Wolves Summer League Recap

Zach LaVine was a highlight reel for the Wolves in Vegas (NBAE, Getty Images)

Zach LaVine was a highlight reel for the Wolves in Vegas (NBAE, Getty Images)

The Minnesota Timberwolves finished the Las Vegas Summer League with a 2-4 record. After losing their first three games, the Wolves were the last seed at the start of tournament play only to pull off an ‘upset’ by defeating the Phoenix Suns in the first round. The Sacramento Kings knocked the Wolves out of the tournament the next day – and wound up with the league championship. The Wolves finished their stay in Las Vegas with a victory over the Pelicans last Friday.

What did we learn in Las Vegas? How did our Pups perform, particularly those that are more likely to be on the opening night roster? Let’s take a look back at #WolvesInVegas with a ranking of the top performers on the squad and what implications said performance may have on the Wolves this forthcoming season.

Gorgui Dieng

He didn’t lead the team in scoring, but Gorgui was the most impressive performer on the Wolves roster in Las Vegas. He averaged 11.5 points and 10.2 rebounds in the six games, all of which he started in. Worth noting the Dieng started at both Center and the Power Forward position, perhaps the early signs of giving him minutes next to Nikola Pekovic this coming season. I fully expect Dieng to play a big role with the Timberwolves in the 2014/15 season as he looks miles ahead of where he was in last year’s Summer League.

Zach LaVine

The 1st round selection was a highlight reel in Las Vegas – from his pregame dunks to daily, in-game highlight or two. He was consistent across the six games, scoring in double digits in each and finishing the tournament averaging 15.7PPG to go with 4.3RPG and 2.8APG. His shot selection was a little questionable at times, but I think we will see that all season long. First, because he is probably going to have the green light from Flip and second, because Ricky Rubio is going to be a great sidekick for LaVine.

Most importantly, to me at least, LaVine has said all the right things since draft night. His initial reaction may (or may not) have been a mistake, but he is certainly ready to make the most out of his opportunity to play in the NBA and for the Timberwolves. Finally, LaVine showed flashes of ability to play PG, so the Wolves have that in the back pocket for the coming season.

Going back to the highlight reel for a second, this dunk sealed the deal for the Wolves in their victory over the Suns and is just a very small sample of the hops LaVine possesses. LaVine threw down the gauntlet for next season’s dunk contest during All-Star Weekend, saying, “I’m definitely going to be in the dunk contest, know that. I haven’t lost a dunk contest for a long time … So I have some dunks in my package.”

Alexey Shved

Shved only played in two games during the Wolves’ time in Las Vegas, but I thought he was the third best player on the floor for the club. He averaged 15PPG, 3.0RPG, 2.5APG, & 1.0SPG. Alexey was active, and playing within himself the vast majority of the time. That said, he only shot 39% from the field and was 1-8 from 3PT range. If Alexey is going to be a role player for the Wolves, he needs to be more efficient in the scoring department.

Kyrylo Fesenko

When the Wolves announced the roster for Las Vegas I didn’t foresee anyone not named above or Shabazz Muhammad, making the opening night roster. Fesenko changed that perception. Assuming the Wolves trade Kevin Love and don’t get back additional big men beyond Anthony Bennett, there is going to be a need for a big body to play behind Pekovic and Dieng. Fesenko might be able to fill that end of the bench, six fouls when you need them role.

Kyrylo averaged 8.4PPG and 5.2RPG in his five appearances. Despite not playing many minutes, when he teamed up with Dieng on the floor, there were close-to-dominant minutes on the floor for the Pups.

Shabazz Muhammad

Muhammad led the Wolves in scoring at 16.2PPG. However, he shot just 37% from the field (26-70) and was 25-34 from the FT line (74%). Muhammad averaged 5.8RPG, but only 0.6APG. You see how this is going? For every good, there is a bad. I fully expected Shabazz to lead the team in scoring, but I was hoping to see a much more efficient product on the floor.

I have no idea where this is going with Shabazz, but I will say that if the Wolves pick up Andrew Wiggins and another wing in a trade, I don’t expect the Wolves to do much more than pick up Muhammad’s option years and either find a trading partner or let him walk.

Glenn Robinson III

Somewhat similar to Shabazz, I was expecting a decent showing from Robinson and I’m left feeling a little bit underwhelmed. He looked a step slow out there a number of times and was inefficient from the field (15-39, 39%) and from the FT line (12-19, 63%). Essentially, everything I mentioned in our draft recap holds to form right now. It is likely going to take a few seasons for Robinson to show signs of being a solid, regular contributor in the NBA. Whether or not that comes with the Timberwolves is TBD.

Brady Heslip & Matt Janning

Heslip and Janning had a handful of nice moments between the two of them during the tournament. Both showed the potential to hit the jumper and could catch on with another team looking for that as a specialty at the end of their bench. I don’t see any scenario that makes sense for them on the Wolves roster, given the number of guaranteed contracts the team already has on the books.

What were your overall impressions on the Wolves in Las Vegas? Nothing really surprised me per se, there were items that I am happy about (Dieng and LaVine) and some that I want to see a better performance by (Muhammad).

Timberwolves 0-3 in Summer League After Losing to Chicago

(photo credit: NBA.com)

(photo credit: NBA.com)

The Timberwolves fought hard in attempt to gain a summer league win, but in the end their offense proved no match against Chicago, and Minnesota came up on the short end of the 107-73 final score. Kyrylo Fesenko and Zach LaVine led the Wolves in scoring with 13 and 12 points, respectively. The Bulls boasted an all-around stronger lineup with six of their guys scoring in double digits. No. 11 draft pick Doug McDermott led all scoring with 20 points and six assists.

The contest started out rather evenly, a back-and-forth battle that saw the lead change three times. In the early part of the second quarter, the Wolves delivered a solid performance. Georgetown alum Markel Starks grabbed a three-pointer immediately followed by a Fesenko slam dunk. Minnesota held the lead at 27-24. However, Lance Thomas answered with a long three of his own, and from that point on the Bulls held the upper hand.

Fesenko played well with rookie Zach Lavine, each of them putting up strong numbers this week.  At 7’1″ and 280 lbs, Fesenko could be a huge—pun intended—asset for the Wolves. The Ukrainian has been in the NBA since 2007, but he has struggled to find real success with any team. His longest stint was with Utah, from 2007-2011. He also made appearances with Indiana and Chicago.  It will be interesting to see what relationship the Wolves choose with Fesenko following summer league.

Despite watching Minnesota lose its first three games in Vegas, Timberwolves fans have reason to smile about their team’s No. 13 draft pick. LaVine impressed the crowd at the Target Center scrimmage last week, and he’s continued to draw attention on the road. LaVine averaged 12 points, five rebounds and 2.3 assists over the trio of games. According to Wolves writer Megan Schuster, “LaVine had a few tough baskets in the quarter, taking a leadership role while playing point.”

Both teams scored well from downtown, hitting over 40 percent from behind the three-point line. It was in free throws, though, that Minnesota fell miserably short. Chicago knocked down 13-16 from the charity stripe, while the Wolves made only 12 of 22 attempts. The young lineup also struggled to consistently handle the ball, and 18 turnovers certainly hurt in the end.

Shabazz Muhammad also played well, adding 10 points for Minny. One surprise performance for the Wolves was D.J. Kennedy. Kennedy, who went undrafted in 2011 and has been playing for the Israeli Basketball Super League, tallied nine points and four rebounds in just 18 minutes on the floor.

A few Wolves players never got off the bench—among them third-year guard Alexey Shved.  Shved played well in the first two games this summer, leading the team in scoring. Minnesota fans are anxious to see if his regular season performance improves over last year.

 

Up Next:

 

Minnesota will face Phoenix this afternoon for Game 4. Tipoff is set for 3 p.m. CST.

Recap: Las Vegas Summer League – Wizards 67, Wolves 61

 

“Zach, you’re like this big bear man!” – Shabazz “Double Down” Muhammad

“Zach, you’re like this big bear man!” – Shabazz “Double Down” Muhammad

The Timberwolves and Wizards took to the floor a few minutes late in the last Las Vegas Summer League game of the evening on Sunday. Despite the late start, both teams looked to have cobwebs from the Vegas Strip, as both struggled to put together any type of consistency in their offensive scheme and flow. The teams equally split 44 turnovers on the evening, while also combining for 53 personal fouls (Wizards 27, Wolves 26).

The Pups opened up with the same starting five from Saturday’s kick-off game: Alexey Shved, Zach LaVine, Shabazz Muhammad, Glenn Robinson III, and Gorgui Dieng. Similar to what Wolves’ fans became accustomed to seeing this past regular season, once you got beyond the team’s starting five, things got quite murky on the floor. After a relatively strong start from both teams in the 1st quarter, the Wizards held a 26-21 lead going into the 2nd and that is where things began to fall apart. The Wolves only scored 28 points in the 2nd and 3rd quarters combined and trailed the Wizards 57-49 after three. (The teams were tied at 35 going into halftime.) [Read more...]

Wolves Fall to Mavs in First Summer League Game, 93-85

Game Recap

Rookies. Flash. Hope. Promise. Those words embody what NBA Summer League is all about, and the Timberwolves first summer league game certainly possessed all of those things. Even with all the Love rumors still furiously swirling, fans pushed their worries aside for forty minutes to see the young talent that will hopefully be the future of the franchise.

The first quarter opened fast for the Wolves, with Zach LaVine throwing down an alley-oop just fifteen seconds in. From there, the Wolves struggled with consistency on both ends of the floor. After playing one game already, the Mavericks looked in sync, while the Wolves did a lot of flailing around trying to learn how to play with each other in the team’s first game.

Everything went downhill for the Wolves after the first quarter. An abundance of missed defensive rotations allowed the Mavs to build a 10-point lead heading into hafltime. It seemed like nobody was guarding the Mavs perimeter players for much of the game, especially Ricky Ledo. The Providence product hit 5 threes and finished with 21 points.

The Wolves offense was brutal in the third quarter as Alexey Shved, Shabazz Muhammad, and Gorgui Dieng all combined to take bad, contested jump shots. LaVine began heating up after the half, scoring in a variety of ways.

In the fourth, the Wolves fought back to make it a game again, but it was too little too late. Their lack of defensive prowess and settling for generally bad shots most of the night brought about the team’s undoing.

Breaking down the guys that project to be on the NBA roster

Shabazz Muhammad

Putting the result aside, Muhammad was the player of the game. He dominated his man often, which is exactly what you want to see in summer league from a guy you want contributions from when the NBA regular season rolls around. He showed off his physicality, and he couldn’t be kept off the boards. His relentless effort got him several put-back buckets, which is a huge part of his game right now. He showed range on his shot, going 2-3 from beyond the arc. His problems remain the same. He still takes bad shots, and he needs to develop more advanced handles to diversify his drives to the rim. When his man cuts him off, he tends to give up easily and take a tough floater. He needs to learn how to muscle or finesse his way to the rim with regularity to become a more efficient player. Speaking of efficiency, he took a team-high 24 shots and made just 10 of those. While that is a ton of shots, it is not a big deal in summer league when he’s supposed to be “the guy.” His non-stop motor is still where most of his value stems from. When he settles into the NBA and develops his skill set, he could be a really good player for a long time.

Gorgui Dieng

Dieng is a really good example of a guy that plays within himself. He knows what he can and cannot do right now, and he doesn’t attempt to stray too far out of his comfort zone. He went 4-6 from the field today, and all of his buckets came in the paint. When he gets outside of the paint, he tends to struggle a bit. He had one strong move on the left baseline where muscled his defender out of the way and got to the rim, but that’s a rare occurrence. He looks uncomfortable in face up situations, as he possesses an average first step and no real killer move. To take his game to the next level, he will need to figure out other ways to get to the rim consistently besides just catching the ball under the basket. Much of Dieng’s value comes on the defensive end where he has so much value as an anchor in the paint and on the glass. He will be a double-double machine in summer league, but can he do that consistently when the real season rolls around?

Alexey Shved

Every summer league team needs a guy that plays out of control and chucks crazy shots at the rim. That guy for the Wolves is Alexey Shved. His first shot of the game was a three that came at least a couple feet behind the three-point line. He settled down a little from that point, getting to the rim with relative ease. On the pick-and-roll, Shved demonstrated the ability to turn the corner hard and accelerate straight towards the rim. The only way to stop him was to foul him, and he got to the line 9 times. He still makes passes he shouldn’t make that lead to turnovers. He only seems to be able to operate at lightning speed, but if he could ever slow the game down he might be a lot more serviceable.

Zach LaVine

It feels like the only skill of LaVine’s that ever gets mentioned is his athleticism. That’s not exactly fair to him though. He was slotted as the point guard at times, and he wasn’t bad. A couple times, he was able to execute a nice pick-and-roll with Dieng. He’s not a guy that’s going to make flashy passes right now, but he made the right play for the most part when he was serving as the primary ball-handler. Occasionally, he will try to force it, and that’s when things get away from him. He’ll try to thread the needle or throw a lob, and that’s just not his game. He didn’t shoot the ball great against the Mavs, but his mechanics are sound which is promising. Everything he does is smooth, and he looks so graceful slicing his way to the rim. Defensively, LaVine has some work to do. He’s not great at fighting through the screener on the pick-and-roll, and the Mavs got several buckets as a result. Overall, it was a solid first performance from the Wolves first 2014 draft pick.

Glenn Robinson III

Robinson will wish he could replay this game. He was a non-factor most of the night, and he struggled defensively. His lateral quickness isn’t up to snuff right now, and his defensive stance needs work. Offensively, Robinson needs to continue to work on his outside game. It would benefit his development in that area if he would take more than three per game during summer league. He did a couple nice buckets, but overall he was pretty underwhelming in game one.

Game 2 for the Wolves is on Monday at 3:30PM CT against the Chicago Bulls.

 

Wolves NBA Summer League Preview 2014

Our Pups will be participating in the Las Vegas edition of the NBA's Summer League again this season. (Photo: NBA.com)

Our Pups will be participating in the Las Vegas edition of the NBA’s Summer League again this season. (Photo: NBA.com)

(UPDATED 7/6 for final roster announcement)

The Minnesota Timberwolves will return to Las Vegas for their NBA Summer League action. Summer League play officially kicks off in Orlando from 7/5 – 7/11, which then runs right into the start of the action in Las Vegas. The Vegas league runs from 7/11 – 7/21 later this month.

Similar to last year’s Vegas league, each team will play three games and then be seeded accordingly based on their record for tournament style play. All of the action can be seen on NBA Digital and/or the NBA Summer League app. [Read more...]

The Whoa Nelly Recap – Timberwolves 143, Lakers 107

Kevin Garnett vs. Kobe Bryant, i.e. the good ole days for these two franchises! (Photo credit: Lucy Nicholson, Reuters)

Kevin Garnett vs. Kobe Bryant, i.e. the good ole days for these two franchises!
(Photo credit: Lucy Nicholson, Reuters)

 

At 35-35 the Timberwolves have essentially been eliminated from the playoffs, although this isn’t official.  The original basketball team from Minneapolis paid a visit to the Twin Cities Friday night, coming in with a 24-47 record and a team whose season was over before it really began.  With Kobe Bryant remaining on the shelf, Mike D’Antoni has apparently been busy floating his name in the college ranks.  There aren’t many more dislikeable head coaches in the NBA, are there?  That said, Wolves Twitter had their own little news today with a little more meat to the potato of Rick Adelman’s departure.  (In short, we’ll cover this at the end of the season when it becomes official, but this could be filed under “no surprise”.  You could also argue that Adelman has mailed it in since the beginning of 2014 … but I won’t … here/yet/now.)

So, with all of those tidbits out of the way, let’s talk about Friday night’s action at Target Center.  Nikola Pekovic returned to action and the starting lineup, which also included Rubio, Martin, Brewer, and Love.  The Lakers started the game with Kendall Marshall, Kent Bazemore, Jodie Meeks, Jordan Hill, and Chris Kaman.  Good grief Charlie Brown … no Pau Gasol for the Lakers.

First Half

The Wolves welcomed back Pek in a big way, as the Serbian scored the first six points for the Wolves, giving the home team an early 6-2 lead.  After a quick timeout by the Lakers, the Wolves continued to dominate the early stages of the quarter, building a 20-4 lead.  Pekovic played the first seven minutes and was replaced by Gorgui Dieng.  Early minutes for the rookie and I’ll ignore that the Wolves had already built a ~20 point advantage.  At the end of the 1st quarter, the Wolves held a 41-24 lead, thanks to Pek’s aforementioned efforts and Kevin Love’s 15, 5, and 4 in the first twelve minutes.

The story of the 2nd quarter was “more of the same”.  The Wolves’ bench played well and helped double up the Lakers to the tune of 60-30 with under 5 minutes to play in the half.  That breaks down to a 19-6 run in the first ~7 minutes of the quarter.  Dante Cunningham had a nice stint on the floor, with 6 points and 3 rebounds during that span.

If there were a mercy rule in the NBA, I think it would have been called at the half.  The Wolves held a 74-43 advantage as the teams went into the locker room.  It was 50/50 if the Lakers would come back out for the 3rd quarter.  Here are a few halftime thoughts:

  • The Wolves put up a season high 74 points in the 1st half, with the bench really contributing.  Fantastic!
  • Conversely, the Lakers are really, REALLY bad.
  • Someone should clip the box score out of the local newspapers tomorrow and tape them to Love’s locker.

Second Half

To answer the question “Did it get any better for the Lakers in the second half?” … the answer is “NO”!  Tonight’s game could not have gone any better for the Pups.  They reached 100 points with about five minutes to go in the 3rd quarter.  Kevin Love had 19, 9, and 9 in the same amount of time.  At the end of the 3rd, the Wolves held a 111-77 lead, and as an added bonus, Love tracked down a last second rebound to give himself a triple double for the evening.

I’ll save you the suspense, the Wolves managed to hold on to win this one.  The members of the end of the rotation (Shabazz Muhammad, Alexey Shved, etc.) all played heavy minutes in the 4th quarter and everything wound up A-OK.  Final score, Timberwolves with a big win of 143-107 over the Lakers.

Three Stars of the Game

  1. Nikola Pekovic – Welcome back the big guy!
  2. Kevin Love – Triple double alert!
  3. Wolves Bench– I could easily make the case for Kevin Martin here but I think this one deserves to go to the group of guys who I have personally thrashed much of this season.  Tonight they played with passion and near flawless execution.

 Key Takeaways

  • Tonight’s 143 points were a franchise high in points for the Timberwolves
  • The Lakers are really, really bad.  There is absolutely nothing on this roster that would warrant trade rumors of Kevin Love going to this team via trade.  Repeat, NOTHING!
  • I hope the Wolves enjoy this one because they now enter a four game streak of potential doom (Nets, Clippers, Grizzlies and the Heat).

Recap – Timberwolves 121, Warriors 120

"VICTORY!" for the Pups in a close game!

“VICTORY!” for the Pups in a close game!

The Timberwolves traveled further west for two weekend games, starting with Friday night’s game in the Bay Area to take on the 26-17 Warriors.  The Warriors took care of the Wolves earlier this season at Target Center and it was time for the team to redeem themselves.  Friday night was also another opportunity for the Wolves to reach the .500 mark with a win.

After lacerating his finger earlier this week, Kevin Martin was a little bit of a question mark.  However, no surprises as it got closer to tip-off in the Pups starting lineup: Rubio, Martin, Brewer, Love, and Pekovic.  Similarly, there were a few question marks going into tonight on the Warriors lineup given a few minor injuries.  However, no surprises there either, as the team sent out the following lineup: Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Andre Iguodala, David Lee, and Andrew Bogut. [Read more...]