Minnesota Timberwolves 105, Phoenix Suns 93

Photo Credit: Jim Mone, Associated Press

Photo Credit: Jim Mone, Associated Press

Game Summary:

Having lost their previous three games on their West coast road trip, the Minnesota Timberwolves came home on Saturday night to host the Phoenix Suns in their last matchup of the season with fomer Wolf Mike Beasley missing the game due to the birth of a new child. Congrats, Beas.

The Wolves faced off against their former fourth overall selection Wes Johnson who has become a starter for the dreadful Suns. While I will admit that the former Syracuse star has somewhat expanded his game since his days in a Timberwolves uniform, he is still a long ways away from being a productive player on a competitive NBA team as evidenced by his 10.31 Player Efficiency Rating.

Ricky Rubio looked much more comfortable against the soft defense of Goran Dragic than he did the previous night against the Utah Jazz. The Wolves immediately had an easier time gaining penetration in the half court and found openings in the short corner on back cuts from Derrick Williams and Andrei Kirilenko. [Read more...]

Minnesota Timberwolves 100, Utah Jazz 107

AlJeffersonGame Summary:

The Minnesota Timberwolves travelled to Utah on Friday night to battle the Jazz in a critical game for Utah’s playoff hopes. With the Los Angeles Lakers and Jazz fighting it out for the final seed in the West, the Jazz looked to their bigs to help them past the lottery-bound Timberwolves.

Nikola Pekovic sat out Friday night’s meeting against the Jazz with an injured left calf. The frontcourt matchup was made increasingly more difficult with the absence of the Wolves starting center. Minnesota defended the interior well in the first period despite facing mismatches in Utah’s favor. The Jazz led 11-10 after the first timeout about midway through the first quarter.

Utah began to expand on their lead following Ricky Rubio’s second foul with around four minutes remaining in the first. The starting Jazz bigs of Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap did a nice job of running the floor in transition. [Read more...]

Minnesota Timberwolves 105, Detroit Pistons 82

Photo Credit: Associated Press

Photo Credit: Associated Press

Game Recap:

On various occasions this season, the Timberwolves have shown us glimpses of what could have potentially been a special 2012-13 campaign had it not been for the myriad of injuries that led the season down the drain. Tuesday night happened to be one of those instances.

Travelling to Detroit to take on the Pistons, the Timberpups staged a second-half blowout due to an explosion of three-pointers despite ranking dead-last as a team in shooting from range. Once the Wolves got hot in the third quarter, the lackluster Pistons seemingly went into autopilot mode and disappeared as they fell to 24-48 on the season.

This game was not as lopsided in the first half as it ultimately turned out to be, and was much more of a defensive battle than the shooting contest it later evolved into. The Pups led 19-16 after the first quarter as Nikola Pekovic controlled the pace in the paint. Detroit, still without rookie center Andre Drummond as he recovers from back surgery, had a difficult time containing Pek as he managed to muscle his way around the interior for second-chance buckets. Drummond, who was the eighth overall selection in last summers NBA Draft, has played absolutely fantastic for Detroit this season before requiring back surgery. The 19-year-0ld center was making a case for Rookie of the Year before falling to injury, and the Pistons have sorely missed his presence in the middle as PF Greg Monroe has been forced to play out of position at the 5.

The second quarter was largely uneventful as the two teams kept it close for the majority of the period. Alexey Shved continued his underwhelming second half of the season highlighted with a few stupid turnovers that led to Detroit fast breaks. Both of his turnovers in the second quarter were the result of him leaving his feet and broadcasting passes across the defense, leading to easy interceptions by defenders watching both their man and the ball. In order to limit these turnovers, Shved needs to take more direct lines on his drives and not leave his feet before deciding to pass.

Pekovic led the Timberwolves with 14 points and 8 rebounds on 6-7 shooting in first half as the Wolves went into the lockerroom with a 44-38 lead. For the Pistons, Monroe led with 8 points and 4 rebounds while having a very difficult time sticking with the 290-pound monster opposite of him in the paint.

The game shifted after the break as Minnesota came out of halftime red-hot from behind the arc. For the first few minutes of the third period, the two teams traded three-pointers as each squad demonstrated good ball movement and spacing. The Pups opened up the second half by hitting 5 of their first 6 three-point attempts and closed the quarter a ridiculous 7-9 from long range as a team. After going scoreless in the first half, Andrei Kirilenko added 7 points in the third quarter as he was very active in the cutting lanes and along the baseline. Pekovic contributed some fierce defense on the Pistons primary scorer, Monroe, and the team highlighted their big third quarter by turning a 6-point halftime lead into a 28-point lead to close the quarter.

The fourth quarter was much of the same, with a few more JJ Barea three-pointers and a raising temper from Pistons Head Coach Lawrence Frank. The Pups held on the win by a score of 105-82.

Keys of the Game:

  • Three-point shooting - Take a note, Wolves fans. This is what happens when more than one Timberwolves player heats it up from downtown and when players effectively feed off of each other on offense. While this is only one game and a total outlier to take from this season, it is important to recognize the importance of Minnesota gaining more healthy bodies – especially when those healthy bodies can shoot threes. Seven different players hit at least one three pointer for Minnesota, and as a team they shot 14-26 from deep.
  • Passing - The Wolves tallied 26 assists as a team and did a very good job of rotating the ball the find the open man on the perimeter. It must be noted that the Pistons did a poor job of closing out Minnesota shooters, but it is encouraging to see the Wolves actually knock down open shot attempts.

Three Stars of the Game:

  1. Nikola Pekovic - While JJ Barea may have had the best performance statistically, I believe that Pek deserves the credit for effectively opening up shots on the perimeter due to his interior dominance in the first half. After a big first half, Pek finished the game with 18 points (7-10 FG) and 11 rebounds in 30 minutes.
  2. JJ Barea - Huge game for Minnesota’s sparkplug PG as he recorded 21 points (8-11 FG) in only 21 minutes. Throw in 5-7 from beyond the arc and only 3 turnovers and you have a classic example of what “Good JJ” can do for a team off of the bench.
  3. Ricky Rubio - Ricky faced off against his close friend and fellow Spanish National teammate Jose Calderon and had the edge in the matchup. Only needing to play 27 minutes, Ricky finished with 14 points (6-9 FG), 9 assists and 4 rebounds. Rubio hit both of his attempts from long range and provided solid defense against a good PG in Calderon.

 

Minnesota Timberwolves 100 – Houston Rockets 108

wolvesrockets315Game Summary

On Friday night the Wolves visited the Houston Rockets to start the St. Patrick’s Day holiday weekend.  There was no luck of the Irish (or any other nationality) for our Pups in the Toyota Center as the Wolves fell and fell hard.  Interested in a quick Recap - Minnesota Timberwolves 100 - Houston Rockets 108.  Interested in more?  Here is how the night transpired.

The Wolves continued on without Nikola Pekovic and Andrei Kirilenko, their 8th and 9th games missed in a row, respectively.  The starting lineup remained as Rubio, Ridnour, Gelabale, Williams, and Stiemsma.  The Rockets opened up with Jeremy Lin, James Harden, Chandler Parsons, Donatas Motiejunas, and Omer Asik.

Early in the game, Derrick Williams picked up an offensive foul that was arguably the worst I have seen called all season.  Not two minutes later, Williams picked up his second offensive foul and he was on the bench less than four minutes into the game; with the team already down to a bare minimum of able bodies.  The writing felt like it was on the wall for this one pretty early.

However, the Wolves played very well early despite missing Williams.  Dante Cunningham played well and the Wolves hit 59% of their shots in the 1st quarter.  Mickael Gelabale had a very strong quarter, with 4 points, 5 rebounds and 3 assists.  Greg Stiemsma also played well, shooting 3-3 from the field for 6 points to go with 2 blocks.  At the end of the 1st, the Pups held a 27-22 over the Rockets.

The good times continued for the Wolves in the 2nd quarter, as they were able to stave off an early run from the Rockets.  In the latter portion of the quarter, the Wolves were able to increase their lead and it had the early looks of a blowout.  Minnesota outscored Houston 30-17 in the quarter to take a 57-39 lead.   Here are a few halftime thoughts through my Wolves lens:

  • The NBA TV studio crew practically destroyed the Wolves in pregame and spent most of halftime trying to change the topic
  • The Rockets looked like they were asleep at the wheel, with 15 turnovers through 2 quarters
  • Total team effort from the Wolves; 57 points, with four different players with a team high 8 points
  • It is amazing how well the Pups look when they hit shots – 55% at the half

The Rockets started the 3rd quarter like a completely different team, hitting jump shots and playing much better defense.  They started the quarter on a 12-5 run to cut the Wolves lead to 11, forcing Adelman to burn an early timeout.  James Harden came alive in the 3rd quarter and took it to the Wolves.  Unfortunately, the Wolves didn’t make any defensive adjustments (i.e. switching Rubio and Ridnour on one end of the floor) until there were less than two minutes in the quarter and after the Rockets cut the lead to 5 points.  After a wild, final ninety seconds of the quarter, the Wolves took an 80-74 lead into the 4th quarter.

There was another 12-5 run by the Rockets to start the 4th quarter, which gave the home team the lead and forced another timeout by Adelman.  The remainder of the quarter was not much better.  With two minutes left in the game, the Rockets still had the Wolves doubled up in the quarter, 25-12 and held a 99-92 lead.  At this point, realistic fans should have been well aware that this game was over.  The Wolves couldn’t do anything to stop or contain the Rockets in the second half and ultimately fell 108-100.

Keys of the Game

  • Game of two halves – Wolves defense gave up 39 points in the 1st half and 69 points in the 2nd.  They scored 57 points of their own in the 1st half and were held to 43 in the 2nd.
  • Rebounding – The Rockets outrebounded the Wolves 44-36, allowing Carlos Delfino to grab 10 rebounds (4 offensive).
  • Three point shooting – The coaching staff needs to put a limit on 3PT’s taken during a game and put some type of penalty on the team when it exceeds said number.  For a team that is really, REALLY bad at long range shooting, the Wolves remain way too trigger happy.

Three Stars of the Game

  1. James Harden – Huge second quarter from Harden without any response from the Wolves – 37 points, 7 rebounds, and 8 assists, including 16-18 from the FT line.
  2. Jeremy Lin – Virtually the exact same comment as above for Harden.  24 points and 8 rebounds.
  3. JJ Barea – Barea had a nice game for the Wolves, with 19 points off the bench on 8-12 shooting.

Minnesota Timberwolves 87, Washington Wizards 82

Jim Mone/Associated Press

Jim Mone/Associated Press

Game Summary:

On Wednesday night, the Minnesota Timberwolves faced off at home against the Washington Wizards in a battle of two lottery-bound teams. The Wizards and Timberwolves entered the game with 19 and 20 wins, respectively, despite beginning the season with aspirations for a postseason berth. Washington was without rising rookie Bradley Beal, who injured his ankle after a nasty fall in Washington’s recent win over the 76ers. Beal narrowly escaped with only a sprained ankle, and will likely be out for up to another week.

Unsurprisingly, Minnesota was also without two of their starters in Andrei Kirilenko and Nikola Pekovic as both have been ravaged by a myriad of small injuries since the All-Star break. Mickael Gelabale and Greg Stiemsma started in their places in what was sure to be a snoozefest for the devoted fans who continue to occupy the graveyard atmosphere that the Target Center has once again become.

The matchup of Ricky Rubio and John Wall was sure to be a captivating one at that, with the first overall pick of the 2009 draft versus the fifth overall pick from the same draft. With both players standing at 6-foot-4, the game featured a matchup of two of the tallest point guards in the NBA despite having very skill sets. Wall, not known for his shooting, started off the game by knocking down several mid-range jumpers that are considered one of his weaknesses. Rubio started the game sagging off Wall by a step or two in order to take away his elite ability to get to the rim, and the former Kentucky standout responded by showing off an uncharacteristic soft touch from 16-18 feet. With the Wizards leading 29-24 after the first quarter, Wall had hit all 4 of his field goal attempts. Rubio held his own as he recorded 6 points, 4 assists and 4 rebounds in the opening period.

The Wolves did a much better job on the defensive end in the second quarter as the tandem of Dante Cunningham and Chris Johnson provided strong interior defense. Johnson, who has received sporadic minutes since Rick Adelman returned from missed time, was pure energy and hustle during his minutes in the first half. The long and skinny Johnson pushed the tempo beating the defense down the court and converted all three of his field goal attempts. Although Johnson is mainly receiving minutes due to the absence of Pekovic from the lineup, he continues to produce in the minutes he receives and is consistently the first Pup down the court on offense and the first player back on defense.

Leading 48-43 after the first half behind 51% shooting. The two teams sparred in the third quarter as neither club was able to get hot shooting the ball or creating opportunities in the half-court offense. The Wolves headed into the final quarter of play with a 65-63 lead.

One of the highlights of the fourth quarter came from Luke Ridnour in an uncharacteristic display of frustration with the officiating as he chucked the ball down the court following a no-call on a drive. Washington shot ahead to a 73-65 lead and it began to appear as if the Wolves were headed towards another fourth-quarter collapse. However, our Catalan leader put together another near quadruple-double and JJ Barea knocked down some key looks and the Wolves ended their losing streak, winning 87-82.

Notable Performances:

Martell Webster, after being cut by Minnesota before the season, entered the game with the second-best three-point shooting percentage in the NBA. Ironically, the Wolves are currently the worst three-point shooting team in the league. Starting for the Wizards at Small Forward, Webster logged 41 minutes of playing time despite only knocking down 2 of his 8 long-range attempts.

Derrick Williams put up a respectable line of 16 points and 8 rebounds, but shot just 4-12 from the field and struggled mightily after a strong first quarter.

Trevor Ariza continued his strong play of late as he recorded 16 points (4-10 FG, 3-7 3PT), 7 rebounds and 6 assists in 38 minutes. Ariza was acquired by the Wizards along with Emeka Okafor last summer in hopes of boosting Washington into playoff contention.

Keys of the Game:

  • Turnovers - Washington shot themselves in the foot time and time again and they committed 24 turnovers to only 14 by Minnesota.
  • Personal Fouls - As if the game was not made sloppy enough by all of Washington’s turnovers, they committed an absurd 29 personal fouls and essentially handed Minnesota the game in the final period of play.

Three Stars of the Game:

  1. Ricky Rubio - This selection is a no-brainer. For the second time since the All-Star break, Ricky legitimately flirted with the mystic quadruple-double as he finished the night with 15 points (4-15 FG), 11 assists, 7 rebounds and 6 steals in 38 minutes. Although he had another tough game shooting the ball, Tricky Ricky provided for the Wolves in so many different ways on both ends of the floor and willed the team to victory.
  2. John Wall - Wall showed a lot of improvement in his game especially in his ability to knock down the mid-range jumper. As tremendous of a player as Wall is, there still remains many areas in which he will need to master if he is to become the superstar that he was predicted to be when he was selected with the first pick. Wall finished the night with 19 points (7-15 FG), 7 assists, 3 steals and 6 turnovers in 39 minutes.
  3. JJ Barea - JJ came up big in the fourth quarter and was one of the only Wolves who could make a shot in the second half. He held his own on defense despite having enormous size disadvantages in his matchups and was able to provide 12 points in 23 minutes off of the bench.

Timberwolves 2013 Mid-Season Roundtable

How will the second half fare for Ricky Rubio?

How will the second half fare for Ricky Rubio and the Timberwolves?

Welcome to the Minnesota Timberwolves 2013 Mid-Season Roundtable. We have gathered some of the most devoted Timberwolves minds from the web in order to debate some of the hottest topics surrounding the Timberpups’ current state of affairs. Joining me in this effort are Howlin’ T-Wolf’s own Derek James (@DerekJamesNBA), Andy Grimsrud (@PDWolves) of Punch-Drunk Wolves, Ben McDonald (@BenMac_STOB) of STOB Blog, and Timberpups very own John Flesta (@jflesta).

 

1. What is the Timberwolves biggest need, what can they do to address it, and when is it appropriate to do so?  (Trade, Draft, Free Agency)

 

Alex Glennon, Timberpups:

The Timberwolves rank dead last in the NBA in three-point shooting and currently lack a legitimate shooting guard on the team’s entire roster. To put into persepective the importance of three-point shooting, take a look at the top 6 three-point shooting ball clubs in the league as it currently stands: Golden State, OKC, Miami, San Antonio, Atlanta, and New York. Each of these teams are headed to the playoffs and have versatile rosters which allow for a much more balanced offensive attack that does not rely too heavily on one area of scoring.

Obviously, the loss of last season’s three-point champion in Kevin Love was a huge blow for a team with very little shooting depth, but this season has put spotlight on the Timberwolves’ desperate need for perimeter shooting and a real, legitimate shooting guard who thrives when playing off-ball. Alexey Shved has been a pleasant surprise this season, but the fact remains that he is not a traditional shooting guard and he should not be looked at as the future starting 2-guard for this team. Depending on Minnesota’s draft position (and number of first-round picks) it would most likely be a good idea to find a youngster to throw into the mix for next season, but I believe that the Timberwolves brass must do everything in their power this summer to bring in an accomplished sharp-shooter to man the position. Some possibilities that immediately come to mind are JJ Redick, Kevin Martin, Anthony Morrow, and Kyle Korver.

Derek James, Howlin’ T-WolfRufus on Fire: 

Shooters, right? Of course, injuries will help with this some once Kevin Love and Chase Budinger get healthy, but after them, there still aren’t a ton of guys on this roster that are capable of stretching the floor. As a result of all of these injuries, the Timberwolves have become the leagues most dismal shooting team, and it’s no doubt cost them some games. It sure didn’t help that the Brandon Roy gamble didn’t pay off because that would’ve meant having an extra shooter at their disposal. As far as fixing it, I don’t feel like trades are the answer at this point, and I don’t know enough about the draft to really say there. So, that likely means seeing what niche players are out on the market this summer.

John Flesta, Timberpups:

Yes, shooters are the answer to this question.  I agree with Derek, I don’t necessarily see the ultimate fix being via trade, specifically before the forthcoming deadline.  If we can get rid of Barea (OK fine, Ridnour) for a complementary piece that would help next season and beyond, that would be nice. Ideally, that would just help balance out the rotations a bit more vs. having to use multiple PG’s all the time.   However, I think the long term answer is most likely found in the draft with a lot of luck or in free agency.

Andy Grimsrud, Punch-Drunk Wolves:

The cop-out answer is that the Timberwolves’ biggest need is a healthy Kevin Love.  Love is a great player in any system, because of his elite rebounding and foul-drawing abilities.  But his jumper — and the way it stretches opposing defenses — is what is missed most, right now.  The Wolves are dead last in the NBA in three-point shooting accuracy, and by a significant margin.  In that Thursday night TNT game versus the Thunder, Love teased us (by shooting well, with his bad hand) with a sampling of what could be with this team of Rubio/Shved, Love, and Nikola Pekovic.  Great passing, shooting, and interior scoring looked incredible for one night.  But Love’s hand hasn’t been right ever since he broke it and that needs repair more than this team needs anything else.

Outside of the current roster?  A wing that can shoot threes, defend and run the floor would be helpful.  Maybe that’s Chase Budinger?  Mickael Gelabale?  I’m not sure, but I think a team led by Ricky Rubio should do more damage in transition than it is doing, right now.  Some speed and shooting ability would help.  

Ben McDonald, STOB Blog:

I have an ongoing discussion going with a buddy about this.  I vote we need a shooting guard most. He argues small forward is more an area of need.

My argument is that Shved is our only true shooting guard, as Budinger over his career has played most often, and his best, at the small forward position.  I’m yet to see if Malcolm Lee will ever be a competent NBA player to the extent we can trust him to be the backup to Shved.  Following this year, I never…EVER…want to see Ridnour starting at shooting guard for this team.  I’m flat embarrassed for our team when Ridnour is being posted up by the likes of Kobe Bryant.  It isn’t Luke’s fault and I applaud him for battling the way he does with the mismatches he has to face almost nightly.

My buddy’s argument is that once AK’s contract is up after next year he will either A) leave or B) start showing his age to the point that we become very thin at small forward especially since it seems D-Will isn’t going to become a small forward anytime soon.  We’d be left with (if we re-sign him) Budinger as our only true small forward.

I look to the best in the league and see how I can copy them.  The old “if you can’t beat em, join em” holds true.  One of Miami’s most effective lineups according the 82games.com is Wade-Allen-Battier-James-Bosh.  In affect, they play a SG/SG/SF/Freak/PF lineup.  If you are one that needs the assignment of positions to all basketball players and wants a PG/SG/SF/PF/C perfect lineup every time, then this is sacrilegious, but it works.  With that in mind I’m trying to fight that instinct the more I see the game transition away from pigeon holed position players, to more diversely skilled and sized players working together without the worry of position.

With that being said, the Wolves biggest need to me is a wing player.  Honestly, if we could just clone the Budinger we were seeing in those few precious games we got from him earlier this year, that’d be the guy I’m looking for.  Can play multiple positions, has good size, athleticism, can hit an open shot, attacks the rim and is basketball smart.

To acquire this type of player I truly think the draft will be our best bet.  Looks like we’ll be in the lottery, maybe Stern throws us a bone for once and we win the thing.  Then we get Ben McLemore and live happily ever after.  Otherwise if we get everyone back healthy at the end of this season and D-Will starts warming the bench more than the nets, and we get a late lottery pick, I look to trade up in the draft or just a trade using D-Will and our pick in hopes of grabbing that guy.

 

2. Nikola Pekovic is sure to garner a lot of attention this summer and may even receive a max-contract offer sheet. With that being said, what should the Timberwolves do with their Montenegrin bruiser? Is he worth matching a max contract extension should he receive one? If he is not worth a max contract, how much money is he worth?

 

Alex Glennon:

Here is where David Kahn’s situation gets very tricky. How do you value a player who has been injured a significant percentage of his time during his first three years in the league, but when healthy, has been one of the most destructive scorers on the low block. Last season, Nikola Pekovic held the highest offensive rebounding percentage in the NBA and got jipped out of the Most Improved Player award after averaging 13.9 ppg and 7.4 rpg with an astounding 21.47 PER. The 27-year-old Montenegrin center has proven to be an ideal teammate and student of the game and has gained the admiration from a future Hall of Fame coach and a highly regarded assistant coaching staff.

Here is my take on the Pek situation: listen to trade offers before the deadline in case another team offers a great haul of cheap and young assets, but otherwise match any offer that Pek shall receive. It is no secret that Minnesota owner Glen Taylor has a long history of taking the “cheap” route in free agency, and I do not know if I trust the Timberwolves management to make use of the extra cap space should they decide not to match a Pekovic offer sheet. Pek is simply too important for the future of this team and gives Minnesota a presence on both ends of the floor that few teams get from the center position.

Derek James:

The Pekovic situation isn’t an easy one. He will get attention, and likely a lucrative offer. Being able to re-sign him will also be determined by how willing the organization is to go over the cap to keep him, which they can do since they have his Bird Rights. Somewhere between $10-$12m to keep him makes a lot of sense. Let’s be careful not to overrate our own player here, and try to justify paying him upwards of, say, $15m to keep him when he’s been inconsistent at times and susceptible to injury. I like Pek a lot, but at the right price.

 John Flesta:

If Pekovic gets a max offer from Portland, he should be wearing a Blazer uniform next season.  Under no circumstance should we match that contract offer.  None.  The $10-$11 million range is the ceiling I would put on the new contract.  As long as it isn’t a max contract offer from Portland, you probably match it unless they have something up their sleeve – i.e. Pekovic for Batum or something like that.

Andy Grimsrud: 

Pekovic must be re-signed.  Even if he signs a max offer sheet?  Yes.  This is much more, “Pek is worth 4 years/$60 Million to the Timberwolves” than it is, “If Pekovic were an unrestricted free agent, he’d receive 4 years/$60 Million from Hypothetical Team X/Y/Z.”  It’s difficult to assign “market value” to any player.  But the Wolves can pay a lot of money to Love and Pek for the next two seasons while still having Ricky Rubio and Alexey Shved signed to cheap deals.  If and when a time comes when the luxury tax threatens, they can do exactly what Memphis did with Rudy Gay.  Guys like Love and Pek will always have enough value to be moved.  For what it’s worth, I don’t expect Pekovic to receive a full max offer.  I think it’ll look more like what the Wolves offered Nic Batum, and it might even be Batum’s team that signs the deal.  But they’ve got to keep Pek.  He’s a huge fan favorite and worthy of a big salary. 

Ben McDonald:

Max contract offer is tough to stomach but at the same time the fact is there are only a handful of centers out there on the level of Pek.  Wolves need to be smart on this one and really hope that they can get Pek for something in the range of what OKC gave Serge Ibaka and Memphis gave Marc Gasol, 4 years around $50 mil.  I think that is the range you have to pay to keep a big man with the skills that Pek has.

Portland is going to be out for blood with Pek though and that price may rise, then the decision makers need to be smart to not put us in a situation in which we can’t afford Ricky/Love/Pek all together when the time comes to pay the piper on all three.

 

3. With Rubio improving and logging increased minutes, is it time to trade either JJ or Luke?  If so, which one do you keep and why?

 

Alex Glennon:

Despite recent criticism, JJ Barea has had a decent season and has clearly out-played Luke Ridnour at the point guard position. However, with Ricky back in the starting lineup and Ridnour functioning much more efficiently as a shooting guard, Barea has become Minnesota’s most frustrating guard and has had trouble adjusting to his ambiguous role.

I would like to see Minnesota move one of the players before the deadline in exchange for an expiring contract, a young asset or a draft selection. It is abundantly clear that there is not a need for both players on this team with Rubio healthy, and I think that it may be a wiser choice to move Barea due to his longer contract and potentially higher trade value. Many contending teams would love to acquire the sparkplug, high-energy role player and he offers an affordable contract to a playoff-bound team in need of bench scoring.

Derek James: 

Well, apparently they already are shopping one or both. Both have similar contracts, but I feel like Ridnour has the most value of the two, and if you want to get a good return, you have to give something. If that’s how they improve their shooting situation, then that’s fine, but Luke is also one of this team’s top shooter’s even when this team is healthy. The thing is, if he’s at least an average to above-average shooter who plays at the off-guard, don’t you have to at least try and get back a better shooter at that position? Otherwise, I feel like you’re trading a proven player on a very reasonable contract for a player who may cost more, and may not be as good of a fit.

John Flesta:

Until this season I have been saying Ridnour.  I’ve completely flip-flopped like Obama or Romney on this one.  (Yes, that was a political reference and please note that I called out both parties.)  I would like to see JJ traded for that more complementary wing player.  This gets us out of the longer contract (between the two of them).  I’m OK with waiting on the trade itself until the summer, where perhaps either one of them are packaged with Derrick Williams for a bigger contract / better player.

I can’t stand the way Barea is playing this year.  Look, Luke has his faults, but you know what you are getting from him when he is out there.  You have no idea what type of mood Barea is going to be in each night and how he is (or is not) going to play within the system.  Throw in how much he has been banged up over the past year and a half and that makes the decision that much easier.

Andy Grimsrud:

I don’t know if this matters too much, except to one or both of those guys if they see their minutes drastically cut.  Between the two of them I’d rather keep Luke because his contract is shorter.

Ben McDonald:

Definitely.  If I had it my way, I’d likely trade JJ.  Barea drives me insane.  I wrote about this dilemma on my blog a week or so ago and in the end I came to the conclusion that, though Barea makes my skin crawl, we deal whoever the teams we are trading with are willing to give the most for.

I can stomach either Ridnour or Barea as our back up point, so let’s get as much as we can for whoever someone else wants.  With Shved we don’t need to carry a third point guard (if we get another shooting guard) since Shved can also play point when needed.  If you can trust the rumors, seems as if Luke is going to be the odd man out.

 

4. Speaking of La Pistola, what is your take on the early results? Are you disappointed with his return or is it unfair to judge the flaws given his return from major knee surgery?

 

Alex Glennon: 

Over the past two weeks, we have seen Ricky take a huge step forward in his game as he is becoming much more comfortable looking for his shot and initiating contact in the lane. The Spaniard has done a great job getting to the free throw line where he has converted at a nice rate, and his abilities as a passer have been on full display as of late.

The blatant flaws in Ricky’s shooting should be taken with a grain of salt as he did not have a proper offseason to improve his stroke. His woes from behind the three-point line have caused frustration when considering he shot a relatively strong 34% last season, but it must be noted that without proper lower body strength, it is extremely difficult to shoot from long range. As he continues to build his confidence and log increased minutes, it is only a matter of time before we see Ricky knocking down his spotted-up looks.

Ricky ended the first-half of the season on a very positive note and I am sure he will only improve from this point on.

Derek James:

Rubio’s struggles returning were to be expected. A lot of fans in Minnesota expected and Adrian Peterson like return, but that is by far the exception, not the rule. What you want to see from Rubio is gradual improvement, and I think that’s what we’re seeing. Everyone just needs to be patient.

 John Flesta:

Here’s where I turn into a homer.  Rubio’s return has been about what I expected.  He has clearly turned a corner over the past few weeks and is playing a lot better.  However, I do want to see him be a little more careful with the ball (way too many turnovers) and start hitting his shot more consistently.  I don’t think the latter will come this season, it is going to take more time and effort in the offseason.  That said, I fully expect it to happen.

Andy Grimsrud:

I’m not at all disappointed with Rubio’s return.  He struggled for a handful of games — particularly with his shooting — but he looks to be quick on defense and in great physical shape.  He played 40 great minutes last night against a good Utah team, nearly posting a triple double.  In the off-season, I hope they perform reconstructive surgery on his jumper (instead of his knee, this time) to get his mechanics fixed and his confidence up.  But so much of his game helps the Wolves that it’s hard to feel anything but impressed by his prompt return to quality point guard play.

Ben McDonald:

He is back!  Ricky was struggling big time up until about 2 weeks ago.  I was very concerned and was starting to wonder if that spark he had would come back this year or ever.  Unbelievably excited that it seems to have fully returned, as I write this he is coming off a 1 rebound short of a triple double performance and over his last 10 games he is averaging 13.1 ppg and 8.6 ast.

This is the guy this franchise needs to be built around from here on out.  I’d lost that belief a bit with his struggles post-return, but the faith is back.  Every organizational decision from here on out needs to be prefaced by the question, “does this work well with what Ricky does?” 

 

5. Injuries have come to define the Wolves this year, but how would you evaluate them as they move forward? Is there enough talent on this team to make the playoffs in the future with a healthy roster, or is this team in need of further re-tooling?

 

Alex Glennon:

Coming into this season, I thought the Wolves were a lock to make the playoffs. Countless injuries later, I consider myself much more of a pessimist towards Minnesota’s chances of landing a bottom seed in the Western Conference. The Wolves’ miserable predicament has absolutely zero reflection on what this team could do when completely healthy, and I wholeheartedly believe that this very roster could reach a playoff berth under more favorable circumstances.

Without Love, much of the Pups hope goes out the window as he has been their go-to guy for the past three seasons and is the team’s national symbol for optimism in Minnesota. His injury situation was a very unfortunate series of events for Timberwolves fans, and it looks like fans will have to wait even longer in order to see what this team can do when healthy together.

Regardless of how the team’s roster may currently look, much is set to change as we draw nearer to summer. If Minnesota decides to match a big Pekovic offer, how will that affect the possible signing of Budinger who is also set to become a restricted free agent? Will Minnesota have 2 first-round draft picks, and if they do, will they use or deal them? Will this team acquire three-point shooters, and can we finally have an actual shooting guard manning the 2?

Derek James:

There is absolutely enough talent on this team to be considered a playoff team, and I think we’ve seen a flash or two of that at certain points in the season. Yet, being decimated by injuries, this has been a bit of a lost season in that regard, to me. People have been so quick to want to trade for someone to fix it for this season when there is already a good team in place that needs to get healthy, and you don’t try to use a permanent solution to fix a temporary problem. Even when Johnson and Gelabale were signed and people were crying out that they weren’t signing “Player X” or “Player Y”; well, guess what? All of the good players are on NBA teams already, and no team wants to trade a top player in their rotation for the Timberwolves’ spare parts. Again, we just have to be patient, even though we’re sick of waiting. But, with what we’ve seen, it looks as if we’ll get there eventually.

John Flesta:

The current roster, if/when healthy, is certainly a playoff team in my honest opinion.  Are they a championship team?  No, they aren’t.  The right steps in the process were finally taken this past offseason with trying to sign Batum, landing on Kirilenko, Shved, and Budinger.  As I’ve mentioned many times in the past, it would have been nice to hear that Kahn somewhat aggressively went after OJ Mayo before picking Brandon Roy.

I wish the Wolves would hire a draft guru because that has clearly been missing during Kahn’s era (and before).  If that were to happen, I would have much more confidence in this team being able to use just the forthcoming offseason to turn itself into championship contender and giving itself a two year window to compete for the title.  I don’t think it would take much beyond the following: good health for a season, resigning Pek, trading Barea and/or Derrick Williams for an above average SG and finding more depth at the wing position via the draft to put into the rotation.  This really shouldn’t be too hard.

 Andy Grimsrud:

It’s difficult to evaluate the Wolves as a potential playoff team because we have yet to see them at full strength.  Certain statistical models had this team (assuming only Rubio’s injury) winning north of 50 games before this season.  Injuries to Kevin Love and to a lesser extent Brandon Roy and Chase Budinger obviously changed that.  I think the Western Conference is loaded with good teams and any spot above a 1/8 matchup with Oklahoma City means a realistic chance at advancing to the 2nd Round.  Are the Wolves that good?  I think they could be, but it’s impossible to predict with any confidence because of the strength of the West.  In the East, a good team can be sure it’s making the playoffs.  Unfortunately it doesn’t work that way in the West.  What CAN be guaranteed is a competitive season with 70 or more games that are enjoyable to watch.  We were going to get that this year, until the injuries came on.

In terms of whether the team should re-tool, I’d say no; not right now.  Obviously that could change if some unforeseen trade offer lands on David Kahn’s desk, but from the outside looking in I’d rather they get healthy and try again with the Rubio/Kirilenko/Love/Pekovic core, with some Shved and Dante Cunningham sprinkled in.  Some internal improvement (Ricky’s continued rehab, Shved refining a few of his weaknesses) should happen with a young team and “just getting healthy” might prove to be the only remedy this team needs.  A Derrick Williams trade might make some sense, but I don’t know if he has much value to bring back helpful assets.

Ben McDonald:

Every team needs further re-tooling.  Look again to the best, Miami didn’t rest after its championship last summer; they re-tooled around their base and may have gotten better.

Moving forward this season I think there are a few things I’m looking to get out of what is no longer a playoff hunt:

First, I want to find out if a trio of Rubio/K-Love/Pek is going to be our foundation or not.  Getting Love back healthy for the remainder of the year and keeping Rubio/Pek healthy at the same time will be necessary for this to happen.  If it looks like we are a mid level western conference playoff team with everyone healthy for the final 12-15 games of the season, then we ensure we get Pek back and look to fill in the holes around the big 3.  If not, maybe we let Pek go and look elsewhere for that third cog.

Second, I want to see if Derrick Williams fits in with everyone back and healthy.  This entire year you couldn’t tell how D-Will would fit in with everyone healthy due to Love being out and AK also missing time.  If he doesn’t fit in, then the Wolves need to look to make a deal this summer using Williams and getting a player who more aptly fits our needs.  Williams is such a key to me because of the players we’d likely trade (unless you believe Love is on the table) he has the highest value. Therefore, D-Will should not just rot on our bench until Love breaks his hand again next year buttering his toast.  Mix in some milk K-Love!

I do believe this team has the overall talent to make the playoffs currently on the roster and am hoping to see that potential met if we can ever get everyone on the court at the same time before this season is over.  Kahn will have a real difficult time with offseason decisions if he doesn’t know how this team would play as it is currently put together.  It will be a small sample size, but even a few games would help.

 

Thanks for reading and we hope you enjoyed our discussion. The Timberwolves begin the second half of their season as they host the Philadelphia 76ers on Wednesday.

Minnesota Timberwolves 83 – Brooklyn Nets 91

Photo Credit: Associated Press

Photo Credit: Associated Press

The Wolves returned to the Target Center against the Nets Wednesday night and opened up with Rubio, Ridnour, Kirilenko, Williams, and Stiemsma.  Earlier in the day, the team announced that Pekovic and Shved would both miss the night’s festivities.  So, there’s that.  The Nets opened up with Deron Williams, Joe Johnson, Gerald Wallace, Reggie Evans, and Brook Lopez.

There are slow starts in the NBA and then there are starts that look like the following: blocked shot, opponent basket, turnover, defensive foul, turnover, opponent basket, turnover, opponent basket, turnover … OK, I think you get the point and that is only the first two minutes of the 1st quarter for the Wolves.  Going into the first timeout of the game, the Nets led 16-7.

Unfortunately for the Wolves and their fans, the remainder of the first quarter didn’t turn out much better.  Every time I pay DWill a compliment he returns the favor with a sub-par game.  He looked completely “off” in the 1st quarter going 0-2 from the field and 1 rebound.  At the end of the quarter, the Nets held a 24-17 lead.

The bench mob, specifically Barea, Cunningham and 10 day contractor Chris Johnson, helped the Pups cut the lead to one point (26-25) over the first few minutes of the 2nd quarter.  Chris Johnson is about to end Lou Amundson’s stint with the Wolves I believe.  We’ll see what the FO decides to do here.

After a few minutes of back and forth basketball, the Nets started to come to life.  While never taking the lead, the Pups played an entertaining few minutes of basketball.  Unfortunately, that couldn’t be sustained over the final minutes of the period, as the Nets started to open things up, specifically with Andray Blatche (?!), Deron Williams, and then Brook Lopez at the very end of the half.

What has become all too common over the past few weeks, the Wolves failed to execute in the last few seconds of the quarter/half.  The Nets held an eleven point lead at the half, going into the locker room up 53-42.  Here are a couple halftime thoughts through my Wolves lens:

  • It pains me to say this, but I’m not sure what the best course of action is for using Rubio right now.  Does it make sense to increase his minutes?  Should he take more nights off?  Why is this happening?!
  • The Pups starting five looked nothing short of awful in the first half.

After the 3rd quarter got off to a real slow start, Ridnour found AK47 for an alley-oop to bring the Pups back to within twelve points.  That seemed to ignite the team a bit, as over the next few minutes the Wolves chipped away into the lead, but once again could not get over the hump.  Terry Porter was called for a technical foul after biting off a bit more than he can chew with the referees.

Naturally, after typing up my halftime thoughts, Rubio came to life a bit in the quarter, creating a few steals and dishing out a few assists.  However, each time the Wolves had a chance to cut the lead to a single basket, the Nets made the necessary defensive play or the Wolves found a way to shoot themselves in the foot.  The Nets took a 68-62 lead with ninety seconds to play in the 3rd, and neither team was able to do anything more for the remainder of the quarter.

The early minutes of the 4th quarter led to the most intriguing moments of the game.  CJ Watson and JJ Barea went head to head to see who had the better acronym for a first name and the better overall skill set on the court.  In short, CJ Watson won the latter battle.  At one point, he scored nine straight points for the Nets.  While this was happening, JJ Barea decided to try to take the game over for the Wolves and failed, picking up several fouls and missing shots on the offensive end.  This is exactly when the Pups coaching staff needs to pull JJ off the court.  Rather than doing this however, Porter let him sit out there on the court with five fouls and a ton of time left in the game.

This leads me to another key take away from this evening.  After the whole CJ vs. JJ debacle, I think Terry Porter forgot that he was the head coach of the team and could make substitutions.  Right before Rubio was about to check in (for presumably Barea), JJ made a three pointer and Porter apparently called Rubio back to the bench.  Ricky never saw the court in the 4th quarter.  The same could be said for DWill.  While the latter had a poor 1st half, his 3rd quarter was average to above average and he deserved a few minutes in the 4th – if for nothing more than to get this kid on the court in “crucial” moments and the experience in closing games.

In the final few minutes, the Pups seemingly threw in the towel.  They didn’t bother fouling with under a minute to go and down by eight points.  Again, I’m not sure why Porter didn’t extend the game at least one more trip up and down the court.  I’m going to leave it with this: I don’t think Terry Porter is going to be putting this head coaching stint on his resume.  Despite the injury problems, there are a number of head scratchers seen each night.

The Nets walk out of Target Center a 91-83 winner, moving the Pups record down to 17-22 and falling further into the cellar of the Northwest division.  The Pups will now travel to the southeast with games in Washington DC and Charlotte on Friday and Saturday respectively.

Keys of the Game

  • Coaching – Since PJ Carlesimo has taken over the Nets head coaching duties, the Nets hold a 12-2 record.  Carlesimo made all of the right substitutions and moves tonight and as covered above, Terry Porter did not.
  • Guard Play – The Nets “big three” in the backcourt (Williams, Johnson, and Watson) combined for 50 points, 13 assists, and 12 rebounds.  The Pups “big three” of Rubio, Ridnour, and Barea combined for 29 points, 17 assists, and 9 rebounds.  I’m not sure that disparity really suggests how one-sided this felt all evening.
  • Free Throws – While the Wolves have been one of the best teams in the NBA in getting to the FT line, they failed miserably to do so in Wednesday’s game.  Six attempts in the entire game (and only making four of them) lends itself to blaming the Wolves players on the court, the scheme the team is running (too many jumpers & three pointers), as well as some blame on the officiating crew.

Three Stars of the Game

  1. Deron Williams – 18, 8, and 6 to go with 3 steals in over 30 minutes of action tonight for the Nets PG.  This was predictable, given the preview we put together for tonight’s game.
  2. CJ Watson – Not only did he have a great offensive game going tonight, he completely took JJ Barea out of the game by getting him rattled, which led to a string of bad decisions on JJ’s front.
  3. Brook Lopez – A very efficient 22 points and 7 rebounds, shooting 10-16 from the field in just 26 minutes.  Lopez dominated Stiemsma early and often.