Wolves Cruise Past Pistons In Home Opener

(photo credit: fox sports)

(photo credit: fox sports)

On Thursday night, an electric Target Center crowd welcomed the Timberwolves for their home opener against Detroit. It proved another up-and-down contest for the Wolves, but they delivered a 30-point third quarter that enabled them to push past the Pistons and win their home stand 97-91. Thaddeus Young once again led the squad in scoring with 19 points, followed by Nikola Pekovic with 17. On the opposing side, Caron Butler led Detroit with 24 points.

Two big improvements helped the Wolves to a win after losing Game 1 to Memphis: (1) Pekovic and (2) better ball handling. The veteran center came out looking rough around the edges again, and he went only 2-for-6 on his first attempts from the field. In the third quarter, however, Pek began to mirror his old self, tallying nine points and five rebounds during the period.

“It was like two grizzly bears fighting each other,” Young said.

Minnesota controlled the ball much better against Detroit, committing only 12 turnovers―half the number they had on Wednesday.

The first half delivered a fairly even performance between the two teams, and the lead was exchanged more than once. Mo Williams led with eight points through the first two quarters, and every point was answered by Pistons center Andre Drummond. Drummond tallied 11 points and 12 boards on the night. He looked to be an even larger threat, but fortunately for Minnesota, he later found himself in foul trouble which limited his minutes.

Following halftime, Timberwolves fans witnessed an energy and accuracy they hope will be more consistent moving forward. With Drummond on the bench and less protection in the paint, all hands were on deck; Minnesota pulled ahead to a 19-point lead that left their opponents reeling.

Butler made a noble attempt to bring the Pistons back―the forward took matters into his own hands, scoring 12 points to start the fourth quarter and shrink Minnesota’s lead to 80-74. The Wolves held their own, but eventually Detroit battled back to tie the game at 88. Young stepped up to play the role of clutch player, grabbing a smooth over-the-should pass from Ricky Rubio and knocking down a three-point bucket that ultimately led Minny to seal their win.

“We kind of went to an old play that we ran a lot with [Sam] Cassell and [Kevin] Garnett,” head coach Flip Saunders said of the play. “Thad hit a three-pointer off it and it’s kind of a go-to play to control the tempo of the game and also be aggressive with scoring.”

Despite the addition of several young players to the roster, Saunders ran Thursday’s contest primarily with the veterans. Minnesota has a strong blend of experience on its roster, and Saunders is confident that it will be the key to success.

“We’re trying to develop, but we also need some positive reinforcement and that’s by getting some wins,” Saunders said.

In addition to Pekovic and Young’s numbers, Williams and Rubio combined for 24 points and 13 assists on the evening.

Rookie Andrew Wiggins had a little larger presence in Game 2, although he struggled during the first half. The No. 1 draft pick switched gears after halftime, though. Timberwolves.com’s Dane Mizutani described the stretch:

“It started with an easy layup early in the quarter that seemed to get him going. A few minutes later he caught a pass from Mo Williams, took off from the left of the painted area, absorbed a ton of contact from Joel Anthony, and finished at the rim. He missed the ensuing free throw only to get the rebound and drill a jumper. Wiggins nailed a Kobe Bryant-esque turnaround jumper a couple minutes later to cap his impressive sequence.”

Fellow rookie Zach LaVine made his regular-season debut, but he played only four minutes and did not find any scoring opportunities.

***

Up next: the Timberwolves stay in Minnesota to face the Chicago Bulls on Saturday night. Tipoff is set for 7 p.m.

Timberwolves Come Up Short Against Grizzlies in Season Opener

The Timberwolves kicked off their new-look season on the road, facing Zach Randolph and the rest of the Grizzlies squad in Memphis. Thaddeus Young led the Wolves with 26 points, followed by Mo Williams with 18 points. Unfortunately, however, Minnesota could not stop Randolph and Marc Gasol, who tallied 25 and 32 points, respectively. The teams battled for four quarters, exchanging the lead more than once. In the end, the Wolves fell short in the 105-101 final score.

Memphis had not won a season opener since 2000, and it was clear that the team did not plan to allow one more loss. The Grizzlies came out with all cylinders firing, and they pulled ahead to an early lead. Halfway through the first quarter, Wolves head coach Flip Saunders called a timeout to cool down their opponents, who hit seven shots in a row.

The timeout worked. Following the brief break, Williams led the Wolves on a 14-3 run, and Shabazz Muhammad landed a three-point bucket to give Minnesota the 25-23 lead.

Minny fell behind once again in the second quarter, scoring only 20 points to the Grizzlies’ 28. Despite a lot of good looks, great rebounding, and slam dunks from both Anthony Bennett and Corey Brewer, sloppy ball handling and execution continued to hurt the Wolves throughout the game. One disappointment, and surprisingly so, was center Nikola Pekovic. The big man committed two traveling violations in the first quarter alone, and he looked sluggish and off his game all night. In almost 29 minutes on the floor, Pek grabbed only five points (2-for-9 from the floor) and four rebounds.

This season, Ricky Rubio will attempt to prove that he can be the face of the Minnesota franchise. For that to be believable, he will have to settle down a bit and pull things together. The 24-year-old did add 12 points and seven assists to the stat sheet, but he lost the ball seven times as well. Overall the Wolves committed 23 turnovers, ultimately costing them the game. “We have to take care of the ball, especially me,” Rubio said. “I got maybe too crazy at the end of the third quarter.”

In the fourth quarter, Minnesota kept pace with its opponent, even taking a 9-0 run and an 87-85 lead early on. During that stint, Bennett grabbed five points and Muhammad added four. The Grizzlies pulled away when it counted, though. Gasol seemed to hit every shot he threw up, including a 21-foot jumper at the 1:23 mark. The biggest momentum-changer occurred with an out-of-bounds call awarded to the Grizzlies, when it appeared that it should have gone the other way. Saunders expressed his frustration after the game, saying the ball had gone off Randolph, and it slowed down the Wolves’ momentum.

The Wolves battled back to within two, but veteran Vince Carter capitalized on a trip to the charity stripe with only 7.3 seconds left on the clock to seal the score at 105-101.

Rookie Andrew Wiggins delivered a decent performance in his NBA debut, his stat line reading five points, three rebounds and two steals. “I was nervous, but not crazy nervous,” Wiggins said. “I calmed down after the tip.” Minnesota’s draft pick Zach LaVine and Glenn Robinson III did not play Wednesday night.

(photo credit: dunkingwithwolves.com)

(photo credit: dunkingwithwolves.com)

Everybody will agree a loss is a loss. However, there were several good things to note in the first game of the season:

Thaddeus Young: Young sold himself as the MVP against Memphis. Besides 26 points, the forward added four rebounds, four assists and two steals. Young looks to be a very well-rounded player who immediately improves Minnesota’s offense.

Most Improved: When looking at returning players for the Wolves, forward Shabazz Muhammad has made the greatest strides during offseason. Muhammad dropped over 20 pounds, and he looks much more in-shape, focused, and efficient on the floor. The 22-year-old grabbed 13 points and seven rebounds on the night.

Rebounding: Interestingly enough, the stat that may have been expected to fall when Kevin Love left Minnesota did not seem to be a problem for this young team. The Wolves out-rebounded Memphis 47-33. If the team can continue to grab boards like this, it bodes promising for the rest of the season.

 

Up next: the Timberwolves will welcome fans for the home opener Thursday night against Detroit before facing the Bulls on Saturday evening, also at home.

 

 

 

Timberwolves Training Camp Roster

The Wolves front office hits the reset button and will be relying on Zach LaVine and Andrew Wiggins to bring the team forward. (Photo credit: Michael Rand, Star Tribune)

The Wolves front office hits the reset button and will be relying on Zach LaVine and Andrew Wiggins to bring the team forward. (Photo credit: Michael Rand, Star Tribune)

The Minnesota Timberwolves announced their 2014 training camp roster this week with little to no surprises.  The team has eighteen players on the camp roster and will need to cut that down to fifteen for opening night, 10/7 in Indianapolis to take on the Pacers.

Here is a look at the roster by position and probable depth chart heading into training camp:

  • PG: Ricky Rubio, Mo Williams, JJ Barea
  • SG: Kevin Martin, Zach LaVine, Corey Brewer, Brady Heslip
  • SF: Andrew Wiggins, Chase Budinger, Shabazz Muhammad, Glenn Robinson III
  • PF: Thaddeus Young, Anthony Bennett, Robbie Hummel
  • C: Nikola Pekovic, Gorgui Dieng, Ronny Turiaf, Kyrylo Fesenko

Several players on the roster can and will spend time at multiple positions.  The five players at the end of each position are also the most likely to not make the roster and you can make an argument for and against each one.

First and foremost, the team still needs to find a new home for JJ Barea.  If the team can’t find a team willing to part with him for a second round draft pick and/or another expiring contract, it would behoove Glen Taylor to eat the money and simply buy out Barea.  There is absolutely no reason for him to be in the locker room for the 2014/15 season.  With Mo Williams as the veteran, backup PG and some minutes likely going to Zach LaVine as well, Barea simply doesn’t need to spread the cancer around the club, particularly with so many young, impressionable players on the roster.

Brady Heslip is the next most likely candidate to miss the opening night roster.  He and Kyrylo Fesenko are the only two without guaranteed contracts.  Barring injuries to players ahead of them, in particular Heslip, it is very unlikely either make the cut.  In Fesenko’s case, there is still a longshot chance that the Wolves are looking to find a new home for Nikola Pekovic to make the rebuild 100% official.  However unlikely this is, there is still a chance.

The other player that Flip Saunders could be looking to move is Kevin Martin, who had a disastrous first season in Minnesota last year.  After a strong first two months, Martin’s game fell off a cliff.  Again, in the spirit of a true rebuild, Martin (and his contract) should expect to have a new home at some point heading into this year’s trade deadline.

Who do you think misses the opening night roster for the forthcoming season?  Remember, training camp is from Tuesday, September 30th through Sunday, October 5th – highlighted by the midnight “Dunks After Dark” event on Monday, 9/29.

Three Team Trade Sends Kevin Love to Cavs, Wolves Get A Solid Return

Kevin Love was supposed to be the next savior for the Wolves and that never came to fruition.  (John Autey, Pioneer Press)

Kevin Love was supposed to be the next savior for the Wolves and that never came to fruition. (John Autey, Pioneer Press)

It is August 23rd and the Wolves are back in the news, as it is now 30 days since Andrew Wiggins signed his NBA rookie contract and can now be traded.  It didn’t take long for today’s announcement, as Wiggins and Anthony Bennett are on their way to Minnesota for three time All Star, Kevin Love.  As had been rumored for weeks, the Philadelphia 76ers worked their way into the deal and will send PF Thad Young to the Wolves.  In return, the 76ers will receive Alexey Shved, LRMAM, and Miami’s 2015 #1 pick.

There are a number of pieces to this puzzle worth commenting on, so I’m going to break this up a bit.  The future of the Timberwolves is now much clearer and there is some strange light that I’m seeing in the distance.

Au revoir Kevin Love

First and foremost, I think the Wolves did a great job in finding a new home for Kevin Love when all things are considered.  He wanted to go play in a specific city and the Wolves found themselves able to acquire a decent haul that provides them with both talent and flexibility moving forward.  Love has never been able to get the Timberwolves into the playoffs, has occasionally been considered a stats-focused player, and certainly has limitations on the defensive end of the floor.  That said, he is an all-world rebounder, fantastic offensive player and is, in my opinion, the best PF in the game today.

Love has been the face of the franchise since 2010/11 when he became the teams go-to player.  Statistically speaking, he hasn’t disappointed.  In the four seasons as a regular starter, Love has averaged over 22ppg and almost 14rpg and that includes an injury riddled – knuckle push-ups led – 2012/13 season.  While he has been the most marketable player for the franchise, he has not been able to get the club back into the playoffs.  There are any number of caveats that can be thrown on this statement, but the fact remains that the Wolves did not make the playoffs during Love’s tenure with the club.  His attitude has been called into question and the quotes provided to the media left a lot to be desired.

It was time to move on and we should all do the same.  Kevin Love was not the next Kevin Garnett.  He was the first Kevin Love, an exciting player that brought some attention to the franchise.  Let’s not forget that a lot of this may have been avoided if David Kahn and Glen Taylor just gave Love the max-max deal and/or didn’t agree to his opt-out clause in his current contract.

The franchise core moving forward

Flip Saunders now turns his attention to rebuilding the Wolves once again.  There are certainly pieces to work with, including Ricky Rubio, last year’s 1st round pick Gorgui Dieng, and this year’s selection, Zach LaVine.  When you throw in Wiggins, there is a lot of promise and potential in the Twin Cities.  This is certainly a core group that Wolves’ fans can get excited about and it is a group of players that should be able to grow together with extended minutes on the court next season.

There is one glaring need when looking at that core of four and it is outside shooting.  That is where the remaining flexibility that Flip has, or will have in the coming 18 months, needs to be  focused on.  For those wondering, no, Kevin Martin is not the answer here.  He and JJ Barea are the next two players that need to be moved to another city.

The remaining pieces of the Wolves roster

Anthony Bennett had a terrible rookie season, averaging 4.2ppg and 3rpg in under 13mpg.  However, he is 21 years old and now has a season under his belt.  I’m glad he is staying with the Wolves and was not part of the package that went to Philadelphia, based simply on a “let’s roll the dice and see what we have with him” philosophy.  He may not get much better, but he’s one year into his rookie contract so there isn’t much to lose in this situation.

Thad Young just turned 26 years old this summer but has seven years of NBA experience.  He is a fantastic athlete who averaged 17.9ppg and 6rpg last season on the 76ers.  I’m skeptical as to what Flip Saunders thinks he is getting in Young, but for what the Wolves gave up to acquire him, this was a no-brainer.

(You can pretty much assume that Chris Bosh gets injured this coming season, the Heat sit Wade once this happens and Miami wins the NBA lottery, thereby giving the Sixers this pick.  This is what happens when the Wolves are involved in the lottery.  The title of a novel based on the Wolves’ history in the lottery would be rightfully named “The Worst”.)

The only other player on the Wolves roster that warrants mentioning here is Corey Brewer.  He is likely the only other (relevant) Pup that I see being with the Wolves 24 months from now.  His ideal role is an off-the-bench, energy guy in a 8 or 9 man rotation.  Assuming Coach Flip doesn’t have a “we must win this game” mentality next season, Brewer should start to become acclimated to this role.

In summary

Pinch me, but I think the Wolves received quite the return package for a player that wasn’t going to be here much longer and two guys that underachieved and/or underwhelmed during their tenure in Minnesota.

What do you think Wolves Nation?  Are you happy with the return or are you boycotting the Target Center next season?  I think you’ll see some exciting basketball being played on the floor, with a good number of speed bumps hit along the way.  I’m happy to see this drama resolved, that we have a core group of guys that can grow together and players that could very likely lead this team back to the playoffs one or two seasons from now.

Rumors: Wolves to Acquire Thad Young for Anthony Bennett

Thad Young may be joining the Timberwolves in 2014 after all.  (Getty Images)

Thad Young may be joining the Timberwolves in 2014 after all. (Getty Images)

Wolves Nation didn’t get through 24 hours of the Kevin Love to Cleveland news before another wrinkle to the story broke.  Bob Cooney of the Philadelphia Daily News reported that the Wolves would then send Anthony Bennett and a 1st round pick to the Sixers in exchange for Thad Young.

Let’s just hope that this is posturing from the Sixers front office through the media.  First, there is no reason for the Wolves to include a 1st round pick in the deal.  The Wolves hold the advantage here and should not cave in.  Repeat, there is absolutely no reason for the Wolves to be including a draft pick in the deal.  Second, I sincerely hope that VPBO Flip Saunders and Coach Flip Saunders do not believe in the fact that Thad Young could be Kevin Love’s replacement.

Thaddeus just turned 26 years old and is coming off one of, if not his best seasons in the NBA where he averaged 17.9ppg and 6.0rpg.  One could be quick to point out that these stats could be called into question given how bad the Sixers were last season.  However, I choose to point out the misguided judgment of considering Young as Love’s replacement.

Young’s 6.0 rebounds per game average was tied for fourth on the team – behind Spencer Hawes, Henry Sims, and Michael Carter-Williams, while tied with Evan Turner (during his tenure with the club).  Kevin Love averaged 12.5 rebounds per game, i.e. more than double Young’s production, in only ~2 minutes more time on the floor per game.  Unequivocally, Thad Young is not replacing Kevin Love.

I do not believe Anthony Bennett is going to be Love’s replacement either, but I would rather wait and see what he becomes vs. flipping him over for two years of Thad Young.  The added benefit is that Bennett is just in the infancy stages of his rookie contract and under team control through the 2016/17 season.  The Wolves of course could simply not pick up his options or sign him to an extension prior to this, depending on how his career projects over the next two seasons.

As soon as the Wolves realize they are not competing in the Western Conference in 2014/15, the better.  The hamster wheel approach of “rebuilding, but not really blowing things up” is the worst approach that the franchise could possibly take right now.  The Western Conference is stacked.  Let’s take the long term approach and do this the right way.  With Andrew Wiggins and Zach LaVine on board, there is new life and blood in this franchise and the excitement of the product on the floor is going to be (relatively?) high.  Build off of this with one or two more minor moves (JJ Barea & Kevin Martin specifically) and keep an eye on potential moves for Nikola Pekovic going into the trade deadline or next offseason.

Circling all the way back to the rumored trade with Philadelphia, there is reason to still believe that this deal won’t happen, per Jon Krawczynski:

Here is to hoping that Jon’s senses are correct and the Wolves do the right thing (to me at least) and hold onto Anthony Bennett.  Lord help me if this deal happens and a 1st round pick is sent to Philadelphia.

Let’s go Wolves!

 

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. [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...]