The Final Narrative

I didn’t count how many times I wrote,”..because of injuries last season,” for good reason — it was frequently. I’m certain there are others who wrote it more than I did, what’s even worse? Fans of the Minnesota Timberwolves are going to hear it more and more. “..because of injuries last season” is a phrase included within many articles written to summarize the type of year the Wolves had last season. It’s because of injuries last season that the Wolves didn’t have a good year; this is the narrative fans were left with. It continues this season, Dave Benz and Jim Peterson will say because of injuries last season on Fox Sports North; Alan Horton on Wolves Radio 830AM-WCCO broadcasts will say the phrase, too. John Focke will have a chance to remind everyone prior to Benz, Peterson and Horton before tip-off during the Wolves Live program.

Mention of the the injuries last season will continue until the Wolves are able to give fans something else to remember. For reasons that go beyond the injuries suffered last season, there’s pressure on the Wolves to make the playoffs this season.

This will be the last narrative I write about the Wolves this offseason — I promise. 

The Twin Cities need something to take pride in; the Vikings are 0 and 3 and the Twins are, well, I can’t tell you, but it’s bad — real bad. The Vikings piled onto the usual misery with a loss to the Cleveland Browns in the Metrodome over the weekend. The Purple will avoid local media this week as the Vikings face the Pittsburgh Steelers this Sunday at Wembley Stadium in London, England. Fans root-root-rooting for the home team at Target Field are doing so because the stadium’s amenities still provide reason to take someone out to the ballgame. The truth is – the Twins aren’t winning many games this season and it’s a shame.

Thinking about the Vikings, Twins, Wolves and even the Wild’s recent success is painful. Some fans that are unable to let-go remain obsessed over the Kevin Garnett Era, Brett Favre’s run at the Superbowl and cling to newfound hope that Zach Parise will bring Lord Stanley’s Cup home to the State of Hockey.

Jon Krawczynski is an AP Sports Writer based in Minneapolis covering the Vikings, Twins, Timberwolves, Gophers and Wild.

Jon Krawczynski is an AP Sports Writer based in Minneapolis covering the Vikings, Twins, Timberwolves, Gophers and Wild.

No NBA franchise hopes to be absent from the postseason for an entire decade, however, this could be the team’s fate this season. It’s been nine-years since the last Wolves postseason appearance. Ten-years ago at 13 years-old, I just received my first cellphone and was entering my freshman year of high school. Now 23, I’m five-years removed from moving out of my mother’s home, living in an apartment not far from where I grew up and have a job managing a small business 50-hours a week and writing when I have the time, my phone is an iphone5. Where were you the last time the Pups made the playoffs?

This offseason the Wolves:

  • Rid their hands of David Kahn, brought in Flip Saunders to be the President of Basketball Operations
  • Made other staff changes
  • Waived Greg Stiemsma and Mickael Gelabale
  • Resigned and signed Chase Budinger and Kevin Martin, respectively
  • Drafted Shabazz Muhammad, Gorgui Dieng and Lorenzo Brown
  • Signed Corey Brewer and Ronnie Turiaf 
  • After what felt like a lifetime, resigned Nikola Pekovic
  • Made a one-year offer to Andrei Kirilenko, which he denied, AK47 is now with the Brooklyn Nets

Sorry, I’m going to remind you one more time; because of the injuries sustained over the course of this previous year, it wasn’t a very good season for the Timberwolves. Ricky Rubio and Kevin Love went down, so did Brandon Roy — it took only five games for his track record of injuries to catch up with him, ending Roy’s season and his career (again). Budinger never got things going, appearing in only 23-Loveless games or – games that didn’t include K-Love. Love and Rubio were on and off; more on than off, Rubio played in 57 and Love appeared in 18 games, the duo only played three-games together.

The loss of AK47 hurts the team defensively and I should probably miss his presence more than I do, however, attaining Brewer from Denver was an excellent move that can compensate for some of what the Wolves lost with Kirilenko.

It’s unrealistic to think there won’t be any injuries suffered during the course of the season — not every player can play every game. However, because of the injuries last season, if any of them do go down there’s an adept, experienced teammate to take their place. As an optimist I believe that something positive can be taken always be taken from any form of adversity. Last year; Alexey Shved, Dante Cunningham both gained valuable experience playing expanded roles, we also learned a little more about former 2nd-overall pick Derrick Williams.

Watching Shved play with Russia in FIBA’s EuroBasket, I’ve grown fond of his game. Shved played significant minutes at shooting guard last season but he plays his best basketball as a point guard. Because PG was played mostly by Ridnour and Barea, Shved was forced to play off-the-ball for the majority of the season, this was very unusual for him; his natural position is at the point leading the offense. At EuroBasket, Shved was Russia’s top performer, averaging 16 points and 5 assist while drawing 5 fouls per game; performing valiantly in five games of group play — he was Russia’s top performer. He attacked the basket, finished around the hoop and found teammates for open looks, though his teammates didn’t often finish, but an area that Shved must improve his game: free-throw shooting. He shot 69% from the charity stripe during E.B. I can only speculate how Adelman plans to utilize the Shvedder, but I’m hoping that provide him the opportunity to play most of the minutes at PG when Rubio takes a seat. His aggressiveness and creativity going toward the basket could create some decent looks for the rest of the second-unit.

Cunningham played in 80 games last season, though only averaging 9 points and 5 boards he made those most of every minute — leaving everything out on the floor. Cunningham averaged 25 minutes per game last season, a sign he’s earned Adelman’s trust. If, and it’s a big if, Love is able to stay healthy and Williams continues to improve or have a breakout season, D.C. won’t play anywhere close to the amount of minutes he did last season.

Here are Love’s career averages.

Stats from Basketball Reference

Stats from Basketball Reference

Last year was only a small sample, his 22-percent 3-point shooting was on 20 of 92 attempts. Hopefully, Love is able to stay healthy and get back into the 37-42 percent range we know he’s capable of.

It wasn’t just Love not shooting well from behind-the-arc last season, the entire team was abysmal. The Wolves shot 31 percent from three-point range, dead last in the NBA — something that won’t happen again this season.

The first reason, Brewer and his ability to hit the corner three.

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If you don’t see where he’s at his best, it’s in the left corner when facing the basket. Brewer is a little over 41 percent on 49 of 119 shooting from that spot, he’s 42 of 176 from everywhere else. Adelman’s Princeton offense is dependent on players who can stretch the floor and shoot from the outside, Brewer can be successful playing within the system if he converts on the looks created for him in the corner.

Additionally, he’ll contribute when in transition. Brewer has a knack for sneaking behind defenses — essentially stealing points by cherry picking, Here’s where CBS’s Zach Harper explains it in detail. This will theoretically work hand-in-hand with the crafty outlet passes Love is notorious for, such as this one.

Kevin Love Outlet Pass

Two other reasons I believe the Wolves will shoot better from behind the line; Budinger and Martin are both knockdown jump shooters. Martin was 43 percent with the Oklahoma City Thunder last season and is 39 percent lifetime, Budinger’s lifetime average is 36 percent. Not only are Budinger and Martin lights-out shooting the ball, they’re familiar with the system — Adelman coached both players during the trio’s time spent together with the Houston Rockets.

Has Rubio improved his jump shot? It’s tough to tell. Here’s are his averages and game-by-game numbers recorded at EuroBasket.

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Looking at the accumulated statistics, Rubio ended EuroBasket shooting 46 percent from the field and 44 percent from the field; both are better than his two-year averages with the Wolves, though it is a smaller sample.

Here are his numbers with the Wolves.

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I wrote a column for HoopsHabit checking in with Rubio’s jumper, going a little further in depth than just box scores.

The following statistics represent Rubio’s numbers through Spain’s first eight-games of EuroBasket.

“Rubio is successful in the mid-range area; the middle of the lane extending past the free-throw line and before the 3-point stripe. He looks comfortable pulling up off the dribble into a jump shot near the foul line. He’s 5-of-12 thus far through the tournament in this area, which is a little over 41 percent. This is higher than Rubio’s 37 percent average from the field through two years playing in Minnesota.

Of the 12 attempts inside the lane, Rubio has made four of them. We established that he struggles around the rim — It’s as worrisome as it is curious, but from watching Rubio compete the attempts within the lane are contested and some of them have been late in the shot clock. Shooting 33 percent inside the lane isn’t going produce well enough by any league’s standards.

Shooting the ball from spots near the top of the key between the 3-point line and the free-throw line are where Rubio is comfortable. But just being comfortable in these areas won’t be enough if he wants to remain in the circle with the elite class of NBA point guards. Rubio needs to improve upon his strengths, but must also work to eliminate the current weaknesses to an adequate level if he hopes to improve as a scorer, and in turn, a better player overall.”

 

On June 30th John made a checklist of what plans the Wolves should or could have during the free agency period, I felt he was spot on.

  1. Resign Pek
  2. Sign a shooting guard
  3. Resign Budinger
  4. Balance the roster

Other than the order of which each occurred, Flip managed accomplished all of the above in somewhat of an efficient manner. Some may believe $60 million may be too much for Pek and that Martin is washed-up, however, the front-office did what was needed in order for the Wolves to compete for a playoff spot this year.

 

Last Friday in an interview with HoopsHype, Rubio was asked; “Is it playoffs or bust?”.

His response was this, “Too early to say if the playoffs are the goal. Let’s see how things go in training camp and how the new pieces fit in. Then we’ll see how things evolve during the season, it’s too early to talk about playoffs.”

From the coaches and players standpoint, Rubio’s right; It’s too early to talk about playoffs, but what about from the perspective of a fan? It’s tough to argue that the Wolves didn’t do all the right things this offseason, I believe they did, but when Timberpups looked at how the Wolves stack up in the Western Conference, Drew told us that there’s enough talent between the Portland Trail Blazers, Dallas Mavericks, New Orleans Pelicans and the Denver Nuggets to keep Minnesota out of the playoffs. If the team isn’t poised for a playoff run this season — will it ever be? Has Flip made plans in preparation for the long-term? I don’t possess the knowledge. What I do know is that Minnesota has restructured and re enforced their roster — the Timberwolves are capable of not only of qualifying for the postseason this year, but becoming a perennial playoff team in the Western Conference…. assuming they’re able to stay healthy, of course….


 

Developing Affiliations.

The Minnesota Timberwolves are set to play the Milwaukee Bucks October 11th at the Sanford Pentagon in Sioux Falls, South Dakota.  It’s the team’s last preseason game.  Fans residing in Minnesota and Wisconsin hoping to catch their squad’s final tuneup before the season must put six-or-so-hours of mileage on their own vehicle, if departing from the Twin Cities. The drive, accordingly, is further from Wisconsin.

These exhibitions provide opportunity to get closer to witnessing professionals without thinning the wallet and sneaking closer to an open seat spotted from the nosebleeds. Aspiring journalists like myself, along with fans, lose the convenience of attending the game had the location been Minneapolis or Milwaukee.  I asked Eric Buenning, staff writer for SB Nation’s Brewhoop.com, a Milwaukee Bucks blog,  if he would consider attending the game had the location not been in the Falls. “Absolutely”. Buenning has no intentions of attending the game.

 

Moving beyond frustrations attributed from the location of the Wolves-Bucks matchup.

 

The Pentagon is used as the home floor of the Falls Skyforce, an NBA Development-League club owned by the Miami Heat.  The Heat made the Skyforce their own this off-season, leaving the Wolves in search of a home to develop players.  The Iowa Energy became the new D-League affiliation.

Would the Wolves would benefit by possessing a developmental squad of their own?  How’s this; The Spurs, Lakers, Celtics, Thunder and Rockets don’t share prospects with anyone.  If prominent organizations are doing it, why wouldn’t the smaller clubs, like the Wolves, covet an infrastructure intended to benefit their largest product?

In an interview with the Star Tribune’s Jerry Zgoda, Flip Saunders had this to say on the Wolves use of the D-League.

Zgoda: How probable is it that Shabazz Muhammed and Gorgui Dieng spend time in the D-League?

Flip“I’m a proponent of minor leagues. I was there seven years and had 21 guys called up. It’s a good development league, it’s not a punishment league. Guys can get better and gain confidence. We’re going to try to utilize it. I don’t think we’ve used it very much here in the past. If we send somebody down, we’ll send somebody from our staff with them so they don’t feel we’ve forgotten about them. That’s the biggest thing: You don’t want anyone that goes there to feel they’ve been forgotten.”

“Now saying that, we might not have anyone go down there this year, but we are very open about it and we’re going to have a very good relationship with our Iowa team. I’ve talked with Glen. We’re going to entertain the opportunity a year or two down the road here of purchasing a hybrid NBDL team.” 

The minor league Flip himself spent time with is the Continental Basketball Association or CBA, which has since disbanded. His accolades go further than a number developed ‘call-ups’.  He tallied 253 coaching victories, third highest in the league’s history, and led the LaCrosse Catbirds to CBA Championships while earning Coach of the Year honors in the ‘90 and in ’92 seasons.  Prior to arriving in the CBA, Flip worked as an assistant with the University of Minnesota and the University of Tulsa.  With achievements to use as credentials he found a place on an NBA sideline in ’95 with the Wolves.

In addition to Shabazz and Dieng, Robbie Hummel and Lorenzo Brown will also participate in training camp activities. Hummel, who showed improvement in the Las Vegas Summer League, has worked to rid himself from an injury bug that’s affected parts of his career.  With no intentions of returning to Spain where he played 30 games for Blusens (Obradoiro) last season, Hummel’s game must flow through the log-jam of forwards (Derrick Williams, Shabazz, Dante Cunningham, Kevin Love, Chase Budinger and Corey Brewer) in order to make the 15-man roster.

Brown, the Pups 2nd round selection, missed only two games during his third and final season at North Carolina State. He averaged just over seven assists in his junior campaign and played the primary facilitator in the Wolfpack’s offense. Playing 19.2 minutes per game in LVSL, Brown’s 50 percent from 3pt-range was impressive, but, he only managed 38% from the field. His 2.2 assists per game were negated by averaging 1.8 turnovers per game.  With the minutes available between Ricky Rubio, Alexey Shved and Barea at point guard, I would be shocked if Brown claimed a spot running with this pack of Wolves.

It’s worth noting that each of the teams competing in the Finals going back to the 2006 season have included at least one former D-Leaguer on their roster.  Here’s a few recent developmental success stories.

  • J.J. Barea played eight games with the Fort Worth Flyers in the 2006-2007 season before being added to the Dallas Mavericks roster.  He averaged 8.9 points and 3.4 assists for the Mavs during the 2011 postseason and helped defeat the Miami Heat enroute to a championship.

  • Corey Joseph averaged 1.8ppg in a little over 7mpg in the finals this past season.  Though he didn’t contribute the most statistically, Spurs coach Gregg Popovich trusted him enough to be the floor. Joseph started 26 games for the Austin Toros and shot over 45 percent from both the field and behind the arc, averaging just under 20ppg.

  • Chris “Birdman” Andersen also didn’t do much filling of the stat-sheet but was pivotal to Miami’s success setting screens for LeBron James and doing the dirty work beneath the rim. Andersen was a member of the Fayetteville Patriots in 2001.

  • After a roster-rule exemption made by the league, Chris Johnson, previously signed to a 10-day contract, brought enthusiasm and cheers to the Target Center in the midst of a disappointing, injury plagued season.

Did the D-League help bring attention to these players while helping them sharpen the skills necessary to adequately contribute on the professional level? The D in NBA D-League, after-all, stands for development.

I recently had the pleasure of exchanging emails with Kevin Danna, broadcaster for the Santa Cruz Warriors, Golden State’s unshared affiliate. He doesn’t hide his love for the D-League as it’s genuine. In our conversation I mentioned the upcoming Wolves-Bucks meeting at the Pentagon, leading my inquiry of his perspective on the S.F. Skyforce and it’s fanbase.

Kevin “I don’t know how many they usually get in South Dakota (attendance), but they are known for a strong fan base. Santa Cruz is also known for a very strong fan base; I’d argue the best in the D-League not just because I work for the Sea Dubs, but because I’ve been to 13 of the 16 (now 17) D-League gyms. Maine has passionate fans and they probably have more raw numbers because their gym is bigger, but no crowd gets loud like it does in Santa Cruz. From memory, I think Maine’s Portland Expo seats about 4,000, and they usually fill it up.”

Zach - If D-League teams have a fan base, why not have more teams?  Theoretically it’s good business.

Kevin - ” The reason the league gives for not having more D-League teams is that they want to expand slowly. The eventual goal is to have a 30-for-30 model where every D-League team has a single affiliation with an NBA team, but they don’t want to just open up 13 new franchises next year- that would be a nightmare and a half for the league to deal with.”

There are 16 teams shared between three Affiliates and 14 NBA clubs fraternize only with their own kind, making a total of 17 D-League teams.   The Energy are shared also with; the Bulls, Nuggets, Pelicans and Wizards.  This seems strange, but, D-League teams; The Bakersfield Jam and the Fort Wayne Mad Ants are also a hub for multiple NBA teams.  The Hawks, Clippers, Suns, Raptors and Jazz players play in Bakersfield, California while Fort Wayne, Indiana hosts those from the Bobcats, Bucks, Pistons, Pacers, Grizzlies and Magic.

 Danna would continue,

“It’s (D-League) entering its 13th season, and I think maybe its 8th completely under the NBA umbrella. It’s young. The league started out as 8 teams, all in the Southeast region of the United States and was completely a bus league, from what I’ve been told. It then shrunk to 6 before expanding and eventually leaving the Southeast altogether. So in the last nine seasons including this one, the D-League has gone from 6 to 17 teams; the league has indeed been expanding (albeit many of those teams were former CBA franchises and just jumped ship when the CBA imploded, but still) at a pretty good rate, and that’s with a few teams folding along the way (Arkansas RimRockers, Utah Flash (now the Delaware 87ers), and Florida Flame, for example). And the 30-for-30 model isn’t just some pie-in-the-sky idea; Orlando has come out and said they want a D-League team; I’ve heard the Nuggets are potentially interested; and there was an article in the Salt Lake Tribune not too far back about the Jazz wanting to put a D-League team in St. George.”

The schedule for the 13th D-League season was released today today. On opening night, the Energy will face the Tulsa 66’ers (Oklahoma City Thunder Affiliate) November 22nd at 7:00pm.  For more in-depth coverage, check out Ridiculous Upside. R.U., also part of SB Nation, contains the work of writers dedicated to providing accurate, current and up-to-date D-League, as well as NBA Draft, news and content.

After the Pups break camp in the fall, we’ll see which players join the Energy for the NBADL season.  This is essentially the genesis of Timberpups.com’s efforts intention to cover, not only potential Timberwolves and how they are performing in the D-League, but any and all steps forward by the organization towards obtaining it’s own Development-League affiliate.

Players, coaches, Buenning, Danna, myself, the T-Pups staff alongside fans everywhere; We are all developing as basketball continues to grow worldwide.

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Is J.J. Barea the X-Factor for the Timberwolves?

Photo Credit: Tyler Parker

Photo Credit: Tyler Parker

Timberwolves head coach Rick Adelman demands his Pups to run the Princeton Offense like a high-powered engine. Head mechanic Flip Saunders has made quick work installing a Kevin Martin turbo, patching the transmission with Corey Brewer while changing the oil with Chase Budinger’s new contract. Ricky Rubio sits behind the wheel and Kevin Love rides shotgun as the rest of the Wolves-Wagon idols patiently waited for Nikola Pekovic to climb aboard. The grueling NBA highway is conquered by a steady, and more importantly, healthy, pace. It’s a marathon, not a sprint. With no more Luke Ridnour or Malcolm Lee, who keeps between the lanes when Rubio needs rest? Alexey Shved is still adjusting to driving in the right-lane, leaving J.J. Barea responsible for keeping alignment steady to help drive the Wolves to the desired destination: the postseason.

Barea was a few nonsensical shots away from acquiring the label of a ‘chucker’ last season. He struggled to play within Adelman’s system, taking below average looks at inopportune moments, either in critical possessions or too early in the shot clock. Playing an expanded role on a roster ravaged by injuries, Barea tallied career highs in minutes, FG and 3PT attempts, turnovers and points last season. These numbers, to me, show he left it all out on the floor. He didn’t quit. It’s easy to look for scapegoats, but Barea shouldn’t be knocked for trying to do everything he could to try and help win games.

With the team’s newly acquired depth, Barea returns to a role we are comfortable seeing him in. He’s a phenomenal sixth man, a pure scorer and relentless worker on both ends of the floor. Where Barea lacks in size, he makes up for in heart and hustle.

In his final season playing for the Dallas Mavericks, Barea was everything that Mavs fans hoped he would be as an instant offensive boost from the bench. He even recorded his career high in assists en route to the Mavericks eventual claiming of a World Championship. Barea hasn’t had a chance to be the player he was in Dallas so far playing for the Wolves, but he will get the chance, at least early on, this season.

During the offseason, rumors surfaced that Barea could potentially be traded. Speculation landed him in either Dallas or Brooklyn, where he would reunite with former teammate, and now Nets head coach, Jason Kidd. JJ is owed $9,206,500 over the next two seasons and it’s almost certain, in my opinion, his name will swirl in discussions as the trade deadline approaches. Barea is set to become an unrestricted free-agent prior to the 2015 season.

I am concerned that the Wolves are not deep enough at point guard to make Barea expendable. Barea is currently second on the depth chart behind Rubio and in front of rookie Lorenzo Brown (who is not guaranteed to make the final roster). I’m not going to ignore the idea that Rubio could get hurt at some point during this season, it has happened before. In many ways our tiny point guard’s skill set is that of a shooting guard, although his stature demands that he play as a point guard. Meanwhile, Brown has no NBA experience other than Summer League in Vegas last month.  Shved is also not a natural point guard but can handle the ball respectably when asked to do so. Barea’s role significantly changes if Rubio becomes unavailable for periods of time this season, this much is certain.

It’s impossible to ignore trade rumors and one should never expect a roster to stay 100% healthy for a complete season, but until either become an obstacle I’ve defined Barea’s role to this team as such: He needs to provide between 15-23 quality minutes off the bench, playing with, but not limited to a scorer’s mentality that will put himself and his teammates in positions to score points. He’s a smart, hardworking and dedicated player who will do whatever is asked of him to win. When Rubio steps out and Barea is given the keys to the offense, sure, he may drive recklessly and aggressively at times, but he would never steer Adelman’s vehicle off-course or run it into the ground. He’s a T-Pup, and I’m glad to have him aboard.

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.

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...]

Probable Timberwolves Lineups for 2013-14

What are some Wolves lineups we’ll see on the floor this season?  Assuming Nikola Pekovic’s contract is finalized according to plan and players remain healthy, I’ve broken down possible combinations for who would be in the starting five, and have included the positives and negatives for each.

Who will join these two in the Timberwolves starting five?

Who will join these two in the Timberwolves starting five?

I call this the “Five with Fire”, because what is a lineup without a corny nickname:

  1. Ricky Rubio
  2. Kevin Martin
  3. Chase Budinger
  4. Kevin Love
  5. Nikola Pekovic

In this five, Chase Budinger starts at swingman.  Most of the lineups will contain the Ricky Rubio and Kevin Martin backcourt and with Budinger’s cutting and spot-up shooting abilities, fits right in.  His length and speed makes him a tough guard for opponents not used to chasing a faster 3 around the floor.  Look for Chase to cut around screens for catch and shoot opportunities as well as backdoor cuts to the basket such as this one: [Read more...]