Pups Cut From Pack

Today the Timberpups released Lorenzo Brown and Othyus Jeffers, the roster is down to 16 players — the team must cut to 15 by 4:00PM CST on Monday.

Brown was the Wolves second-round draft selection out of North Carolina State University. He missed only two games during his final season at North Carolina State where he averaged just over seven assists and was the primary facilitator in the Wolfpack’s offense. He averaged 19.2 minutes per game in LVSL, shot 50 percent from 3pt-range, 38 percent from the field and his 2.2 assists per game were negated by his per game average of 1.8 turnovers. Brown averaged 12.6mpg in three preseason games; averaging 4 points 1 rebound and 1 assist. His future remains bright, Brown is 23 years old and it’s likely we’ll see him playing in the NBA down the road.

The decision to cut Jeffers was not as clear-cut.

He entered the league undrafted despite averaging 24 points and 11 rebounds a game at Robert Morris University. Selected by the Iowa Energy in the 2008-09 D-League draft; Jeffers averaged 20 points and 9 rebounds per game and was named the NBADL Rookie of the Year. Jeffers had a team-high 13 points in the Wolves 98-89 win over the Milwaukee Bucks, shooting 5-of-9 from the field and tallying 6 rebounds.

 

The cuts mean there’s two places left for the taking, either Robbie Hummel, A.J. Price or Chris Johnson will be cut by Monday.

Chris Johnson has played the least this preseason and the Wolves signing him to a contract was the final move made by former President of Operations — David Kahn.

This leaves Price and Hummel as the players the Pups will retain going into the season. Hummel started the game at small forward Wednesday against the Philadelphia 76ers and is averaging 15 minutes in his four appearances this preseason. He’s tall, lanky and was the fan favorite going into Las Vegas Summer League as we told you earlier this summer.

Price will act as an insurance policy at point guard. If Ricky Rubio, Alexey Shved or J.J. Barea are to miss time due to injury this season *knocks on wood*, Price can step in and as a temporary and serviceable alternative — if an injury to the aforementioned three is a significant one; the Wolves should look to improve at PG through the free agent market or by trade.

 

Timberpups Preseason — The Opener

The Timberpups begin the preseason tonight, in the Target Center, at 7:00 CST vs. CSKA Moscow.

Dante Cunningham (ill) and JJ Barea (personal reasons) both questionable for tonight’s contest vs. CSKA Moscow.

— Timberwolves PR (@Twolves_PR) October 7, 2013

Kevin Love, Ricky Rubio, Kevin Martin, Corey Brewer and Nikola Pekovic are the expected starters this season and also for tonight’s game. How many minutes will they play? I presume no more than 10-minutes, but, it’s ultimately up to Coach Rick Adelman.

After the starters sit, Alexey Shved is likely to see plenty of minutes against his former team. These quotes are from a piece written by Jerry Zgoda of the Star Tribune.

‘Adelman just wants Shved to become more “engaged” when he’s playing off the ball.

“If Alexey smiles, everything else takes care of itself,” Ronnie Turiaf said. “If he doesn’t smile, he’s a different player.”

It’s a big game for Shved, we’ve talked about him playing minutes behind Rubio at point guard this season — tonight will be a chance to see him in that role. He’ll will share minutes with Lorenzo Brown and A.J. Price, because of Barea’s absence. It’s important for Shved to play well, not only for himself, but to show the team he can change the face and be happy — there’s also two guys fighting to make the roster  playing behind him tonight.

Jon Krawczynski of the Associated Press wrote a captivating story about Othyus Jeffers, quoting Flip Saunders’ opinion of the 28-year old from Chicago.

“What he’s been through is how he plays,” said Saunders, who coached Jeffers in Washington. “He’s hard-nosed, kind of a mad dog that just gets after it and really competes. He basically goes at it where he understands that nothing’s given to him.”

Here’s a little bit on the ‘Pups opponent this evening.

CSKA is coached by an Italian, Ettora Messina, who spent time with the Lakers as a technical advisor to Mike Brown in Los Angeles. Prior to L.A. Messina was head coach of Real Madrid of Spain 2009-2011, he’s on contract with CSKA for $44-million and may choose to opt-out if he’s offered a head coaching opportunity in the NBA. “However, Messina figures this to be unlikely — he’s 53 and it’s late to try and pick up the game. Read more about Coach Messina here -thanks Manuel!  (@itaTimberwolves)

The club is run similar to an NBA Franchise and is without question the powerhouse of the Russian League. CSKA has been the Russian League Champion every season dating back to 2003, in addition to winning Euroleague titles in 2006 and 2008. Shved and former Timberwolves forward Andrei Kirilenko were two main components of the 2008 squad. In 2010, Shved helped CSKA attain the first victory on American ground by a European team in a preseason game against the Cleveland Cavaliers.

“It’s a good check-up for us. It’s good to see where we are and to find our game before our real season starts,” Nenad Krstic explained. “For some of our players, it’s their first time playing against an NBA team; it’s a new experience. And Minnesota has a talented team.”

Kristic is a two-time all Euroleague Center from Serbia who has played in the NBA with the Boston Celtics, New Jersey Nets and Oklahoma City Thunder. Averaging just over 15-points in Eurobasket, he’s one of the players the Wolves must focus on defending against CSKA tonight.

Shved’s intensity isn’t necessarily in question, but the team would like to see more of it. I wouldn’t expect a lackluster effort for the second-year NBA Player tonight.

“I went over to the hotel to meet with my friends and former coaches. I am happy see them here. I’m always happy to see my guys.” He also summed up how both teams feel about the contest. “They want to show that they can beat an NBA team and NBA teams don’t want to lose. Everybody is ready for this game.”

Click here for more European perspective on tonight’s matchup.

CSKA will look to slow the ball down and playing a majority of the game in the halfcourt, hoping to slow down the Wolves’ potentially potent transition offense. If the game gets wild, it’s an advantage for the home team. Hopefully the Wolves can run away with this one, without any injuries, of course. I know, I know, it’s only the preseason but we’ve waited too long and the team has worked to hard to be defeated by a weaker opponent. Look for Shved to play-with-purpose, the training camp invites to make the most of their chances and most importantly — a Timberpups victory.

 

The next preseason game is Wednesday against the Toronto Raptors, more on that soon.

 

 

The Final Narrative

I didn’t count how many times I wrote,”..because of injuries last season,” for good reason — it was frequently. I’m certain there are others who wrote it more than I did, what’s even worse? Fans of the Minnesota Timberwolves are going to hear it more and more. “..because of injuries last season” is a phrase included within many articles written to summarize the type of year the Wolves had last season. It’s because of injuries last season that the Wolves didn’t have a good year; this is the narrative fans were left with. It continues this season, Dave Benz and Jim Peterson will say because of injuries last season on Fox Sports North; Alan Horton on Wolves Radio 830AM-WCCO broadcasts will say the phrase, too. John Focke will have a chance to remind everyone prior to Benz, Peterson and Horton before tip-off during the Wolves Live program.

Mention of the the injuries last season will continue until the Wolves are able to give fans something else to remember. For reasons that go beyond the injuries suffered last season, there’s pressure on the Wolves to make the playoffs this season.

This will be the last narrative I write about the Wolves this offseason — I promise. 

The Twin Cities need something to take pride in; the Vikings are 0 and 3 and the Twins are, well, I can’t tell you, but it’s bad — real bad. The Vikings piled onto the usual misery with a loss to the Cleveland Browns in the Metrodome over the weekend. The Purple will avoid local media this week as the Vikings face the Pittsburgh Steelers this Sunday at Wembley Stadium in London, England. Fans root-root-rooting for the home team at Target Field are doing so because the stadium’s amenities still provide reason to take someone out to the ballgame. The truth is – the Twins aren’t winning many games this season and it’s a shame.

Thinking about the Vikings, Twins, Wolves and even the Wild’s recent success is painful. Some fans that are unable to let-go remain obsessed over the Kevin Garnett Era, Brett Favre’s run at the Superbowl and cling to newfound hope that Zach Parise will bring Lord Stanley’s Cup home to the State of Hockey.

Jon Krawczynski is an AP Sports Writer based in Minneapolis covering the Vikings, Twins, Timberwolves, Gophers and Wild.

Jon Krawczynski is an AP Sports Writer based in Minneapolis covering the Vikings, Twins, Timberwolves, Gophers and Wild.

No NBA franchise hopes to be absent from the postseason for an entire decade, however, this could be the team’s fate this season. It’s been nine-years since the last Wolves postseason appearance. Ten-years ago at 13 years-old, I just received my first cellphone and was entering my freshman year of high school. Now 23, I’m five-years removed from moving out of my mother’s home, living in an apartment not far from where I grew up and have a job managing a small business 50-hours a week and writing when I have the time, my phone is an iphone5. Where were you the last time the Pups made the playoffs?

This offseason the Wolves:

  • Rid their hands of David Kahn, brought in Flip Saunders to be the President of Basketball Operations
  • Made other staff changes
  • Waived Greg Stiemsma and Mickael Gelabale
  • Resigned and signed Chase Budinger and Kevin Martin, respectively
  • Drafted Shabazz Muhammad, Gorgui Dieng and Lorenzo Brown
  • Signed Corey Brewer and Ronnie Turiaf 
  • After what felt like a lifetime, resigned Nikola Pekovic
  • Made a one-year offer to Andrei Kirilenko, which he denied, AK47 is now with the Brooklyn Nets

Sorry, I’m going to remind you one more time; because of the injuries sustained over the course of this previous year, it wasn’t a very good season for the Timberwolves. Ricky Rubio and Kevin Love went down, so did Brandon Roy — it took only five games for his track record of injuries to catch up with him, ending Roy’s season and his career (again). Budinger never got things going, appearing in only 23-Loveless games or – games that didn’t include K-Love. Love and Rubio were on and off; more on than off, Rubio played in 57 and Love appeared in 18 games, the duo only played three-games together.

The loss of AK47 hurts the team defensively and I should probably miss his presence more than I do, however, attaining Brewer from Denver was an excellent move that can compensate for some of what the Wolves lost with Kirilenko.

It’s unrealistic to think there won’t be any injuries suffered during the course of the season — not every player can play every game. However, because of the injuries last season, if any of them do go down there’s an adept, experienced teammate to take their place. As an optimist I believe that something positive can be taken always be taken from any form of adversity. Last year; Alexey Shved, Dante Cunningham both gained valuable experience playing expanded roles, we also learned a little more about former 2nd-overall pick Derrick Williams.

Watching Shved play with Russia in FIBA’s EuroBasket, I’ve grown fond of his game. Shved played significant minutes at shooting guard last season but he plays his best basketball as a point guard. Because PG was played mostly by Ridnour and Barea, Shved was forced to play off-the-ball for the majority of the season, this was very unusual for him; his natural position is at the point leading the offense. At EuroBasket, Shved was Russia’s top performer, averaging 16 points and 5 assist while drawing 5 fouls per game; performing valiantly in five games of group play — he was Russia’s top performer. He attacked the basket, finished around the hoop and found teammates for open looks, though his teammates didn’t often finish, but an area that Shved must improve his game: free-throw shooting. He shot 69% from the charity stripe during E.B. I can only speculate how Adelman plans to utilize the Shvedder, but I’m hoping that provide him the opportunity to play most of the minutes at PG when Rubio takes a seat. His aggressiveness and creativity going toward the basket could create some decent looks for the rest of the second-unit.

Cunningham played in 80 games last season, though only averaging 9 points and 5 boards he made those most of every minute — leaving everything out on the floor. Cunningham averaged 25 minutes per game last season, a sign he’s earned Adelman’s trust. If, and it’s a big if, Love is able to stay healthy and Williams continues to improve or have a breakout season, D.C. won’t play anywhere close to the amount of minutes he did last season.

Here are Love’s career averages.

Stats from Basketball Reference

Stats from Basketball Reference

Last year was only a small sample, his 22-percent 3-point shooting was on 20 of 92 attempts. Hopefully, Love is able to stay healthy and get back into the 37-42 percent range we know he’s capable of.

It wasn’t just Love not shooting well from behind-the-arc last season, the entire team was abysmal. The Wolves shot 31 percent from three-point range, dead last in the NBA — something that won’t happen again this season.

The first reason, Brewer and his ability to hit the corner three.

Screen Shot 2013-09-26 at 3.49.16 AM

If you don’t see where he’s at his best, it’s in the left corner when facing the basket. Brewer is a little over 41 percent on 49 of 119 shooting from that spot, he’s 42 of 176 from everywhere else. Adelman’s Princeton offense is dependent on players who can stretch the floor and shoot from the outside, Brewer can be successful playing within the system if he converts on the looks created for him in the corner.

Additionally, he’ll contribute when in transition. Brewer has a knack for sneaking behind defenses — essentially stealing points by cherry picking, Here’s where CBS’s Zach Harper explains it in detail. This will theoretically work hand-in-hand with the crafty outlet passes Love is notorious for, such as this one.

Kevin Love Outlet Pass

Two other reasons I believe the Wolves will shoot better from behind the line; Budinger and Martin are both knockdown jump shooters. Martin was 43 percent with the Oklahoma City Thunder last season and is 39 percent lifetime, Budinger’s lifetime average is 36 percent. Not only are Budinger and Martin lights-out shooting the ball, they’re familiar with the system — Adelman coached both players during the trio’s time spent together with the Houston Rockets.

Has Rubio improved his jump shot? It’s tough to tell. Here’s are his averages and game-by-game numbers recorded at EuroBasket.

Screen Shot 2013-09-26 at 4.33.59 AM

Screen Shot 2013-09-26 at 4.35.42 AM

 

Looking at the accumulated statistics, Rubio ended EuroBasket shooting 46 percent from the field and 44 percent from the field; both are better than his two-year averages with the Wolves, though it is a smaller sample.

Here are his numbers with the Wolves.

Screen Shot 2013-09-26 at 4.44.44 AM

I wrote a column for HoopsHabit checking in with Rubio’s jumper, going a little further in depth than just box scores.

The following statistics represent Rubio’s numbers through Spain’s first eight-games of EuroBasket.

“Rubio is successful in the mid-range area; the middle of the lane extending past the free-throw line and before the 3-point stripe. He looks comfortable pulling up off the dribble into a jump shot near the foul line. He’s 5-of-12 thus far through the tournament in this area, which is a little over 41 percent. This is higher than Rubio’s 37 percent average from the field through two years playing in Minnesota.

Of the 12 attempts inside the lane, Rubio has made four of them. We established that he struggles around the rim — It’s as worrisome as it is curious, but from watching Rubio compete the attempts within the lane are contested and some of them have been late in the shot clock. Shooting 33 percent inside the lane isn’t going produce well enough by any league’s standards.

Shooting the ball from spots near the top of the key between the 3-point line and the free-throw line are where Rubio is comfortable. But just being comfortable in these areas won’t be enough if he wants to remain in the circle with the elite class of NBA point guards. Rubio needs to improve upon his strengths, but must also work to eliminate the current weaknesses to an adequate level if he hopes to improve as a scorer, and in turn, a better player overall.”

 

On June 30th John made a checklist of what plans the Wolves should or could have during the free agency period, I felt he was spot on.

  1. Resign Pek
  2. Sign a shooting guard
  3. Resign Budinger
  4. Balance the roster

Other than the order of which each occurred, Flip managed accomplished all of the above in somewhat of an efficient manner. Some may believe $60 million may be too much for Pek and that Martin is washed-up, however, the front-office did what was needed in order for the Wolves to compete for a playoff spot this year.

 

Last Friday in an interview with HoopsHype, Rubio was asked; “Is it playoffs or bust?”.

His response was this, “Too early to say if the playoffs are the goal. Let’s see how things go in training camp and how the new pieces fit in. Then we’ll see how things evolve during the season, it’s too early to talk about playoffs.”

From the coaches and players standpoint, Rubio’s right; It’s too early to talk about playoffs, but what about from the perspective of a fan? It’s tough to argue that the Wolves didn’t do all the right things this offseason, I believe they did, but when Timberpups looked at how the Wolves stack up in the Western Conference, Drew told us that there’s enough talent between the Portland Trail Blazers, Dallas Mavericks, New Orleans Pelicans and the Denver Nuggets to keep Minnesota out of the playoffs. If the team isn’t poised for a playoff run this season — will it ever be? Has Flip made plans in preparation for the long-term? I don’t possess the knowledge. What I do know is that Minnesota has restructured and re enforced their roster — the Timberwolves are capable of not only of qualifying for the postseason this year, but becoming a perennial playoff team in the Western Conference…. assuming they’re able to stay healthy, of course….