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.

Screen Shot 2013-09-26 at 3.49.16 AM

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.

Screen Shot 2013-09-26 at 4.33.59 AM

Screen Shot 2013-09-26 at 4.35.42 AM

 

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.

Screen Shot 2013-09-26 at 4.44.44 AM

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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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 Free Agency Plans

Will OJ Mayo "rejoin" the Timberwolves?

Will OJ Mayo “rejoin” the Timberwolves?

At midnight, July 1st, the circus known as NBA free agency begins.  The Timberwolves are looking to be very active this offseason and clearly have a few priorities to take care of over the next few days.  Here is one perspective on what the Timberwolves free agency plans should or could be.

First, some quick housecleaning.  There were two moves announced over the past couple of days that play a pivotal role in what Flip Saunders and company do in free agency.  This past Friday, the team announced that they have picked up the option on Dante Cunningham’s contract for this coming season.  This shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone, as Dante played a key role for the team this past season and is a welcomed face and presence on and off the court for the team. [Read more...]

Timberwolves 2012-13 Player Grades: Forwards

"Don't worry, we'll pick up the slack in your absence" Photo credit: AP

“Don’t worry, we’ll pick up the slack in your absence”
Photo credit: AP

Here are our first round of reviews from this past season’s body of work.  Ladies and gentlemen, the Timberwolves 2012-13 player grades for your offseason enjoyment!  We’ll be concentrating on the forwards that graced us with their presence this past season.  Let’s get right into the season review …

Player: Kevin Love

Season Summary

To put it mildly, it wasn’t a great year for Kevin Love.  He broke a bone in his right hand before the season even started doing knuckle push-ups.  He returned earlier than doctors and the team had predicted and had a monster game against Denver on 11/21 at the Target Center – 34 points and 14 rebounds.  While putting up big numbers in the box score, it was clear that Love wasn’t himself after the first week.  He was not in game shape at all and his shooting percentages started to spiral downward – his final shooting percentages for the season were 35% from the field, 22% from three point range and 70% from the free throw line, all well below his career averages.

In December, Love missed a game here and there and averaged 17.5ppg and 13.3rpg.  By no means are those numbers to yawn at, but not what we were expecting to see from our all-star forward.  Then, shortly after the turn of the calendar year, the season came to a screeching halt for Love.  Ironically, it came against the Denver Nuggets, the team that he opened up his season against.  During a fluke incident around the paint, Love ran into a Nugget and re-fractured his hand.

That wound up being the end of Kevin Love’s season.  Despite rumors that he might return towards the end of the regular season, he never saw the floor again.

Season Highlight

While Love had several very impressive games, I am going to go with the night previously mentioned above – his return to the floor for the first time of the season and putting up the 34 and 14, leading the team to a victory.  It felt like it was time to get the season really going when he got back on the floor and my own conventional wisdom had hopes that his return was the start of a playoff run and a string of returning players to the lineup.  Yeah, that never happened.

Love had a few other monster games, including a 23 point, 24 rebound night in Sacramento on 11/27 and a season-high 36 points on 10-19 shooting at home against Cleveland on 12/7.  However, his return helped energize the fan base; if only for a short amount of time.

Season Lowlight

This one is pretty easy.  The Timberwolves season unofficially ended on Thursday, 1/3/13 when Love re-fractured the bone in his hand.  He was having a monster performance on the boards that night – 17 rebounds in 24 minutes, and everything went kaput on a fluke play.

Final Grade: Incomplete

If it ever comes out that Love didn’t break his hand doing knuckle push-ups and was originally injured doing something even dumber, this grade will be changed to an F minus-minus.  Let the conspiracy theorists have some fun with this one.

[Read more...]

Minnesota Timberwolves 110 – Boston Celtics 100

Was he hurt or was it personal reasons?  Pups fans won't shed a tear.  (Photo credit: Getty Images)

Was he hurt or was it personal reasons? Pups fans won’t shed a tear either way. (Photo credit: Getty Images)

Game Summary

The Boston Celtics visited Target Center Monday night, following a bad loss on Sunday against the Knicks in New York. Unfortunately for Wolves fans at the game, Kevin Garnett once again missed his return to Minnesota due to an injury.  The Celtics came into the game as the seven seed in the Eastern Conference.  The Wolves came into Monday’s game off of a Saturday night loss against Memphis, moving the team’s record to 26-46 on the season.

Par for the course when watching the Wolves, there were a few injuries to account for in the starting lineup on Monday night.  However, they weren’t driven by the Pups for once!  The Wolves opened up with Rubio, Ridnour, Kirilenko, Williams and Pekovic.  The Celtics played without much of their ‘normal’ starting lineup, beginning the game with Avery Bradley, Courtney Lee, Jeff Green, Brandon Bass, and Chris Wilcox.  Aside from Rondo and KG, the Celtics were also without Paul Pierce, who injured his leg on Sunday against the Knicks but was deemed out prior to the game for “personal reasons”.

The game had a nice flow early on with the Wolves and Celtics battling back and forth, particularly in the paint.  Pekovic and Kirilenko drew several early fouls on the Celtics’ big men.  At the same time, Rubio was aggressive looking for his shot and setting up others.  The Celtics countered with fast starts from Avery Bradley and Jeff Green.  Going into the first stoppage of play with under five minutes left in the 1st quarter, the Pups held a 17-13 lead.

At the end of the 1st quarter, the Wolves held a 27-25 lead.  Pekovic was dominant in the opening frame, finishing with 15 points on 5-6 shooting in the first twelve minutes.  More importantly, he had already drawn 2 fouls on Wilcox and 3 on Shavlik Randolph.  Overall, a very nice quarter from the Pups showing the ability to get to the free throw line and run Adelman’s offense.

The Wolves built a 42-36 lead going into a timeout with more than six minutes gone in the 2nd quarter.  Alexey Shved had two baskets in the paint and looked like he was a lot fresher; he only played ~17 minutes in the two games Friday and Saturday night.  Granted the Celtics were down their lead options and playing the second half of a back to back, but the Wolves were looking very good in the 1st half.

After the Celtics tied the game at 45, the Wolves went on a mini-run, taking a 57-52 lead into the locker room at the half.  Here are a couple of halftime thoughts through my Wolves lens:

  • The last week or so of games has to make you yearn for “what could have been” with an even remotely healthy lineup for the better portion of the season.
  • Very nice half of basketball from Pekovic (21 points) and Kirilenko (8 & 8).
  • If the Celtics can’t get healthy (quickly) they are going to be in a lot of trouble trying to avoid the 8 seed and the Miami Heat.

The Wolves tried to break the game open in the 3rd quarter, building a double digit lead halfway through the quarter.  After an AK47 steal and dunk to increase the lead to 12 points, Doc Rivers had seen enough and had to burn a timeout.  It was essentially more of the same from the same three players on the Pups – Pekovic, AK, and Rubio.  At the same time, the Wolves were doing a nice job shutting down the Celtics’ wings, holding Courtney Lee and Jeff Green to minimal contributions.

Boston made a small run towards the end of the 3rd quarter to cut the lead to six points going into the final frame at Target Center.  The Wolves were a little lucky it wasn’t closer as they missed a few buckets in the final few minutes, while Boston also missed a three pointer at the buzzer.  At the end of three, Minnesota led 84-78.

Someone call the league office and ask them to restart the NBA season with a healthy Wolves roster.  The Pups got off to a 12-4 run to start the 4th quarter to increase their lead back to double digits.  From there, it was only a matter of whether or not the Wolves would play fundamental basketball to hold on to the win and that is exactly what they were able to do.  Minnesota outscored Boston in all four quarters Monday night, including 26-22 in the 4th, to win 110-100.

Keys of the Game

  • Fast break points – The Wolves won the fast break battle 23-9.  Without their new big three, the Celtics tried to slow down the game to a screeching halt, but the Wolves wanted nothing to do with that tempo and moved the ball up the court.
  • Free throws – The Wolves were 25-27 (?!?!) from the charity stripe tonight, outpacing the Celtics 9-14 effort from the line.
  • Turnovers – Watching this game and seeing the final lines, you almost wonder how the Wolves didn’t win by an even larger margin.  Minnesota only turned the ball over 8 times Monday night, while Boston had 17.

Three Stars of the Game

  1. Nikola Pekovic – Another huge performance from Pekovic, with 29 points on 9-15 shooting from the field and 11-11 from the FT line.  Pekovic set the tone early and dominated the Celtics big men in the paint, putting them both in foul trouble early.
  2. Andrei Kirilenko – Nice effort from AK47 Monday night, with 17 points, 9 rebounds, 5 assists, and 2 steals.
  3. Dante Cunningham – Ham had another nice shooting night on the Target Center floor, going 7-12 from the field for 19 points.  He also threw in 5 rebounds and 2 steals.

Minnesota Timberwolves 117, Los Angeles Lakers 120

08^740919 05WOLF032813.jpgGame Summary:

Before spoiling the big ending between the Timberwolves and Lakers on Wednesday night, let me set up the context to what would ultimately be one of the most controversial endings to this NBA season. With 5 and a half to play in the final period of play, the Wolves trailed LA 106-94 playing in the Target Center. The Pups were hanging by a thread as Dante Cunningham was playing hero due to his red-hot mid-ranger game and Ricky Rubio doing everything to find him for 15-18 footers. With just around 3 minutes left to play, the Timberwolves switched things up and took part in the infamous hack-a-Dwight strategy. Fouling Dwight on every LA offensive possession, the strategy worked brilliantly as the big man hit only 2 of his 8 free throws over the course of the next minute while Minnesota cut their deficit to only 7 points with right around 2 minutes to play. Dwight, who is shooting 49% from the charity stripe on the season, has been unable to significantly improve his free throw shooting since joining the NBA as a 19-year-old, nearly 8 years ago.

Here’s where things got insane. With 3.4 seconds left and Kobe shooting the second of his two foul shots, Minnesota was out of timeouts and was in need of some serious luck in order to extend the game into overtime. As Kobe released the free throw, the ball bounced graciously off of the front of the rim as Rubio found himself able to easily the ball falling right in front of his face. Racing down the court with no timeouts, Ricky dashed the length of the court in order to get up a last second three-pointer in hopes of tying the game and taking it into overtime in front of the screaming Target Center audience. Just as Ricky approached the three-point line in the midst of a race to beat the clock, Kobe’s arm extended from behind Ricky’s head and came down upon the Spaniards’ left arm just as he was releasing the ball. On the right side, Dwight Howard made significant contact with Ricky’s other side before the shot was released, and Minnesota fans paused for a split second before seeing their hopes for three free throws and a shot at overtime go straight down the drain. No foul was called, despite one official having a clear view of the contact right next to Ricky and Kobe quickly headed through to the lockerroom as the game was official, 120-117 in favor of Los Angeles.

I could go on and on about how the referees blew the game and that Minnesota got jipped, but what good would that do? The fact is that the Wolves waited until the very end of the game to stage a run and ultimately came up a hair short to a player and organization that is clearly favored by the National Basketball Association. It would be ignorant to say that the NBA does not want Los Angeles to grab the eighth seed in the playoffs, because if the Lakers are able to grab the final spot there will be a lot more money in this year’s postseason than there would be if, say, Utah jumped ahead of LA.

Regardless of the finish, I was happy to see Minnesota finish this game with some pride while also saving their best play for last. This 24 game losing streak to LA, however, needs to end soon.

Keys of the Game:

  • Shot-blocking – The Lakers out-blocked the Timberwolves 9 to 3 as D-12 did an excellent job of setting the tempo in the interior for Los Angeles. With Greg Stiemsma an inefficient bench option and Pekovic lacking vertical leap, the Timberwolves are essentially without a shot-blocker in their current rotation with Chris Johnson warming the bench for the foreseeable future.
  • Three-point shooting – After draining 14 threes the night before in Detroit, the Timberwolves were only able to knock down 5 of their 17 attempts while the Lakers nailed 10 of their 22 looks from beyond the arc. Kobe, Nash, Steve Blake and Antawn Jamison all hit at least 2 threes for Los Angeles

Three Stars of the Game:

  1. Kobe Bryant – What’s new? Kobe dominated the Timberwolves for the umpteenth time of his career in route to extending the Lakers current win streak over Minnesota to 24 games. While he definitely got away with a foul on Rubio which could have sent the game into overtime, it was Kobe who did just enough to keep LA from imploding after the hack-a-Dwight debacle cut the Wolves deficit late in the fourth quarter. Kobe finished the night with a line of 31 points (12-21 FG), 7 assists and 3 rebounds in 38 minutes.
  2. Dwight Howard – Yes, Dwight shot a horrendous 7-17 from the free throw line and was being laughed at by many Wolves fans in attendance, but he also completely dominated the paint in the fourth quarter and finished with 25 points (9-13 FG), 16 points, 5 steals and 5 blocks in 34 minutes.
  3. Dante Cunningham – Cunningham was Minnesota’s spark in the fourth quarter and his mid-range game was red-hot. Cunningham faced very soft close outs from LA defenders and responded by draining jumper after jumper in the faces of defenders. DC Hustle scored 18 points (9-15 FG) to pair with 4 rebounds in 19 minutes off of the bench.