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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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.

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Timberwolves Summer League Game 6 Recap

Lorenzo Brown had a big game Friday night (Photo credit: NBACircle.com)

Lorenzo Brown had a big game Friday night
(Photo credit: NBACircle.com)

After Thursday night’s loss, the Timberwolves Summer League experience would come to a close in Las Vegas after Friday night’s events.  Tonight’s game was against our divisional “rival”, the Portland Trailblazers.  To close out the tournament, Coach Adelman went with the following starting lineup: Lorenzo Brown, Brandon Paul, Shabazz Muhammad, Chris Johnson, and Gorgui Dieng.

While Minnesota was going for it and playing their top guys, that clearly wasn’t the strategy for the Blazers, who sat all of their starters for the game (McCollum, Barton, Claver, Robinson or Leonard).  So no CJ McCollum for the small army of you who wanted him in a Timberwolves uniform coming out of the draft.  Sorry.  One final note for the final game for the Wolves: we had a special analyst calling the game with Matt Devlin, as former Pup Sam Mitchell was in the booth!

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Timberwolves Summer League Game 5 Recap

Timberwolves Summer League, Chris Johnson

Chris Johnson’s looking good in Summer League
(Photo credit: NBA.com)

The Timberwolves played their fourth game in as many nights in Las Vegas Thursday.  The second round of the Summer League tournament was a rematch from the team’s first loss in the preliminary round and against the D-League Select team.

Identical to Wednesday’s game, Coach Adelman sent out the following starters to begin the game: Kee Kee Clark, Othyus Jeffers, Shabazz Muhammad, Robbie Hummel, and Chris Johnson.  If it isn’t broken, don’t try to fix it?  In case you missed it, I was actually live-tweeting the game over on our resurrected, official Twitter feed.  We’ll be doing that a lot more in the future I imagine.

As for the game itself, the Wolves got off to a slow start.  Kee Kee Clark was the only player that looked to have his legs with him in the opening few minutes, keeping the team close.  Towards the end of the first quarter, the Wolves got sloppy with the ball and allowed the D-League Select to go on a mini-run, closing the quarter with a 25-17 lead.

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Timberwolves Summer League Game 4 Recap

Shabazz Muhammad, Timberwolves

Shabazz had not been lighting up the Summer League
(Photo credit: LA Times)

In the preliminary play, the Timberwolves went 1-2 in Las Vegas, good enough for the 13 seed in the tournament that commenced Wednesday.  Their opening round opponent tonight was the Sacramento Kings, which affords me the opportunity to hone in on Ben McLemore’s play (the guy I was really hoping the Wolves would land coming out of last month’s draft).

David Adelman sent out the following starting lineup for Wednesday’s game: Kee Kee Clark, Othyus Jeffers, Shabazz Muhammad, Robbie Hummel, and Chris Johnson.  The starting frontcourt has been relatively consistent thus far in the tournament, while the backcourt continues to shift around.

With half of the first quarter in the books, both teams remained in single digits on the scoreboard.  Maybe they were too tense for the start of the game due to the new bracket format?  Maybe it was the three games in three days?  Perhaps it is just too much time in Las Vegas.  We’ll never know, but what I do know is that the first quarter wasn’t too enjoyable.

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Robbie Hummel Showing Improvement in Las Vegas

Jayne Kamin-Oncea-US PRESSWIRE

Jayne Kamin-Oncea-US PRESSWIRE

Robbie Hummel was the Minnesota Timberwolves’ second-round pick in the 2012 NBA Draft. His career has always been tagged with injuries, but, if Hummel can stay healthy it’s easy to envision him as a fan-favorite to fans at Target Center. Hummel graduated from Purdue and is the only Boilermaker to reach 1,700 points, 850 steals, 250 assists, 125 steals and 100 blocks in his career. He left campus in West Layafette, Indiana with a graduate of Business Management and as a three-time Academic All Big Ten honoree. Hummel also volunteered locally in efforts that promoted and emphasized the importance of literacy in elementary schools. Fans in Minnesota seemingly love their ‘high character,’ smart and charismatic athletes who remain active away from the game and with the community and Robbie Hummel fits that bill.

Hummel is an experienced player and a scholar of the game. His coordination and understanding of floor-spacing are two valuable facets of his game. Hummel stays active on offense, setting screens and finding position on the perimeter. The skill that has the best chance at making him a household name is shooting and through the first two Las Vegas Summer League games, Hummel was the Wolves’ sniper. He accumulated 30 points, shooting 65% from the field and 60% from behind the arc. He’s also grabbed 11 rebounds and two steals. Saturday against the D-League Selects, he scored 12 points, tallied six boards and swiped three steals in addition to shooting 55% from the field but Monday’s meeting with the Phoenix Suns was an even better showing. Hummel scored 18 on six of eight shooting from the field, a perfect two for two from distance and four for five from the free-throw line.

The Wolves defeated the Miami Heat Tuesday, 80-71, their first win in Vegas. Hummel’s performance was dismal. Despite grabbing seven-boards, he only scored three-points after hitting one of five from the field and only one of his two free-throws. Clearly the Heat coaching staff had done their scouting and placed heavy emphasis on limiting Hummel’s looks and making the shots he was able to shoot, difficult.

Hummel is 6’8”-215lbs and has a stocky build allowing him to set successful screens. Because of his lack of speed, these are the type of plays are things Hummel must do to further his development as an NBA Player.

“I think he’s probably going to be more of a small-forward than a power-forward but I think he can play the power-forward because of how smart he is.” – Flip Saunders.

Hummel has now started his campaign to join the Wolves’ 15-man roster and he has my, among many others, votes to do so.

Timberwolves Summer League Game 3 Recap

(Younger) Coach Adelman coaches the Timberwolves to a 1-2 start in Summer League

(Younger) Coach Adelman coaches the Timberwolves to a 1-2 start in Summer League

After a heartbreaking tough loss on Monday to the Suns, the Timberwolves turned right back around Tuesday to face the Miami Heat.  As should be expected for Summer League, David Adelman threw out a new starting lineup for the game, going with John Holland, Demetri McCamey, Shabazz Muhammad, Robbie Hummel, and Chris Johnson.

We have a new broadcast booth for today’s game and I wasn’t too excited about it.  While I enjoy Joel Meyers, he was partnering with someone that I loathe.  The analyst for today’s broadcast is none other than Isiah Thomas; one of the more despicable men in the world.  Sorry, but I’m not holding back here.  I have no idea why NBA TV hired Thomas, or why anyone else would across the league … for ANY position.  Please go away for good!  (Steps off pedestal)

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