Rubio shines as Wolves topple Nets

Alex Goodlett/Getty Images

Alex Goodlett/Getty Images

All three of the Wolves prior contests this season had come down to the final few minutes. In Brooklyn on Wednesday night, it was no different. Instead of folding in the clutch like a season ago, this years Wolves have excelled. Especially the newly re-signed Spanish Unicorn known as Ricky Rubio.

At the 2:38 mark, with the Wolves down four to the Nets, Rubio swished a contested 20 footer.

27 seconds later, Rubio rifled an overhead pass from the right wing. Rubio hits Kevin Martin perfectly in the chest in the opposite corner, who buried the triple to give the Wolves the lead.

After committing a reach in foul on the Wolves subsequent defensive possession, Rubio sends Joe Johnson to the line. As Johnson releases the second attempt, Rubio sneaks into the lane, grabbing the ball after it hits front iron. He hurries the ball up and passes it to Martin, who misses a contested three on the right wing.

After an iso Joe bucket against Wiggins on the resulting possession, 1:28 remains, with the Wolves down two. Rubio takes the ball up. Alone with Deron Williams on the strong side, Ricky switches his dribble to his left hand, torches Williams, and banks home a lay-up to tie the game.

On the Nets next possession, with 1:08 to play, Thad Young takes the ball away from Joe Johnson. Young hands it to Rubio. Young sets a screen on Williams, forcing Johnson to cover Rubio and Williams to cover Young. Rubio is able to easily throw it into Pekovic in the post, who due to the switch, only has Brook Lopez to worry about. Pek forces his way into a three point play with 48.6 remaining.

Brooklyn takes timeout, and on the ensuing inbounds, Rubio makes sure to run right into Lopez’ extended elbow. With a little bit of spanish flair, Rubio draws the illegal screen and the Wolves get the ball.

The very next possession, Thad and Ricky play catch for a while, before Thad, with 30.9 to play, receives a Rubio pass at the top of the key. Thad fakes his defender, drives into the lane and banks home the floater. With 27.2 seconds on the clock, the Wolves lead is now five.

To summarize, over a span of 2:01, Rubio tallied four points, three assists, a rebound and drew an offensive foul, while the Wolves went from trailing by four to leading by five.

So yes, Ricky Rubio is worth 4 years and $55 million. And no, these are not last years Wolves.

Other Notes:

  • Andrew Wiggins had his best game as a pro, scoring 17 points and only committing one turnover. His flashes of greatness are brilliant, but he suffers from many of the typical rookie mistakes. He was caught biting on the pump fake a few times again tonight, and took a few shots he probably should have holstered.
  • Early Coach of the Year candidate: Wolves shooting coach Mike Penberthy. His one-on-one work with Rubio seems to have helped tremendously.
  • Young, Pek and Rubio were made to play together. All are excellent passers for their positions, and the spacing is beautiful to witness.
  • Big Daddy Canada (AKA Anthony Bennett) two handed power-slams are my favorite kind of dunks (besides LaVine free-throw line windmills).
  • Increasingly after every game, I wonder what exactly Corey’s place on this team is. He just doesn’t seem to fit in with the pieces that are in place.

I leave you with these Andrew Wiggins highlights. Enjoy the win.

 

 

Timberwolves Trade Rumors: Should Minnesota Keep or Deal Chase Budinger?

Budinger

According to a Yahoo! Sports article posted on Oct. 16, the Minnesota Timberwolves are shopping around small forward Chase Budinger.

Adrian Wojnarowski reported that two teams possibly interested in working out a deal are Detroit and Houston. The Pistons are without shooting guard Jodie Meeks, who is expected to miss eight weeks with a fractured back, and Budinger could be one option to fill the vacant spot.

The elephant in the room, however, is Budinger’s contract. The 26-year-old is guaranteed $5 million for the current season, and his contract also includes a $5 million player option for 2015-2016. Any team negotiating with Minny will need to assess if that type of contract will make sense for the return.

Last season, Budinger averaged 6.7 points and 3.3 rebounds per game in his second year with the Wolves. He performed slightly higher during the 2012-2013 season, averaging 9.4 PPG.

A trade does not seem imminent at this point; however, the Wolves have quite a few wing players on their squad, making it feasible for a trade to be in the books at some point. The question is this: is Budinger the best player to be dangling as trade bait? Should Minnesota continue looking to deal No. 10, or is he a stronger asset on the roster? One player who plays a similar role to Budinger is Corey Brewer. If presented with the opportunity, should the Timberwolves keep one over the other?

brewer

When comparing the two SFs, Brewer better fits the Wolves’ need.

As much as I appreciate Budinger’s style and temperament both on and off the court, he is more of a question mark. And in the NBA, a question mark equals dispensable. Minnesota originally brought Budinger in to improve the young team’s perimeter shooting. He showed promise early on, and Wolves fans looked forward to seeing how his development would improve the squad offensively. Since coming here, however, Budinger has missed a substantial part of each season due to knee injuries. In 2012-2013, he played only 23 games. Last year, he managed to participate in 41 games. The Timberwolves anticipate him having a healthy season, but knee injuries can be a never-ending problem.

Brewer, on the other hand, has remained healthy—missing only one game over the past two years. Injuries can happen at any time, but overall Brewer is the more physically stable player. 

Budinger’s numbers fell a bit last season, and his point totals fall short of Brewer’s. Brewer averaged 12.3 PPG in his return to Minnesota for the 2013-2014 season. In addition, Brewer is one of the most explosive defenders in the Wolves’ lineup. The Florida alum averages 1.9 steals per game, and he fires on all cylinders game after game.

Minnesota cannot afford to lose Brewer’s energy, especially heading into a season with so many new players and variables.

If a team is willing to absorb Budinger’s contract and the trade rumors come to any fruition, it would be an efficient way to move one of the many wings and add depth to the Wolves roster and allow more opportunities to utilize Brewer for the upcoming season.

The Dawn of a New Era: Notes from Preseason Game #1

Timberwolves basketball is back. Sort of. The Wolves first basketball game since April ended in a 103-90 loss to Indiana. Since only 14 players can dress for preseason games, Mo Williams and Nikola Pekovic sat out. Kevin Martin and Anthony Bennett were also inactive, due to minor injuries. Consequently, the majority of the Wolves minutes went to the young guys. The result was fans receiving an unobstructed view of what the future has in store.

(Charlie Nye/ Indy Star)

(Charlie Nye/Indy Star)

[Read more…]

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.

Potential Pups Targets in the 2014 NBA Draft

nba-draft

Let’s pretend for a second that the Timberwolves aren’t going to move up in the 2014 NBA Draft on Thursday and they will have the 13th selection in the first round.  There are a lot of moving pieces here, namely Kevin Love and his status on the team.  (Without hijacking this write-up, I don’t think Love will be on the roster by the time Friday rolls around.  In fact, at this point, I hope that he is not on the roster come Friday because I don’t want to hear about Love trade scenarios through February 2015.  Please spare us this scenario!)

Here are several prospects that have my attention and where I have netted out after browsing the web, looking through mock drafts, etc.  I’m not going to include any thoughts on the obvious big three at the top of the draft or those that continuously appeared in the top 8 or so (e.g. Exum, Smart, Randle, Vonleh, or Gordon).  Those players aren’t going to be around at #13 when Flip gets to make the selection for his coach and staff.  (See what I did there?) [Read more…]

Timberpups Weekly Preview 2014 – Final Week

 

Happier times for the Wolves 'big three' (Jim Mone/Associated Press).

Happier times for the Wolves ‘big three’ (Jim Mone/Associated Press).

Setting the stage:

Well, the end is near for our Timberpups.  The Wolves will not advance to the NBA Playoffs for the tenth straight season.  This is turning into quite the rebuild huh?  The Wolves have three games this week counting tonight’s match-up in Sacramento, tomorrow night’s game in the Bay Area and then one final game at Target Center against Utah Wednesday night.

Fans, this is likely your last opportunity to see Rick Adelman on the sidelines for the Wolves.  Who will be the next coach?  Will Flip Saunders be on the sidelines next season or will he be able to grab someone from the college ranks like Fred Hoiberg or Tom Izzo.  I would be ecstatic with either of those choices from college and mortified if Flip takes over as head coach.  Do you have any off-the-radar guesses or suggestions?

Onwards to the last three games of the 2013/14 season for the Timberwolves.  Can the team win at least one of the final three to lock in a .500 record?  Can they win two of three to finish over .500?

Game 80: Sunday, 4/13, 8pm – Timberpups @ Sacramento Kings (TV: FSN Plus)

The Kings come into Sunday’s game with a 27-53 record, having lost to the Clippers in LA on Saturday night.

Opponent to watch:

DeMarcus Cousins – While I ripped the Kings at the beginning of the season to the contract they gave Cousins, he has produced this season, leading the team in points, rebounds, steals, and blocks (22.6, 11.7, 1.5, and 1.3 respectively).  It hasn’t led to many wins though …

Predictions:

The Wolves take advantage of the Kings playing on back to back nights and guarantee themselves a .500 record for the season.  Final score: Timberwolves 108, Kings 101

Game 81: Monday, 4/14, 9:30pm – Timberpups @ Golden State Warriors (TV: FS North & NBA TV)

The Warriors are moving on to the playoffs it is just a matter of where they will be seeded with a 49-30 record going into Sunday night’s game in Portland.

Opponent to watch:

Stephen Curry – One last opportunity this season (until the playoffs start) for Wolves’ fans to curse David Kahn and his selection of Jonny Flynn over Curry.  Steph hasn’t missed a game this season and leads the Warriors in points, assists, and steals.  I would go into more detail but don’t feel like lighting myself on fire right now.

Predictions:

The Warriors will want to go into the playoffs playing good basketball and this game should be entertaining to watch.  I predict a barn burner – Final score: Warriors 124, Timberwolves 115

Game 82: Wednesday, 4/16, 7pm – Utah Jazz @ Timberpups (TV: FS North)

Nothing like closing the season with a win at home, right?  Right?!  The worst team in the Western Conference (although the Lakers are trying) visits the Target Center as we say “goodbye” to the Timberwolves’ season, and potentially “so long” to Rick Adelman.

Opponent to watch:

Not Applicable – For the final game of the season, let’s focus on the Wolves and not the opponent.  We’re talking about a bland Jazz team anyway.

Let’s give thanks to Kevin Love and Nikola Pekovic for putting up all-star caliber numbers.  As an added bonus, Gorgui Dieng looks like a very strong third wheel for the Wolves moving forward, specifically as a defensive replacement when one is needed.

Here is to hoping that Ricky Rubio makes the much needed leap in the offseason and that we have a new backup PG behind him next season.  Finally, let’s hope that Flip can find a wing or two in order to upgrade the roster beyond Kevin Martin, Corey Brewer, and/or Shabazz Muhammad.

Predictions:

Minnesota sends Wolves Nation home with a positive memory.  If they lose in Sacramento and Golden State, there will be some heavy motivation for the team to finish at .500.  If they win at least one of those games on the road, there is still motivation to finish on a positive note at home.  Final score: Timberwolves 104, Jazz 89

Wrap-up:

After recapping these final games for our Pups, we’ll be putting together thoughts on how the players looked this past season and what the team needs to do in order to finally get back into the playoffs.  For now, let’s go Wolves!