Timberwolves Ink Nikola Pekovic to Five Year, $60 Million Extension

Nikola Pekovic is returning to the Timberwolves for five more years!

Nikola Pekovic is returning to the Timberwolves for five more years!

Pek is Back!

The stalemate is finally over. After long-winded negotiations for nearly two months proving fruitless, the Minnesota Timberwolves and restricted free agent center Nikola Pekovic agreed yesterday to a five year deal that will pay the Montenegrin around $12 million per season with an extra $8 million in bonus incentives, with all five years being guaranteed.

Jeff Schwartz, the agent of both Pekovic and fellow Pup Kevin Love, initially demanded a contract in the four year, $60 million range while the Timberwolves, led primarily by President of Basketball Operations Flip Saunders, wanted something closer to four years and $48-50 million. The two sides were very adamant in their initial demands, and likewise the process dragged out until the middle of August. Nonetheless, the two sides found common ground by tacking on an extra guaranteed year while maintaining the Wolves initial demands of an annual salary of around $12 million.

The 27-year-old 7-footer had a career year last season, averaging 16.3 points and 8.8 rebounds in 62 games. His PER of 20.26 put him fifth in the league among starting centers, and he continued to dominate the paint even without Kevin Love by his side for the majority of the season.

The 31st overall selection in the 2008 NBA Draft, Pek has displayed remarkable growth since coming to Minnesota in 2010. He has quickly gained national recognition as an up-and-coming player in the league, and is characterized by his brute strength and aggressive playing style. In the 2011-12 season, we saw glimpses of how dominant a Pekovic-Love frontcourt can be when healthy, and the two players together will create possibly the top rebounding frontcourt in the NBA for seasons to come. Pek is arguably the strongest man in the league with a 290-pound frame that is nearly all muscle. His activity on the offensive glass creates second chance opportunities for his teammates while keeping the ball on the offensive end. Pek’s unique skill set fits in perfectly with Love’s ability to stretch the floor on the perimeter.

Implications of the Signing

Remember when David Kahn refused to give Love that extra year on his max contract extension? That obviously did not sit well with Kevin, and I would be surprised if he wasn’t a bit miffed when he saw that his frontcourt companion got the extra year that he and his agent (who happens to also be Pek’s agent) tried so hard to get in his extension. Sure, Love got more money in total and has more flexibility for the future, and obviously letting go of Kahn signified the organization’s acknowledgment of the mistakes made by the former GM. I do not believe that Love will hold it against the franchise for giving Pek five years, because when it comes time for Love to hit unrestricted free agency – whether it is in 2015 or 2016 – the club will be able to offer Love a maximum five year contract that would pay him more than any other competing offers. Minnesota will also likely lock up Ricky Rubio which will solidify Minnesota’s core for when it is time for Love to make his next decision.

It is important to note that giving Pek five years does not jeopardize the team’s ability to offer Rubio a five year maximum contract extension when it comes time to re-up on the Spaniard. The intricacies of the new CBA can be confusing to understand, but the truth of the matter is that the Wolves will be able to offer both of their stars five year contracts while the competition can only offer four years and a little bit less money annually. As of right now, it appears optimistic that Minnesota will be able to keep their core of Love-Rubio-Pekovic intact for many years to come. This is an enormous victory for the organization.

Timberwolves 2013-14 Schedule Released!

Timberwolves 2013-14 Schedule Decisions, Decisions ...

Timberwolves 2013-14 Schedule
Decisions, Decisions …

After a few weeks’ worth of delays, the NBA finally unveiled the 2013-14 schedule/calendar.  You can find the full Timberwolves’ schedule here on Timberwolves.com.  On Monday, the team released their preseason schedule as well.

The preseason officially begins on 10/7 with a game at the Target Center against CSKA Moscow.  Who will Alexey Shved, Vladimir Putin, and Eric Snowden be rooting for?  Tune in to find out.  The Wolves will actually travel a good amount during the preseason, playing in Toronto, Montreal, South Dakota, Philadelphia, and Detroit.  They will only have one other preseason game at the Target Center (10/12 against Toronto). [Read more...]

Checking in on Derrick Williams

Associated Press

Associated Press

This summer, Derrick Williams has passed his time by starting the #DwillSneakerHunt and it continued Tuesday as he went about hiding hot styles of sneakers around the greater Los Angeles area. Why hide them? So the kids following him on Twitter and Instagram can race to find a new pair of kicks. After all, school is just around the corner. Along with his playful act of charity, Williams has also spent time this summer promoting his clothing store, VII Grand, which opened in February and is located in Tucson, Arizona. When Williams isn’t in Tucson overseeing operations, he’s on the phone almost daily with close friend and store manager Mario Escalente. At age 22, it’s obvious Williams has already spent a lot of effort promoting himself as an entrepreneur, but what has he been doing this offseason to improve himself as a basketball player? After two seasons in the NBA Williams should have developed a more formidable identity in the league by now, right? So far, this hasn’t exactly been the case, although he still has time to prove to the Timberwolves and the rest of the NBA that he was worthy of the second overall selection nearly two years ago.

Williams’ identity crisis begins with his stature, currently listed at 6’8’’ and 241 pounds and perfectly fitting the mold as a “tweener” forward. As he stands right now, he has too much bulk while lacking the proper handles that are necessary in order to have sustained success as a small forward. Contributing to his dilemma, he lacks the height, length and refined post game that is necessary to be an effective power forward. During his time playing for Arizona, Williams used his size as an advantage. He found success by dragging bigger and slower defenders away from the basket which allowed him space away from his opponent. From there, he greatly relied on his athleticism to make up for the fact that he was and is still not a great dribbler. When opposing bigs left Williams open on the perimeter, he punished them by shooting a blistering 56.8% from three during his final season. If opponents tried to stop Williams by assigning him smaller and quicker defenders, he muscled his way inside for an easy layup or dunk, which he converted at a high rate. One of the most notable discrepancies between his success in college and the NBA has been his increased difficulty finishing around the rim, as he continues to face much bigger frontcourts than he previously saw in the Pac-12.

Williams’ progression from his rookie to second season can be attributed to his increased playing time under Coach Adelman. It’s important to assess how players respond to increased minutes, and in Williams’ second season he appeared in 12 more games while playing 498 more minutes than during his rookie season. Now, this is largely a result of the high frequency of injuries that the Wolves roster was hit by last year, especially in the frontcourt. Nonetheless, he was able to improve in every offensive statistical category, as depicted by this graphic:

Derrick Williams totals

The statistic that jumps out to me the most is his significant improvement shooting from 3pt range. Williams made 28 more three-pointers last season than he did during his rookie season and improved by a total of 6.4% on 58 more attempts. After being dubbed as one of the top perimeter shooters in the 2011 Draft, it was a disappointment seeing Derrick struggle so mightily in his rookie season. However, it is clear that he has made shooting one of his priorities last summer as was quietly the second best three-point shooter on the team only behind J.J. Barea.

Williams currently finds himself in a tough spot on the depth chart and in Adelman’s rotation. I can only speculate that he will see most of his time on the floor splitting minutes with fellow SF/PF Dante Cunningham as Kevin Love‘s backup. Cunningham understands his role and has Coach Adelman’s trust as a proven role player.

The center position is occupied by incumbent starter Nikola Pekovic - assuming he re-signs – and rookie Gorgui Dieng and there is currently an abundance of players at the two wing positions. Corey Brewer, Chase Budinger, Shabazz Muhammad, Alexey Shved and Kevin Martin will all share time on the wing, with Adelman likely going with a hot-hand on a nightly basis. I touched a bit recently on the starting lineups we could see this season and, unsuprisingly, none of them featured Williams. However, in situations where the Wolves potentially play small by inserting Love at center, Williams could man the power forward spot as he is a respectable rebounder.

It’s only fair I expose my bias: I am a fan of the University of Arizona and have been for a long time. I remember being excited about Loren Woods (yes, Loren Woods) joining the team in the early 2000’s. It’s just one of the reasons I loved bringing in and retaining Budinger. Williams is a Wildcat and I want to see him do well.

Lucy Nicholson/Rueters

Lucy Nicholson/Rueters

Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Evan Turner, Hasheem Thabeet, Michael Beasley and Williams were all taken with the No. 2 overall selection dating back to 2008 draft. This year it was Victor Oladipo out of the University of Indiana. If I’m building a team and have these players to select from, I would choose Williams with little hesitation. Beasley has obviously had his chances, Oladipo hasn’t played a minute as a pro, and last season as I compared D-Will to Evan Turner the numbers show that Williams has made more out of his time in the league than the former Ohio State Buckeye. I believe that Williams has outperformed the previously mentioned names taken with the same selection, granted that each player’s situation has been different.

Williams has been labeled a bust by some thus far into his short career and has been the constant subject of trade rumors since coming to Minnesota, however in my opinion he has not received a fair opportunity to demonstrate how valuable he can be to this team. Although his roots stem from the southwest, he has not once spoken against playing in Minnesota. He has a positive attitude and doesn’t shy away from interacting with fans, on and away from the camera. In my opinion, Derrick will need a more defined role in order for him to be able to succeed going forward.

This season should be the most crucial one to Williams’ young career. With the depth that currently surrounds him, he will need to earn the trust of his coach and teammates in order to get consistent minutes on a nightly basis. The chances of his name resurfacing in trade rumors around the deadline are a possibility as the Wolves could look to move him for a player with a more defined skill set or even a future draft selection. Regardless of what happens, I believe that Williams will become a mainstay in the league as long as he remains healthy and shows incremental improvement every season. If it isn’t meant to be with the Timberpups, it’s only a part of the business, but as long as he is here he will be important to the development of the Pups as a team.

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.

[Read more...]

Timberwolves Summer League Game 6 Recap

Lorenzo Brown had a big game Friday night (Photo credit: NBACircle.com)

Lorenzo Brown had a big game Friday night
(Photo credit: NBACircle.com)

After Thursday night’s loss, the Timberwolves Summer League experience would come to a close in Las Vegas after Friday night’s events.  Tonight’s game was against our divisional “rival”, the Portland Trailblazers.  To close out the tournament, Coach Adelman went with the following starting lineup: Lorenzo Brown, Brandon Paul, Shabazz Muhammad, Chris Johnson, and Gorgui Dieng.

While Minnesota was going for it and playing their top guys, that clearly wasn’t the strategy for the Blazers, who sat all of their starters for the game (McCollum, Barton, Claver, Robinson or Leonard).  So no CJ McCollum for the small army of you who wanted him in a Timberwolves uniform coming out of the draft.  Sorry.  One final note for the final game for the Wolves: we had a special analyst calling the game with Matt Devlin, as former Pup Sam Mitchell was in the booth!

[Read more...]

Timberwolves Summer League Game 5 Recap

Timberwolves Summer League, Chris Johnson

Chris Johnson’s looking good in Summer League
(Photo credit: NBA.com)

The Timberwolves played their fourth game in as many nights in Las Vegas Thursday.  The second round of the Summer League tournament was a rematch from the team’s first loss in the preliminary round and against the D-League Select team.

Identical to Wednesday’s game, Coach Adelman sent out the following starters to begin the game: Kee Kee Clark, Othyus Jeffers, Shabazz Muhammad, Robbie Hummel, and Chris Johnson.  If it isn’t broken, don’t try to fix it?  In case you missed it, I was actually live-tweeting the game over on our resurrected, official Twitter feed.  We’ll be doing that a lot more in the future I imagine.

As for the game itself, the Wolves got off to a slow start.  Kee Kee Clark was the only player that looked to have his legs with him in the opening few minutes, keeping the team close.  Towards the end of the first quarter, the Wolves got sloppy with the ball and allowed the D-League Select to go on a mini-run, closing the quarter with a 25-17 lead.

[Read more...]

Timberwolves Summer League Game 4 Recap

Shabazz Muhammad, Timberwolves

Shabazz had not been lighting up the Summer League
(Photo credit: LA Times)

In the preliminary play, the Timberwolves went 1-2 in Las Vegas, good enough for the 13 seed in the tournament that commenced Wednesday.  Their opening round opponent tonight was the Sacramento Kings, which affords me the opportunity to hone in on Ben McLemore’s play (the guy I was really hoping the Wolves would land coming out of last month’s draft).

David Adelman sent out the following starting lineup for Wednesday’s game: Kee Kee Clark, Othyus Jeffers, Shabazz Muhammad, Robbie Hummel, and Chris Johnson.  The starting frontcourt has been relatively consistent thus far in the tournament, while the backcourt continues to shift around.

With half of the first quarter in the books, both teams remained in single digits on the scoreboard.  Maybe they were too tense for the start of the game due to the new bracket format?  Maybe it was the three games in three days?  Perhaps it is just too much time in Las Vegas.  We’ll never know, but what I do know is that the first quarter wasn’t too enjoyable.

[Read more...]