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
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.
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?
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.
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.