Ricky Rubio, J.J. Barea and Alexey Shved are the Minnesota Timberwolves represented in this summer’s qualifiers for the 2014 Basketball World Cup in Spain. FIBA’s Tournament of the Americas and EuroBasket potentially threaten the health of NBA players, but the tournaments’ significance from the perspective of international competition hardly climbs higher. An enthusiast enjoys a deep 3 or rim-rockin‘ dunk on hoops all around the world. Basketball on hardwood overseas and below the equator is piling on additional excitement and anticipation for the upcoming season.
Last season, an injury bug plagued the Wolves. The bug still lingers. It’s not crawling on players, but rather creeping around the mind of paranoid fans. The Twin Cities is infested with skeptics of the franchise and, to a point, rightfully so. Changing the face and being happy after almost a decade since a playoff appearance isn’t as easy as flicking a switch, not to everybody. An injury to Rubio, Barea or Shved, though not entirely meaningless, would strengthen the infestation of doubters surrounding the team.
Andrei Kirilenko and Timofey Mozgov led the Russians to a bronze medal in the 2012 Olympics. Both now absent, “The Shvedder” is now the sharpest offensive weapon. He averaged 16 points, going 47 percent from the field and 51 percent from 3. All done in addition to nearly five assists per game. Shved scored 22 percent of Russia’s total points. Even when the defense prepared, he would orchestrate and execute. Shved and his team found open looks at the basket using pick-and-roll sets, starting usually from the top of the key. Despite his lackluster teammates struggling to catch passes, convert on jump shots and even finish around the rim, Shved scored 25 in the double-overtime loss at the hands of Finland, though he showcased his quick crossover and lethal pull-up jumper. In the team’s final game and only tournament victory, Shved showed his distribution skills, assisting on nine of the teams baskets. His free-throw shooting, dismal at 69 percent, must improve, though he did draw five fouls per game by aggressively attacking the basket. Overall, there is likely going to be a few more growing pains. Hopefully Shved brings the same mentality, shooting numbers and presence of mind when leading the second unit this season.
Puerto Rico was the first team to punch its World Cup ticket after rallying from 22 points behind to beat Venezuela, winning in overtime on Sunday. Barea, who scored 30 points, was and is the playmaking processor allowing his team to function, with a little help from forward Ronaldo Balkman and former NBA journeyman Carlos Arroyo. Puerto Rico will face Mexico in the championship of the Tournament of the Americas Wednesday night (9:30 Central Time) after Tuesday’s semifinal victory over the Dominican Republic. When he’s done playing every minute in games such like he did Tuesday, Barea will return to a role suited to his upside; the sixth man. Chase Budinger’s return and the additions Kevin Martin and Corey Brewer mean Barea’s minutes will diminish. This is a relief. His senseless shooting selection at times negated the entire implementing of Rick Adelman‘s offensive system. To his defense, Barea was only trying to win. He’s a firecracker, a competitor who got knocked on for giving a respectable effort. If his job can be shooting 47 percent from the floor, as he’s done this tournament, in the 20 minutes or less he’s expected to see it will be another more than adequate, a completely capable component for bench unit hoping score a serious amount of points
Unlike Shved and Barea, Rubio isn’t responsible for the majority of his country’s success. Household names Marc Gasol, Rudy Fernandez and Jose Calderon are able to distribute most of the weight evenly as Spain advances past the opening round. Rubio’s averaging a modest 11 points and four assists in 21 minutes per game. Shooting is the facet of his game that must improve, without question. So far he’s shooting 17-of-33 from the field (51.5 percent) and is 3-of-5 from 3-point range (60 percent). Spain faces off against Greece Thursday (5:30 Central Time). We’ll see how his minutes and numbers fluctuate as the competition strengthens. The championship is scheduled for Sept. 22; Spain will probably be in it. That’s 10 plus days of basketball remaining for Rubio and Spain, who host the Basketball World Cup next year.
Can the Wolves stay healthy this season? It’s the question nobody is asking, though it’s on everybody’s mind. So far, so good. Knock on wood for good health in Minnesota.