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…]

Recap: Wolves Defeat Pelicans in Summer League Finale

Zach LaVine said all the right things and played admirably in Las Vegas Summer League (Timberwolves.com)

Zach LaVine said all the right things and played admirably in Las Vegas Summer League (Timberwolves.com)

The Timberwolves finished up their stay in Las Vegas on Friday night, taking on the New Orleans Pelicans. There have been a few up and downs for the Wolves this week and it feels like the product on the floor has taken somewhat of a backseat to the continuing rumors of whether or not Kevin Love will be traded and to which team is the latest to sweeten their offer. That’s a little unfortunate given … you know … live basketball and evaluating young, potential talent for the team.

Our Pups opened up with the following starting lineup: Zach LaVine, Brady Heslip, Matt Janning, Glenn Robinson III, and Gorgui Dieng. Said group got off to a slow start, with the Pelicans jumping out to an 18-8 advantage and forcing Sam Mitchell – tonight’s head coach for the Wolves – to burn a timeout. Further proof of the slow start: [Read more…]

Recap: Las Vegas Summer League – Wolves 86, Suns 77

All Gorgui Dieng did on Wednesday is grab a tournament high 19 rebounds! (Garrett Ellwood, Getty Images)

All Gorgui Dieng did on Wednesday is grab a tournament high 19 rebounds! (Garrett Ellwood, Getty Images)

The Las Vegas Summer League started the tournament portion of its competition on Wednesday, kicking off with the #9 seed Phoenix Suns against our #24 seed Timberwolves. Despite being 0-3 in its prior Summer League action, the Pups came out on Wednesday and produced a solid victory to move on in the winner’s bracket.

The Wolves opened up with Zach LaVine, Markel Starks, Shabazz Muhammad, Gorgui Dieng, and Kyrylo Fesenko in the starting lineup. A little “twin tower” action up front for the Wolves and perhaps a preview of things to come in the 2014/15 season. Dieng, Fesenko and LaVine all started off strong, while Shabazz Muhammad got off to a 0-6 start from the field, continuing to move his shooting percentages in the wrong direction in Vegas. At the end of the 1st quarter, the Suns held a 19-14 advantage. [Read more…]

Recap: Las Vegas Summer League – Wizards 67, Wolves 61

 

“Zach, you’re like this big bear man!” – Shabazz “Double Down” Muhammad

“Zach, you’re like this big bear man!” – Shabazz “Double Down” Muhammad

The Timberwolves and Wizards took to the floor a few minutes late in the last Las Vegas Summer League game of the evening on Sunday. Despite the late start, both teams looked to have cobwebs from the Vegas Strip, as both struggled to put together any type of consistency in their offensive scheme and flow. The teams equally split 44 turnovers on the evening, while also combining for 53 personal fouls (Wizards 27, Wolves 26).

The Pups opened up with the same starting five from Saturday’s kick-off game: Alexey Shved, Zach LaVine, Shabazz Muhammad, Glenn Robinson III, and Gorgui Dieng. Similar to what Wolves’ fans became accustomed to seeing this past regular season, once you got beyond the team’s starting five, things got quite murky on the floor. After a relatively strong start from both teams in the 1st quarter, the Wizards held a 26-21 lead going into the 2nd and that is where things began to fall apart. The Wolves only scored 28 points in the 2nd and 3rd quarters combined and trailed the Wizards 57-49 after three. (The teams were tied at 35 going into halftime.) [Read more…]

Wolves Fall to Mavs in First Summer League Game, 93-85

Game Recap

Rookies. Flash. Hope. Promise. Those words embody what NBA Summer League is all about, and the Timberwolves first summer league game certainly possessed all of those things. Even with all the Love rumors still furiously swirling, fans pushed their worries aside for forty minutes to see the young talent that will hopefully be the future of the franchise.

The first quarter opened fast for the Wolves, with Zach LaVine throwing down an alley-oop just fifteen seconds in. From there, the Wolves struggled with consistency on both ends of the floor. After playing one game already, the Mavericks looked in sync, while the Wolves did a lot of flailing around trying to learn how to play with each other in the team’s first game.

Everything went downhill for the Wolves after the first quarter. An abundance of missed defensive rotations allowed the Mavs to build a 10-point lead heading into hafltime. It seemed like nobody was guarding the Mavs perimeter players for much of the game, especially Ricky Ledo. The Providence product hit 5 threes and finished with 21 points.

The Wolves offense was brutal in the third quarter as Alexey Shved, Shabazz Muhammad, and Gorgui Dieng all combined to take bad, contested jump shots. LaVine began heating up after the half, scoring in a variety of ways.

In the fourth, the Wolves fought back to make it a game again, but it was too little too late. Their lack of defensive prowess and settling for generally bad shots most of the night brought about the team’s undoing.

Breaking down the guys that project to be on the NBA roster

Shabazz Muhammad

Putting the result aside, Muhammad was the player of the game. He dominated his man often, which is exactly what you want to see in summer league from a guy you want contributions from when the NBA regular season rolls around. He showed off his physicality, and he couldn’t be kept off the boards. His relentless effort got him several put-back buckets, which is a huge part of his game right now. He showed range on his shot, going 2-3 from beyond the arc. His problems remain the same. He still takes bad shots, and he needs to develop more advanced handles to diversify his drives to the rim. When his man cuts him off, he tends to give up easily and take a tough floater. He needs to learn how to muscle or finesse his way to the rim with regularity to become a more efficient player. Speaking of efficiency, he took a team-high 24 shots and made just 10 of those. While that is a ton of shots, it is not a big deal in summer league when he’s supposed to be “the guy.” His non-stop motor is still where most of his value stems from. When he settles into the NBA and develops his skill set, he could be a really good player for a long time.

Gorgui Dieng

Dieng is a really good example of a guy that plays within himself. He knows what he can and cannot do right now, and he doesn’t attempt to stray too far out of his comfort zone. He went 4-6 from the field today, and all of his buckets came in the paint. When he gets outside of the paint, he tends to struggle a bit. He had one strong move on the left baseline where muscled his defender out of the way and got to the rim, but that’s a rare occurrence. He looks uncomfortable in face up situations, as he possesses an average first step and no real killer move. To take his game to the next level, he will need to figure out other ways to get to the rim consistently besides just catching the ball under the basket. Much of Dieng’s value comes on the defensive end where he has so much value as an anchor in the paint and on the glass. He will be a double-double machine in summer league, but can he do that consistently when the real season rolls around?

Alexey Shved

Every summer league team needs a guy that plays out of control and chucks crazy shots at the rim. That guy for the Wolves is Alexey Shved. His first shot of the game was a three that came at least a couple feet behind the three-point line. He settled down a little from that point, getting to the rim with relative ease. On the pick-and-roll, Shved demonstrated the ability to turn the corner hard and accelerate straight towards the rim. The only way to stop him was to foul him, and he got to the line 9 times. He still makes passes he shouldn’t make that lead to turnovers. He only seems to be able to operate at lightning speed, but if he could ever slow the game down he might be a lot more serviceable.

Zach LaVine

It feels like the only skill of LaVine’s that ever gets mentioned is his athleticism. That’s not exactly fair to him though. He was slotted as the point guard at times, and he wasn’t bad. A couple times, he was able to execute a nice pick-and-roll with Dieng. He’s not a guy that’s going to make flashy passes right now, but he made the right play for the most part when he was serving as the primary ball-handler. Occasionally, he will try to force it, and that’s when things get away from him. He’ll try to thread the needle or throw a lob, and that’s just not his game. He didn’t shoot the ball great against the Mavs, but his mechanics are sound which is promising. Everything he does is smooth, and he looks so graceful slicing his way to the rim. Defensively, LaVine has some work to do. He’s not great at fighting through the screener on the pick-and-roll, and the Mavs got several buckets as a result. Overall, it was a solid first performance from the Wolves first 2014 draft pick.

Glenn Robinson III

Robinson will wish he could replay this game. He was a non-factor most of the night, and he struggled defensively. His lateral quickness isn’t up to snuff right now, and his defensive stance needs work. Offensively, Robinson needs to continue to work on his outside game. It would benefit his development in that area if he would take more than three per game during summer league. He did a couple nice buckets, but overall he was pretty underwhelming in game one.

Game 2 for the Wolves is on Monday at 3:30PM CT against the Chicago Bulls.

 

What Will It Take for the Cavs to Land Kevin Love?

 

Andrew Wiggins must be included in any deal from the Cavs. (Photo credit: John Locher AP Photo)

Andrew Wiggins must be included in any deal from the Cavs. (Photo credit: John Locher AP Photo)

Unless you just woke up from a 24 hour nap, you are well aware that LeBron James has decided to return to Cleveland and rejoin Dan Gilbert’s Cavs. Immediately, this decision opened up the trade rumors of Wolves’ All-Pro Kevin Love being sent to Cleveland to join LeBron and Kyrie Irving to form the latest edition of “the big three”.

However, the reports and rumors are swirling that Cleveland does not want to give up Andrew Wiggins, the #1 pick from last month’s draft. For most Wolves fans, this is a non-starter in negotiations. Either Wiggins is included in the deal or there is no deal. Wolves’ fans have to hope that Flip Saunders doesn’t blink first in negotiations with the Cavs front office. [Read more…]

Changes in the Twolves Staff, Again

Last year, John wrote about the changes made within the Minnesota Timberwolves front-office. Below is an excerpt from that post. I’m showing you this because I plan to ultimately use the same format as John did last summer.

Since the return of Flip, the news hasn’t really slowed down.  Days after being hired in May, Flip fired Pete Philo, the Wolves international scouting coordinator, along with Curtis Crawford and Will Conroy.  Conroy, of course, was Brandon Roy’s best friend that David Kahn gave a contract to prior to last season.  Crawford was an actual scout for the team.

Opinion: Given the lack of overall success in the franchise’s draft history and ability to find many hidden gems overseas, this was a good starting point for the team.  Hopefully, Glen Taylor and Flip use the appropriate amount of resources to maximize the potential of hitting a home run in the future through the appropriate scouting channels.

The Wolves roster is frozen until June 30th, the team cannot make personnel changes until the 2013-2014 season has officially ended. Kevin Love remains with the team albeit the vast amount of rumors swirling regarding his inevitable departure. It’s difficult to interpret appropriate expectations for a coaching staff if the roster isn’t firm, which for the Wolves — it’s not — so there’s a bit of uncertainty to take into account. That said, I’ll do my worst.

By now you’ve heard that Flip Saunders appointed himself as the new head coach. From what I understand to be the consensus, it’s not Flip the coach that concerns fans, but rather, the process in which Glen Taylor sat by, begrudgedly, while Saunders interviewed lesser-qualified candidates to make himself look like the best man for the job.

Opinion: Flip the hire bugs me, too, but in his defense — it remains to be seen how long Saunders intends to coach the Wolves. Will this be a temporary gig? Is Flip’s plan to pocket a few million dollars, that would have gone to someone like George Karl, Lionel Hollins, or Vinny Del Negro [who rank ‘meh,’ ‘eh,’ and ick, respectfully], or is it Flip’s intention to become a Gregg Popovich type presence among the Wolves organization? Popovich — with a little help from General Manager R.C. Buford — is the law, law-enforcement, judge, and prison guard of the San Antonio Spurs organization. 

Perhaps a more appropriate comparison for Flip and the Wolves front-office would be Stan Van Gundy, who was recently hired by the Detroit Pistons to become the head coach and President of Basketball Operations. Although, admittedly, as bad as things are believed to be in Minnesota, the Pistons former President of B-Ball Ops., Joe Dumars, left Van Gundy in an ugly situation after signing unproven talents pretentious wannabe-superstars Josh Smith and Brandon Jennings to egregious contracts.

The following is from the Wolves press release, announcing the addition of Sidney Lowe as an assistant coach on Flip’s staff.

The Minnesota Timberwolves today announced Sidney Lowe as an assistant coach on head coach Flip Saunders staff. This will be Lowe’s fourth time coaching alongside Saunders, previously serving as an assistant under him in Minnesota both from 1999-2000 and 2003-05, and in Detroit from 2005-06. Per team policy, terms of the deal were not announced.

“We are excited to add Sid Lowe to our coaching staff,” said head coach Flip Saunders. “I have great respect for Sid. He has a great basketball mind and an extensive coaching background as a head and assistant coach in both the NBA and collegiate levels, which will be extremely valuable on our staff. Sid relates well with players and will play an important role in the development of talent on our roster.”

Last year, in John’s article titled Changes in the TWolves Staff, alluded to Glen Taylor and Flip staying within their comfort zone after they hired Milt Newton to become General Manager. John was being nice, as it’s no secret the local media refers to this comfort zone as the proverbial Country Club, and, thus far this summer, that zone, or club, is only growing in numbers.

 

Mitchell spent four-full seasons as head coach of the Toronto Raptors from 2004-2008. Two years after being crowned NBA Coach of the Year, Mitchell was fired 17 games into the ’08-’09 season. The Raptors were 8-9 at the time of his termination, and Mitchell was replaced by his assistant coach, Jay Triano. Toronto finished the ’08-’09 season 25-40.

Opinion: Admittedly, I didn’t find Mitchell’s work as an analyst with TNT this season all too admirable, but I am a mere blogger and wouldn’t dare compare my basketball mind to a former NBA Coach of the Year. My only fear is that Mitchell may someday want to become a head coach again, henceforth, how he plans to deal with potential disagreements between himself and Coach Flip is a concern I have with Mitchell on the staff. Also, I don’t believe Mitchell is too keen on his teams attempting copious amounts of three-pointers– which could be death sentence when trying to compete in today’s NBA.

Let’s not forget, Flip isn’t the most vocal advocate of three-pointers, either, as the Wolves consistently dwelled on the bottom of the 3PT Attempt category during his previous tenure as head coach.  

I’ll parallel the potential loss of Sikma, who worked closely with Nikola Pekovic and Gorgui Dieng as an assistant, to the departure of Bill Bayno– Bayno was free to find another job at the end of last season, and ultimately joined Dwane Casey with the Raptors organization. To stress the significance Sikma’s departure may mean for the Wolves, I’ll refer back to John’s post.

Opinion: Bayno seemed to have a real strong rapport with the roster the past two years and was always well regarded by others online and in the media.  While it is being reported that this had nothing to do with money, I wish the Wolves would have countered with … something.  I would feel much better with Bill Bayno waiting behind Rick Adelman (more on this in a bit) vs. Terry Porter and others.

As a reminder, the Wolves didn’t seem to be lacking any chemistry issues within the locker room– perhaps if Bayno had been retained said issues, conflicts amongst teammates, may have been prevented.

Also expected to join Flip’s staff is his son, Ryan Saunders. The following is from NBA.com.

Saunders is instrumental in assisting with the preparation for upcoming opponents with extensive scouting reports and statistical analysis. Saunders came to the Wizards after spending a year coaching under Tubby Smith at the University of Minnesota, where he helped the Golden Gophers to an NCAA Tournament appearance. In addition to his on-court work, he helped players with their academic and social development off the court.

Before moving to the sidelines, Saunders played four seasons at Minnesota, where he was a two-time team captain, four-time scholar athlete award winner and 2006 Big Ten All-Academic selection. He earned his bachelor’s degree in sport management and is currently pursuing his master’s degree in applied kinesiology.

Although most work-type environments in which the son/daughter of The Boss usually result in resentful scenarios among the employees, [Ryan] Saunders deploys a new-age role that’s important in today’s NBA. [Ryan] Saunders and his statistical expertise will provide an analytical perspective to the Wolves front-office. If there is anyone on the staff that can talk Flip and Sam Mitchell out of feebly attempting vast amounts of mid-range jumpers [considered to be the least-effective attempt to score from an efficiency standpoint] it’s going to be Ryan Saunders.

Look for an emphasis on coaching philosophy and/or tendencies from some of the new members of the Wolves coaching staff in a future post, sometime over the next few days.

-zb.