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 Drop Out of the Las Vegas Summer League Tourney, Fall to Kings

One of these two isn’t likely to be in a Wolves uniform much longer (Brace Hemmelgarn – USA TODAY Sports)

One of these two isn’t likely to be in a Wolves uniform much longer (Brace Hemmelgarn – USA TODAY Sports)

(Note from John: While this is under my name, Lindsey Young carried the load on this recap.  Due to some computer issues, I filled in the blanks for Lindsey.  You can thank her for this recap!)

On Thursday afternoon, the Timberwolves faced the Kings in the Wolves’ first game of the 2014 NBA Summer League tournament. Coming in as the #24 seed, the Wolves were definitely the underdogs against the #8 seed Sacramento. The Wolves put up a valiant effort, but in the end they fell short in the   final score. Shabazz Muhammad led Minnesota with 24 points, while Gorgui Dieng had an impressive 15 points and 12 rebounds.

Minnesota’s starting lineup featured the following: Zach LaVine, Kyrylo Fesenko, Dieng, Shabazz and Brady Heslip. The game opened on a missed alley-oop by Ben McLemore followed by a nice dish by Muhammad to LaVine for the bucket. McLemore redeemed himself on the following play, though, hitting a long three. [Read more...]

What Will It Take for the Cavs to Land Kevin Love?

 

Andrew Wiggins must be included in any deal from the Cavs. (Photo credit: John Locher AP Photo)

Andrew Wiggins must be included in any deal from the Cavs. (Photo credit: John Locher AP Photo)

Unless you just woke up from a 24 hour nap, you are well aware that LeBron James has decided to return to Cleveland and rejoin Dan Gilbert’s Cavs. Immediately, this decision opened up the trade rumors of Wolves’ All-Pro Kevin Love being sent to Cleveland to join LeBron and Kyrie Irving to form the latest edition of “the big three”.

However, the reports and rumors are swirling that Cleveland does not want to give up Andrew Wiggins, the #1 pick from last month’s draft. For most Wolves fans, this is a non-starter in negotiations. Either Wiggins is included in the deal or there is no deal. Wolves’ fans have to hope that Flip Saunders doesn’t blink first in negotiations with the Cavs front office. [Read more...]

Analyzing How The Timberwolves Stack Up In The Western Conference

Is a core of Ricky Rubio, Kevin Love and Nikola Pekovic strong enough to carry Minnesota to the playoffs? (Brace Hemmelgarn, Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports)

Is a core of Ricky Rubio, Kevin Love and Nikola Pekovic strong enough to carry Minnesota to the playoffs? (Brace Hemmelgarn, Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports)

So far this offseason, the Minnesota Timberwolves have made a splash in both the draft and free agency. The Wolves started things off by drafting first-round picks Shabazz Muhammad and Gorgui Dieng, both of whom could provide solid minutes off the bench this next season while being potential  future starters. Shabazz has a high ceiling due to his play-making abilities on offense and Dieng has the body to become an elite defender in the NBA.

In free agency, the Timberwolves were able to sign UFA Kevin Martin to a four year, $28 million deal to fill the void as the new starter at shooting guard. The former sixth man from OKC brings perimeter shooting that the Wolves desperately need as he shot a tremendous 43% from behind the arc last season. In addition, the Wolves were able to bring back RFA Chase Budinger who also brings strong perimeter shooting and an extensive knowledge of Rick Adelman’s corner offense. In addition, former Timberwolves lottery pick Corey Brewer is also back to help replace some of Andrei Kirilenko‘s defensive versatility after playing an integral part to Denver’s terrific season in 2012-13. It is safe to say that Flip Saunders has assembled a very talented offensive roster that could very well make a playoff push come next spring.

Remaining on the agenda is the status of RFA Nikola Pekovic, who has still not found common ground with Timberwolves brass on a long-term deal that could keep the Montenegrin in Minnesota for another four seasons. Despite the current lack of a deal, it remains unlikely that Pekovic decides to leave millions on the table and instead signing his one year tender that would pay him around $6 million this season while allowing him to become an unrestricted free agent next summer. It remains very unlikely that Pek signs his one year tender as he would be taking a significant risk walking away from a $50+ million contract, especially considering his injury history. It will be very important for Flip to find common ground with Pek’s camp in order to find a mutually beneficial resolution to the extended negotiations, given how important of a piece he will be for Minnesota this season and in the future.

Is it be possible that this may be an inopportune time for the Wolves to significantly improve? As ridiculous as that may sound, let us take a peek at next season. With the hard cap created in the latest CBA, there are significant ramifications that result from the luxury tax largely as it applies to small market franchises. As it stands right now, the Timberwolves will have very little flexibility going forward for adding any more high-impact players. If their free agent additions fail to produce or if injuries continue to plague the team as they have in previous seasons, the Pups may miss out on both a playoff spot and a high spot in the draft. That would not bode well for the future of the team as the 2014 NBA Draft is considered by many experts to be the best draft in the past decade. The draft boasts high-end talent that includes Andrew Wiggins, Jabari Parker, Julius Randle, Marcus Smart, Joel Embiid, Dario Saric, Chris Walker, Aaron Gordan, Gary Harris, and the Harrison twins. There is a chance that multiple teams may draft their next superstar with a high selection, but having a pick in the 10-14 range would mean missing out on both a postseason run and a top end talent. With all of the talent and depth the Wolves have accumulated, it is very likely that Minnesota will miss out on players that could fundamentally change the franchise. As Minnesota is in clear win-now mode, it is somewhat unfortunate that the first time in a decade that the team does not appear in the NBA lottery may very well end up being the most important lottery to be apart of.

It is interesting to note that the last time the Timberwolves made a significant run in the playoffs in 2003, it ended up being arguably the greatest draft class in NBA history. Just look at some of these names: LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Chris Bosh, Dwyane Wade and David West were some of the players selected before Minnesota who held the 26th overall pick. They ultimately selected Ndudi Ebi, who proved to be a completely useless asset for the franchise. While it is not guaranteed that 2014 will bring as many studs as 2003 did, it is initially alarming to think about history repeating itself.

The Western Conference currently boasts a highly competitive group of teams that will make it increasingly difficult to make it to the postseason. At the top there are the unquestionable contenders, including the Oklahoma City Thunder, San Antonio Spurs, Memphis Grizzlies, Los Angeles Clippers, Golden State Warriors and the Houston Rockets. The Thunder have arguably two of the top five best players in the NBA with Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant.  The Spurs are coming off of an NBA Finals defeat in which they played the Miami Heat incredibly close despite ultimately coming up short. However, they will be returning all of their core players and should be a force yet again next season. The Grizzlies have only added pieces around their core and remain one of the most defensively oriented teams in the NBA, a strength that makes them one of the most unique teams in the league. Coming off of their memorable playoff run, Golden State was able to add a new starting small forward in All-Star Andre Igoudala to complement their sharp-shooting backcourt of Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson. The Clippers took care of their offseason priorities by re-signing Chris Paul while also addressing their needs at shooting guard by signing sharpshooter JJ Redick away from Milwaukee. Los Angeles also gained depth at small forward after trading for swingman Jared Dudley. Houston made arguably the biggest addition of the summer after signing Dwight Howard and have now positioned themselves as a championship contender with the addition of the best center in the NBA. Pairing Dwight with Chandler Parsons and James Harden will be interesting to observe to say the least.

Fighting for the final spots in the West with the Wolves will likely be between the Portland Trail Blazers, Dallas Mavericks, New Orleans Pelicans and the Denver Nuggets. The Portland’s young lineup is set to make a playoff run this season as they are bringing back their entire starting five. Dallas and New Orleans have both completely revamped their rosters and should be the biggest wildcards of the Western Conference, while Denver has undergone a complete turnover of their management and coaching staff while losing a number of key players. Obviously, as shown by the Los Angeles Lakers last season it is nearly impossible to predict the playoff standings. It is no guarantee that even with their improved roster and a full season of good health from both Ricky Rubio and Kevin Love, there is enough competition and talent in the West to keep Minnesota from snapping their streak of missing the postseason.

In the end, I am happy that the Wolves are going to be a competitive ball club next season. It’s about DAMN time! But there is always a price to being competitive that could negatively impact our future, just as it did in 2003.