The Timberwolves Newest Polarizing Player: Shabazz Muhammad

Shabazz Muhammad, 20, is one of the newest draft day additions for the Minnesota Timberwolves. How will the one-and-done swingman from UCLA fare as a role player for the Timberwolves?

Shabazz Muhammad, 20, is one of the newest draft day additions for the Minnesota Timberwolves. How will the one-and-done swingman from UCLA fare as a role player for the Timberwolves?

Following rumors that the Timberwolves were aggressively attempting to move up in Thursday’s 2013 NBA draft in hopes of selecting one of the draft’s premier shooting guards which included Indiana’s Victor Oladipo, Kansas’s Ben McLemore and Georgia’s Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, the Wolves found themselves out of luck when it came time for the 9th pick as all three prized shooting guards were off the board.

C.J. McCollum, the highly-touted 6-foot-3 PG/SG of Lehigh State, was apparently not on Flip Saunders’ radar as he ultimately passed up the scoring combo guard and instead took what he saw as the best talent available in point guard Trey Burke, despite  having no intention of keeping him. Flip immediately shipped the Michigan standout to the Utah Jazz in exchange for the 14th and 21st overall picks, despite already having the 26th pick received in a trade made last season with Memphis. Larry Fitzgerald Sr. had this to say about the move: [Read more...]

Timberwolves 2012-13 Player Grades: Forwards

"Don't worry, we'll pick up the slack in your absence" Photo credit: AP

“Don’t worry, we’ll pick up the slack in your absence”
Photo credit: AP

Here are our first round of reviews from this past season’s body of work.  Ladies and gentlemen, the Timberwolves 2012-13 player grades for your offseason enjoyment!  We’ll be concentrating on the forwards that graced us with their presence this past season.  Let’s get right into the season review …

Player: Kevin Love

Season Summary

To put it mildly, it wasn’t a great year for Kevin Love.  He broke a bone in his right hand before the season even started doing knuckle push-ups.  He returned earlier than doctors and the team had predicted and had a monster game against Denver on 11/21 at the Target Center – 34 points and 14 rebounds.  While putting up big numbers in the box score, it was clear that Love wasn’t himself after the first week.  He was not in game shape at all and his shooting percentages started to spiral downward – his final shooting percentages for the season were 35% from the field, 22% from three point range and 70% from the free throw line, all well below his career averages.

In December, Love missed a game here and there and averaged 17.5ppg and 13.3rpg.  By no means are those numbers to yawn at, but not what we were expecting to see from our all-star forward.  Then, shortly after the turn of the calendar year, the season came to a screeching halt for Love.  Ironically, it came against the Denver Nuggets, the team that he opened up his season against.  During a fluke incident around the paint, Love ran into a Nugget and re-fractured his hand.

That wound up being the end of Kevin Love’s season.  Despite rumors that he might return towards the end of the regular season, he never saw the floor again.

Season Highlight

While Love had several very impressive games, I am going to go with the night previously mentioned above – his return to the floor for the first time of the season and putting up the 34 and 14, leading the team to a victory.  It felt like it was time to get the season really going when he got back on the floor and my own conventional wisdom had hopes that his return was the start of a playoff run and a string of returning players to the lineup.  Yeah, that never happened.

Love had a few other monster games, including a 23 point, 24 rebound night in Sacramento on 11/27 and a season-high 36 points on 10-19 shooting at home against Cleveland on 12/7.  However, his return helped energize the fan base; if only for a short amount of time.

Season Lowlight

This one is pretty easy.  The Timberwolves season unofficially ended on Thursday, 1/3/13 when Love re-fractured the bone in his hand.  He was having a monster performance on the boards that night – 17 rebounds in 24 minutes, and everything went kaput on a fluke play.

Final Grade: Incomplete

If it ever comes out that Love didn’t break his hand doing knuckle push-ups and was originally injured doing something even dumber, this grade will be changed to an F minus-minus.  Let the conspiracy theorists have some fun with this one.

[Read more...]

Minnesota Timberwolves 110 – Boston Celtics 100

Was he hurt or was it personal reasons?  Pups fans won't shed a tear.  (Photo credit: Getty Images)

Was he hurt or was it personal reasons? Pups fans won’t shed a tear either way. (Photo credit: Getty Images)

Game Summary

The Boston Celtics visited Target Center Monday night, following a bad loss on Sunday against the Knicks in New York. Unfortunately for Wolves fans at the game, Kevin Garnett once again missed his return to Minnesota due to an injury.  The Celtics came into the game as the seven seed in the Eastern Conference.  The Wolves came into Monday’s game off of a Saturday night loss against Memphis, moving the team’s record to 26-46 on the season.

Par for the course when watching the Wolves, there were a few injuries to account for in the starting lineup on Monday night.  However, they weren’t driven by the Pups for once!  The Wolves opened up with Rubio, Ridnour, Kirilenko, Williams and Pekovic.  The Celtics played without much of their ‘normal’ starting lineup, beginning the game with Avery Bradley, Courtney Lee, Jeff Green, Brandon Bass, and Chris Wilcox.  Aside from Rondo and KG, the Celtics were also without Paul Pierce, who injured his leg on Sunday against the Knicks but was deemed out prior to the game for “personal reasons”.

The game had a nice flow early on with the Wolves and Celtics battling back and forth, particularly in the paint.  Pekovic and Kirilenko drew several early fouls on the Celtics’ big men.  At the same time, Rubio was aggressive looking for his shot and setting up others.  The Celtics countered with fast starts from Avery Bradley and Jeff Green.  Going into the first stoppage of play with under five minutes left in the 1st quarter, the Pups held a 17-13 lead.

At the end of the 1st quarter, the Wolves held a 27-25 lead.  Pekovic was dominant in the opening frame, finishing with 15 points on 5-6 shooting in the first twelve minutes.  More importantly, he had already drawn 2 fouls on Wilcox and 3 on Shavlik Randolph.  Overall, a very nice quarter from the Pups showing the ability to get to the free throw line and run Adelman’s offense.

The Wolves built a 42-36 lead going into a timeout with more than six minutes gone in the 2nd quarter.  Alexey Shved had two baskets in the paint and looked like he was a lot fresher; he only played ~17 minutes in the two games Friday and Saturday night.  Granted the Celtics were down their lead options and playing the second half of a back to back, but the Wolves were looking very good in the 1st half.

After the Celtics tied the game at 45, the Wolves went on a mini-run, taking a 57-52 lead into the locker room at the half.  Here are a couple of halftime thoughts through my Wolves lens:

  • The last week or so of games has to make you yearn for “what could have been” with an even remotely healthy lineup for the better portion of the season.
  • Very nice half of basketball from Pekovic (21 points) and Kirilenko (8 & 8).
  • If the Celtics can’t get healthy (quickly) they are going to be in a lot of trouble trying to avoid the 8 seed and the Miami Heat.

The Wolves tried to break the game open in the 3rd quarter, building a double digit lead halfway through the quarter.  After an AK47 steal and dunk to increase the lead to 12 points, Doc Rivers had seen enough and had to burn a timeout.  It was essentially more of the same from the same three players on the Pups – Pekovic, AK, and Rubio.  At the same time, the Wolves were doing a nice job shutting down the Celtics’ wings, holding Courtney Lee and Jeff Green to minimal contributions.

Boston made a small run towards the end of the 3rd quarter to cut the lead to six points going into the final frame at Target Center.  The Wolves were a little lucky it wasn’t closer as they missed a few buckets in the final few minutes, while Boston also missed a three pointer at the buzzer.  At the end of three, Minnesota led 84-78.

Someone call the league office and ask them to restart the NBA season with a healthy Wolves roster.  The Pups got off to a 12-4 run to start the 4th quarter to increase their lead back to double digits.  From there, it was only a matter of whether or not the Wolves would play fundamental basketball to hold on to the win and that is exactly what they were able to do.  Minnesota outscored Boston in all four quarters Monday night, including 26-22 in the 4th, to win 110-100.

Keys of the Game

  • Fast break points – The Wolves won the fast break battle 23-9.  Without their new big three, the Celtics tried to slow down the game to a screeching halt, but the Wolves wanted nothing to do with that tempo and moved the ball up the court.
  • Free throws – The Wolves were 25-27 (?!?!) from the charity stripe tonight, outpacing the Celtics 9-14 effort from the line.
  • Turnovers – Watching this game and seeing the final lines, you almost wonder how the Wolves didn’t win by an even larger margin.  Minnesota only turned the ball over 8 times Monday night, while Boston had 17.

Three Stars of the Game

  1. Nikola Pekovic – Another huge performance from Pekovic, with 29 points on 9-15 shooting from the field and 11-11 from the FT line.  Pekovic set the tone early and dominated the Celtics big men in the paint, putting them both in foul trouble early.
  2. Andrei Kirilenko – Nice effort from AK47 Monday night, with 17 points, 9 rebounds, 5 assists, and 2 steals.
  3. Dante Cunningham – Ham had another nice shooting night on the Target Center floor, going 7-12 from the field for 19 points.  He also threw in 5 rebounds and 2 steals.

Minnesota Timberwolves 117 – Phoenix Suns 86

Photo credit: AP/Matt York

Photo credit: AP/Matt York

Game Summary

After a cold night shooting in Sacramento on Thursday, the Timberwolves visited the Phoenix Suns with the hopes of warming up in the desert on Friday.  With both seasons virtually over, there wasn’t too much excitement in the air, and with the Gophers playing a late game in the NCAA tournament Friday night, you might excuse fans in Minnesota of being distracted from the Wolves.  Nevertheless, here is a recap of Friday night’s game.

The Wolves opened up with the same lineup – Rubio, Ridnour, Kirilenko, Williams, and Pekovic.  The Suns opened up with Goran Dragic, Wes Johnson, Markieff Morris, PJ Tucker, and Luis Scola.  Wolves’ fans might notice that the Suns are now starting Wes at the SG position.  If you were wondering why the Suns were playing .333 ball that would be part of the answer.  Also note that the Suns were without Gortat (probably out for the season, per Suns announcers), O’Neal, and Dudley for Friday’s game.

After a slow first few minutes, the Timberwolves came alive in the 1st quarter, somewhat erasing the memories of Thursday night in Sacramento.  Pekovic and Kirilenko led the way and really controlled the paint on both ends of the floor.  With about 6.5 minutes left in the quarter, the Wolves were up 13-10.  From that point, the Wolves owned the 1st, outscoring the Suns 21-8, taking a 31-18 lead into the 2nd quarter.

While Pups fans might have expected the team to come back to earth a bit, the 2nd quarter looked very similar to the 1st, with the visiting team pouring it on offensively against the Suns.  Chase Budinger helped start the quarter off strong, forcing Suns coach Lindsey Hunter to call a timeout within the first minute of the 2nd.  Budinger was an early 3-4 from the field and helped increase the Wolves lead to 15+ points.  It was off to the races from this point on.

The Suns big men were all in foul trouble – as Scola and Morris were clearly outplayed by the Wolves frontline.  At the half, the Wolves held a 67-39 lead.  The 67 points from the Wolves are/were the most points the team has scored in a half all season.  Here are a couple of halftime thoughts through my Wolves lens:

  • It is pretty amazing what the Wolves look like when they shoot north of 44%, and they look very formidable when around 50%.
  • The Suns are an abysmal team and looked asleep at the wheel.  This is what happens when you rely on Beasley and Johnson.

All the Wolves had to do was avoid playing “not to lose” in the second half and they would pull out the victory.  That’s exactly what they were able to do.  The Suns fans remaining in the stands in the 3rd quarter were treated to an exciting quarter of basketball, even if you could hear crickets through the television.  The Suns weren’t able to do much of anything in terms of making a comeback.  While outscoring the Wolves 30-28 in the 3rd quarter, it did virtually nothing to make it more of a game.  At the end of the quarter, the Wolves held a 26 point advantage and a 95-69 lead.

Even less Suns fans remained for the 4th quarter and those that did deserve a refund from the Sarver family because it was a pathetic effort from the team.  After giving up 95 point in three quarters to one of the worst offensive teams in the league, you would think the Suns would have come out in the 4th with a little bit more pride.  Again, I guess it shouldn’t have been expected when you are led by those two ex-Timberwolves.  Anyone that wishes either of those two were still on the team doesn’t understand the locker room impact on a team and/or that some players just don’t have what it takes internally to ‘turn it on’.

The Wolves outscored the Suns 22-17 in the 4th quarter and coasted to a very easy 117-86 victory.  Friday’s game was exactly what the Wolves players (and fans) needed; a victory that was never in doubt in the 2nd half.  Adelman had the ability to limit the minutes of many of his starters, particularly Pekovic, Kirilenko, and Williams’.  In fact, he was able to limit the minutes of everyone on the end of a back to back, and were afforded to do so because the reserves also outplayed anyone the Suns put on the floor.

Keys of the Game

  • Free Throws – The Wolves were 15-21 from the FT line in the 1st half, while the Suns were only 4-8.  That trend continued into the 2nd half as the Wolves finished 31-40 on the game.  Conversely, the Suns (and their lack of heart/effort) finished the game 10-21 from the line.  Again, just a pathetic effort all around from Phoenix.
  • Whistles – A deep correlation to FT’s but worth calling out separately, as the Suns big men were in foul trouble all night and couldn’t contain Minnesota’s frontline – both the starters and reserves.  The Suns were whistled for 29 personal fouls in the game vs. just 18 for the Wolves – which includes Stiemsma’s 5 PF’s.
  • Shooting – The Wolves shot 58% from the field in the 1st half to blow the game open and stayed above the 50% line throughout, finishing 42-79 for 53% on the night.  While the three point shooting woes continued (2-12), the team limited the total number attempted … as they should through the remainder of the season.

Three Stars of the Game

  1. Greg Stiemsma – I’m going to go with Stiemsma as the #1 start due to the big minutes he played, but also because his contributions made a big impact in building the Wolves lead in the 1st half.  Greg finished 14 points, 10 rebounds, and 3 blocks in a game high 34+ minutes.
  2. Andrei Kirilenko – Friday night felt like the return of the “real” (or at least desired) Kirilenko.  He was active on both ends of the floor and was a main cog in the machine that helped drive the huge advantage for the Wolves on the scoreboard.  Andrei finished with 20 points and 7 rebounds, including getting to the line 10 times on the evening.
  3. Ricky Rubio – Again, I’m going with guys that played heavier minutes in the 1st half to drive home the advantage over someone like Dante Cunningham, who played great Friday night, but it was in excessive garbage time in my opinion.  (There is nothing wrong with that by the way.)  Rubio finished the game with 12 points, 8 assists, 6 rebounds, and 5 steals.  By the way, he’s awesome!

Minnesota Timberwolves vs. Los Angeles Clippers, 1/30/13

rickyrubio_blakegriffinFor the third time this season and for the second time in two weeks, the Timberwolves will be playing the Los Angeles Clippers Wednesday night.  The game begins a much needed, six game home stretch for the Pups as they look to right the ship that sails into the second half of the season.

The good news: it looks like Rick Adelman will be returning to the sidelines for the Pups!  The team was 2-9 during his extended absence in January to be with his ailing wife.  Let’s just say that it is good to have Coach Adelman on the sidelines.

Bonus good news: Pekovic and Shved returned to practice this week and may be available to start this stretch of home games!  Please cross your fingers.

The bad news: The Wolves have been beaten by the Clippers in each of their meetings this season, with the latter game on 1/17 being a complete dress-down for the Pups.  The only reason that game was remotely close (90-77) is because the Clippers looked like they took a few minutes off from time to time.

Player to watch:

Ricky Rubio – Rubio had his best performance of the season on Saturday night in Charlotte, finishing a game high +23 for the evening with 14 points, 8 assists, and 5 steals.  Let’s build on this!  Hopefully, Ricky is becoming more comfortable with his legs and his teammates so that we can start to see more of these types of performances much more frequently.  (Side note: the team desperately needs them.)

Match-up to watch:

Andrei Kirilenko vs. Caron Butler.  Without knowing who is in and who is out at the time of writing (Monday night) here is the match-up to watch.  Caron had a miserable performance against the Wolves back on 11/28, going 1-8 from the field for 2 points.  However, Andrei missed that game due to injury.  Two weeks ago Butler fared a little bit better with 12 points and putting in a few rebounds and assists going against AK47.  That said, Kirilenko got the better of him, finishing the game with 15 points on 7-12 shooting and adding in 5 rebounds and 4 steals.

Predictions:

With the return of Coach Adelman and the extended break between games, I say the Pups take Wednesday night’s game at home against the Clippers!

Final score prediction: Twolves 104, Clippers 97

Three stars of the game predictions:

  1. Ricky Rubio
  2. Andrei Kirilenko
  3. Blake Griffin

Let’s go Wolves!

Preview: Minnesota Timberwolves at Charlotte Bobcats, 1/26/13

Kemba

Photo Credit – US Presswire

Brace yourself, ladies and gentlemen. The Timberwolves are on the road while lacking the services of Nikola Pekovic and Alexey Shved in a Saturday night matchup in Charlotte, NC. Having lost their past 6 games, the Wolves are in desperate need of a victory before things spiral further out of control.

Greg Stiemsma will start for the injured Pekovic, and Luke Ridnour and Ricky Rubio will once again make up Minnesota’s starting backcourt. Tricky Ricky has had a very hard time adjusting to the flow of the NBA as he continues to play on a weak left knee, hurting his ability to accelerate, cut, and jump, which has ultimately hindered his ability to finish at the rim. However, the Spaniard has been able to provide positive contributions from his passing and defense, and just needs more time to gain proper strength around the recovering area of his knee.

Minnesota looks to avenge their previous loss to Charlotte earlier this season at the Target Center, and is set to battle an inexperienced yet talented young squad assembled by Michael Jordan. The Bobcats may likely be fighting for the number one overall selection in next summers draft, but have done an impressive job slowly building up a promising core of high-character players.

Player to watch:

Kemba Walker – After an inconsistent rookie season, the former UConn standout has enjoyed a breakout season this season posting averages of 17.7 ppg, 5.7 apg, 3.4 rpg and an outstanding 19.22 PER. Given Charlotte’s 10-32 record, Walker has flown somewhat under the radar this season and is quietly becoming one of the top young guards in the NBA. Having started all 42 games for the Bobcats this season, the versatile guard is proving to be quite durable in a rigorous league. I expect JJ Barea to match up the best with Walker for the Pups, given his quickness and low center of gravity. Nonetheless, Minnesota is going to have its hands full tonight.

Match-up to watch:

Andrei Kirilenko vs. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. Last summer’s number two overall selection takes on a much more refined, veteran version of himself in Andrei Kirilenko. Both wings demonstrate impressive length and athleticism, but do not excel in one particular area. Instead, each player has contributed in many different ways for their respective team, providing rebounds, steals and blocks outside of efficient scoring. I have been a huge MKG fan since his introduction at Kentucky, and am excited to see how the young buck fares against a player with virtually the same skill set. The 19-year-old has enjoyed a tremendous rookie campaign, averaging 10.1 ppg and 6.1 rpg for the improving young Bobcats squad.

Predictions:

Taking on a team that has lost its past 16 home games, the Wolves are currently on a six game slide and look to fend off an inferior opponent on the road. Minnesota has lost 10 of its past 11 road games, and is a combined 6-16 on the road this season. I see the Bobcats as a more talented team due to the Wolves’ injury problems, but I have a feeling that the Pups’ veteran leadership is not going to allow the team to drop arguably their easiest road game of the season.

Final score prediction: Twolves 92, Bobcats 83

Three stars of the game predictions:

  1. Luke Ridnour
  2. Andrei Kirilenko
  3. Kemba Walker

 

Preview: Minnesota Timberwolves at Atlanta Hawks, 1/21/13

MLK DaySetting the stage:

For the second time in less than two weeks, the Timberwolves will play against the Atlanta Hawks.  In what has become a longstanding tradition for the NBA, Monday’s game will be played in the afternoon given the Martin Luther King holiday.

The Wolves travel to Atlanta off a … baffling (?) astonishing (?)  miraculous (?) … surprising win on Thursday night against the Rockets, moving their record to 17-20 on the season.  Despite being severely undermanned, the Pups completely outplayed the Rockets throughout the game and were led by AK47 and two players that weren’t even in the NBA 24 hours prior to tipoff.  Mickael Gelabale and Chris Johnson played significant minutes and made significant contributions in the team’s win.

January has not been kind to the Hawks.  They have lost 8 of their first 11 games this month, including the loss in Minnesota on 1/8.  They have dropped to the six seed in the East and their record coming into Monday’s game is 22-18.  This past Friday the team announced that they have lost Lou Williams for the season with a torn ACL.  This puts more pressure on Jeff Teague and Devin Harris to come through and carry their backcourt the rest of the way.

Player to watch:

Josh Smith – Which Josh Smith shows up is likely the key to this game.  Will we see the efficient player that can look like an all-world athlete or we see the player that falls in love with jump shots and long range bombs?  Josh has the potential to be a double-double machine but takes nights off and isn’t always “there” when on the court.  We’ll probably see AK47 on Smith much more than DWill.

Match-up to watch:

Greg Stiemsma vs. Al Horford.  Horford is putting up approximately 15 & 10 this season and will be a handful for Stiemsma to try to contain.  A “small”, quick center like Horford could give the Greg fits around the basket.  With Nikola Pekovic sidelined, it will be important for Stiemsma to be able to stay on the floor and out of foul trouble.

Predictions:

I have no idea what to expect night in and night out anymore from the Wolves, so take this with a grain of salt.

Final score prediction: Twolves 96, Hawks 91

Three stars of the game predictions:

  1. Derrick Williams
  2. Andrei Kirilenko
  3. Al Horford

Let’s go Wolves!