- Records: PHX 20-13 (3rd, Pacific); MIN 17-17 (4th, Northwest)
- Time: 6:30 PST, 7:30 AZT, 8:30 CST, 9:30 EST
- TV: ESPN (Yay national TV!)
I could have done a standard preview for this game and given you my thoughts and opinions about the Wolves. Instead, I decided to take advantage of my Timberwolves Twitter connections and started talking about the match-up with Zachary Bennett, who covers the T-Wolves for Timberpups.com and also writes for Hickory-High.com.
That discussion turned into a full-blown question and answer session as you can see below. My questions and comments are in bold, while the rest of it is all Zachary. Educate yourself on the state of the Wolves and get ready for a fun game tonight.
1) First and foremost, Kevin Love is the hottest name on the trade market and every fan base – including and perhaps especially Suns fans – wants him. People assume he is just going to not re-sign with Minnesota and that they are going to trade him sooner rather than later. You’re a bit closer to the situation than most Suns fans are. What is your read on it?
Well, that didn’t take long — the first question is somewhat of a forbidden topic in Minnesota. Love very well could leave at the end of next season. The front office budgeted to pay two players a max contract at the end of next season, the second being Rubio. It was believed that Love, a power forward, would be incapable of carrying a team to a championship on his own — even Batman needed help from Robin. Budgeting for a second “superstar” put Love out of another year and $20 million dollars, and if the Wolves qualify for the postseason — it could be argued that he’s the league MVP, but it’s a tough sell. He’s really playing as well as anybody. The Wolves need to make a deep run, either this season or the next, to show Love can win here.
It’s not that he’s mad about the money as much as he is about how David Kahn and the others went about doing things — he’s mad about the process of the entire transaction. Love has certainly boosted his stock, and teams are going to want to pay him, making it seem as if he’ll leave. Why would he stay in Minnesota?
Flip Saunders, hired as the new President of Basketball Operations during the offseason, is a trustworthy name from back in his days as the Wolves’ head coach during the Kevin Garnett era. Saunders knows what losing a supreme all-NBA talent can do to a franchise; maybe he clean up the mess Kahn left behind him by budgeting in Love’s favor when it’s time to pay the piper. Or maybe he’ll sell the most valuable asset for value paid by the highest bidder. It’s likely he’ll leave, though it wouldn’t surprise me if he stays.
Sorry, I had to ask. I figured I’d go the rip-the-band-aid-off method and get it out of the way quickly. With Kahn out of the way, I do think Minnesota has a better chance to keep him. But it is likely going to take a healthy and successful season.
2) The Timberwolves are hanging around .500 at the moment and are currently on the outside looking it in the playoff picture. It looks like the Suns (perhaps the best bet of the group), Mavericks, Timberwolves, Nuggets, Pelicans and Grizzlies are the teams competing for the 7th and 8th seeds in the West (the equivalent of the 3rd and 4th seeds in the East). Call your shot right now and tell me which two will make the postseason (Suns fans are obviously rooting for the Wolves to make it with a draft pick on the line).
Now that you bring up Suns fans, I’d like to admit I sort of am one. I was born – and went to high school – in Phoenix and my first jersey as a child was the Suns ’90s home whites (Kevin Johnson). I would love nothing more than to see both make the playoffs, but as far as the pick is concerned — Phoenix took Michael Beasley and Wes Johnson off the Wolves’ hands. We’re pretty square, and this is a season Minnesota must make the playoffs (See: Love’s Future Q #1).
I don’t think it’s the Nuggets or Pelicans, and don’t see the Grizzlies making noise again, so we’re left with the Mavericks, Suns and the Wolves. There’s no way both of the teams that I grew up supporting make the post-season, so I’ll just leave my answer at that.
For everyone’s sake, I’m going to just say I hope both of your teams DO make it. As far as Dallas goes, I just can’t buy into the Mavericks with Monta Ellis having it all, but they’re going to be hanging around all season with Dirk and Marion doing their thing. Memphis has been pretty unimpressive, but I just can’t help but think if they can get Marc Gasol healthy they’ll have a shot to stay relevant; I think Courtney Lee was a good pick-up. The Pelicans have Anthony Davis who is already one of my favorite players in the League, so I won’t count them out either. Can’t we just steal playoff spots from the East? It doesn’t need them anyway.
3) The Timberwolves are a tough team to figure out. They are in the top third of the NBA in free throw shooting, rebounds, assists, steals, points, ball security, forcing turnovers and not fouling. However, they are in the bottom third in 2-point, 3-point and overall field goal percentage as well as blocks. All that results in a .500 record. Make some sense of these numbers for me; what kind of team is Minnesota?
One of my favorite shows is HBO’s “The Newsroom,” and it’s a scene from the pilot episode of the series that describes the Wolves best. “They’re not a playoff team in the Western Conference, but they can be.”
Here’s where I sneak in a bit of self promotion. I wrote a quite lengthy ‘bit’ on Adelman being a proverbial old dog that needs to use some new tricks. Hovering around .500 isn’t where anyone wants to be at the end of the season. The Wolves bench – in the most kindest way – has been mediocre, rim protection is bad and Rubio’s scoring are all considered the reasons the Wolves don’t win more games. Ronny Turiaf is back, Chase Budinger’s return is imminent — maybe these make them the 6-7-8 seed team, theoretically, that they are.
4) Ricky Rubio has been pretty atrocious as a scorer, averaging just 9 points on 35.1 percent from the field, yet he is shooting 85.3 percent from the line. What the heck is going on with him? Is this just an extended slump or are you worried about him moving forward?
Hand placement when he shoots, no real ‘knack’ or ‘go-to’ place he looks for buckets, problems finishing around the rim — he’s frustrating to critique as a scorer. Rubio’s passing accounts for 19.6 of Minnesota’s 107.4 points per game, add the nine aforementioned points, mix in the defensive impact (three steals) he accounts for per game — and you have a heckuva basketball ball player. Here are his shooting percentages sorted by area.
- 43.6% in the restricted area. Yikes.
- 23.1% in the paint but outside of the restricted area.
- 28.3% in midrange areas.
- 38.8% on 3’s “above the break”
I’d like to see him score more. It could be his shooting or finishing around the rim, either place there’s room for him to improve. The easiest way Rubio could boost his per game average, which commonly gets blown out of proportion, would be for him to begin finishing around the rim, right? I think his larger critics would be silenced if he is averaging 15 points at this time next season.
There’s no doubting the impact he has on the team, but I just can’t help but feel having a point guard who isn’t a threat to even convert layups at a high rate just limits you so much. I had questions about Rubio’s upside before he was drafted because of his lack of scoring; hopefully he can keep getting better because he’s certainly fun to watch when things are going well.
5) The Wolves made some moves to upgrade the wings, something they desperately needed after last year. How are the Kevin Martin and Corey Brewer signings working out? What about the Derrick Williams for Luc Richard Mbah a Moute trade?
Martin is the shooting guard this team has been waiting on for the longest time. It’s possible he’s the best 2-guard in team history and he hasn’t even played a full season. Martin is scoring almost 20 points per game and – on average – five of them come from the free-throw line. Aside from Love, he’s been the most important player for the Wolves this season. Yes, even more so than Rubio.
Brewer’s presence was huge early in the season when the Wolves scored a considerable amount of points on his leak-outs in transition; he led the league in transition points for a bit. When Love’s outlet passing, which the Suns will see tonight if there are any lapses defensively, coincides with this advanced method of ‘cherry picking.’ The duo makes opposing coaches furious — teams game plan to stop this.
Offensively, he’s frustrating at times. That’s being nice. There are times he dribbles out of control, in the halfcourt and in transition, trying to do too much. Other than the outlet passes, he’s not much of a scoring threat.
Brewer’s role is somewhat to replace Andre Kirilenko defensively. Kirilenko signed with the Brooklyn Nets during the offseason, but hasn’t played much because of injury, making Brewer’s presence an overall net-positive. When Budinger returns, Adelman will be able to interchange these two — making each player more valuable in their own way by consolidating the expectations for each.
So basically he’s the same old Corey Brewer the Wolves drafted a handful of years ago? Perhaps absence made the heart grow fonder? I know he was far from beloved in his first Minnesota stint.
6) Eric Bledsoe has been fantastic and has gotten most of the publicity, but he is going to be missing his third straight game with a sprained knee. However, as good as Bledsoe has been it is Goran Dragic who is leading the team in scoring and assists and driving the team’s success. What are your thoughts on Dragic’s match-up with Rubio, who is one of the better defensive point guards in the league?
I watched Dragic (and his brother for that matter) play during EuroBasket over the summer and I love his game. These two are going to be fun. As I mentioned Rubio is a thief and his quickness and length make him one of the better defensive point guards — a rare commodity in the NBA.
However, Dragic is the type of player that is up to the task no matter how tough the challenge. He’s going to keep Rubio’s hands full, and I think having the ball a majority of the game will help Dragic as the game goes on. He’s the type of scorer that surveys his defender throughout the game, determines a weakness and how to best exploit it, and shoots, drives, and distributes as necessary — he’s a smart player.
I liked Goran last year but this year he has completely won me over. He’s just been so darn good. People need to start taking notice.
7) Give me your key to the game and your prediction.
How can the Suns keep pace with the Wolves? I didn’t even mention how well Nikola Pekovic is scoring. Combine the expected production of Pek, Love, and Martin and – generously – predict a solid outing from rotational players J.J. Barea and Dante Cunningham and I think there’s too much firepower for the Suns to handle without Bledsoe.
The Morris twins must play above average, Gerald Green needs to step up without Bledsoe and Channing Frye needs to match Love’s effort behind the 3-point line in order to keep this close. If time is winding down and the game is within single-digits, Dragic and the Suns have every chance of winning this game. Can they contain the Wolves for the first three quarters? We’ll see, but I think the Wolves are going to win this game. Although I shouldn’t feel this confident about it at all.
Pace is certainly something that is key for the Suns. They’re scoring 20 points per game in transition and Goran Dragic is a one-man fast break. What hurts the Suns is that they are playing the second game of a back-to-back tonight. Stamina could be an issue in what should be a fast-paced, exciting game. However, with the Suns losing to a very short-handed Bulls team I think they come out ready to go. We’re going to have to agree to disagree on the outcome of this one.
Thanks to Zachary for taking the time to answer my questions so thoroughly. Check out my answers to his questions over at Timberpups.
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