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...]

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.

Wolves Announce A Few Signings

Glenn Robinson III signed a guaranteed contract this week with the Wolves (Photo credit: David Sherman/NBAE/Getty Images)

Glenn Robinson III signed a guaranteed contract this week with the Wolves (Photo credit: David Sherman/NBAE/Getty Images)

This past week the Wolves announced that they have come to terms with a few players that may or may not have a large role with the club this coming season.

Glenn Robinson III signed a guaranteed contract with the club this week, likely cementing his spot on the opening day roster.  Whether or not that is in street clothes or a uniform is likely to be determined during his performance in the preseason.  The biggest question on Robinson might be what jersey number he is going to where as he was introduced with the #22 jersey.  That has since been claimed by some Andrew Wiggins guy on the club.  I’m not sure if you have heard much about him.

The Wolves also announced that they have signed Kyrylo Fesenko and Brady Heslip to non-guaranteed contracts.  Both players played on the Wolves’ Summer League club and had their moments.  After Summer League I thought that Fesenko did enough to warrant serious attention for a roster spot, particularly without knowing what the specifics were in a forthcoming Kevin Love deal.  Heslip had a brief moment or two in Summer League that warranted some consideration as well, but it would be a stretch to consider him a “lock” to make the opening night roster.

There is an added wrinkle that could be of benefit to Fesenko’s chances of making the Wolves opening night roster.  It is being reported that the Wolves are offering Eric Bledsoe a max contract.  There could be a sign and trade to be considered in which Bledsoe comes to Minnesota for Nikola Pekovic and filler.  Not to hijack the above signings, but there are a lot of different scenarios that could be considered here and we are better off talking about that later this weekend and in a separate write-up.

Do you think Robinson, Fesenko, and/or Heslip will be on the opening night roster?  Let’s go Wolves!

Rumors: Wolves to Acquire Thad Young for Anthony Bennett

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let’s go Wolves!

 

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...]

Timberpups Weekly Preview 2014 – Final Week

 

Happier times for the Wolves 'big three' (Jim Mone/Associated Press).

Happier times for the Wolves ‘big three’ (Jim Mone/Associated Press).

Setting the stage:

Well, the end is near for our Timberpups.  The Wolves will not advance to the NBA Playoffs for the tenth straight season.  This is turning into quite the rebuild huh?  The Wolves have three games this week counting tonight’s match-up in Sacramento, tomorrow night’s game in the Bay Area and then one final game at Target Center against Utah Wednesday night.

Fans, this is likely your last opportunity to see Rick Adelman on the sidelines for the Wolves.  Who will be the next coach?  Will Flip Saunders be on the sidelines next season or will he be able to grab someone from the college ranks like Fred Hoiberg or Tom Izzo.  I would be ecstatic with either of those choices from college and mortified if Flip takes over as head coach.  Do you have any off-the-radar guesses or suggestions?

Onwards to the last three games of the 2013/14 season for the Timberwolves.  Can the team win at least one of the final three to lock in a .500 record?  Can they win two of three to finish over .500?

Game 80: Sunday, 4/13, 8pm – Timberpups @ Sacramento Kings (TV: FSN Plus)

The Kings come into Sunday’s game with a 27-53 record, having lost to the Clippers in LA on Saturday night.

Opponent to watch:

DeMarcus Cousins – While I ripped the Kings at the beginning of the season to the contract they gave Cousins, he has produced this season, leading the team in points, rebounds, steals, and blocks (22.6, 11.7, 1.5, and 1.3 respectively).  It hasn’t led to many wins though …

Predictions:

The Wolves take advantage of the Kings playing on back to back nights and guarantee themselves a .500 record for the season.  Final score: Timberwolves 108, Kings 101

Game 81: Monday, 4/14, 9:30pm – Timberpups @ Golden State Warriors (TV: FS North & NBA TV)

The Warriors are moving on to the playoffs it is just a matter of where they will be seeded with a 49-30 record going into Sunday night’s game in Portland.

Opponent to watch:

Stephen Curry – One last opportunity this season (until the playoffs start) for Wolves’ fans to curse David Kahn and his selection of Jonny Flynn over Curry.  Steph hasn’t missed a game this season and leads the Warriors in points, assists, and steals.  I would go into more detail but don’t feel like lighting myself on fire right now.

Predictions:

The Warriors will want to go into the playoffs playing good basketball and this game should be entertaining to watch.  I predict a barn burner – Final score: Warriors 124, Timberwolves 115

Game 82: Wednesday, 4/16, 7pm – Utah Jazz @ Timberpups (TV: FS North)

Nothing like closing the season with a win at home, right?  Right?!  The worst team in the Western Conference (although the Lakers are trying) visits the Target Center as we say “goodbye” to the Timberwolves’ season, and potentially “so long” to Rick Adelman.

Opponent to watch:

Not Applicable – For the final game of the season, let’s focus on the Wolves and not the opponent.  We’re talking about a bland Jazz team anyway.

Let’s give thanks to Kevin Love and Nikola Pekovic for putting up all-star caliber numbers.  As an added bonus, Gorgui Dieng looks like a very strong third wheel for the Wolves moving forward, specifically as a defensive replacement when one is needed.

Here is to hoping that Ricky Rubio makes the much needed leap in the offseason and that we have a new backup PG behind him next season.  Finally, let’s hope that Flip can find a wing or two in order to upgrade the roster beyond Kevin Martin, Corey Brewer, and/or Shabazz Muhammad.

Predictions:

Minnesota sends Wolves Nation home with a positive memory.  If they lose in Sacramento and Golden State, there will be some heavy motivation for the team to finish at .500.  If they win at least one of those games on the road, there is still motivation to finish on a positive note at home.  Final score: Timberwolves 104, Jazz 89

Wrap-up:

After recapping these final games for our Pups, we’ll be putting together thoughts on how the players looked this past season and what the team needs to do in order to finally get back into the playoffs.  For now, let’s go Wolves!