Developing Affiliations.

The Minnesota Timberwolves are set to play the Milwaukee Bucks October 11th at the Sanford Pentagon in Sioux Falls, South Dakota.  It’s the team’s last preseason game.  Fans residing in Minnesota and Wisconsin hoping to catch their squad’s final tuneup before the season must put six-or-so-hours of mileage on their own vehicle, if departing from the Twin Cities. The drive, accordingly, is further from Wisconsin.

These exhibitions provide opportunity to get closer to witnessing professionals without thinning the wallet and sneaking closer to an open seat spotted from the nosebleeds. Aspiring journalists like myself, along with fans, lose the convenience of attending the game had the location been Minneapolis or Milwaukee.  I asked Eric Buenning, staff writer for SB Nation’s Brewhoop.com, a Milwaukee Bucks blog,  if he would consider attending the game had the location not been in the Falls. “Absolutely”. Buenning has no intentions of attending the game.

 

Moving beyond frustrations attributed from the location of the Wolves-Bucks matchup.

 

The Pentagon is used as the home floor of the Falls Skyforce, an NBA Development-League club owned by the Miami Heat.  The Heat made the Skyforce their own this off-season, leaving the Wolves in search of a home to develop players.  The Iowa Energy became the new D-League affiliation.

Would the Wolves would benefit by possessing a developmental squad of their own?  How’s this; The Spurs, Lakers, Celtics, Thunder and Rockets don’t share prospects with anyone.  If prominent organizations are doing it, why wouldn’t the smaller clubs, like the Wolves, covet an infrastructure intended to benefit their largest product?

In an interview with the Star Tribune’s Jerry Zgoda, Flip Saunders had this to say on the Wolves use of the D-League.

Zgoda: How probable is it that Shabazz Muhammed and Gorgui Dieng spend time in the D-League?

Flip“I’m a proponent of minor leagues. I was there seven years and had 21 guys called up. It’s a good development league, it’s not a punishment league. Guys can get better and gain confidence. We’re going to try to utilize it. I don’t think we’ve used it very much here in the past. If we send somebody down, we’ll send somebody from our staff with them so they don’t feel we’ve forgotten about them. That’s the biggest thing: You don’t want anyone that goes there to feel they’ve been forgotten.”

“Now saying that, we might not have anyone go down there this year, but we are very open about it and we’re going to have a very good relationship with our Iowa team. I’ve talked with Glen. We’re going to entertain the opportunity a year or two down the road here of purchasing a hybrid NBDL team.” 

The minor league Flip himself spent time with is the Continental Basketball Association or CBA, which has since disbanded. His accolades go further than a number developed ‘call-ups’.  He tallied 253 coaching victories, third highest in the league’s history, and led the LaCrosse Catbirds to CBA Championships while earning Coach of the Year honors in the ‘90 and in ’92 seasons.  Prior to arriving in the CBA, Flip worked as an assistant with the University of Minnesota and the University of Tulsa.  With achievements to use as credentials he found a place on an NBA sideline in ’95 with the Wolves.

In addition to Shabazz and Dieng, Robbie Hummel and Lorenzo Brown will also participate in training camp activities. Hummel, who showed improvement in the Las Vegas Summer League, has worked to rid himself from an injury bug that’s affected parts of his career.  With no intentions of returning to Spain where he played 30 games for Blusens (Obradoiro) last season, Hummel’s game must flow through the log-jam of forwards (Derrick Williams, Shabazz, Dante Cunningham, Kevin Love, Chase Budinger and Corey Brewer) in order to make the 15-man roster.

Brown, the Pups 2nd round selection, missed only two games during his third and final season at North Carolina State. He averaged just over seven assists in his junior campaign and played the primary facilitator in the Wolfpack’s offense. Playing 19.2 minutes per game in LVSL, Brown’s 50 percent from 3pt-range was impressive, but, he only managed 38% from the field. His 2.2 assists per game were negated by averaging 1.8 turnovers per game.  With the minutes available between Ricky Rubio, Alexey Shved and Barea at point guard, I would be shocked if Brown claimed a spot running with this pack of Wolves.

It’s worth noting that each of the teams competing in the Finals going back to the 2006 season have included at least one former D-Leaguer on their roster.  Here’s a few recent developmental success stories.

  • J.J. Barea played eight games with the Fort Worth Flyers in the 2006-2007 season before being added to the Dallas Mavericks roster.  He averaged 8.9 points and 3.4 assists for the Mavs during the 2011 postseason and helped defeat the Miami Heat enroute to a championship.

  • Corey Joseph averaged 1.8ppg in a little over 7mpg in the finals this past season.  Though he didn’t contribute the most statistically, Spurs coach Gregg Popovich trusted him enough to be the floor. Joseph started 26 games for the Austin Toros and shot over 45 percent from both the field and behind the arc, averaging just under 20ppg.

  • Chris “Birdman” Andersen also didn’t do much filling of the stat-sheet but was pivotal to Miami’s success setting screens for LeBron James and doing the dirty work beneath the rim. Andersen was a member of the Fayetteville Patriots in 2001.

  • After a roster-rule exemption made by the league, Chris Johnson, previously signed to a 10-day contract, brought enthusiasm and cheers to the Target Center in the midst of a disappointing, injury plagued season.

Did the D-League help bring attention to these players while helping them sharpen the skills necessary to adequately contribute on the professional level? The D in NBA D-League, after-all, stands for development.

I recently had the pleasure of exchanging emails with Kevin Danna, broadcaster for the Santa Cruz Warriors, Golden State’s unshared affiliate. He doesn’t hide his love for the D-League as it’s genuine. In our conversation I mentioned the upcoming Wolves-Bucks meeting at the Pentagon, leading my inquiry of his perspective on the S.F. Skyforce and it’s fanbase.

Kevin “I don’t know how many they usually get in South Dakota (attendance), but they are known for a strong fan base. Santa Cruz is also known for a very strong fan base; I’d argue the best in the D-League not just because I work for the Sea Dubs, but because I’ve been to 13 of the 16 (now 17) D-League gyms. Maine has passionate fans and they probably have more raw numbers because their gym is bigger, but no crowd gets loud like it does in Santa Cruz. From memory, I think Maine’s Portland Expo seats about 4,000, and they usually fill it up.”

Zach - If D-League teams have a fan base, why not have more teams?  Theoretically it’s good business.

Kevin - ” The reason the league gives for not having more D-League teams is that they want to expand slowly. The eventual goal is to have a 30-for-30 model where every D-League team has a single affiliation with an NBA team, but they don’t want to just open up 13 new franchises next year- that would be a nightmare and a half for the league to deal with.”

There are 16 teams shared between three Affiliates and 14 NBA clubs fraternize only with their own kind, making a total of 17 D-League teams.   The Energy are shared also with; the Bulls, Nuggets, Pelicans and Wizards.  This seems strange, but, D-League teams; The Bakersfield Jam and the Fort Wayne Mad Ants are also a hub for multiple NBA teams.  The Hawks, Clippers, Suns, Raptors and Jazz players play in Bakersfield, California while Fort Wayne, Indiana hosts those from the Bobcats, Bucks, Pistons, Pacers, Grizzlies and Magic.

 Danna would continue,

“It’s (D-League) entering its 13th season, and I think maybe its 8th completely under the NBA umbrella. It’s young. The league started out as 8 teams, all in the Southeast region of the United States and was completely a bus league, from what I’ve been told. It then shrunk to 6 before expanding and eventually leaving the Southeast altogether. So in the last nine seasons including this one, the D-League has gone from 6 to 17 teams; the league has indeed been expanding (albeit many of those teams were former CBA franchises and just jumped ship when the CBA imploded, but still) at a pretty good rate, and that’s with a few teams folding along the way (Arkansas RimRockers, Utah Flash (now the Delaware 87ers), and Florida Flame, for example). And the 30-for-30 model isn’t just some pie-in-the-sky idea; Orlando has come out and said they want a D-League team; I’ve heard the Nuggets are potentially interested; and there was an article in the Salt Lake Tribune not too far back about the Jazz wanting to put a D-League team in St. George.”

The schedule for the 13th D-League season was released today today. On opening night, the Energy will face the Tulsa 66’ers (Oklahoma City Thunder Affiliate) November 22nd at 7:00pm.  For more in-depth coverage, check out Ridiculous Upside. R.U., also part of SB Nation, contains the work of writers dedicated to providing accurate, current and up-to-date D-League, as well as NBA Draft, news and content.

After the Pups break camp in the fall, we’ll see which players join the Energy for the NBADL season.  This is essentially the genesis of Timberpups.com’s efforts intention to cover, not only potential Timberwolves and how they are performing in the D-League, but any and all steps forward by the organization towards obtaining it’s own Development-League affiliate.

Players, coaches, Buenning, Danna, myself, the T-Pups staff alongside fans everywhere; We are all developing as basketball continues to grow worldwide.

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VOTW – JJ Barea

Building off of Zach’s latest player profile, our latest Video of the Week (VOTW) focuses on the one and only JJ Barea.  The compilation of highlights really shows all of the “good JJ” that you need to know and what is possible when JJ plays within the system built around him.  Barea can hit the outside jumper, beat his opponent off the dribble and finish strongly in and around the paint.  When JJ catches fire, watch out because he can carry the offensive load for the team for the remainder of the quarter, half, or game. [Read more…]

Timberwolves Summer League Rewind

Shabazz Muhammad at Timberwolves Summer League

“Here’s what we need you to do Shabazz…”
(Photo credit: Chase Stevens / Las Vegas Review Journal)

While the Summer League rolls on tonight and tomorrow, the Timberwolves’ participation in the tournament ended this past Friday.  After falling to the D-League Select team for the second time on Thursday, the Wolves were bounced out of the tournament, wrapping up with a consolation game on Friday – their fifth game in as many nights.

The Pups finished the tournament with a 3-3 record.  Their wins came against the Heat, Kings, and Blazers, while they lost to the D-League team twice and lost at the buzzer to the Suns.  What did we learn from the Timberwolves Summer League session?  I think there are a few takeaways from the week.

  1. Shabazz Muhammad is going to work his tail off to get meaningful minutes.
  2. As Flip alluded to during one of the broadcasts, Gorgui Dieng is ready to play in the NBA from a defensive standpoint, but has a good amount of work to do on the other end of the floor.
  3. Beyond Muhammad and Dieng, there is likely only to be one open roster spot and a few guys from this team made a decent case for that spot.

[Read more…]

Probable Timberwolves Lineups for 2013-14

What are some Wolves lineups we’ll see on the floor this season?  Assuming Nikola Pekovic’s contract is finalized according to plan and players remain healthy, I’ve broken down possible combinations for who would be in the starting five, and have included the positives and negatives for each.

Who will join these two in the Timberwolves starting five?

Who will join these two in the Timberwolves starting five?

I call this the “Five with Fire”, because what is a lineup without a corny nickname:

  1. Ricky Rubio
  2. Kevin Martin
  3. Chase Budinger
  4. Kevin Love
  5. Nikola Pekovic

In this five, Chase Budinger starts at swingman.  Most of the lineups will contain the Ricky Rubio and Kevin Martin backcourt and with Budinger’s cutting and spot-up shooting abilities, fits right in.  His length and speed makes him a tough guard for opponents not used to chasing a faster 3 around the floor.  Look for Chase to cut around screens for catch and shoot opportunities as well as backdoor cuts to the basket such as this one: [Read more…]

Timberwolves 2012-13 Player Grades: Guards

Ricky Rubio and Alexey Shved at the 2013 Rising Stars Challenge (NBAE/Getty Images)

Ricky Rubio and Alexey Shved at the 2013 Rising Stars Challenge (NBAE/Getty Images)

Following a disappointing 2012-13 season in which the Minnesota Timberwolves amassed a 31-51 record, it is time to individually break down the contributions from each of the Timberwolves’ guards over the past season.

 

Player: Ricky Rubio

Position: PG

Season Summary

After having his impressive rookie campaign derailed by a torn ACL and MCL, Ricky Rubio missed the first 20 games of the 2012-13 season and made his much-anticipated return with an epic performance on December 15 against the Mavericks, playing 18 minutes while recording 8 points, 9 assists, 4 rebounds and 3 steals.The expectations for Ricky this season were relatively low as few people expected him to have an Adrian Peterson-esque return from ACL surgery. As the season crept on and the injuries compounded – including Kevin Love’s twice-broken hand – the fans focus for Ricky became centered around a cautious approach for the young Spaniard given the future health implications that come from knee surgery. As the playoffs became a pipe dream to even the most hopeful Timberwolves fans, we got much of our satisfaction watching Ricky make small, yet incremental improvements in his game before finally getting back to full speed for the final two-ish months of the season.

Despite playing without K-Love, Tricky Ricky showed us that he can be a game-changer by himself even if he is not an efficient scorer. Playing on a surgically-repaired knee, Rubio proved that he is back to where he was last season as a perimeter defender. In fact, the Catalan point guard recorded the most steals (43) in a ten game stretch since Ron Artest in 2002. Rubio’s length – 6’4″ with a 6’9″ wingspan – paired with his defensive instincts make him one of the top perimeter defenders in the NBA, and he should be a major contender to make one of the NBA All-Defense teams next season if he can stay healthy for most if not all of the season. [Read more…]

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…]