Timberwolves 2012-13 Player Grades: Forwards

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

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

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

Player: Kevin Love

Season Summary

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

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

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

Season Highlight

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

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

Season Lowlight

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

Final Grade: Incomplete

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

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Minnesota Timberwolves 105 – Philadelphia 76ers 88

Timberwolves’ Alexey Shved hit 4 of 7 three-point attempts and powered Minnesota past the 76ers (Photo Credit: Howard Smith/USA Today Sports)

The Minnesota Timberwolves stormed into the Wells Fargo Center on Tuesday night and nailed a remarkable 13 three-pointers en route to a 105-88 victory on the first night of a road double-header. Alexey Shved led the way for the Wolves, contributing a very impressive 17 points (5-8 FG, 4-7 3FG), 4 assists, 3 rebounds, 1 block and 3 turnovers in 29 minutes of action.

The Russian free agent acquisition was virtually unstoppable tonight and clearly had the hot hand for Minnesota. Shved dazzled a Philadelphia crowd that witnessed the worst three-point shooting team in the NBA shoot a combined 13-25 from beyond the arc, good for 52%. With the game separated by double-digits in favor of the Pups for what felt like the entire contest, Shved and backup PG JJ Barea did a tremendous job of managing the game in the second half and never allowed a doubt about what team was going to walk away with the W. Barea was a game-high +12 on the court and finished with 11 points (5-10 FG), 10 dimes, 2 rebounds, 1 steal, and only 2 turnovers in 27 minutes.

The first half of play was about as one sided as they come, as Minnesota nailed 7 of their 12 three-point attempts and led the 76ers by a score of 65-57. Remarkably, Philadelphia committed only 3 more turnovers than the Wolves and was nearly even with the Pups on both rebounds and assists. However, the Wolves shot nearly 60% from the field with 10 Timberwolves scoring in the first half alone.

Although I feel like the top performance of tonight’s game goes to Shved, it is very difficult to ignore the performance that Josh Howard gave the Pups tonight. From the get go, Howard was constantly in positions to score and did a great job anticipating passes and getting his arm in passing lanes. He played with the relentless fire that we had grown used to seeing during his All-Star days in Dallas, and quite honestly he was everything the player he used to be in this game. In 29 minutes, Howard scored 16 points (7-12 FG, 2-3 3FG) while grabbing 10 boards on his way to his first double-double of his Timberwolves career. Howard simply out-hustled every player on the court, his own teammates included, while his jumper was clearly on. It was extremely satisfying to witness Howard give a performance like this, given how saddening it was to never see Brandon Roy play like his former self while in a Wolves uniform.

This might be the longest I have gone in a game recap without mentioning Kevin Love. The reason for this is that somehow, some way, the team did not need any of Love’s duties tonight. Playing only 26 minutes, K-Love scored a season-low 6 points to add with 10 rebounds and 5 assists. Confusingly, Nikola Pekovic also ended the night with 6 points and 5 assists, while playing 27 minutes. The Wolves shot so well from nearly everywhere on the floor, especially from three-point range, that they appeared to have no use for their impressive frontcourt duo. Instead, the Pups went with smaller looks as Derrick Williams and Dante Cunningham both played key roles in tonight’s blowout.

Dante Cunningham played his role to near perfection, consistently getting open for 18-20 footers that he has been able to knock down so effectively this season. Cunningham finished with 13 points (6-10 FG), 4 rebounds, 1 assist, 1 steal and no turnovers in 25 minutes. Every day I love the swap of Cunningham for Ellington more and more.

Williams, who is often the casualty of Minnesota’ frontcourt depth, took advantage of 16 minutes of playing time and nailed 3 of his 4 three-point attempts, finishing with 10 points, 4 rebounds and not a single turnover. It was great to see D-Will get in a groove from beyond the arc, because if he can start to gain a rhythm shooting the ball, he could be a tremendous asset to Minnesota down the line.

The Timberwolves bench outscored the 76ers bench 57-23, and completely dominated with either unit in the game. Although both of Minnesota’s starting guards played very well, the Wolves second unit guards played so well and were able to give both Luke Ridnour and Malcolm Lee a breather before their matchup in Boston tomorrow night. Both Ridnour and Lee finished with 10 points apiece and played 21 and 19 minutes, respectively.

I cannot fail to mention Greg Stiemsma, who fed off the energy and optimism and provided solid interior defense in 18 minutes. Despite committing 3 fouls in such a short amount of time, the Stiemer was very effective and provided 6 points, 5 rebounds and 1 block.

I do not expect the Pups to shoot 53% FG in tomorrow’s matchup in Boston, and the team will need to continue to move the ball and rotate on defense as well as they did tonight. Pekovic and Love were able to get some good rest tonight, and that should help them against a Celtics team that has been called “soft” by some this season. Here are my Three Stars of the Game:

  1. Alexey Shved
  2. Josh Howard
  3. JJ Barea

Preview: Minnesota Timberwolves at Los Angeles Clippers

Setting the stage

The Timberwolves wrap up their four game road trip on Wednesday night in Los Angeles, facing the Clippers.  Also of note for fans, tonight’s game will be broadcast on NBA TV.

The Clippers come into the game off of a home loss against the Hornets on Monday night.  Blake Griffin will look to rebound off an abysmal showing Monday; 1-9 from the field for 4 points and 6 rebounds, before fouling out.  By his standards, Griffin is off to a pretty slow start this season, with both his points and rebounds down for the second consecutive year.  The ‘other’ LA team is actually led by Jamal Crawford’s 18 ppg, but true to form, he is doing very little else for the team aside from scoring.  (To be fair, that is what they need him for and what he was signed to do.)

Despite being coached by Vinny Del Negro, the Clippers are 8-6 on the season and currently tied for 1st place in the Pacific division with the Warriors.  They are putting up 99.5 ppg as a team, good for 8th in the league and holding opponents to 95.6 ppg (12th in the league).  Despite Blake Griffin and the growth of DeAndre Jordan’s game and role on the team, the Clip Joint are 24th in the league in rebounding at 40.4 a game.

The Pups are playing the tail end of a back to back after last night’s much needed win in Sacramento.  The win snapped their five game losing streak and moved the team 6-7 on the year and in a logjam / tie for 9th place in the conference.  Tuesday night’s win was a true team effort, with all five starters in double figures, led by Kevin Love’s 23 point, 24 rebound performance.  That performance was Love’s 16th 20-20 game in his young, but brilliant career.

Coming off the win, the Pups slightly improved their team’s season averages.  While still one of the lower scoring teams in the league (92.1 ppg for 27th place) the team improved to 5th overall defensively, holding opponents to 92.5 ppg so far this season.  The Wolves are 7th in the league in rebounding at 44 per game and will look to exploit their advantages in this area vs. the Clippers tonight to create some easy baskets.

Player to watch

Chris Paul – Prior to joining the Clippers and growing a prima donna attitude, I loved how Chris Paul played the game.  Truth be told, he still plays largely the same way, I just don’t like all of the whining and flopping that he has become accustomed to doing over the course of a game.  So with that prefaced, it will be interesting (and probably painful for Pups fans) to see what Paul does against the Twolves PG’s.  You might see a 20 point, 20 assist game here tonight.  Paul had a rough game last Wednesday against OKC, but I don’t believe the Wolves will be able to march out Thabo Sefolosha to guard him.  Paul’s averaging 16.4 ppg and 9.3 apg and I can’t imagine those numbers dip after tonight’s game.

Match-up to watch

Kevin Love vs. Blake Griffin – Was there any doubt that this would be the match-up selection?  Love comes into his first back-to-back series of games on the season due to his injury and it will be interesting to see how he follows up his monster performance from last night.  Is his conditioning in a good enough place to be able to handle heavy minutes in a back to back?  As mentioned earlier, Griffin’s stats are a little down this year but you know both guys will be ready to showcase their talents and try to stake their claim as the best PF in the league.

Predictions

Final score prediction: Minnesota 99 – Los Angeles 96

Three stars of the game predictions:

  1. Kevin Love
  2. Chris Paul
  3. Josh Howard (break out game alert)

Let’s go Wolves!

Josh Howard Signs with Timberwolves

The first shoe has dropped in the injury plagued start of the Pups season and, as Chris Broussard first reported, the team has reached an agreement with Josh Howard to join the club.  Howard has had a very solid, if not spectacular, career.  Ndudi Ebi anyone?  David Kahn again turns to past Wolves FO mistakes on draft night to try to sure up the team’s rotation as they fight through the injury bug.

Given that the Wolves were already at the roster limit of 15, this means someone has to go.  That someone is Will Conroy – a small signing that Kahn and company made this offseason to play back, back, back-up PG.  More importantly, Conroy is best buds with Brandon Roy, so that likely made their transition to Minnesota that much easier.

(I already typed the following italicized thoughts up before the team made the announcement that Conroy was waived.  I’m going to leave this in here and let others react to it.  Here are two thoughts that I had that could have been additional options as the Howard signing was announced, while the waiving of Conroy had yet to be reported. 

One option was to consider cutting Malcolm Lee instead of Conroy.  Why would the Wolves do this?  I’m not saying this is the right mindset, but there could be a level of appeasement here for Brandon Roy to keep Conroy on the squad and let Lee go to see if he can find another opportunity around the league.  Lee is clearly better than Conroy, but maybe there was something in the locker room worth trying to keep around with Conroy.  Clearly, we have an answer on that now.)

A second option, which I believe is what the team was doing in that small period of time, is having Kahn and the Wolves work the phones to try to find a team that will take on DWill, or a package of DWill and Lee for a draft pick (and/or a player if the team is looking to include two members of the current squad).  Clearly, DWill is not going to cut it in Adelman’s rotation when this team gets healthy.  Adding another veteran like Josh Howard just limits DWill’s own minutes that much more. 

So those were two additional thoughts.  I’m going to work through the NBA trade machine this weekend to come up with some deals that might make sense for DWill and put them on the site.  Let’s get back to our regularly scheduled blog entry…)

Going back to Howard, I think this is a very good deal for the Pups.  He has a high basketball IQ.  While his career has certainly started to tail off recently, he will be another veteran presence and someone that “gets it”.  He’s also playoff tested and proven.  The signing also allows Adelman to give AK47 some much needed rest, as he’s been playing 40+ mpg for the past week.

While I’ve done my fair share of questioning Glen Taylor over the years, I’m glad he was willing to make a move like this and throw some more money into the pot.  Speaking of, hopefully those issues are gone for Josh Howard and that isn’t a distraction anymore.  Yes, we’re speaking in code to close out this write-up.