From Russia, With Lots of Love

Crossover Panda and AK47 should bring the Timberwolves closer to fulfilling their playoff dreams.

If you’re like me, you were asleep when Russia played China at 3am this morning, and missed the two newest Timberwolves in action. With some time to kill and an eagerness to see them for myself, I sat down and re-watched the first half before my stream died. Let me just say, we heard that Timberwolves fans should be excited, and we probably should be based on what I saw. This is going to be a fun team next season, and an even more fun one once Ricky Rubio returns.

Before I get into my thoughts on Alexey Shved and Andrei Kirilenko, I should point out that Russia’s offense ran a lot of kick-and-drive with Shved as the point guard, as well as a lot of motion by the wings; made for a fun watch. I also should mention that China got berated by their coach for the lack of hustle late in the first, so they may not be the best barometer of judgment, but it’ll have to do for now.

Crossover Panda!Three things stood out at first with Shved. First, his size as a point guard is obvious. Secondly, he looks very comfortable at either guard spot. And, finally, his jumper isn’t pretty — he tends to lean and/or flare his legs out when he’s in the air – but it works enough of the time for it not to be a huge deal.

When Shved was running the offense, Russia either attempted to get him a shot off of the pick and roll, or have him get into the lane with the kick and drive. Either way, it was effective against China. On the kick and drive, Shved either got to the basket, or was able to draw the defense in and find a teammate for a good look. In fact, he hit a teammate in the lane with a precise behind the back pass. This leads me to believe he may have a few more turnovers at the end of the year, but probably enough highlights to make you overlook that.

At either position, he has good guard instincts, and could play well with Rubio or as the lead guard. Shved made some passes as the point guard that were Rubio-esque in that they made you wonder how he saw that passing lane, and often he wasn’t targeting who you thought he would. And, while his shot may not be pretty, he’s not afraid to shoot it anyway, if he’s asked to be the two-guard. Whether it’s Shved or Rubio, there should be some very good scoring opportunities for Timberwolves shooters.

Defensively, nothing stood out too much either way with Shved. He showed good instincts, and understood where he needed to be. He looked average, I’d say; which is fine as long since he’s not a liability, it appears.

As David J Smith pointed out in my last post, Kirilenko may actually be most effective defensively on the block. He just doesn’t seem to be quick enough to guard opposing 3’s on the perimeter anymore, and was beaten off the dribble a few times. Yet, he seemed to still be a pretty good help defender on the wing, so he’s no lost cause. Even so, Kirilenko follows shots and still shows good instincts, and makes the smart play.

He seems to have decent moves, and fights as a rebounder. Kirilenko may be best off getting his shots within the flow of the offense and not trying to create on the perimeter. Now, he’s not a bad ball-handler, or shooter, but he looks so much more comfortable working close to the basket or cutting through open lanes. Since he appears to be very active on offense this should be possible. He can still get to the basket as a cutter, so he’s better off not trying to create on the perimeter. When he does, he tends to over-dribble, and/or settle for a bad shot, like a contested jumper.

Forgot about Kirilenko's tattoo until I saw it creeping out of the back of his jersey. Of course the open lanes thing depends on his teammates and their spacing, but if he’s with Shved, Shved will find him off of the kick-and-drive. Ultimately, the less work he has to do creating his own shot, will be better for the offensive efficiency.

The other thing with Kirilenko is that he is a willing passer, especially down low. He knows how to facilitate, and set up teammates as well. This will be especially effective if Kirilenko can draw attention away from Pekovic and get him an easy bucket or and-one opportunity.

Having both of these players will help each other adapt to Rick Adelman’s vision (Although, Adelman does a great job adapting to his players.). You can see the chemistry Shved and Kirilenko have together. It was no more apparent than when Shved found Kirilenko on the cut for the and-one layup. Shved may like to handle the ball, but he seems to know when he should defer and when it’s OK to take it himself. Both players appear to be very hardworking and active on the court, too.

That’ll do it for now. We already know that the Timberwolves got better before these two came into the fold, but it appears they were able to upgrade two more times. The added passing and hustle are both things that are contagious on a team, so hopefully this trickles down to the lesser players as well. Seeing the effect they have on guys like Pekovic, Dante Cunningham, and Brandon Roy (Who may be able to be a more spot up player now versus having to create his own shot now, even though he’s a ball-handler) will be interesting.

About Derek James

In addition to writing for Howlin' T-Wolf, Derek James writes about basketball Hardwood Paroxysm in the ESPN TrueHoop Network and covers the Charlotte Bobcats for SB Nation’s Rufus on Fire. Andray Blatche and Isaiah Rider follow him on Twitter.