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…]

Preview: Minnesota Timberwolves Host Charlotte Bobcats

Setting the stage

The Minnesota Timberwolves return home to the Target Center to face Michael Jordan’s Charlotte Bobcats.  Despite the rash of injuries, the Twolves split its two road games and are 5-2 on the season.  The Bobcats won Tuesday night against Wizards and are a surprising 3-3 on the year.  The Pups need to take advantage of the Bobcats playing in the second half of a back to back and win a game that, frankly, should be won.

The Wolves will be without Barea, Pekovic, and Roy tonight.  Talk about making this game more difficult than it needs to be.  In an earlier draft of this preview, I had figured Pek would be playing and considered this game more or less “a lock”.  Now?  Not so much.  Team Russia has continued to fill in admirably through the loss of each player over the past week, as has Ridnour and Cunningham.  However, this team has to play each of those four big minutes and that might have some long term damage if this injury bug lasts much longer.  Stiemsma gets the start tonight at the center spot, coming off a rough two game stretch in which he played sparingly and was held scoreless.

Charlotte comes in off a win vs. the Wizards, with rookie Michael Kidd-Gilchrist putting up some impressive numbers over his last couple of games.  MKG had a 25 & 12 evening against Dallas several nights ago, and followed that up with 15 & 8 last night vs. Washington.  The other watch-out for the Bobcats is at the combo guard position, with Kemba Walker, Ramon Sessions, and Ben Gordon really being the only legitimate threats on the roster.  Note that Gordon missed Tuesday’s game for a family emergency and it is unclear if he is making the trip to Minnesota.  At the same time, the local Bobcats team reported during Tuesday’s game that Kemba Walker was a little under the weather.  We’ll see if that has any impact on his performance Wednesday night – as he didn’t have much of a problem against Washington, playing 35 minutes and putting up 17 points.

Assuming they became aware of the limitations of their big men, the Bobcats made a minor move on Tuesday, sending Matt Carroll to the Hornets for Hakim Warrick.  Warrick was inactive for Tuesday’s game and it remains to be seen when he will make his debut for his new team.  While certainly not a true PF, Warrick provides more overall talent for the Bobcats, who can consider playing small much more of the time.

While Charlotte is in the top 10 in scoring in the early part of the season at just under 100 ppg, they are near the bottom of the league in points allowed (~102 per game, down from ~107 before Tuesday’s game).  The Wolves have become one of the better defensive teams in the league with its offseason additions and I look forward to seeing the team control the tempo and flow of this game from the outset.

Player to watch

Derrick Williams – If there were ever a game that Derrick Williams should be expected to produce, this would be it.  DWill is coming off an embarrassing 12 minute, 2 point game on Monday in Dallas, despite the team being undermanned.  It is crystal clear that DWill has a short leash and easily gets into Adelman’s doghouse.  However, Charlotte lacks any semblance of strength at the PF spot.  Byron Mullens and Tyrus Thomas scream opportunity for Derrick to turn it up a few notches.

Match-up to watch

MKG vs. AK47.  I made it no surprise that I really wanted MKG in this year’s draft.  The signing of AK47 may put David Kahn in the running for Executive of the Year.  These guys are very similar, albeit in very different stages of their career.  They are about the same size, with Andrei being slightly taller/longer.  Both players do a little bit of everything for their teams, fill the box score, and are high character individuals in the locker room.  It will be interesting to see these two go at it, with the possibility of them shutting each other down and holding one another to single digit points for the night.

Predictions

The Pups need to win this one.  Not to straighten out their season, turn around momentum or anything like that.  The fact of the matter is, Charlotte is an inferior opponent and good teams beat inferior opponents – even if we are down to a nine man lineup.  Good grief …

Final score prediction: Minnesota 90 – Charlotte 86

Three stars of the game predictions:

  1. Derrick Williams
  2. Dante Cunningham
  3. Kemba Walker

Let’s go Wolves!

Chase Budinger Out Three Months with Torn Meniscus

Associated Press – Nam Y. Huh

Three weeks into the NBA season and the Pups are having a rough go at it.  Not from a record standpoint, as the team remains near the top of Northwest Division, but on the injury front.  Here’s what the last week has presented to the Wolves and their fans.

Last Wednesday, JJ Barea mildly sprained his ankle while diving for a loose ball in the 4th quarter of a blow-out win vs. Orlando.  Why?  Even JJ doesn’t know why he did this, but he did and the injury forced him to miss the next three games.  JJ is currently listed as day to day this week.

In the next game against Indiana, Brandon Roy never came out of the locker room for the 2nd half.  It was later reported that Roy had soreness in his degenerative right knee.  Brandon has since missed the last two games because of the injury and is also listed as day to day.  It sounds like there is a very good chance of Roy being ready for Wednesday’s game vs. Charlotte.

The very next night in Chicago, Chase Budinger tore his meniscus in his knee and a timetable for his return will be announced after the surgery.  Woj is reporting this morning that the surgery was completed earlier today (by Dr. James Andrews …) and Budinger will likely miss up to three months.

Finally, in last night’s game against Dallas, Nikola Pekovic rolled his ankle and didn’t return to the game.  I don’t expect Pek to be out very long though.  Why?  Let’s let him answer those questions, “I didn’t hurt nothing, just a lot of pain” and “I don’t use crutches”.  Those were his quotes on the injury after the game.  If anyone in the NBA deserves a “beast mode” tag, it should go to Pek.

So, this brings up a few questions and thoughts.  What in the world did the franchise do to deserve this?  Haven’t the Wolves paid enough for all of the bad decisions made over the past twenty-something years?  What does this mean for the team in the short and long term?

In the short term, this of course adds up to awful news for the team, who are already missing their two cornerstones until mid-December (in a best case scenario).  The team must make do without five guys in what would be Adelman’s regular rotation and adds pressure to the few remaining willing and able wings on the roster.  Everyone will need to step up, but allow me to be a bit pessimistic for the next few paragraphs.

Andrei Kirilenko has been an absolute blessing thus far this season.  He has done a little bit of everything.  However, he will now need to carry a larger burden of the scoring.  Will he be able to do this?  How will his body hold up given the presumed extra minutes he’s going to receive?  Only time will tell.

Derrick Williams has been wildly inconsistent to start the season, which isn’t too much of a surprise.  However, DWill has to step up.  He cannot produce one night and lay an egg the next.  Quite frankly, I don’t have high hopes here and it doesn’t feel or look like Adelman does either right now.

Alexey Shved has provided solid minutes from his backup, rotational spot.  How, or can he match up with starting two guards in the league?  Will his flaws become more visible and problematic for the team with increased minutes and playing more against starters?

Can the team get net-positive results from Malcolm Lee and/or Will Conroy?  Is it even fair to set these expectations?  In Monday’s game in Dallas, Lee got the starting nod and didn’t look great, but made enough plays to warrant more time there if/when needed, which would also allow Shved to come off the bench in a 6th man role.

Longer term, this puts another caveat into this season’s goal of making the playoffs.  There will likely be added pressure on the team come January/February to start winning at a greater percentage in order to make it to the playoffs as the team’s cornerstones return.  Roy and Budinger’s injuries are big question marks that may (more likely, will) have an impact throughout the year, but the others should be back sooner rather than later.  At this point, I believe the team will need to tread water for the rest of November.  The team plays every other day this week through Friday (including last night’s win in Dallas), and are then off until next Wednesday, which may be a small blessing in an otherwise crazy start to the season.

Let’s focus on Chase Budinger’s injury for a second, as JJ Barea should return soon and Brandon Roy’s knee injuries are well documented and should now be expected to be an on again, off again item for much of this season.  In a limited amount of games, Budinger had already proven to be a valuable commodity for the Wolves.

At the time of the injury, Chase was the second leading scorer on the team at 11.8ppg.  He was also throwing in 3.5rpg and 1spg.  Most importantly, Chase was clearly option 1A or 1B on shooting from three point range, depending on how you feel about Luke Ridnour.  At the same time, it looked like he was getting more and more acclimated to his teammates and building confidence in his own game.  So naturally, the injury had to occur now.

While very cliché, the healthy Pups that remain on the floor are going to have to collectively make up for these missing points and the outside shooting that Chase was providing.  A few guys – particularly Roy upon his return and Shved – will need to quickly find their outside jumpers that have been missing so far this season.  The team’s PG’s are also going to have to become more effective jump shooters as well and do a better job at spacing the floor.

Naturally, another option would be for the team to go out and sign another player.  However, the Wolves have virtually no flexibility with the cap and only have the veteran’s minimum to offer.  Who could this go to?  Here’s a very short list of player’s available that I would consider: Mickael Pietrus, Josh Howard, and/or Ryan Gomes.  If you really want to drive yourself crazy, we can talk about expediting Troy Hudson’s comeback to the NBA.  (Let’s not)

Net/net, the injuries have continued to mount for the Wolves, but I have to say that in watching the past handful of games, this year’s roster is light years ahead of last year’s squad.  Their ability to overcome deficits and the injuries to Love and Rubio have been highly commendable.  However, we are certainly teetering on the edge of the cliff of not being able to make up for all of the injuries this team is enduring.

Here’s to a speedy recovery to all of the Wolves and to a healthy 2013!  (Please?!)

Minnesota Timberwolves 90 – Orlando Magic 75

Photo Credits: Orlando Sentinel

For the first time this season, I got to see the Timberwolves from beginning to end with the electricity and cable back in my section of NJ.  Thanks to Big Al for running the show here to begin the season.

Given tonight’s impressive win, barring anymore weather-related problems, I’m committing to Game Recaps until the Wolves lose.  We’ll look to continue the streak this coming Friday.  Before we get ahead of ourselves, let’s look back at another strong performance from the Wolves.

The Twolves opened the game with the same starting five leveraged in the first few games – Ridnour, Roy, AK47, DWill, and Pekovic.  The Magic starting five consisted of Moore, Afflalo, McRoberts, Davis, and Vucevic.  In other words, the Magic were playing without Jameer Nelson in the lineup, which immediately increased my confidence in a Wolves win about five-fold.

With that still fresh in mind, the Wolves jumped out to an early 13-6 lead going into the first timeout.  By that time, everyone in the starting five was in the books with at least a point.  Williams and Kirilenko looked very active to start the game.  In fact, Derrick must have been aware that it was my time to put together the game recap, as he had a very strong start – active hands on defense, running the floor, and hitting his first 3-pointer of the season.

After the first quarter, the Twolves more than doubled up the Magic, leading 25-12 on 67% shooting.  Brandon Roy had a very nice quarter, leading the team with 5 rebounds and 3 assists, to go with 3 points.  The only ‘negative’ you could say about the opening quarter is that in the final few minutes, the Wolves turned the ball over a couple more times and closed the quarter with 5 TO’s.  That’s still too many, but the Magic were not able to do much with it, shooting 6-21 from the field for a putrid 29%.

The Wolves opened the second quarter with AK47 and the second string rotation – Barea, Budinger, Cunningham, and Stiemsma.  This rotation, along with Shved (who entered the game early in the second quarter) is night and day compared to last year’s squad and full of active bodies to keep this team afloat while the franchise players recuperate from their injuries.  The quarter started with a lot of ball movement.  Unfortunately, the ball rarely moved through the hoop, as the Wolves remained scoreless for the first four plus minutes.  The team fired up a number of three pointers and the scoring drought finally ended with Chase hitting 1 of 2 FT’s.  It actually wasn’t until after six minutes had past in the quarter that the Wolves got a bucket – a pretty, driving layup from Shved, who’s quickly becoming one of my favorite Wolves.

At halftime, the Pups led 38-34, with the Magic outscoring the home team by nine in the second quarter.  To put it nicely, that wasn’t a pretty second quarter of basketball at all.  The Wolves shooting dramatically declined and sunk to 43% for the half, while the team continues to miss FT’s, only making 6 of 11.  Here are a few miscellaneous notes from the first half with my Wolves lens:

  • AK47 – worth every penny
  • Barea – when he doesn’t have his shot going, he needs to be given a quick hook to remind him to play within the offense.  This is one of the most important aspects of Rubio’s return where the team won’t have to rely heavily on Barea as a true PG and more of a sparkplug.
  • Stiemsma – a very solid backup 5 for this team, bringing a different presence to the position vs. Pekovic, protecting the rim and knocking guys and/or the ball around underneath the basket.

The Twolves started the third quarter with another run, increasing the lead back to double digits with a 13-6 run and forcing a TO from the Magic.  This included two three-pointers from Ridnour and another from DWill.  Adelman must have told the locker room to get the ball to Pekovic down low as that was a glaring shortfall in the first half and a focal point of the offense in the third quarter.  Within a few minutes there were two big highlights: First, a beautiful follow-up dunk from DWill off of a missed jump shot, and second, Pekovic introducing Harkless to the league with a huge block/rejection in the paint.

After a little back and forth in the middle of the quarter, the Wolves finished the third on a 10-2 run to take a 68-55 lead into the fourth quarter.  Lots of good ball movement and we saw flashes of what I’ll start to call “Good Barea”, dishing the ball and creating havoc on the floor.

The fourth quarter started with more of the same, with the Pups really pouring it on and building the lead to 20+ points.  Once the lead got to this level, it felt insurmountable for this Magic team to overcome and the game was over.  The good news; it was.  Without Jameer Nelson and Al Harrington, there wasn’t a chance for the Magic to make a comeback.  The final score from the Target Center was Minnesota 90 – Orlando 75, with the Pups moving to 3-1 on the season.

Unfortunately, it looks like Barea is banged up again, after spraining his foot in the final quarter.  He’ll be evaluated tomorrow according to early reports from the Wolves digital team.  Hopefully, this isn’t something that will linger or a continuation of last year’s string of small injuries that eat into his ability to suit up for the team.

Overall, tonight was a great performance from those in the regular rotation – the end of the bench left a little to desire to close the game, but it is what it is.  This is a little tough because tonight was the epitome of a team win, but here are my Three Stars of the Game:

  1. Luke Ridnour
  2. Derrick Williams
  3. Brandon Roy

Looked to be a good number of available seats #WolvesNation – let’s keep up these good vibes and get those seats filled!  Let’s go Wolves!

Timberpups Poll Results: Andrei Kirilenko Most Important Offseason Addition?

In our most recent poll, we asked our viewers here at Timberpups which offseason addition will make the biggest impact this season. 90 of you cast your vote over approximately the past month or so, and the poll results are as follows:

Andrei Kirilenko: 40 votes (44%)

Brandon Roy: 24 votes (27%)

Alexey Shved: 10 votes (11%)

Chase Budinger: 8 votes (9%)

Dante Cunningham: 8 votes (9%)

Greg Stiemsma: 0 votes

I believe that our readers were right on in choosing Andrei Kirilenko, especially when considering the recent loss of Kevin Love due to a broken wrist. AK-47 will eat up the majority of the minutes inherited to him following the departure of Wes Johnson, and he will also need to assume a larger role at PF than initially projected. As it stands now, Derrick Williams is set to be the team’s starting SF and AK the starting PF, but I would not be surprised in the slightest if Kirilenko ends up playing the majority of his minutes at PF due to potential defensive match-up issues with Williams at SF. It became apparent at the finale of last season that Williams is much more suited to play PF, and unless he was able to fundamentally alter his wing game and wing defense over the offseason, it may quickly be more feasible to switch Kirilenko and Williams in their respective positions.

I believe that AK-47 and Williams’ roles will be ambiguous on a nightly basis, as Kirilenko will likely assume the tougher defensive match-up between the opposing team’s SF and PF. Kirilenko’s pedigree for impressive defense could prove to be a difference maker in an already injury-plagued start to the season, and he will be relied upon to stay healthy – at least until Love and/or Rubio return.

Brandon Roy and Chase Budinger are also big time upgrades for the Wolves since last season, but their durability and consistency will define how great of an impact they will ultimately have for Minnesota this season.

Kevin Love Breaks Hand, Out 6-8 Weeks

Well, here we are again, Minnesota sports fans. In a fluke accident that involved knuckle push-ups, Kevin Love suffered a broken right hand while working out with personal trainer Rob McClanaghan at his condo on Wednesday. After a trip to New York to visit Doctor Andy Weiland, it was confirmed that Love broke the third and fourth metacarpals in his hand and the initial diagnosis of a 6-8 week recovery period was confirmed. K-Love commented on the shocking blow to a team that is already without Ricky Rubio in a release sent out by the Timberwolves:

“Yesterday I had a post-practice commitment and decided to work out at my home with my personal trainer before heading to Target Center,” he said. “While doing various pushups, including knuckle pushups, which are a part of my regular workout routine, I hurt my hand. I immediately knew something was wrong and called head athletic trainer Gregg Farnam.

“Although I’m disappointed that this injury happened, I will work extremely hard to stay in shape and return to the court as quickly as possible. We have added a lot of depth to our roster this season, and I have complete confidence in my teammates and coaching staff that they will step up and we will be successful during this time. I’m looking forward to supporting our team and helping out any way I can until I get back on the court.”

The Wolves have been predicted by many to be in an extremely competitive race for the final two playoff spots in the Western Conference, and playing without Rubio and Love for upwards of two months could be enough to put the team in a hole to deep to get themselves out of once they get their two top players back. One thing is for certain: several players will have to step up big in order to keep this team afloat by the time mid-December comes, and a realistic – yet seemingly improbable – goal for the team will be to be sitting around .500 basketball by the time they get their two stars back.

David Kahn and Rick Adelman’s offseason moves will be in the spotlight for the first few months of the season, as newly acquired players Andrei Kirilenko, Brandon Roy, Dante Cunningham, Chase Budinger, Lou Amundson, and Greg Stiemsma will likely be called upon to provide much greater roles than initially expected. The biggest X-factors will include Nikola Pekovic and Derrick Williams, as both players will need to produce on the low-block at a much higher rate without K-Love as the focal point of the offense.

Love was certainly the best three-point option for the Wolves last year, and the team will now look largely to Roy and Budinger to provide perimeter shooting in place of Love’s prolific shooting. If Derrick Williams ever needed some serious adversity to elevate his game to the next level, well here it is. D-Will now has the opportunity to get the minutes he wants and a role that is vastly increased, and without Love Williams could assume a role very similar to the one he had at Arizona. If the former number 2 pick can prove that he can handle big minutes and provide inside-out scoring, it would be a tremendous help to a team in dire need for some leadership.

Andrei Kirilenko was initially seen as the starting SF with Love in the lineup, but he will likely move to PF with Williams operating at the 3. Both AK-47 and D-Will are tweener forwards, so they may very likely have interchangeable roles in the offense. Pekovic will now be the focal point of the offense in the post, and I am truly excited to see how the lean and extra mean Pek responds to an increase in touches.

Timberwolves Summer 2012 Recap

Since David Kahn took over as President of Basketball Operations in May 2009, we have heard the continual promotion of flexibility, youth, rebuilding, cap space, etc. etc.  Shortly after Kahn was able to convince Kevin Love to sign an extension back in January, this all changed, as Love started to provide his own thoughts to the media on how the Twolves needed to start showing improvement and to get to the playoffs.  With a decent amount of flexibility and the added pressure of appeasing one of team’s core pieces, Kahn and the rest of the front office had their work cut out for them this offseason.  To Kahn’s credit, at least he didn’t take a month off to go fishing …

Here’s my take on the Timberpups offseason.

NBA Draft

Heading into Draft week, the Twolves held the 18th and 58th picks.  Two nights before the draft, Kahn sent the 18th pick to Houston for Chase Budinger.  In general, I hate seeing trades like this.  If you have something like this lined up, why not wait until draft night?  I understand that Houston was looking for ways to get Dwight Howard, but I still hate the notion of giving up your pick so far in advance.  I would like to think there will be a time when the Twolves actually take advantage of someone else’s panic move over the course of a draft night.  When this happens, I’ll immediately drive to Shop Rite to stock up on their can-can special.

As for the trade itself, I like Budinger as a complementary wing / role player at SF.  If nothing else, he’s competent and that is more than what we can say about any wing on last year’s roster.  As an added bonus – based off of his Twitter feed – he seems to have a great personality.

With the 58th pick, the Twolves selected Robbie Hummel, who has had quite the busy summer.  Given the moves that the Wolves have made since (we’re getting there, promise), Hummel decided to sign with a team in Spain (Obradoiro).  I think that was a wise choice for Hummel given the team’s other moves and the lack of PT that would have come his way, if any at all.  More than likely, he would have wound up in the D-League.  However, since going over to join the team in Spain, Hummel has since torn his meniscus again and will be out for several weeks.

I had high hopes going into the draft; A. trading Derrick Williams and filler for MKG or Beal and B. trading Wes Johnson for Crowder / anyone worthwhile.  The DWill moves were a bit of a pipedream.  However, Kahn technically had 34 chances to find a way to get Jae Crowder and trading Wes to anyone in the late first round / early second would have been a fantastic move.  Alas, no avail.

This wasn’t the start of the offseason that I was looking for.  Beyond Ricky Rubio falling into Kahn’s lap with the fifth pick in ’09, his draft night performances have been 50 shades of abysmal.  (See what I did there?  Building your female audience 101)

My draft grade: C-
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