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 2012-13 Player Grades: Guards

Ricky Rubio and Alexey Shved at the 2013 Rising Stars Challenge (NBAE/Getty Images)

Ricky Rubio and Alexey Shved at the 2013 Rising Stars Challenge (NBAE/Getty Images)

Following a disappointing 2012-13 season in which the Minnesota Timberwolves amassed a 31-51 record, it is time to individually break down the contributions from each of the Timberwolves’ guards over the past season.

 

Player: Ricky Rubio

Position: PG

Season Summary

After having his impressive rookie campaign derailed by a torn ACL and MCL, Ricky Rubio missed the first 20 games of the 2012-13 season and made his much-anticipated return with an epic performance on December 15 against the Mavericks, playing 18 minutes while recording 8 points, 9 assists, 4 rebounds and 3 steals.The expectations for Ricky this season were relatively low as few people expected him to have an Adrian Peterson-esque return from ACL surgery. As the season crept on and the injuries compounded – including Kevin Love’s twice-broken hand – the fans focus for Ricky became centered around a cautious approach for the young Spaniard given the future health implications that come from knee surgery. As the playoffs became a pipe dream to even the most hopeful Timberwolves fans, we got much of our satisfaction watching Ricky make small, yet incremental improvements in his game before finally getting back to full speed for the final two-ish months of the season.

Despite playing without K-Love, Tricky Ricky showed us that he can be a game-changer by himself even if he is not an efficient scorer. Playing on a surgically-repaired knee, Rubio proved that he is back to where he was last season as a perimeter defender. In fact, the Catalan point guard recorded the most steals (43) in a ten game stretch since Ron Artest in 2002. Rubio’s length – 6’4″ with a 6’9″ wingspan – paired with his defensive instincts make him one of the top perimeter defenders in the NBA, and he should be a major contender to make one of the NBA All-Defense teams next season if he can stay healthy for most if not all of the season. [Read more...]

Minnesota Timberwolves 107, San Antonio Spurs 83

Photo by David Sherman/NBAE via Getty Image

Photo by David Sherman/NBAE via Getty Image

Game Summary:

On Tuesday night, the Minnesota Timberwolves played host to the NBA-best San Antonio Spurs and were greeted to a depleted Spurs team of their own. Gregg Popovich opted to give Tim Duncan and Kawhi Leonard the game off to rest while Tony Parker too currently remains sidelined due to injury. San Antonio’s starting lineup consisted of Matt Bonner, Stephen Jackson, Tiago Splitter, Cory Joseph and Danny Green.

After torching the Pups in his previous matchup, Danny Green provided early scoring for the Spurs from beyond the arc and off the dribble-drive. Since being exiled to the D-League less than two years ago, Green has established a very important role on the league-best Spurs.

Speaking of former D-Leaguers, Cory Joseph started at PG. As many of you may know, Cory is brother to Devoe Joseph, the former Gopher basketball player who ultimately transferred to Oregon. For the third point guard on a team, Joseph has a rare ability to create his own shots and brings tremendous size and athleticism to the point guard position. Joseph led all Spurs with 15 points in 26 minutes.

From the get go, this game was the Ricky Rubio show. Ricky absolutely thrived opposite of the young and inexperienced Joseph and left his tracks on the inside and outside. He did a marvelous job of gaining penetration and faced a much easier defensive group than they saw in the two teams previous matchup. Rubio was not only prevalent in his spectacular passing – highlighted by a Sports Center top play nominee – but he looked very comfortable pulling up for jump shots off of screens while even knocking down a few spotted-up deeper looks. Nothing but positive things to say about our captain who could be seen screaming and cheering for his teammates for the rare minutes he was not on the court leading the Pups to victory. He is truly a fantastic role model for all young Minnesota athletes.

The Timberwolves soard ahead 49-37 with less than 2 minutes to play in the second quarter behind 13 points and 7 assits from Ricky. Minnesota led after the first half 53-38 in a game that was shaping up to be a very rare victory over the Spurs. San Antonio’s lone active superstar, Manu Ginobili was ice cold and missed several wide-open looks that we are not accustomed to seeing. The second half got out of hand quickly as the Timberwolves gained a 25-point lead halfway through the third quarter. By the end of the third quarter, the game practically felt like it was over in a matchup between “which team’s roster is more depleted.”

With 9 minutes remaining and the game well out of hand, Ricky Rubio grabbed his tenth rebound marking his first career triple-double and the first triple-double of the season for the battered Timberwolves. While many point to the resting of Duncan-Parker-Leonard as the primary reason for the lopsided score and Rubio’s absolute domination, it must be noted that Minnesota is dealing with countless issues of their own and got a well-earned home victory. With a happy crowd gazing as the two teams spent the final few minutes running in sloppy transition, the Pups finished out this one by a score of 107-83.

Notable Performances:

Greg Stiemsma had himself a day with 3 goal-tends, and it is hard to think back on the early games of the season when the Stiemer was actually effective as a primary shot-blocker. I have been very disappointed with his sub-par play over the past few months and he will need to reassert himself at some time if he is to find a permanent home with the ballclub.

Minnesota’s bench was ridiculous in this game, as each player possessed at least a +21 on the floor combining for 48 points among Alexey Shved, JJ Barea, Chris Johnson and Dante Cunningham.

Tiago Splitter, who has developed into a very nice player under Popovich, went a dreadful 1-10 from the field and scored only 4 points in 22 minutes. When considering the favorable matchups against a depleted Minnesota frontcourt, Splitter really had an off night.

Keys of the Game:

  • Three-point shooting - I know you cannot point at only one aspect and say that it was the reason for victory, but the way the Wolves shot the ball last night was completely uncharacteristic and was a sight for sore eyes. The Pups shot 12-20 (60%) from downtown and fed off of each others makes, creating a very pleasant atmosphere in the Target Center.
  • Ball movement - Minnesota notched 30 assists as a team to only 19 by the Spurs. The Wolves had a very easy time with their lateral ball movement in the half-court offense, and worked at a very steady pace throughout the game.

Three Stars of the Game:

  1. Ricky Rubio - Congratulations to Ricky as he finally recorded his first career triple-double in arguably his greatest performance of the season. It was very refreshing to see Ricky having so much fun on the court and while cheering from the bench, and it makes me realize how truly lucky we are that Kahn’s big gamble paid off. In 35 minutes, the Spaniard put up the line of 21 points (9-17 FG), 13 rebounds, 12 assists and 4 turnovers with a +23 on the floor.
  2. Alexey Shved -Welcome back Shved! Alexey broke out of his terrible slump – for at least one game – as he finished with 16 points (6-8 FG) and 7 assists in 30 minutes. The Russian nailed 3 of his 4 attempts from long range and was even the beneficiary of a generous rim on his last make. A big theme throughout this season has been how when Alexey plays well, the Timberwolves have been very hard to beat. However, the rookie has had troubles becoming acclimated to the elongated NBA season in comparison with FIBA.
  3. Chris Johnson - Johnson clearly outshone the starter Stiemsma and was everything that we need for him to be in the role he currently is in. In 22 minutes, Johnson scored 6 points while converting on all 3 of his field goal attempts to go along with 6 rebounds and 6 blocks.

Preview: Minnesota Timberwolves vs. Philadelphia 76ers, 2/20/13

Photo Credit: Associated Press

Photo Credit: Associated Press

Setting the stage:

We are back from All Star Weekend and the Timberwolves open up at home on Wednesday night against the Philadelphia 76ers.  Both teams played their last game this past Wednesday and both teams lost going into the break.  The Sixers come into the game with a record of 22-29 and have fallen 4 games behind the Milwaukee Bucks for the 8th seed in the East.  The team is led by the trio of first time All Star Jrue Holiday, Thaddeus Young, and Evan Turner.  However, the team will be without Young on Wednesday night as he remains out with an injury to his hamstring.

The Wolves return to the court off of the extended break and look to get a little healthier.  Andrei Kirilenko should be ready to return to action Wednesday night after missing the past five games with a quad injury.  The layoff hopefully provided others a few extra days to relax and recharge the battery.  The Pups handled the Sixers in Philly in early December without Rubio and a weak performance from Kevin Love.  The team will look to do the same despite the different faces that will be in the rotation on their home floor.

For today’s preview, I have reached out to another local friend who is a lifetime sufferer of being a Sixers fan, Jeff Agress.  Jeff and I used to spend too many Friday happy hours together debating the NBA and creating top ten lists – current players, all time players, women in the bar … you get the idea.  Similar to our Friday night previews, I asked for Jeff’s perspective on a few key storylines regarding this year’s Sixers squad.

Sixers Question #1 for Jeff:

Please describe your frustration level with Andrew Bynum and what are your expectations from him moving forward – this season and beyond?

Jeff:

The Sixers were literally one game away from the Eastern Conference Finals a year ago but the overall consensus was that they were an overachieving team that got a lucky break with the Derrick Rose injury and maxed out their potential.   Both the fans and the new Sixer ownership recognized that a core led by Andre Iguodala, Elton Brand, and Lou Williams can only go so far.  As we know, over the summer they overhauled the team, highlighted by the mega-trade where the Sixers sent Iguodala, Nic Vucovic (having a solid season in Orlando), Moe Harkless, and a protected 1st round pick away in return for Andrew Bynum and Jason Richardson.  To say Philly nation, self included, was pumped about acquiring Bynum would be severely understating it.  Ownership opened the introductory press conference to the fans and ran a marketing campaign around him.  For the first time since Allen Iverson was traded, the Sixers mattered again. The Sixers envisioned a team with Bynum manning the middle, demanding double teams and surrounded with sharpshooters (signing Nick Young and trading for Dorrel Wright in addition to Richardson).  Add in the core youngsters Jrue Holiday, Evan Turner, and Thad Young and expectations in Philly were sky high for all of us.

Fast forward six months, and Bynum barely practiced with the team, let alone having played in one.  There is obviously a lot of frustration with the injury which can mainly be attributed to the mysteriousness of it all; the setbacks, the ever changing time frame, and the weekly updates where Bynum himself gives conflicting answers from “there is a lot of pain” and “I feel great” in the same interview.   Needless to say, hostility is in the air as we all get the sense that the front office is being dishonest in an attempt to keep ticket sales up.  With management mostly hush-hush, we are left to ask questions like “what doctor cleared this trade” and “when exactly did he get injured”.  After gaining a lot of praise last year for their accomplishments, ownership and Doug Collins are slowly seeing that disappear.

Bynum is now on the verge of becoming a free agent at season’s end.  I know for me, I’d like to see him play in at least play a handful of games and show the Sixers he is not damaged goods – he’ll certainly need to do that for other potential suitors.  Even if he doesn’t play one game this season he will likely be offered a max contract by someone.  Talent-wise he is a top 2 or 3 center in the league, but he has never played more than 65 games in a season, has serious knee issues, and a 5 year max contract is too risky a proposition.  The Sixers have some serious soul searching to do, for sure.

Sixers Question #2 for Jeff:

Jrue Holiday has made ‘the jump’ this season and just played in his first All Star Game.  What would you consider to be the one or two main reasons that caused this jump?  Separately, what aspect of his game still needs the most improvement?

Jeff:

Jrue Holiday, still only 22 years old, has been the ONLY bright spot this season for the team.  They beat the November 1st deadline and extended Jrue to a 4 year, $41 million deal (plus incentives).  Though Jrue has been somewhat inconsistent through his first 3 seasons, it was a move many Sixer fans backed wholeheartedly considering his upside and his encouraging play vs. top competition in the past two playoffs.

Moving on from Iguodala and Brand was an addition by subtraction in regards to Holiday’s growth of a player and he has taken full advantage of being the focal point of the offense.  He has become much more assertive leading the team in general, is an underrated on ball defender, and has been more aggressive penetrating the lane for his own shot or locating open shooters on the wing.

Personally, I am pleasantly surprised that he is one of the top assist men in the NBA.  Jrue is still somewhat careless at times with the ball which leads to his high turnover rate and for whatever reason he doesn’t create enough contact when penetrating the lane. Cutting down on his TO’s and increasing his FT attempts will be vital if he wants to take his game to the next level.

Sixers Question #3 for Jeff:

We have talked through a number of trade scenarios in the past that largely revolve around Derrick Williams and Evan Turner.  Is there anything on the Wolves roster that is appealing enough to take him off your hands?

Jeff:

Interestingly, the Sixers are another year or so away from having to make another major decision: commit to Evan Turner or not.  He has improved this season, no question.  Always a very good rebounder and ball handler, Turner improved his mid-range jumper and added a corner three to his repertoire, but he has yet to add true consistency to his game.  From my perspective, Turner would be a better fit coming off the bench in a 6th man role, but I don’t feel he’d embrace it enough.  They are at the cross-roads and all signs are pointing to Evan Turner getting put on the trade block with their lack of many tradable assets, although I don’t see it happening until the offseason at the earliest.  Who knows, maybe the Wolves can be a potential suitor?

The Sixers are not athletic on the wings and are without an interior game until Bynum shows up.  I can’t see the Wolves entertaining a deal including Pekovic, so a trade between these two teams would need to center on Turner and Williams.  Straight up would be tough for a Sixer fan to stomach, but if another player is added to the deal, maybe Villanova star Dante Cunningham or Greg Stiemsma, I would be more open to considering it.  If there is a way to get the Wolves to take Spencer Hawes or Kwame Brown off our hands and add in another player such as Luke Ridnour, then I can see making something happen that makes sense.  How does Turner/Hawes for Williams/Cunningham/Ridnour sound?

John’s response to the trade proposal above:

There are certain parameters that I think could make this work.  The deal above wouldn’t be acceptable to me, but if we replace Cunningham with Stiemsma, there might be something there, particularly due to the play of Chris Johnson.  Looking ahead to this summer, this would also be a nice backup move for the Wolves and protection against losing Pekovic or even a sign and trade with Portland that swaps Pekovic for Batum.

I want to thank Jeff for answering a few questions on Sixers and providing some perspective on the Pups opponent.  You can follow Jeff on Twitter.

Player to watch:

Nikola Pekovic – If the Pups have any chance of getting back on track in the second half of the season, it is going to be because of Pekovic and the team’s commitment to getting him the ball in the paint.  While Spencer Hawes is quietly having a solid season for Philadelphia, I fully expect him to be eaten up by Pekovic Wednesday night.

Match-up to watch:

Ricky Rubio vs. Jrue Holiday.  As discussed above, Holiday is having a breakout season.  Without Rubio in the lineup earlier this season, Jrue put up a 13-9 game against the Wolves backcourt.  I would expect similar numbers against Ricky and company Wednesday.  Rubio has been molding into form over the past month or so and is coming off a highlight filled BBVA Rising Stars game.  He continues to look more and more like last year’s version and it will be great to see that trend continue through the second half of the season.

Predictions:

Coming off of the extended break and knowing that a handful of tough games against Western Conference opponents are forthcoming, I expect the Wolves to be fresh for this one and play with confidence, given the results from earlier this season in Philly.

Final score prediction: Minnesota Timberwolves 106, Philadelphia 76ers 98

Three stars of the game predictions:

  1. Nikola Pekovic
  2. Alexey Shved
  3. Evan Turner

Let’s go Wolves!

How Our Pups Fared Over the 2013 NBA All-Star Weekend

Ricky and Alexey

Ricky Rubio and Alexey Shved were both participants of the 2013 Rising Stars Challenge.

This year’s All-Star Weekend has very little to do with this season’s Timberwolves roster and that’s unfortunate for a number of reasons.  I will only mention this in the beginning and then move on to more positive thoughts and highlights from the weekend.  The Pups don’t have anyone playing in Sunday’s All-Star Game due to the injuries Kevin Love has suffered.  Also worth noting is that second year pro Derrick Williams couldn’t do enough to get into the Rising Stars game despite Love’s injury.

OK, that’s enough of a recap of how bad things have gone for the Wolves this season.  Let’s concentrate on the positives – Ricky Rubio and Alexey Shved were asked to participate in the Rising Stars game.  Ricky was a late addition to the game given his turnaround over the past few weeks, his global appeal, and the fact that his flair is absolutely perfect for this weekend.

The glass-half-full view allows us to also gloat that David Kahn signed Alexey Shved this past offseason and he has been nothing short of solid for the Pups thus far this season.  At the break Alexey is averaging 10.5 ppg and 4.4 apg.  While his shooting percentages have tailed off, he has been a little bit of a savior for the team given all of the injuries they have had to absorb.

Here are a few highlights Rubio’s performance in Friday night’s Rising Stars game:

  • Despite being a late entry into the game itself, they put Rubio in the starting lineup.
  • Early and often, Rubio looked to drop dimes to the rest of Team Chuck.  In the first few minutes, Rubio’s passes were slightly off, broken up, or his teammates didn’t finish the play.
  • However, things got rolling shortly thereafter.  Towards the very end of the 1st half, this between the legs, no look pass to Bradley Beal happened; amazing!
  • In just over 15 minutes of play, Rubio finished with 10 assists.  Ironically, he was the only player on Team Chuck with a negative +/-, at -2.  The highlights were worth it.

Beyond Kenneth Faried’s MVP performance and Kyrie Irving’s sick dribbling display late in the game, I’m not sure anyone else stole the show as much as Shved in the Rising Stars game.  Here are some highlights:

  • Shved was the first player to come into the game off either bench, likely in an effort to get him on the court with Rubio.
  • Throughout the game, Shved showed off the entire package – slick passes, three point shooting, and a handful of athletic dunks; that included a nice reverse dunk off of a lob pass.
  • At the very end of the game, there was a dunk-off and Faried gave the ball to Shved to try one more dunk.  The dunk itself would have been spectacular … if it didn’t clang off the rim.  Doh!
  • In 18 minutes of play, Shved finished with 12 points and 4 assists.
  • Great performance from Alexey, and it seemed to open up the eyes of the broadcast team (which I don’t know how I feel about that if watching basketball is your job…).  In any case, Chris Webber provided the following, “I tell you what, I’m gonna be watching the Minnesota Timberwolves, baby”

Beyond the BBVA Rising Stars game, there were only a few more references, highlights, etc. that involved the Timberwolves.

Kevin Love was doing some promotional work for Sprint during the celebrity game earlier Friday night and said that his hand was feeling well and he was about a month away from returning.  Hinted at hoping there were meaningful games left to play.  (Nope)

There was very little Wolves-related content on Saturday night’s festivities, unless you want to count a few highlights from past performances.  We saw clips of Love’s winning performance in the 2012 3PT contest over Durant.  In the highlight montage for the Dunk Contest, you saw Isaiah Rider’s East Bay Funk Dunk as well as one of Gerald Green’s dunks.  For those that don’t remember, Green won the contest in ’07 as a Boston Celtic and finished second to Dwight Howard (ugh) in ’08 as a Timberwolf.  The NBA production team showed one of Green’s dunks from his ’08 performance.

Admittedly, I had to skip live coverage of the All-Star Game on Sunday to play the role of a husband.  (Kidding …)  In flipping through the DVR after seeing the final 10 minutes or so, there was virtually nothing Wolves related, excluding a commercial for NBATickets.com that starred Al Horford of the Hawks and our own Ricky Rubio.

(Unrelated to the Wolves, if you enjoy basketball history, please do yourself a favor and watch NBA TV’s Mr. Russell’s House Monday night.  Bill Russell’s interviews are always top-notch.)

Minnesota Timberwolves vs. Portland Trail Blazers, 2/4/13

Rubio-BatumSetting the stage:

The Timberwolves continue their homestand Monday night against division rival Portland.  Minnesota is fresh off of their blowout victory against New Orleans on Saturday night and look to continue to roll through this stretch of home games.  The win moved the Wolves to 18-26 on the season but are still well behind in the race for the playoffs.

Portland also comes into Monday’s game off of a win on Saturday night, defeating the Jazz at home.  The Blazers actually had one of the rare back-to-back home and away games against the same team, losing to the Jazz on Friday night in Utah.  Portland is 24-23 on the season and one game behind Houston for the 8th seed in the conference

The Blazers have defeated the Wolves in both of the earlier match-ups this season, winning 103-95 in Portland on 11/23 and then again in Minnesota on 1/5 by a 102-97 score.  Rookie Damian Lillard has lit up the Wolves in both games averaging 24 points and 7 assists in the two games.  With Rubio looking more like his former self in the past week or two, it will be interesting to see if he and the rest of the Wolves backcourt can do a better job of containing Lillard.

Player to watch:

Nic Batum – The almost Timberpup is putting together a very nice season, averaging 15.9 points, 6.1 rebounds and 4.9 assists a game.  He’s become much more of a focal point in the Blazers’ offense and is successfully proving his doubters wrong.  While he didn’t score much in the first meeting against the Wolves this season (9 points), he did fill the box score and contributed in other aspects of the game.  In January’s meeting in Minnesota, Batum erupted for 26 points, putting his talents on display for the Minnesota faithful.  The match-up between he and Kirilenko will be a joy to watch.

Match-up to watch:

Ricky Rubio vs. Damian Lillard.  Ricky is the highlighted man in this preview again, as he has another tough test in front of him on Monday.  As previously mentioned, Lillard has had a lot of success in the two meetings with the Wolves this season.  Now that Ricky is seemingly getting back to normal, it will be interesting to see how he can contain the rookie.  Rubio is coming off a highlight reel filled performance on Saturday night, with 9 points and 7 assists in only 22 minutes of action – due to the scoreboard and not his leg injury.  In fact, over the weekend Adelman mentioned that he is no longer limiting Rubio’s minutes and that he will be playing 32 mpg or so, which is what he would normally be slotted for according to the coach.

Predictions:

This is a tough match-up for the Wolves but I’m going to say that the momentum from Saturday’s game against New Orleans carries over for one more evening.

Final score prediction: Twolves 102, Blazers 100

Three stars of the game predictions:

  1. Nikola Pekovic
  2. Alexey Shved
  3. LaMarcus Aldridge

Let’s go Wolves!