Timberpups Weekly Preview – Week 1 of 2014/15

Flip's the man in charge!  (Photo credit: Star Tribune)

Flip’s the man in charge! (Photo credit: Star Tribune)

Setting the stage:

The Timberwolves are back and fans have their #EyesOnTheRise!  Welcome to the start of the 2014/15 NBA season and our weekly preview here at Timberpups.com.  While this is very likely to be a year of transition, there is a light at the end of the tunnel with Andrew Wiggins and Zach LaVine joining the club and being paired with Ricky Rubio, Nikola Pekovic, and Gorgui Dieng.  With other pieces remaining in the mix from last season, the Wolves have a decent balance of youth and veteran experience.  Who remains with the club throughout the season, past the trade deadline and into the next few years is a bit of question mark.  However, there is excitement in the air and that should be carried over to the crowds filling into the Target Center in the days and weeks ahead.

Below you will find a brief preview of each game on the schedule, along with who to watch for and a prediction on the outcome.  The quest for an 82-0 season begins soon and we’ll see how long the team can stay at that pace.

Game 1: Wednesday, 10/29, 7pm – Pups @ Memphis Grizzlies (TV: FS North)

Look at this – the Wolves don’t open another season against the Sacramento Kings!  The Grizzlies are coming off of its second 50+ wins season.  The Grizz took the OKC Thunder to a seventh game in the first round of the playoffs but failed to advance.

Memphis has added several interesting pieces to their roster this season, including Vince Carter and Earl Clark.  While the Wolves turned the corner and gave up on the failed and flawed ‘playoffs or bust’ philosophy, the Grizzlies continue to look for ways to advance in the postseason.

Opponent to watch:

Mike Conley – Conley is entering his eighth season in the NBA and with the Grizzlies.  Conley really beat up Rubio and the Wolves’ backup Point Guards last season, averaging 17.5ppg and 6.3rpg.

Predictions:

This is a tough start for the Wolves, playing on the road and against a veteran club that looks to make some noise in the Western Conference this season.  Final score: Grizzlies 95, Timberwolves 84

Game 2: Thursday, 10/30, 7pm – Detroit Pistons @ Pups (TV: FS North)

The Wolves’ home opener is against a team that has struggled to build an identity over the past handful of seasons and has thrown free agency money around with no sense of direction.  Enter Stan Van Gundy as the new coach and a new philosophy.

While there are players that can fill up the box score in the Pistons lineup, there doesn’t seem to be much chemistry with the club.  Josh Smith, Brandon Jennings, Andre Drummond and Greg Monroe are all interesting players for your NBA fantasy team, but they aren’t leading to many victories for the Pistons.

Monroe had an interesting offseason in which he was charged with a DUI and suspended two games, so he won’t be in uniform against the Wolves.  He also turned down a contract extension from the club and is playing on the one year, qualifying offer.

Opponent to watch:

Andre Drummond – Drummond enters his third season in the NBA and has shown signs of continued improvement in the preseason.  Andre averaged 13.5ppg and 13.2rpg last season, starting all 81 of the games he played in.  It will be a nice litmus test for both Nikola Pekovic and Gorgui Dieng to see how they match up with the Pistons big man.

Predictions:

With the absence of Monroe and a fired up Target Center, the Wolves have a good chance to pull off the victory.  The Pistons will also be flying into Minnesota off of a Wednesday night game, having to face the Nuggets in Denver less than 24 hours prior to tip-off of Thursday’s action.  Final score: Timberwolves 95, Pistons 91

Game 3: Saturday, 11/1, 7pm – Chicago Bulls @ Pups (TV: NBA TV & FSN Plus)

Assuming they can stay healthy – and that is a big assumption to make – the Chicago Bulls are one of a handful of legitimate contenders for the NBA Championship this season.  The team will be looking to fix what looked to be broken at the end of last year, after losing the Washington Wizards in the first round of the playoffs (without Derrick Rose).

Opponent to watch:

Pau Gasol – One of, if not the most underappreciated players in today’s game, Gasol left the Lakers to join the Bulls for a chance at another run at a ring.  Gasol will team with DPOY Joakim Noah and Taj Gibson to make for one of the more dominant frontline rotations in the NBA.

Predictions:

The Wolves will have a hard time keeping pace with the Bulls.  Final score: Bulls 113, Timberwolves 96

Wrap-up:

The Wolves face two very tough teams to open the season in the Grizzlies and Bulls.  I am hoping they are able to showcase their young talent in the home opener and get the fanbase excited early.  A win against the Pistons club would mean “a lot”.

Let’s go Wolves!

Timberpups 2014-15 Season Preview

How will Minnesota fare following their offseason makeover?

How will Minnesota fare following their offseason makeover?

The NBA season is upon us Wolves’ fans!  With that in mind, we have put together an internal roundtable discussion on several hot topics with the 2014-15 Timberwolves.  As we look towards the season ahead, which Wolves’ players will make the leap, how will the rookies do, what are we looking forward to the most, and similar topics are all covered below by the Timberpups staff for the coming season!

With our #EyesOnTheRise, here are a number of questions that we passed along to one another to collect opinions and thoughts.

Question 1: What Wolves player are you most excited about as we enter the season?

John: I’m most excited, maybe intrigued, by what Zach LaVine can bring to the table.  Will he be able to effectively play both guard positions?  Will he continue to progress throughout the season?  How mentally tough is he as the season wears on and the losses likely start to pile up? He has all of the athletic talent in the world, as we have already seen.  I want to see him run both guard positions, getting different looks alongside Rubio, Martin, and Brewer.

Lindsey: I’m most excited by Andrew Wiggins. I’ll admit that along with excitement also comes some anxiety. Having the No. 1 draft pick is awesome, as there is so much anticipation and enthusiasm surrounding him. However, it also means that we haven’t seen him prove himself in the big leagues yet. How will he do in the transition from college to the NBA? How will he mesh with Flip and his offensive schemes? My gut feeling is that he will be more-than-ready for pro action and will immediately improve our scoring and speed on the court.

Josh: As a whole, I’m excited about seeing the youth of the team grow. If I had to pick one that I’m most excited about, though, it would be Wiggins. Through two preseason games, he already seems to be NBA ready, especially on the defensive end. He seems to be a great listener and is willing to take advice from teammates and coaches. Watching his develop should be enough to keep Wolves fans entertained even if they do end up well outside the playoff picture. [Read more...]

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.

Wolves Summer League Recap

Zach LaVine was a highlight reel for the Wolves in Vegas (NBAE, Getty Images)

Zach LaVine was a highlight reel for the Wolves in Vegas (NBAE, Getty Images)

The Minnesota Timberwolves finished the Las Vegas Summer League with a 2-4 record. After losing their first three games, the Wolves were the last seed at the start of tournament play only to pull off an ‘upset’ by defeating the Phoenix Suns in the first round. The Sacramento Kings knocked the Wolves out of the tournament the next day – and wound up with the league championship. The Wolves finished their stay in Las Vegas with a victory over the Pelicans last Friday.

What did we learn in Las Vegas? How did our Pups perform, particularly those that are more likely to be on the opening night roster? Let’s take a look back at #WolvesInVegas with a ranking of the top performers on the squad and what implications said performance may have on the Wolves this forthcoming season. [Read more...]

Recap: Wolves Defeat Pelicans in Summer League Finale

Zach LaVine said all the right things and played admirably in Las Vegas Summer League (Timberwolves.com)

Zach LaVine said all the right things and played admirably in Las Vegas Summer League (Timberwolves.com)

The Timberwolves finished up their stay in Las Vegas on Friday night, taking on the New Orleans Pelicans. There have been a few up and downs for the Wolves this week and it feels like the product on the floor has taken somewhat of a backseat to the continuing rumors of whether or not Kevin Love will be traded and to which team is the latest to sweeten their offer. That’s a little unfortunate given … you know … live basketball and evaluating young, potential talent for the team.

Our Pups opened up with the following starting lineup: Zach LaVine, Brady Heslip, Matt Janning, Glenn Robinson III, and Gorgui Dieng. Said group got off to a slow start, with the Pelicans jumping out to an 18-8 advantage and forcing Sam Mitchell – tonight’s head coach for the Wolves – to burn a timeout. Further proof of the slow start: [Read more...]