Rumors: Wolves to Acquire Thad Young for Anthony Bennett

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let’s go Wolves!

 

Putting Timberwolves thru the NBA Trade Machine

Putting Timberwolves thru the Trade Machine & this is one of the more appealing deals to be had ... I think

Putting Timberwolves thru the Trade Machine & this is one of the more appealing deals to be had … I think

The Timberwolves came into the 2013/14 season with high expectations, or at the very least, expectations of being a playoff team in a loaded Western Conference.  After a hot start, the team has cooled down some and is floating around what I like to call the Mason-Dixon Line, i.e. playing around .500 ball.  The schedule has done the team no favors, but that is completely out of the team’s control.  What we do know from the first third of the season is that the team is lacking in the depth department.  Coach Adelman is relying too heavily on his starters and a seven/eight man rotation is going to pay unkind dividends come March and April.

With that train of thought in mind, I took a look around the league and played with the NBA Trade Machine to find a few potential deals that might make sense for the Wolves and its trade partner.  I am considering the following players untouchable: Ricky Rubio, Kevin Martin, Kevin Love, and Nikola Pekovic.  While I don’t think Corey Brewer is a chip that would be dangled out there, I also wouldn’t consider him untouchable.  These trades are largely built with the thought of improving our depth and are not blockbuster deals. [Read more...]

Recap – Timberwolves 124, Cavs 95

 

Corey Brewer got the Timberwolves off to a strong start & they never looked back! (Photo credit: Timberwolves Facebook page)

Corey Brewer got the Timberwolves off to a strong start & they never looked back!
(Photo credit: Timberwolves Facebook page)

For the second and last time this season, the Timberwolves played the Cavs Wednesday night at the Target Center.  The Cavs edged the Wolves on their home court a week and a half ago.  To make Wednesday night’s game a little bit tougher, Kevin Martin came down with the flu and was a late scratch for the Pups.  With that announcement, the starting lineup looked like this: Rubio, Hummel, Brewer, Love, and Pekovic.  For the Cavs, no real surprises: Irving, Waiters, Gee, Thompson, and Varejao.

Game Summary

I’m taking a page out of Zach’s playbook for the overall Game Summary, as this wasn’t very close just a few minutes after the opening tipoff …

 

First Half 

Once again, the Timberwolves opened up strong.  Corey Brewer scored the first 9 points of the game for the Pups and they were off and running.  Ricky Rubio and Kyrie Irving seemed to go back and forth with one another on dribble drives … with Rubio creating for his teammates and Irving trying to shoulder the scoring load.  Note the word “trying” here, as the Wolves continued to put points on the board and pressure on the Cavs.

With a little under 5 minutes to go in the first quarter, Kyrie took what appeared to be an elbow to the cheek from Brewer, who was sweeping in for an attempted layup.  Kyrie went down and checked out of the game.  This led to a significant run from the Wolves, including a second three point field goal from Robbie Hummel.  At the end of the first quarter, the Wolves held a 38-24 lead.

The Wolves kept the pressure on throughout the second quarter.  This time, it was Kevin Love who was doing a lot of the damage.  Love put in 11 of his 19 first half points in the second quarter, continuing to get the charity stripe.  While Irving returned to the floor, it felt like the damage was already done.  At half-time, the Wolves held a commanding 70-47 lead.

Half-time notes:

  • During the 2nd quarter, Benz and Peterson talked about a little bit of news in that there is a bit of a hope that Chase Budinger could return by the time Christmas rolls around.  (Fingers crossed)
  • Every Wolves player that entered the game in the first half had a double digit + in the +/- box score at halftime.
  • Bored with a big lead?  Yes!  So bored in fact, I wound up putting together a mini-post in the Forum for Derrick Williams trade ideas, including running the Trade Machine for an updated deal for Evan Turner.

Second Half

I’m not going to lie, the 3rd quarter was amazing for the Timberwolves, but also wound up leading to a lot of looking around and fishing for some bit of news.  The Wolves completely dominated the Cavs again in the quarter, outscoring the Cavs 38-29 and building their lead to 108-76 … at the end of only THREE quarters.  What more do you really want me to say?  If you happened to miss last night’s performance, go watch a replay.  If the Wolves have an off night over the course of the next week or two, revert back to this game.  Zach sums things up pretty nicely here:

As one would expect, Rick Adelman sent in the reserves to play the 4th quarter, with AJ Price, Alexey Shved, Shabazz Muhammad, Derrick Williams, and Gorgui Dieng in it for the long haul (or those 12 minutes).  Naturally, this puts Williams at the PF position, thereby proving (again) that we aren’t even going to try with the SF experiment … because it isn’t going to work.  You know what, I’m just going to end that here as it isn’t the right night.

The reserves did not play well, but largely maintained the advantage that the regular rotation had built in the first three quarters.  The Cavs outscored the Wolves 19-16 in the quarter.  Williams and Dieng looked relatively good down low, but the guard/wing play wasn’t very strong.  Shved hit on the Wolves final shot of the game and hopefully that is something to build off of.  ?

Mercifully, this one ended with the Wolves moving to 6-3 on the season and a final score of 124-95.

Three Stars of the Game

  1. Corey Brewer – Beyond opening up the game with the team’s first nine points, Brewer was awesome!  27 points on 10-17 shooting, which includes a 5-5 from beyond the arc.  Perfect time to step up, given Kevin Martin’s absence.
  2. Ricky Rubio – It is Ricky Rubio’s world and we are just living in it.  16 points, 16 assists, and 6 rebounds.  I’m not even going to try to describe how amazing he was with the ball in his hands Wednesday night.
  3. Kevin Love – His double-double streak ended, but I am going to assume that isn’t going to be the headline from the game.  Love finished with a cool 33 points, 8 rebounds, and 6 assists.

 Key Takeaways

  • This Wolves team is really exciting to watch.  However, there are still major concerns about the bench play beyond the 7 man rotation (which would contain Cunningham and Barea)
  • The Cavs are a mess and I don’t see how people view them as an up and coming team.  They have one really good player and that’s about all.
  • Good teams have players step up when adversity hits.  A golf clap goes towards Corey Brewer for his offensive game today in Martin’s absence.

Game Notes:

Shabazz Muhammad went 0-4 from the field for 0 points and 4 rebounds on his birthday.  (There is a rookie hazing comment here somewhere, right?)

Attendance for the game tonight was reported at 14,978.  Let’s see if that can go over 15,000 for a Saturday night game and coming off of this impressive victory.  (That was a challenge fans)

 

2013/2014 Eastern Conference Preview

 

It has been the Heat's Conference recently, does that change in 2014?

It has been the Heat’s Conference recently, does that change in 2014?

 

Last week we previewed the (stacked) Western Conference and now it is time to tackle the East.  The Miami Heat look to make it not one, not two, but three conference championships in a row.  Can they do it?  Who can rise to the occasion?  Who is at the bottom of the barrel?  Let’s start there …

15. Philadelphia 76ers: I find it glorious that for David Stern’s final season, there is a team with enough charisma to say, “Here we are … tanking in all its glory” from the day the draft took place all the way through the trading deadline.  Where will Evan Turner and Thaddeus Young wind up?  I’m not sure they care, as long as it is out of Philly.  While I like what Philly did on draft night acquiring Noel and MCW, there is no hope for this team in 2013/14.  Zero.  Zilch.

14. Orlando Magic: Victor Oladipo is very likely going to be a very good NBA player, but this team lacks talent across its frontcourt.  If they can find a taker for Jameer Nelson during the season, they might give the Sixers a run for their money on ping pong balls.

13. Cleveland Cavaliers: Dan Gilbert wants this team in the playoffs, yet continues to do the strangest things on draft night.  I love Kyrie Irving, I just wish he played almost anywhere else in the league.  Cavs fans have to hope that Michael Bennett doesn’t eat himself out of the league (not a ringing endorsement for the #1 pick of the draft) and rely on getting something from Andrew Bynum and/or Anderson Varejao.  This isn’t going to end well.

12. Boston Celtics: The Celtics are rebuilding but I can’t put them any lower than this, given what you just read.  In fact, I actually wanted to put them a little bit higher, but figure this seems about right if Danny Ainge wakes up one day and says, “You know what, we are too good to get enough ping pong balls, Rondo needs to go”.  Rajon Rondo and the supporting cast (Jeff Green, Courtney Lee) are good enough to stay ahead of the prior three teams.

11. Charlotte Bobcats: On paper, this is a pretty intriguing team that you might want to keep an eye on, but then you remember it is the Bobcats.  They have a serviceable rotation of guards, signed Big Al Jefferson, and I love MKG.  Then I remember that they are the Bobcats and just drafted Cody Zeller at #4 ahead of a handful of others that would have been a nice fit.  Would the real Bismack Biyombo please stand up this season?

10. Detroit Pistons: This is going to be fun, right?  Right?!  Chauncey Billups returning to Detroit and trying to lead the Pistons with Brandon Jennings, Josh Smith, and Andre Drummond.  At what point does Billups flat out retire?  It would be great if he just walked out of the locker room at halftime to never come back.  This is where we start thinking about teams that could sneak their way into the Eastern Conference playoffs … with 35 wins.

9. Toronto Raptors: Another team that is intriguing on paper and then you give yourself a reality check on second glance.  Do you want Kyle Lowry as your starting PG?  Is DeMar DeRozan ever going to turn it on?  How much of a leap is Jonas Valanciunas really going to make in one year?  Is Rudy Gay just going to shoot 33% from the field this year on 1,500 shots?  Sorry, no playoffs for this franchise.

PLAYOFF TEAMS                                                                                                                               

8. Washington Wizards: Relying on the health of an already injured Emeka Okafor may not be the wisest strategy, but there is too much talent here to not make the playoffs in the East.  John Wall, Bradley Beal, Otto Porter Jr. (another great pick from the Wizards front office?), and enough able bodies for big men.  If you go to their second unit, you have some defensive studs as well with Singleton and Ariza on the wing.  This could be a team to keep an eye on and is already on my League Pass watch-list.

7. Milwaukee Bucks: Every year I get sucked in and every year there is disappointment.  Where OJ Mayo goes, so does some bizarre allegiance to overrate the team he’s playing on.  That bus landed in Milwaukee this year.  I like their big men as a group, but not any particular individual.  You have ex-Wolf Luke Ridnour and Brandon Knight as the PG’s and Gary Neal as the fourth wheel in the backcourt.  It will be interesting to see what they get out of the SF position where the Bucks have two wily veterans in Caron Butler and Carlos Delfino.  This roster is good enough to make the playoffs.  (Until it isn’t)

6. New York Knicks: Look at how the NY Giants football season is going and that is what I would like to predict for the Knicks.  However, they have too much talent for the Eastern Conference to go any lower than this.  They will play .500 ball and get into the playoffs with ease.  Here’s what I like about the team: Tyson Chandler, from a few years ago.  That’s it.  There is nothing on this roster that I like.  Despite his gaudy numbers, there is virtually nothing Carmelo can do to not make me believe that he is an underachiever; outside of taking less than max money in his next contract and deferring to another star in order to win a championship.

5. Atlanta Hawks: This is my Eastern Conference “I have no idea where to put this team, so they are going here”.  I cannot give a team home court advantage in round 1 of the playoffs if that is my general feeling towards the team, so they land at #5.  Love the Paul Millsap and Al Horford combination, like Jeff Teague, but have no idea what to think of their rotation of wings.  The Hawks’ wings really just need to fill roles though, right?  That should be good enough for a .500+ record and another trip to the postseason, only to be quickly disposed by the …

4. Chicago Bulls: We’ll get to this when we go through the playoff brackets later, but I see the Bulls coasting through the regular season, monitoring Derrick Rose’s minutes, resting him occasionally, etc. This team is tough as nails and will do what is necessary to get to right around the 50 win mark.  It won’t be pretty, we won’t enjoy it when they beat up the Wolves in the paint, but this team will get it done.

3. Brooklyn Nets: Prokhorov’s tax bill is “a bit” much, but you have to love an owner that is willing to spend any and all money possible to put together a championship contender.  Unfortunately for the Nets, there are too many stronger teams that will grind this team out of the playoffs at some point.  Deron Williams has a lot to prove and I see this team putting together a very strong regular season due to all of the veterans in the locker room.

Best of luck to KG in Brooklyn and a big “kudos” for the Big Ticket in wearing the #2 jersey with the Nets – in memory of Malik Sealy.  I might have to drag myself to the Barclay’s Center to see KG one last time in person.

2. Indiana Pacers: The country finally got to see who Paul George was and what this Pacers roster is all about in last year’s playoffs.  I don’t expect them to digress whatsoever.  In fact, if Danny Granger can stay healthy and Luis Scola provides quality backup minutes at the PF/C spots, this team is very, very dangerous.  Quite honestly, I love this team.

(You didn’t think I would talk about the Pacers and not mention David Kahn’s selection of Wesley Johnson over Paul George, did you?  The worst lottery pick the franchise has ever made.  The worst … and the bar is pretty ‘high’ for that proclamation.  THE WORST!  Let’s move on before my blood pressure pills start wearing off …)

1. Miami Heat: The Heat won something like 75 games in a row (it was 27) last season and the NBA Championship.  You know the story and the cast of characters.  Until someone knocks them off the pedestal, it is hard to place them anywhere else.

Which brings us to the playoffs, based on the seeds above.  Here is how I see the Eastern Conference Playoffs unfolding:

Eastern Conference

The top four teams in the East are light-years ahead of the rest of the conference, so they should all advance pretty easily out of the first round – unless you like the Knicks.  Then things get very interesting.  As mentioned above, I think the Bulls take it “easy” in the regular season a bit but knock out the defending champs, which sets up a close to epic battle against the Pacers.  I simply believe it is the Pacers time.

The early exit for the Heat leads to about 15 million stories and rumors about LeBron heading back to Cleveland, to the Lakers, etc. etc.  That’s going to be a lot of fun!

What do you think?  Is it too early to dethrone the Heat?  Do they have another trophy coming?  What are your surprise or disappointment teams in the conference?  Let us know below!

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.

Preview: Minnesota Timberwolves vs. Philadelphia 76ers, 2/20/13

Photo Credit: Associated Press

Photo Credit: Associated Press

Setting the stage:

We are back from All Star Weekend and the Timberwolves open up at home on Wednesday night against the Philadelphia 76ers.  Both teams played their last game this past Wednesday and both teams lost going into the break.  The Sixers come into the game with a record of 22-29 and have fallen 4 games behind the Milwaukee Bucks for the 8th seed in the East.  The team is led by the trio of first time All Star Jrue Holiday, Thaddeus Young, and Evan Turner.  However, the team will be without Young on Wednesday night as he remains out with an injury to his hamstring.

The Wolves return to the court off of the extended break and look to get a little healthier.  Andrei Kirilenko should be ready to return to action Wednesday night after missing the past five games with a quad injury.  The layoff hopefully provided others a few extra days to relax and recharge the battery.  The Pups handled the Sixers in Philly in early December without Rubio and a weak performance from Kevin Love.  The team will look to do the same despite the different faces that will be in the rotation on their home floor.

For today’s preview, I have reached out to another local friend who is a lifetime sufferer of being a Sixers fan, Jeff Agress.  Jeff and I used to spend too many Friday happy hours together debating the NBA and creating top ten lists – current players, all time players, women in the bar … you get the idea.  Similar to our Friday night previews, I asked for Jeff’s perspective on a few key storylines regarding this year’s Sixers squad.

Sixers Question #1 for Jeff:

Please describe your frustration level with Andrew Bynum and what are your expectations from him moving forward – this season and beyond?

Jeff:

The Sixers were literally one game away from the Eastern Conference Finals a year ago but the overall consensus was that they were an overachieving team that got a lucky break with the Derrick Rose injury and maxed out their potential.   Both the fans and the new Sixer ownership recognized that a core led by Andre Iguodala, Elton Brand, and Lou Williams can only go so far.  As we know, over the summer they overhauled the team, highlighted by the mega-trade where the Sixers sent Iguodala, Nic Vucovic (having a solid season in Orlando), Moe Harkless, and a protected 1st round pick away in return for Andrew Bynum and Jason Richardson.  To say Philly nation, self included, was pumped about acquiring Bynum would be severely understating it.  Ownership opened the introductory press conference to the fans and ran a marketing campaign around him.  For the first time since Allen Iverson was traded, the Sixers mattered again. The Sixers envisioned a team with Bynum manning the middle, demanding double teams and surrounded with sharpshooters (signing Nick Young and trading for Dorrel Wright in addition to Richardson).  Add in the core youngsters Jrue Holiday, Evan Turner, and Thad Young and expectations in Philly were sky high for all of us.

Fast forward six months, and Bynum barely practiced with the team, let alone having played in one.  There is obviously a lot of frustration with the injury which can mainly be attributed to the mysteriousness of it all; the setbacks, the ever changing time frame, and the weekly updates where Bynum himself gives conflicting answers from “there is a lot of pain” and “I feel great” in the same interview.   Needless to say, hostility is in the air as we all get the sense that the front office is being dishonest in an attempt to keep ticket sales up.  With management mostly hush-hush, we are left to ask questions like “what doctor cleared this trade” and “when exactly did he get injured”.  After gaining a lot of praise last year for their accomplishments, ownership and Doug Collins are slowly seeing that disappear.

Bynum is now on the verge of becoming a free agent at season’s end.  I know for me, I’d like to see him play in at least play a handful of games and show the Sixers he is not damaged goods – he’ll certainly need to do that for other potential suitors.  Even if he doesn’t play one game this season he will likely be offered a max contract by someone.  Talent-wise he is a top 2 or 3 center in the league, but he has never played more than 65 games in a season, has serious knee issues, and a 5 year max contract is too risky a proposition.  The Sixers have some serious soul searching to do, for sure.

Sixers Question #2 for Jeff:

Jrue Holiday has made ‘the jump’ this season and just played in his first All Star Game.  What would you consider to be the one or two main reasons that caused this jump?  Separately, what aspect of his game still needs the most improvement?

Jeff:

Jrue Holiday, still only 22 years old, has been the ONLY bright spot this season for the team.  They beat the November 1st deadline and extended Jrue to a 4 year, $41 million deal (plus incentives).  Though Jrue has been somewhat inconsistent through his first 3 seasons, it was a move many Sixer fans backed wholeheartedly considering his upside and his encouraging play vs. top competition in the past two playoffs.

Moving on from Iguodala and Brand was an addition by subtraction in regards to Holiday’s growth of a player and he has taken full advantage of being the focal point of the offense.  He has become much more assertive leading the team in general, is an underrated on ball defender, and has been more aggressive penetrating the lane for his own shot or locating open shooters on the wing.

Personally, I am pleasantly surprised that he is one of the top assist men in the NBA.  Jrue is still somewhat careless at times with the ball which leads to his high turnover rate and for whatever reason he doesn’t create enough contact when penetrating the lane. Cutting down on his TO’s and increasing his FT attempts will be vital if he wants to take his game to the next level.

Sixers Question #3 for Jeff:

We have talked through a number of trade scenarios in the past that largely revolve around Derrick Williams and Evan Turner.  Is there anything on the Wolves roster that is appealing enough to take him off your hands?

Jeff:

Interestingly, the Sixers are another year or so away from having to make another major decision: commit to Evan Turner or not.  He has improved this season, no question.  Always a very good rebounder and ball handler, Turner improved his mid-range jumper and added a corner three to his repertoire, but he has yet to add true consistency to his game.  From my perspective, Turner would be a better fit coming off the bench in a 6th man role, but I don’t feel he’d embrace it enough.  They are at the cross-roads and all signs are pointing to Evan Turner getting put on the trade block with their lack of many tradable assets, although I don’t see it happening until the offseason at the earliest.  Who knows, maybe the Wolves can be a potential suitor?

The Sixers are not athletic on the wings and are without an interior game until Bynum shows up.  I can’t see the Wolves entertaining a deal including Pekovic, so a trade between these two teams would need to center on Turner and Williams.  Straight up would be tough for a Sixer fan to stomach, but if another player is added to the deal, maybe Villanova star Dante Cunningham or Greg Stiemsma, I would be more open to considering it.  If there is a way to get the Wolves to take Spencer Hawes or Kwame Brown off our hands and add in another player such as Luke Ridnour, then I can see making something happen that makes sense.  How does Turner/Hawes for Williams/Cunningham/Ridnour sound?

John’s response to the trade proposal above:

There are certain parameters that I think could make this work.  The deal above wouldn’t be acceptable to me, but if we replace Cunningham with Stiemsma, there might be something there, particularly due to the play of Chris Johnson.  Looking ahead to this summer, this would also be a nice backup move for the Wolves and protection against losing Pekovic or even a sign and trade with Portland that swaps Pekovic for Batum.

I want to thank Jeff for answering a few questions on Sixers and providing some perspective on the Pups opponent.  You can follow Jeff on Twitter.

Player to watch:

Nikola Pekovic – If the Pups have any chance of getting back on track in the second half of the season, it is going to be because of Pekovic and the team’s commitment to getting him the ball in the paint.  While Spencer Hawes is quietly having a solid season for Philadelphia, I fully expect him to be eaten up by Pekovic Wednesday night.

Match-up to watch:

Ricky Rubio vs. Jrue Holiday.  As discussed above, Holiday is having a breakout season.  Without Rubio in the lineup earlier this season, Jrue put up a 13-9 game against the Wolves backcourt.  I would expect similar numbers against Ricky and company Wednesday.  Rubio has been molding into form over the past month or so and is coming off a highlight filled BBVA Rising Stars game.  He continues to look more and more like last year’s version and it will be great to see that trend continue through the second half of the season.

Predictions:

Coming off of the extended break and knowing that a handful of tough games against Western Conference opponents are forthcoming, I expect the Wolves to be fresh for this one and play with confidence, given the results from earlier this season in Philly.

Final score prediction: Minnesota Timberwolves 106, Philadelphia 76ers 98

Three stars of the game predictions:

  1. Nikola Pekovic
  2. Alexey Shved
  3. Evan Turner

Let’s go Wolves!