Category: Opinion/Commentary

2013-2014 Minnesota Timberwolves Season Preview


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We have a Big Three now too

2004.

That was the last year that the Timberwolves have been apart of the Western Conference Playoff group. That might not seem like that long ago but let me put it in perspective.

  • Janet Jackson and Justin Timberlake headlined the 2004 Super Bowl in what turned into television’s worst (or best) wardrobe malfunction of all time.
  • Meet the Fockers was one of the most popular movies of the year, and Million Dollar Baby won the Oscar for Best Film. Good movies, now classics.
  • Facebook launched in its campaign to take over the internet.
  • President Bush campaigned and was re-elected for his second term. Oofta.
  • Both Ronald Reagan and Ray Charles passed away. So did Ol’ Dirty Bastard. Pour one out for the homies.
  • Livestrong rubber bracelets among others for great causes became popular. Oh, what little did we know back then.
  • Usher featuring Lil Jon and Ludacris’ ‘Yeah!’ was the year’s popular anthem.
  • Ashlee Simpson was relevant because she was caught lip-syncing on Saturday Night Live.
  • Speaking of television, the hit American Idol was adored by millions to top the charts. The winner that year? Fantasia Barrino. Yeah, I was hoping to put a picture of Carrie Underwood up too.

Amongst all that action as well as adapting to the ever-changing technology world, 2004 was a good year to Minnesota Timberwolves fans. But that was when it all ended. Not that life has been awful since but in terms of fandom, well, it kind of has. Between then and now, we’ve seen the franchises only star be traded away to Boston and win a championship for them. We’ve seen 6 different head coaches in that span, none of which have won more then 44 wins with an average of 27 wins per season. There have been botched trades, like the Kevin Garnett deal, the Cassel-for-Jaric swap and even the Antoine Walker fiasco. The NBA Draft, which is typically a great medium to re-tool a struggling franchise, was never all that great minus a few instances. We all know the Jonny Flynn before Stephen Curry pick, as well as the Brandon Roy-for-Randy Foye swap on the 2006 draft day, but with 11 1st round picks since 2004, the Wolves have come up with just two combined All-Star appearances, both of which came from Kevin Love in 2011 and 2012.

So I think you’ve finally caught my drift. It’s been a long, hard and miserable soon-to-be 10 year anniversary since we’ve experienced pay dirt in the playoffs. But another new year means more predictions, more calculations on what’s ahead in the future.

Because I’m trying to sum up the history as well as what others think about the current state of the Wolves and their prospects of finally reaching the playoffs again, here’s a list of what the media thinks is the outlook for the Pups.

  • ESPN: Marc Stein’s Power Rankings: 13th in NBA.
    • “With Adelman back and Kev Martin/C. Brewer coming in, you’d go ahead and call this a playoff team, too, if you knew the Wolves could finally stay reasonably healthy.”
  • ESPN Insider: Kevin Pelton’s Wolves Forecast: 5th in Western Conference.
    • “Realistically, Minnesota is looking at a win total in the mid- to high 40s. That should be more than enough for a return to the playoffs, and might just make the Timberwolves the surprise threat to the West’s five championship contenders.”
  • Bill and Jalen’s NBA Preview: 17th in NBA.
    • Bill: “Do you think some franchises can just become snakebit?”
    • Jalen: “I do.”
    • Bill: “Because it feels like we’re headed that way with Minnesota.”
  • Hoopsworld: 3rd in Northwest Division.
    • “On paper, the Timberwolves looked poised to make the leap into the playoffs for the last two seasons.”

Clearly there’s a solid mix of optimism and unadulterated pessimism from that group. There are more NBA previews with inevitable opinions on the Wolves still coming but based simply off of those, the general consensus of a potential playoff finish is positive.

So what’s HTW’s thoughts on this matter? Obviously there are a lot of factors in this prediction. And just like Bill Simmons and Jalen Rose of Grantland, I thought I’d divide this into sections and give you my final prediction once it’s all said and done.  Continue reading

Derek James on his sophomore crush: Alexey Shved


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Today, Hardwood Paroxsym, one of the Internet’s best basketball blogs that intertwines NBA news with popular lifestyle and culture musings, released Derek James’ Sophomore Crush: Alexey Shved. Check it out for your lunch time read!

Timberwolves Media Day: “It’s a New Season”


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If there was one common theme among Timberwolves players at media day it was that this was a new season. The injuries, the missed games and consequential losses are things that the team is looking to put behind them as they move towards the coming season. In fact, most players brushed back most questions regarding the injuries with the same dismissive answers that make you wonder if they got together and planned out their answers. That’s alright. With so much promise to this coming season the Timberwolves have little reason to look back.

Even when pressed about what they thought of injuries already rearing their ugly head as it has with Chase Budinger, the player’s expressed sympathy for their teammate, but were far from dejected. Where some fans have already begun with the “Here we go again…” diatribe, the Timberwolves reminded us that injuries are a part of professional sports and that players will miss some games. In short, they’re not paranoid, and they’re not checking underneath their beds for the Injury Boogeyman every night.

Kevin Love, who arguably endured the most trying season of all last season, was perhaps the fastest to close the door on any questions concerning last season. When pressed about his relationship with former general manager David Kahn and Flip Saunders, Love just said that “The past is the past,” and went on to praise the job that Saunders has done so far. When asked if he had a message for fans for this coming season he just said that it was a new season– a sentiment many of his teammates also wished to stress to their fans.

Love and the Timberwolves know that how far they go will be dependent in part to the growth of their All-Star power forward. Rick Adelman said that he wanted to see Love expand his game to becoming more of a facilitator and more of a factor on defense. This wasn’t Adelman calling Love out, either. Love said he knew what his coach was talking about and added that he knew that he wanted him to setup a few more plays for teammates (Love called his approach to passing as able, but not always willing.) and — along with his teammates — work to improve as defenders. J.J. Barea added in his availability that Love’s leadership will be a big determinant of their success will also be Love’s growth as a leader and that it has to be him to step in to that role.

Adelman himself said that he is looking forward to having Kevin Martin in the fold, who has he coached during much of the guard’s career. Interestingly enough, Adelman said that Martin came to him last season asking when they were going to reunite. Adelman believed this to be indicative of how much Martin believes in his system and said that now that he has the personnel, he is looking forward to adding more Motion sets to their predominantly Pick ‘n Roll attack from a year ago in hopes of being able make their attack more dynamic.

Additionally, the team addressed concerns over their ability to get defensive stops by saying they expect their to be  a great focus in camp on team defense, not just individual defense. Much of that will be helped by communicating and playing together over time, or as some people may call it: chemistry. Despite their improved offense, the team is aware of their flaws on defense, but it’s encouraging that they appear to be on the same page about how to limit the damage on that end of the court.

If anything, there was a sense of excitement; not just over the new acquisitions or having a new decision maker at the helm, but over the return of last year’s injured players and finally getting an extended look at their three best players on the floor together. Also, you cannot understate the morale boost that Rick Adelman’s return to the bench gave the players. With their best players and one of the game’s best coaches in hand, the Timberwolves have all of the reasons in the world to look at the road ahead.

Weight Watchers

Of course, you can’t talk about the Timberwolves without talking about the weight of their players. Even I fell victim to this trap on Twitter when Love came up to the microphone with his face noticeably slimmed down in what appears to be the best shape of his career. Derrick Williams was also one of the offseason’s biggest losers, having dropped from 250 pounds to 235 pounds with the idea to be better-suited to play the small forward position in a  stacked power forward rotation. Yet, the funniest moment regarding player weight questions was when Shabazz Muhammad and Barea were on the stage together when Muhammad was asked about his weight and Barea turned his head and laughed.

It’s the offseason, JJ. We know it’s not important, but we are out of things to talk about at this point!

Way Too Early, Super-Tentative Opening Night Starting Lineup

This was one thing that Adelman let out that gave us a better idea of where the Timberwolves are headed in the wake of Budinger potentially missing extended time. Adelman said that the guards will probably be Ricky Rubio and Martin; Pekovic and Love at the four and five; but then finished off by saying “probably Corey at the three.” If Budinger winds up missing camp and/or preseason it might make sense to have Brewer start the season as the starting small forward to ease Budinger back into things.

So here is the way too early, super-tentative opening night starting lineup for the Timberwolves:

PG: Ricky Rubio (Duh.)

SG: Kevin Martin (Kinda duh now with Budinger possibly out.)

SF: Corey Brewer (Wasn’t so duh a week ago.)

PF: Kevin Love (Duh)

C: Nikola Pekovic (Duh.)

Ronny Turiaf is the Man (And You Won’t Convince Me Otherwise) 

Seriously. He’s my new favorite player and he hasn’t even played a minute of basketball for the Timberwolves.

Perhaps the best moment was when him and Derrick Williams were supposed to hold their press conferences jointly and Derrick was late, so we proceeded without him. Mid-question, Turiaf notices Derrick standing off to the side and tells him to join us. Derrick says he wanted to make sure he wasn’t interrupting, which is funny because this exchange probably interrupted things more than it would have if he just pulled up a chair next to him.

Turiaf and Williams went on fielding questions from the media for another seven minutes or so. Derrick had the same jaw surgery that Kevin Love had awhile back with the same doctor that corrected his bite and said that he was feeling great because it helped his breathing. Turiaf, was not only an entertaining interview, but also mentioned that he’s made money so he’s only here to make something special happen, which was cool.

As they were getting up to leave, Williams before Turiaf, Ronny calls out, “Thanks for joining us, Derrick!” You might’ve had to be there, but it was perfectly timed.

#TwolfRank: #1 Kevin Love


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Conqueror?

This is the grand finale in Howlin T-Wolf’s series of posts ranking the 2013-14 roster. We hope you have enjoyed the ride. As always, you can follow Howlin T-Wolf’s writers on Twitter, Tom (@Tom_NBA), Jonah (@HowlinTwolf) and Derek (@DerekJamesNBA). Brace yourself: The season is coming.

The Prequel

Fear not, for after me will come a mighty one, bearing the same name, yet different. He will not look like a warrior, and he will encounter the pangs of growth. His surname will imply weakness. The ruling houses of Rambis and Kahn will not trust his great strength. Yet he will overthrow the ruling houses, and on his shoulders, the Nation of Wolves will rest.

-Kevin Garnett, 2007.

Before Ricardo Rubio I Vives and Nikolai Pekerov, the Nation of Wolves — and its center, the Target — knew a king more powerful than any that had come before. His scowl was feared by his foes. His passion was so strong, it brought him to tears. But rather than making him weak, his tears shone with the intensity of a warrior who truly hated to lose. His name was Kevin Garnett.

But although Garnett himself was strong, his army was weak. So, presenting the Nation of Wolves with the message above, he gave up his rule over the Nation of Wolves and joined forces with two other kings in a faraway land, leaving the Nation of Wolves bereft of a leader and in anarchy. The lumbering king who replaced Kevin Garnett, Sir Al of Jefferson, possessed only a portion of Garnett’s ability to attack and none of his ability to defend the kingdom. Leaderless, the Nation of Wolves wandered in darkness, pondering what Kevin Garnett’s cryptic message could have meant. Word spread to the Nation of Kevin Garnett’s ultimate victory less than a year after his departure. His subjects celebrated, but it was a subdued, bittersweet celebration.

All hope seemed lost when a young man found his way to the Nation of Wolves from a land near the sea. He was hefty of build, and he possessed an uncanny ability to pick himself back up, to rebound. The Nation of Wolves remembered Garnett’s words (“Bearing the same name, yet different,” “He will not look like a warrior”) and their hopes were raised. Perhaps this was the one.

Years passed. The ruling parties of Kahn and Rambis were overthrown at the hands of Kevin Love. He fought in the same position as Kevin Garnett, powering forward, but he did so differently, fulfilling the words of the prophecy “He will be the same, yet different.” The Nation of Wolves began to believe: This was the man. He would lead them. When the House of Rambis was replaced by the aging but venerable House of Adelman, Love became the centerpiece of the Nation.

And so it came to pass that Kevin Love was the successor and heir to the throne of Kevin Garnett. He was neither physically imposing nor blessed with a surname of power. Rather, he was known for his versatility on the attack and his resilience, his continual prowess at rebounding in a crowd of enemies. At times, his defensive tactics were questionable, but the Nation of Wolves was willing to forgive these oversights and chalk them up to inexperience, knowing that there would be a Day of Reckoning. The Nation of Wolves knew that one day, Kevin Love would have to prove himself both as an attacking conqueror and a ruler capable of defending his own keep.

This is where we find ourselves now, friends. We have reached the Day of Reckoning, a crossroads as a Nation of Wolves. Either we move forward and, behind Kevin Love, we break through the seemingly impenetrable wall into the Land of the Playoffs, or we fail. The quest has never seemed more tenuous, but neither has it ever seemed this possible. Kevin Love has his strongest army to date. He will attack with Pekerov on his right and Ricardo Rubio on his left, as well as archers Martin and Budinger from Nation of Houston. He will face strong opposition, but he knows the final words of the prophecy: “On his shoulders, the Nation of Wolves will rest.

Indeed, we will go as far as Kevin Love can carry us. On his shoulders, we rest.

Once again, we thank you for putting up with our ridiculous rantings here on Howlin’ T-Wolf and for contributing to #TwolfRank on Twitter. We can’t wait to share this upcoming season with you.

 

#TwolfRank: #2 Ricky Rubio


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Photo: StarTribune.com

Welcome to the second annual #TwolfRank. It’s one of our favorite times of the year, to say the least. We’re down to our final three players. As always, you can follow Jonah (@howlintwolf), Tom (@Tom_NBA) and Derek (@DerekJamesNBA) on Twitter as well to partake in the fun. If you’ve missed any, you can find them here

(Disclaimer: 1) I’m not saying that Kobe Bryant intentionally tried to hurt Ricky Rubio. Don’t be so sensitive; 2) Read Jonah’s post so you have any idea what I’m talking about here before you read this.)

For two seasons Ricky Rubio has been dazzling Timberwolves fans with his spectacular passes and warming their hearts with his charming personality. Yet, very few people know the true story of the Origins of Rubio. Or the Genesis of Rubio. Whichever sounds cooler.

Long ago and an ocean away, there was once a land called, well, España. Since the Middle Ages Kings fought battles in the name of an enchanted unicorn named Ricardo Rubio I Vives. Before the arrival of Ricardo, the water was unpotable and the land had been devastated by famine, poverty and illness.

One day a hoofed, woodland creature emerged from the forest surrounded in an aura of light. Upon his arrival the townspeople warmly greeted the creature as it nourished the land, cleansed the water supply and healed the sick. Additionally, it was a favorite of the maidens of the land, much to the chagrin of the gentlemen of the land. A revelation of this nature would not stay hidden for long and other lands would soon hear the news of Ricardo Rubio I Vives: The Mystical Unicorn of Spain.

Royalty from all over the world came from far and wide to catch a glimpse of the magical unicorn and witness his magical powers. Ricardo Rubio I Vives proved to the skeptics that he was no myth or legend as they watched him heal the land and restore hope, almost singlehandedly.

After several years had passed, the unicorn soon realized that other regions were in greater need of his help than Spain. Soon, Ricardo Rubio I Vives would travel overseas, across the great ocean to a land that had been devastated by the decisions of it’s rulers. Beforehand, he appeared to the great Nikolai Pekorov in a dream to summon him ahead of time to join the natural born King, Kevine Love III, also known as Devine Kevine.

Pekorov and King Kevine had struggled to restore peace to a once great land to it’s past greatness, and before long the great unicorn knew it was his time to make his voyage to the North.

Immediately, the unicorn adapted to his new land. Gracing Pekerov and King Kevine with his presence, their individual abilities grew seemingly overnight upon his arrival. Even in time he would give the young lion Derrick Williamsburg a purpose and direction, in addition to making the rest of the North’s fighters even better with his remarkable vision.

After watching Ricardo Rubio I Vives help Pekerov take down Howardsano the Terrible, the uprising army in the North caught the eye of Los Angelitos emperor, Kobeus Bryantus. Bryantus was the power hungry ruler of the West whose obsession with being the greatest was notorious across the land. And these uprisings, like the one in the North, were viewed by Kobeus as a threat to his potential legacy.

As the days turned to fortnights, Bryantus’ own people became speaking more of this mystical creature spreading joy and wealth across the frozen land. The emperor couldn’t stomach the thought of wealthy peoples and he soon became crazed with jealousy. In his envious mind he convinced himself that the unicorn must be stopped and would soon travel to the North to do battle with Pekorov, King Kevine and Ricardo the Unicorn.

The Los Angelitos army arrived in the snow covered land of the North halfway through the battle season looking to stifle this rebellion once and for all. The unicorn-led militia began to pick apart the invading Los Angelitos army, but soon found to be nearly overmatched by the rebels. The villagers cheered and applauded as their heroes went blow-for-blow with the great army and the invaders were quickly becoming overwhelmed by their surprise attacks.

Emperor Kobeus was exhausted, angry and embarrassed. He had not lost to this nation very much and didn’t intend to again. Desperately, he encountered the unicorn one-on-one in an attempt to stop the heart of the rebellion.

The unicorn majestically galloped around the attacks of the emperor, frustrating the ruler even more. Enough was enough the emperor decided, so Kobeus struck Ricardo Rubio I Vives above the hoof as the onlookers stood in stunned silence as the Los Angelitos army took the advantage and swept through to calim victory over the North once again.

However, Kobeus had only wounded the unicorn, not slayed him. He would return once again to finish the work he had only begun to start.

As the unicorn worked to heal himself following the attack, but gloom soon returned to the North. King Kevine had been struck with his own wounds, as well as Pekorov before the battle season. All of this dampened the spirits of the once jubilant town’s folk as they watched their heroes recover and the losses in battle pile up. Ricardo Rubio I Vives knew he couldn’t be gone long and willed himself to good health just in time.

Upon his return part way through the battle season, Ricardo the Unicorn called upon Williamsburg to help him salvage as many of the battles as they could. Yet, this proved to be a difficult task with no marksmen. Even the rugged, veteran defense master Andrei “The Great” Kirilenkolev could not stop of all of the losing, but the rebuilding group managed to have their best battle season in nearly a decade.

But the tale goes on. With the future unforeseeable, Ricardo the Unicorn has been granted the gift to spread wealth among his people. The comrades at his side shall never fret for Ricardo’s gift is here. Paired with his will to overcome adversity, the land in the North shall soon rule the land, including that of the evil West.

What? You don’t remember this happening either? This is right around the same period as Jonah’s tale of Nikola Pekovic’s tattoo. Know your history or be doomed to repeat it…or something. Geez.

Anyway, Ricky Rubio is number two on our 2013 #TwolfRank. He may not be the team’s best player. No, he’s really not at all, but he is arguably their most valuable player, especially given the “gifts” already mentioned in his arsenal. With his defense and his incredible passing ability he makes his teammates better by earning extra possessions and then using his vision to setup his teammates for the best possible opportunities. And incredible doesn’t really do what Rubio does justice; it’s like he sees passing lanes that are undetectable to the normal human eye. Everything Rubio does great makes teams become that much better, which is oddly refreshing. Too often have we seen teams revolve around a one-man show (Kobe and the Los Angelitos Army). Rubio’s style equates that of winning basketball, which hopefully turns fortune around in Minneapolis this season.

The weaknesses are obvious such as hit perimeter shooting. But in the mean time, he does enough of the other things well enough to make him well-worthy of his unanimous number two ranking.

More on Ricky Rubio and unicorns.

#TwolfRank: #3 Nikola Pekovic


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Nikola Pekovic is the multi-million dollar man

Welcome to the second annual #TwolfRank. It’s one of our favorite times of the year, to say the least. We’re down to our final three players. As always, you can follow Jonah (@howlintwolf), Tom (@Tom_NBA) and Derek (@DerekJamesNBA) on Twitter as well to partake in the fun.

Nikola Pekovic’s tattoo of the knight stepping on top of skulls, piercing his sword into the ground has a special meaning that derives from old folk lore. It’s never actually been told before this but I’d figure I’d share this secret now that Pek’s value to the team has been exemplified and he’s clearly here to stay for the longterm.

So, let’s get to know Pek and his tattoo.

You see, there once was this knight named Nikolai Pekorov. Born into the most feared village in the North forests, Pekorov was cast into a life of competition. Hunting, fishing and of course fighting were all games that dictated rank in the village amongst the other males.

Born to a stout, noble and incredibly gifted hunter, Pekorov had a legacy to live on. A solid brute himself, villagers believed he could become king one day. Under his father’s training, Pekorov grew very strong but for several years could not come to grips with his focus and physical stability. But still so strong was Pekorov that the other males didn’t dare test him to any physical challenge. Eventually, Pekorov grew and grew and improved his diverse skill set and was unmatched in his own village, even to his exceptional father’s abilities. No one could bring Pekorov down.

But there was one male who was destined to challenge the almighty Pekorov. However, this man wasn’t from the tribe; he had traveled from many miles away, stopping at multiple villages along the way such as Orlandian and Los Angelitos, only to stir up drama and then flee for greener pastures. His name was Dwightedor Howardanso.

Howardanso was thought to be the strongest, most athletically gifted specimen in all the land. His physical presence even at a very young age demanded respect and his band of misfit advisors were always whispering into his ear, aiding him on his journey to find the perfect village to take over and rule the land.

Howardanso got wind of Pekorov from the North, sensing real competition in his conquest to manifest destiny. So he chartered off to challenge the beast in a 7-day competition.

Pekorov was in the best shape of his life, having led the villages best hunting season yet and already pulverizing neighboring villages that came to challenge him. Needless to say, Pekorov was ready for the fight of his life.

Howardanso arrived and the two titans met face-to-face and the tension was frightening. No one knew what was going to happen when these two mammoths faced off but they knew one would have to come out on top.

Through the stretch of the 7-day competition, both Pekorov and Howardanso took their shots. It was a back-and-forth marathon like battle and no one had a clean edge on the other. Both exhausted from the challenges, Pekorov and Howardanso laid to rest before the 7th day and what was to be the final challenge. Up to this point, neither had an upper-hand but this night was different. A vision rolled through Pekorov’s dream … It was a unicorn. It was from Spain and spoke in a very different dialect but it told Pekorov that it would be by his side tomorrow during the final battle and help him win.

With a newfound confidence, Pekorov arose the next morning. The village and all its people gathered in the forest to witness the final showdown. Howardanso had already been awake, consulting with his minions on strategy. Pekorov knew he wasn’t on his own either, so with a smirk on his face he stayed focus on the task at hand. The final battle was a knock-em-down, throw-em-out bout. Both giants took their shots and received their blows.

As the final moments waned down, Pekorov, exhausted as he’s ever been, sees the unicorn in a far distance. He sat hoping it’d come forth and help him defeat Howardanso for good but instead just sat and nodded. Pekorov began to realize that the unicorn was only there for support, not to take over himself. It was a tool in his mind that helped him dig deep to find the desire to win and give the last blow everything he had left.

And that’s exactly what he did. Pekorov took Howardanso down in the last moments of the final day of the 7-day challenge and became the new ruler of the land. As was tradition, the winner decided on what to do with the losing side. Accustomed to hunting and killing from the lessons of his father, Pekorov slayed Howardanso and his consult and heaved their skulls in a pile, where he slashed his sword into the ground as the final act in declaring himself ruler of all the land.

And that’s where Pek’s tattoo image came from. What? Don’t believe me? Fine! Ask him yourself. But beware! You don’t ever want to challenge him one-on-one … Or else.

But in all seriousness, Pek plays a vital part to the Wolves this coming season. He’s improved every season since coming from overseas and has proven that he’s a top-5 center in the league, when healthy. That ‘when healthy’ part is awfully important, given that he hasn’t played a full season yet but when he does, he’s a dangerous load who can play with his back to the basket and grab offensive rebounds better than anyone in the league. His contract was without a doubt worth every penny because fans would be kicking themselves if he was on another squad this fall. Since we don’t have to worry about that, Pek should continue to be an integral piece to this upcoming, hopeful season and a cornerstone to build off of for the next 4-5 years.

Here’s what you had to say about Nikola Pekovic, #3 on our #TwolfRank:

Want to take part? Look for one of us to tweet out who the next player will be and tweet us your thoughts on him using the #TwolfRank hashtag and we’ll throw your tweet in the post.

#TwolfRank: #4 Kevin Martin


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Kevin Martin will improve Minnesota’s spacing and 3-point shooting.

Welcome to the second annual #TwolfRank. It’s one of our favorite times of the year, to say the least. Here is the eighth part in this roster-long series and we are officially halfway through. As always, you can follow Jonah (@howlintwolf), Tom (@Tom_NBA) and Derek (@DerekJamesNBA) on Twitter as well to partake in the fun.

Offseasons are tricky beasts for NBA GMs.

On the one hand, a general manager has empirical evidence of certain things from previous seasons. The Mavericks, last year, sucked at rebounding. The Bucks needed a more efficient point guard. The Magic needed…well, the Magic kind of needed everything. These are the most obvious needs and fixes, and they must be dealt with accordingly.

On the other hand, a GM has to balance the empirical evidence — in Minnesota’s case, the fact that the team needed to acquire 3-point shooters badly— with the hypotheticals. You know the grisly numbers: The Wolves were 30th from 3-point range, shooting .305 from behind the arc. The number was hurt by Minnesota’s many, many injuries, but it was abundantly clear the Wolves needed What will this 3-point shooter bring? Can he defend? If so, does he fit our defensive schemes? If not, can we compensate either by hiding him or by simply outscoring the opponent?

Kevin Martin’s addition to the Wolves seems like an attempt at the latter. Martin, who shot a blistering 42.6% from 3-point range last season including 49.4% at home, will go a long way toward solving Minnesota’s 3-point issues. He is an extremely talented scorer who can boost a team in a variety of ways. In the 2012-13 season, Martin’s +/- for Oklahoma City was 5.7; an important stat, in part, because Martin’s defensive deficiencies are easily measurable. But teams can hide a bad defender, and Martin’s offensive skills will be a valuable weapon for the Wolves.

Much has been made of coach Rick Adelman’s connection and familiarity with Martin from their shared years in Sacramento, and their comfort level certainly won’t hurt. But Martin’s role will be more important, and he is a perfect fit for Minnesota. In the starting lineup, Martin will be far from the focal point. I hesitate to start comparing options (as in: Kevin Love will be the “No. 1 option on offense”) because the first option should be the open player, and with Pek and Love, perimeter players should be able to find plenty of space. So whether he is the first, second, third or fourth option in a play, the most important role Martin will provide is spacing. His 3-point shooting will be huge in freeing up the lane for driving players (Rubio), diving players off the pick-and-roll (Pek) and whatever it is Love feels like doing at any given time.

Hand-off 3-point attempts may also be a way to utilize Martin well. In 2012-13, on hand-off attempts, he started the season 10-12 from 3-point range, and although he cooled off a bit as the year progressed, incorporating Oklahoma City’s hand-off set for Martin could be a great weapon for Minnesota.

It’s the simplest play imaginable with devastating results when Martin is hitting from deep. Here’s how it works (worth noting: this play also works well with Martin moving toward the baseline):

Martin gets the ball above the break. He passes to Collison and follows his pass. His defender is forced to go under the screen (at which point Martin steps back and fires an open 3-pointer) or go over the screen, allowing Martin to zip into the lane. Collison is an excellent big man, the type of player who not only sets a solid screen but can also deliver a pass at precisely the right moment. This is harder than it seems; Collison has to concentrate on two things — handing the ball off and setting the screen — while not committing a violation.

Martin, however, finds himself headed to a team with two big men who can run this play extremely effectively. Pekovic — who is enormous, in case you hadn’t heard — sets solid screens and will force players to go a LONG ways around him. If Pek’s man switches onto Martin, he is still fast enough to take a big off the dribble. Love is not only a very solid passer, he can also do everything else to make this play dangerous. Collison, while an admirable player, is not the kind of shooter at any range that Love is, nor nearly as good off the dribble.

There’s another option as well for Martin:

This play amounts to little more than a hand-off pick-and-roll, and it would open up considerably if Martin knocked down a couple of 3-pointers in a game off hand-offs. Defenses would suck into him, which would spring Love or Pekovic for a dive to the basket.

In 2012-13, Martin shot 27% from 3-9 feet and 49% from 10-15. There are, in essence, two places he should be willing to shoot from: The 3-point range (where his eFG% was 64.1, per HoopData.com) or at the rim, where he shot 73%. Martin is the perfect role-scorer for the modern NBA: A 3-point shooter who takes very few twos unless he is right next to the hoop. A team that desperately needed role scorers, the Wolves may find themselves very well off with the return of Chase Budinger (outlined by Derek yesterday) and the arrival of Martin.

It’s possible, of course, that the Wolves have over-adjusted. It’s possible they will score 102 points and give up 103 on too many evenings to break their playoff drought.

But it’s comforting to see a general manager make moves to correct last season’s failings. Projecting for the future is important, but learning from the past is more accurate. And if the past is any indicator, the addition of Martin may go a long way towards helping fix last season’s most blatant issue.

Here are your thoughts:

@JJDacotah: finally a normal sized SG. Good scorer and outside shooter, should play well coming back to Adelman’s system.

‏@BreakTheHuddle: I believe Martin’s shot is difficult to block because he’s right-handed, but shoots the ball from a lefty’s release point. #Wolves

@TP_King: he’d be great in a pickup game

‏@KWAPT: Coming off a career best .426 from beyond the arc, gives Wolves a much needed deep threat & speedy weapon in transition. #TwolfRank

@thedailywolf: Martin could start for the #Twolves tomorrow, blind folded, and fit in seamlessly. Excellent 3-PT shooter and backdoor cut artist.

@ZSchneiderK Mart is the perfect remedy for the Wolves’ past woes…an excellent 3pt shooter and efficient scorer that will help floor spacing

@nickjj42: Great shooter. Gets to the free throw line. Perfect fit for Ricks offense. Will get lots of open shots with Rubio and compan

@the_real_gabby: he’s an actual SG, and thrived under adelman twice. is he going to be a all star? probably not, but i dont care. he can score.

 ‏@Ry4n_SmItHnot consistent enough

@InfraRenI think it’s a bigger deal than it’s been made. He is EXACTLY what we’ve needed. Scorer, shooter and optimal in RA’s system.

Want to take part? Look for one of us to tweet out who the next player will be and tweet us your thoughts on him using the #TwolfRank hashtag and we’ll throw your tweet in the post.

#TwolfRank: #5 Chase Budinger


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Credit: TwinCities.com

Welcome to the second annual #TwolfRank. It’s one of our favorite times of the year, to say the least. Here is the ninth part in this roster-long series and we are officially halfway through. As always, you can follow Jonah (@howlintwolf), Tom (@Tom_NBA) and Derek (@DerekJamesNBA) on Twitter as well to partake in the fun. You can find the rest of the series here

In Chase Budinger’s first three NBA seasons he missed a measly 20 games. Then in his first season in Minnesota, Budinger fell victim to whatever blight was cast upon the roster of the 2012-’13 Timberwolves and missed 59 games after injuring his knee early on. Not just in Houston, Budinger rarely missed time in college as well, making the Timberwolves unlucky or Chase unable to handle the cold (*joke*).

And when he came back from his surgery he struggled to regain his form that he had in his final season in Houston. We knew there would be some bumps in his road to recovery and Budinger consequently contributed to another recurring theme of the Timberwolves season: poor shooting. In fact, as March turned to April and Chase’s minutes were extending, his production dropped off almost across the board.

Here’s a fun fact about Budinger: for his career he shoots .382 percent from three on the road and a much more average .331 percent at home. Same goes for field goal percentage, points, rebounds and assists per game– they’re all better on the road than at home. This is based on 116 career regular season home games and 117 career road games, so it’s a legitimate sample.

I wondered if it was just Target Center when I noticed that his road numbers were superior to his home numbers, but check this out:

  • In the 2010-’11 season while playing the Timberwolves in Houston, Budinger shot 2-7 (.286 percent) from the field, including 0-3 from three. A couple of months later the Rockets rolled into Minneapolis and he went 4-6 from the field and 3-5 from deep.
  • In February of that same season, the Timberwolves went back to Houston and Budinger struggled again at home, shooting just 1-5 from the floor and missed each three point attempt. So, what happened when the Timberwolves and Rockets met up on the last game of the season in Minnesota? Yep, 12-21 and made four of his eight three point attempts on top of that.
  • Rewinding things to his rookie season, Chase went 1-3 at home from the field but then shot .500 percent when the Rockets came to Target Center.

Apparently, the secret for Budinger to improve his shooting at home, at Target Center, is to have him play for the other team, which isn’t the best gameplan. Really, it’s kind of an interesting trend.

So, why is Chase Budinger ranked fifth here on T-wolf Rank? Because of what he is capable of doing and the assumption that last season was the outlier given his past performance and history of good health.

That’s why re-signing Budinger was a priority this offseason and was like the majority of their moves in that they were doing what was expected, or what they needed to. His contract is pretty fair at $16 million for the next three years, or $5.3 million per year, especially if he’s healthy and can shoot between 37 and higher consistently.

Want to take part? Look for one of us to tweet out who the next player will be and tweet us your thoughts on him using the #TwolfRank hashtag and we’ll throw your tweet in the post.

#TwolfRank: #6 Corey Brewer


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Couldn’t get enough of that face, could ya?

Welcome to the second annual #TwolfRank. It’s one of our favorite times of the year, to say the least. Here is the eighth part in this roster-long series and we are officially halfway through. As always, you can follow Jonah (@howlintwolf), Tom (@Tom_NBA) and Derek (@DerekJamesNBA) on Twitter as well to partake in the fun.

If you didn’t already know, Corey Brewer’s been here before. And if you did know that, well, then you know that this experiment didn’t exactly work the first time around.

A fan favorite and undoubetbly lovable, Brewer is indeed around for his second stint with the Timberwolves, giving him a second chance to redeem himself as well as a second chance for us to embrace his spunk and groan over his flaws.

It must be duly noted, though, that Brewer’s flaws, plenty and painstaking from 2007 to 2011, are starting to smudge into less notable faults within the bigger picture, especially on offense.

A poor shooter to start his career, Brewer shot a combined 39 percent during his first stint in Minnesota, including a brutal 29 percent from deep. Still not a great shooter from deep but he raised his overall field goal percentage to 43 percent over two seasons in Denver. Obviously, he’s not the answer to the Wolves’ shooting woes but the subtle improvements from the past two season give hope to the coming years.

My favorite part of Brewer’s offensive improvements is that he’s clearly learned the game at a more systematic level. He understands plays, he gets spacing, he just knows the idea of offense much better than he did before. According to Hoopdata.com, 78.5 percent of Brewer’s field goals last season came off assists. That’s a direct product of terrific point guard play from Ty Lawson and Andre Miller as well as Brewer’s sense of working within the offense. If all goes well, that type of production should transfer well into Adelman’s space-based system as well as working alongside the magician Ricky Rubio (Those corner treys should be Brewer’s bread and butter as well as cutting off the baseline, similar to what Andrei Kirilenko did last year).

Speaking of AK47, let me ask question: What was his top contribution to the team last year?

If you’re answer is versatile defense, then you’re correct, which is exactly why I’ve talked myself into Brewer’s acquisition (And more so his contract). Brewer, although a bit of a gambler, knows how to keep his chest glued to his man. Arms out wide and spectacularly erratic feet, Brewer is a pure defender, tried and true. He can defend three different positions with ease, and I wouldn’t doubt if the Wolves go small often to force turnovers and run, which puts Brewer at the 4.

Just about everything that AK47 brought to the table last year, Brewer should be able to do the same. AK47′s creativity and passing will certainly be missed but Brewer should  be a better shooter and perhaps just as a versatile on defense. The biggest difference between the two, and my favorite part, is the difference in dollars.

I’ll be the first to admit that I was skeptical of Brewer coming back. He presented so many face-palm moments for me back in the day, I thought my forehead would turn permanently red from smacking it so much. And once the news broke of his return, the only thing that caught my attention was the deal, 3 years, $15 million. The Wolves paid $10 million to AK47 last season. Taking that into consideration, I’m cool with Brewer’s prospects and even cooler with the potential value present.

Brewer brings a lot to the table but he’s not perfect. The best part is that he’s improving and maturing but still remains that smiley character that everyone loves to root for. A new addition to the team but not the franchise, this familiar face will play an important role as a versatile defender and whatever they can get from him on offense will be a bonus but set expectations at a reasonable level, he’s got something to prove to critics that remain from the early days.

Here’s what the public had to say about our beloved Corey Brewer:

Want to take part? Look for one of us to tweet out who the next player will be and tweet us your thoughts on him using the #TwolfRank hashtag and we’ll throw your tweet in the post.

#TwolfRank: #8 Derrick Williams


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Credit: LandmarkTemporary.com

Welcome to the second annual #TwolfRank. It’s one of our favorite times of the year, to say the least. Here is the seventh part in this roster-long series and we are officially halfway through. As always, you can follow Jonah (@howlintwolf), Tom (@Tom_NBA) and Derek (@DerekJamesNBA) on Twitter as well to partake in the fun.

I really can’t believe this is my first time writing about Derrick Williams this summer. Especially since I seemingly spent all last summer debating his weight and what fucking position he was going to playing during the upcoming season. Which of course went from me saying that I didn’t see him being a small forward now based on what I had seen, to what some interpreted as: “Why do u h8 him? He’s still young and can git better…looser!”

Which of course led to many exasperated sighs and facepalms as I had to explain that I was not holding a referendum on a player’s career after just one season, but that he wasn’t showing that he could be a small forward right now. I mean, small forwards typically have to shoot from distance, which he struggled to do in his rookie year and that’s all I had to go on. And at that time he looked like a better power forward, so that’s what I said and– my word, why was this so important to people anyway? If he’s good who cares where he plays?

I never said he could never, ever, ever be one no matter how hard he tried. Hell, he could become a firefighter, mailman or own a landscape company. Maybe he could even be a small forward. Or still a power forward.

It really became the epitome of an internet argument: I get asked a question about the present and give an answer about the present that magically morphs into a conversation about what Derrick will be doing in five years. It’s like the summer heat had gotten to everyone, causing a surge in heat stroke cases as reading comprehension levels plummeted.

I’m not saying that it wasn’t my comprehension that was in question, either, because it’s entirely possible.

And stop telling me young players get better, because I know that. Besides, that wasn’t even the question.

Really, I had no idea and neither did the people asking me had no idea if he’ll ever be one. But that stopped no one from wanting to launch a full-scale debate over it. The funny thing is that I spoke to Demetri McCamey who was on the Timberwolves’ summer league team and he re-buffed me when I asked if he was a point guard, shooting guard or combo guard. His answer: They, positions, don’t matter– it’s all basketball. You may enter a set at a certain spot, but as the play unfurls, your role changes. And, consequently, shooting guards, power forwards, small forwards…etc. all become irrelevant and things like Basketball IQ and a player’s ability to adapt to the game situation become far more important.

Anyway, Derrick’s rookie season left us with more questions than answers, which is not exactly what you want out of a number two overall pick.

The first question was his shooting, and really his ability to shoot efficiently from anywhere. No, really:

Williams 12
Courtesy of basketball-reference.com

As you can see he struggled as a rookie from everywhere. Remember, .632 percent at the rim only sounds high; league average is typically right around .700 percent. Most of Williams’ struggles were attributable to him being as to dribble or create a shot for himself in any manner. Which is also usually a characteristic of an NBA small forward, as well as being able to stretch the floor. And as a result he barely managed to eke out a .400% field goal percentage — which is still bad for a power forward, even, if we’re still talking about positions — in addition to not being able to shoot .300 percent from three.

In season two we needed to see some improvement for Williams for the good of the team, and it came, as incrementally as possible.

Williams 13
Courtesy of basketball-reference.com

The first thing that immediately stands out is the fact that he managed to shoot a lower field goal percentage within three feet of the rim despite taking 100 more attempts from that spot, which is impressive in its own way. He even managed to get worse from within 3-10 feet of the hoop which, again, is amazing since these are supposed to be higher percentage, ergo, easier shots.

You’d be more upset if he didn’t improve his midrange game up to a respectable near-forty percent, up from barely-thirty in his rookie season. The same thing for the next two spots– improvement — most notably his three point percentage from year 1 to year 2. All of this is good and encouraging for a player with aspirations of being a perimeter player someday. Except the missing shots within three feet of the basket thing; quit bricking dunks!

And did you notice?

I know you saw it.

You didn’t? I mentioned it earlier.

Yes, that!

Last season the Timberwolves figured that less of Derrick handling the ball and being asked to make something happen with that ball, the better. A lot more of his shots were assisted in his sophomore year, and I mean a lot– in some cases 20-30 percent, especially from 16 ft.-<3pt. This means that Derrick was employed as a catch-and-shoot player instead of being a creator. On top of that Derrick also did well as a cutter and in transition, managing to be efficient and keep the offense moving. Basically this is a nice way of saying that he played best when he played within the offense, which is like calling a quarterback a game manager. It’s a compliment, even if a little backhanded.

In fact, in Isolation plays last season, Williams shot just .295 percent and just a 0.64 points per possessions  in such situations (per MySynergySports.com), ranking 182 in the NBA. Even in post-ups, he managed a 0.71 PPP and made just a third of his shots, good for 132 in the entire league.

Even the fact that Derrick was asked to create less this season led to a slightly lower Turnover Percentage despite winding up with a higher Usage Rating. Ball-handling is another area he will have to continue to improve upon, but in the mean time he can still be used effectively in other ways that ISO’s and Post-Ups. This is perhaps the most encouraging sign for a player who had efficiency concerns coming into the season and hopefully this trend will carry into year three.

To review, Derrick passively involved in the offense, good; Derrick actively involved, not-so-good. Yet, anyway.

The other issue was his defense, which he worked hard to address in the offseason and it wound up paying off. No matter which category it is, Derrick just about improved in all of them, according to Synergy. As a rookie, he had a 0.89 ppp against Isolations, which became a 0.70 last season. He also improved in hand-offs and both pick ‘n roll man and ball handler situations. As a whole he dropped his ppp from 0.95 to 0.91, which is notable improvement.

Although points per possession is not kind to Williams in the post, his post defense last season is actually defensible, no pun intended. There was a slight uptick in that metric as a whole and his Defensive Rating showed little if any improvement, but it reflects in his Defensive Win Shares as well as the court. See, with the plethora of injuries the team suffered, Williams was often asked to guard bigger and more athletic players, like the Detroit’s Greg Monroe. This is problematic because no matter how much you try, it will be tough if you’re less athletic, shorter and weaker than the person backing you down. And often times Williams would body up his opponent on the block properly only to have them back him down and flip the ball in over his head. The team tried to send help, but that’s risky to do for an entire game and tough to do when you send that help after the opponent picks up his dribble. Really, that’s a matchup that Williams shouldn’t have to see again unless there are more injuries, which there shouldn’t be.

Williams made some good strides last season, certainly more deserving of this ranking. Still, he hasn’t truly carved out a role yet, but it appears he’s something. Whether he’s a power or small forward not only doesn’t matter too much, but it’s also way too early to tell. While Williams needs to continue to improve the things he did last season, he needs to continue to do so while also improving his other weaknesses. For now, #8 is fair for Williams for now. Maybe not for always, but for now.

#TwolfRank Comments:

@OmidFerdowsi: @DerekJamesNBA Some lions need more time than others to adapt to their new environment. I think he’s finally adapted to his and is ready.

@88mugsy88: @DerekJamesNBA he can dunk two handed, not one handed though

@88mugsy88: @DerekJamesNBA he likes shoes

@Moesquare: @DerekJamesNBA He has a D in his name, and D is for Dunk