic about Mbah a Moute and what he can bring defensively. This addition will be huge if the Wolves can make the postseason.
Alex: The news of the trade brought a very bittersweet feeling to me as I am happy that Derrick will be getting plenty of opportunities for a rebuilding team but it also signifies yet another failure by Wolves brass in drafting. I will not sit here and say that picking D-Will was a mistake because I think that I was one of the majority of NBA fans who dubbed him as the consensus number-2 overall pick after Kyrie Irving went to Cleveland. It simply was not a good fit for Derrick in Adelman’s offense and the team could not continue to wait on him to gain consistency in his game with Minnesota setting it’s sights on the postseason. With that being said, Mbah a Moute brings a tremendous defensive presence on the wing and in the interior and should do a nice job of keeping his opponents off the offensive glass, limiting second chance opportunities. A lineup of Mbah a Moute, Love, and Pekovic should be one of the best rebounding frontcourts in the league.
4. What about this Timberwolves team are you most thankful for?
Kyle: Kevin Love. I think we are truly watching history unfold in front of us with him.
Derek: Kevin Love. It’s so great that we get to watch him play basketball at this level again. Basketball is definitely better with him than without him.
Tom: I’m most thankful that Nikola Pekovic has the pain threshold to sit through massive, violent tattoos because they entertain me to absolutely no end.
Billy: Health. I know Budinger and Turiaf are nicked up, but Love, Rubio and Pekovic have each appeared in every game thus far. After the past two seasons, I’m just thankful the Wolves have that much.
Zach: The ability to score points when shots are falling. It’s just so, so pretty! Adelman’s system running smoothly is a thing of beauty.
Alex: I am very thankful for the teams bill of good health (knock on wood) and hope that our core can stay intact all season long.