Tagged: Minnesota Timberwolves

A tale of two Kevins: Timberwolves down Mavs 116-108


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There were two main things that determined tonight’s outcome: 1) Both teams making runs and 2) the abilities of the Kevins Love and Martin to lift the Timberwolves over the Mavericks at home.

Essentially, each team traded runs, but it was Kevin Martin’s three with 5:03 left in the third to put the Timberwolves up by 11 that put them in control of this game. Jose Calderon hit a pair of threes and Jae Crowder hit a layup to bring the Mavs back within three. In the third with the Mavericks threatening, Martin again rose to the occasion, hitting a 20-footer and then sinking two free throws later to put the Timberwolves up 89-83 early in the fourth quarter. However, Dallas would manage to stay close, keeping their deficit within three before Love hit a huge three pointer with 2:12 left and the Timberwolves never looked back.

Jose Calderon and Monta Ellis led the  way for the Mavs. Calderon added 21 points and seven assists, while Ellis added 23 points on 24 shots. Dirk Nowitzki added 14 points in 31 minutes on top of that. For the Timberwolves, Corey Brewer put up 17 points, three rebounds and four assists and Martin finished with 32 points and five boards. Ricky Rubio’s six points, four assists and three rebounds may not have stood out, but his three steals made an impact on the defensive end.

However, the real star of the game was Kevin Love, who was threatening to put up his first NBA triple-double in the first half. Seriously, 15-10-7 at halftime? Just unbelievable.

Coach Rick Adelman spoke this offseason about how he wanted to see Love be more of a facilitator than he had been in his career, and now we’re seeing it, and the Timberwolves are reaping the benefits. Love has now dished out five or more assists in a game in four consecutive games, the longest streak of his career. Adelman’s vision was for Love to not only expand his game, but to make his teammates better and we’re seeing that. Whether it’s rifling a cross-court outlet pass to a streaking Brewer or his pass from the high post to Derrick Williams making a backdoor cut to the basket. And when you have two of your best players, the other being Ricky Rubio, being so willing to pass it’s infectious– the Timberwolves had four players finish with four or more assists last night (Barea and Brewer being the other two).

By increasing his assist totals, Love has not had to sacrifice the other aspects of his game. Love is still scoring at 27.2 ppg and leading the league in rebounding yet again with 14.7 per game. Now in his sixth season, Love’s assists per game average would be twice as high as his previous career high of 2.5 without having to compromise any other area of production. If this sustains itself over the course of the season, Love will not only have established himself as a more complete player, but cement his status as the best power forward in the game. Oh, and he’s only 25, so he will likely continue to improve as he moves towards 30.

Love’s 32 points, 15 rebounds and eight assists was his second game of the season with at least 30-15-5, while the rest of the league has none. In fact, since entering the league in the 2008-09 season, Love has the most 30-15-5 games in that time while also essentially missing last season. Tonight a few of Love’s teammates had some big games, but Love was pivotal in helping making plays for them. Not to take anything away from Brewer or Martin, but Love played the role of facilitator to near-perfection last night.

Now, the Timberwolves stand at 4-2 after snapping  their two-game losing streak and begin a road back-to-back in Los Angeles against the Lakers and Clippers beginning Sunday.

Warriors at Timberwolves Preview: We Live in the Past Because it’s Cozy


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I almost always enjoy watching the Golden State Warriors play whenever they’re on. It helps that they play a fun brand of basketball and have several talented players, especially Steph Curry. Yet, the reason I say almost always is because of the latter reason and because there is a certain faction of Timberwolves fans that would rather complain about how, “We could have had him!” instead of just appreciating Curry and the Timberwolves team that is currently in front of them. Also, we should learn from Warriors fans, whose game of coulda-woulda-shoulda is probably sad enough to keep the average fan in bed for two weeks; hindsight is always 20/20.

Hey, guys! Did you know the Timberwolves could have had Steph Curry but they took Jonny Flynn instead? Even though neither player was a sure thing at the time and it’s four years later, we should make sure to tell everyone this at every opening we get– whether it be Wolves-Warriors games or an exciting playoff series, we should definitely talk over it as much as possible!

Yes, Curry is an absolutely brilliant shooter and I’m not sure I’ve seen anyone make pull-up 27-footers with such ease. It was great to see a finally healthy Curry light up the Denver Nuggets in last spring’s first round series that caused the Nuggets to blow it all up in the summer. Curry’s three point shooting in games three and four was brilliant, shooting .555 percent from deep on 18 attempts.

Curry has only continued to be a threat from deep this season, likely making him a key focal point to the Timberwolves’ defensive strategy. Not only is Curry shooting .500 percent from three, but is doing so on nine attempts per game, which is ridiculous. But it’s not just from three; Curry has converted on .577 of his two point attempts so far this season and is averaging an eye-catching 9.8 per game.

Where is Curry most effective?

Shotchart_1383747556795

 

You see, Curry has been most effective from above and to the right of the break, shooting nearly .730 percent from that spot. We’ve become so accustomed to Curry’s brilliance that when we see numbers like .416 and .375 percent that you almost wonder why he’s struggling from there, but all of those numbers are no worse than, if not above average.

However, Curry is not alone on the wing. Teammate and shooting guard Klay Thompson has also expanded upon a strong playoff series and continued his excellent play. Thompson has shot .600 from the field (Which is high for even a center), .520 from three and .667 of his two-point attempts. While stats for percentage of certain shots assisted is not yet available this season, Thompson was assisted on .945 percent of his three point makes last season, making the Warriors’ backcourt even more dangerous because double-teaming is incredibly risky, yet playing them one-on-one has been problematic for NBA defenses so far.

Looking at the chart below we see Thompson likes to operate in that exact same space above and to the right of the break as Curry with remarkable proficiency:

Shotchart_1383747637064

Really, Thompson has been burning teams from everywhere on the floor this season– inside and out. The Timberwolves will have to continue to be the same team through four games that has been the NBA’s sixth best team in turnovers forced percentage if they hope to throw the Warriors off of their game. This won’t be like being able to put Corey Brewer on Kevin Durant and forcing his teammates to beat you, because Curry and Thompson’s teammates will. Golden State also ranks 28th in turnover percentage with .178 percent, meaning they turn the ball over nearly 20 percent of the time per 100 possessions.

The Timberwolves are also among the NBA’s best at getting to the line and making their free throws where the Warriors are not. Combined with their ability to force turnovers and their propensity for running out on the break as much as possible, look for Minnesota to go after every single easy basket that they can– be it free throws or fast break points. By doing so this will also prevent a decent defensive team in Golden State from getting set and force them to play the Timberwolves’ game.

If the Timberwolves are able to force turnovers and draw fouls they may be able to conceal one of the weaker aspects of their game so far this season, and that is rebounding. So far, the Timberwolves have grabbed .717 and .242 percent of all available defensive and offensive rebounds available, respectively. This may sound pretty good, but it puts them 24th and 21st in all of the NBA in each category. Now, the Warriors are 19th in Defensive Rebounding percentage and 24th in Offensive Rebounding percentage, but they don’t miss a lot as the league’s best shooting team, so defensive rebounds will likely be at a premium.

Both of these teams enter tonight at 3-1 and among the league’s most exciting young teams. With so much talent and so many great players on both teams, this will undoubtedly be an incredible game. Yeah, the Timberwolves don’t have Curry or Thompson, but they do have Kevin Love, Ricky Rubio, and Nikola Pekovic. You could always spend your time thinking what could have been and what should have been, but what for? Timberwolves fans have spent the last decade hoping and waiting for a return to relevancy and a legitimately good team they don’t have to talk themselves into every season. And now that team is here, finally. So let’s just appreciate it while we can.

Cavs Hang on, Upset Timberwolves 93-92


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You know how it feels the next day after you play some pickup ball and everything in your body hurts? You know, your legs are so locked up they won’t bend and your back is on fire because it’s not used to the impact. Then, when you play a little more regularly, your recovery becomes easier and easier even though you are no elite athlete. Well, that was how the Timberwolves came out against the Cleveland Cavaliers on Monday night on their first back-to-back of the season.

Not to make excuses or anything, but the Cavs had the luxury of having Sunday off after an exhausting road game in, oh, Indiana. Whereas the Timberwolves had to cross time zones to play a hard-fought game before facing a young and talented Cavs team. But the Timberwolves’ legs would eventually awaken.

From the start it looked like the Timberwolves may be able to carry over their momentum from the first three games of the season when Corey Brewer raced underneath the basket for a quick hoop to give the team their own lead. But that’s where the superlatives would really stop for Minnesota. Kevin Martin continued his hot start from three, but Ricky Rubio, Kevin Love, and Nikola Pekovic looked fatigued from playing heavy minutes the night before and then traveling. Wolves fans are checking up on the latest bets at Bwin Betting, that’s for sure!

Still, the frenetic pace the Timberwolves operated at during the first few games of the season was not as effective with tired legs. Their timing was off, their shots short and even their defense was slow to react. Consequently, the Cavs — led in part by CJ Miles who finished with 19 points — racked up a 55-38 advantage at the half.

With the injury to Ronny Turiaf in the frontcourt the Timberwolves tried to use rookie Gorgui Dieng on the Cavs’ frontcourt, but Dieng quickly picked up three fouls in three minutes against Andrew Bynum and was never heard from again in the game. Cleveland was really able to take it to Minnesota in the paint during the first half with the Timberwolves unable to run the Cavs out of their own building, but were able to wind up finishing the game with a 48-42 advantage in points in the paint by the end of the game.

The second half started like this: Brewer, turnover; Rubio, missed 22-footer; Pekovic, offensive foul; Martin blocked shot; Pekovic turnover. Despite this slow start by the Timberwolves, the Cavaliers only managed to add two points to this lead before Pekovic sank an easy shot. The Cavaliers made nothing easy on the Timberwolves’ big men, playing a very physical game that caused Pekovic to miss several bunny layups.

After playing much of the third quarter down by as much as 20, it seemed that the game was likely out of their hands even though they entered the final frame down by 15. It really felt as if the Cavs just had another gear that the Timberwolves just didn’t have last night, and would therefore be a great chance to give someone like  Shabazz Muhammad a baptism by fire, but the Timberwolves had other ideas.

See, I forgot one important thing about basketball in that assessment that I had cemented into my ideology by the Timberwolves: young teams should never, ever, ever be trusted with a 15-point lead going into the fourth quarter. Even if the other team is on the second night of an onerous back-to-back.

Looking to prove me wrong, the Timberwolves came out firing. Brewer threw in a quick layup before Derrick Williams converted a very good three-point play in the paint, and all of a sudden the Timberwolves were in range of returning their deficit to single digits. Cleveland still pushed back with a Jarrett Jack two, a pair of Miles baskets and an Andrew Bynum 14-footer, giving the Cavs an 84-69 lead with about seven minutes left in the game. Timeout Timberwolves.

The most interesting thing to note is that the Timberwolves nearly completed their comeback with Barea, not Rubio, as their point guard. Coach Rick Adelman noted after the game that he went with what was working, which is a thought process that is hard to fault him for. Barea came in and got a couple of easy hoops that gave the Timberwolves hope for one more final push to comeback.

There are three factors that really make a difference in being able to close a game or make a late game comeback: good shots, limiting-if-not-eliminating turnovers and getting stops. The Timberwolves were able to use their ability to d-up the young Cavs and force them to make young mistakes (including bad shots) and turn their mistakes into points.

Eventually, the Cavs found their once great lead down to just three when Kyrie Irving blocked Barea’s layup, but it was Love who picked up the rebound and put in the layup to bring the lead down to 93-92. On the other end, Martin rebounded Irving’s miss and the Wolves brought the ball most of the way up court before calling a timeout to setup one final play. Adelman appeared torn on calling the timeout and let his players get the bucket off of the rebound, but made the smart call to collect his team for one final play. After all, Martin rebounded the shot at 0:14 seconds, which may have left Cleveland too much time to setup for the last shot. This way, the Timberwolves were able to remain in control of their destiny and own the game’s final possession down one.

The Timberwolves inbounded the ball to Barea, who had the ball poked loose as he drove to the hoop, but was able to find Love waiting outside of the arc with room in front of him. Love caught the ball and set his feet and got the ball off in time, but his shot caromed off of the back iron as both teams scrambled for the rebound as time expired in regulation. That was it for the Timberwolves’ comeback hopes in Cleveland.

Really, it was an incredible finish that no one watching the first half saw coming. It wasn’t for a lack of effort or desire that they got down big in the first three quarters, but somehow the team managed to get their second wind and force the Cavaliers to make the same mistakes they were making not too long ago. This was a game the Timberwolves had to experience by getting their first back-to-back under them, as well as some more crunch time experience. Love finished with 17 points, 13 rebounds and five rebounds. Kevin Martin, who was the only Timberwolf to make a three in this game, added 23 and Derrick Williams added 13 off of the bench. Kyrie Irving finished with 9 turnovers 15 points, eight rebounds and six assists, with CJ Miles providing 19 points off of the bench for Cleveland.

The Timberwolves look to regroup at home against the Golden State Warriors on Wednesday night when we get to listen to parts of the fanbase whine about Steph Curry not being a Timberwolf for the millionth, bajillionth year in a row.

Oh, and #FistB2B.

Notes: 

- Kevin Love has shown an improved ability to pass and willingness, too. For example, Love hit a cutting Williams from the high post late in the fourth to bring the Wolves within five that was perfectly threaded. That was great. However, when Love checks out of a layup five feet from the basket to kick it out to Rubio or Brewer for three…that’s not a good decision, or really a good pass. Especially since he was one-on-one. There’s such a thing as good passing and over-passing, but I don’t want to see him stop– just to find that happy balance.

- Cavs rookie and last June’s first round pick is now 0-15 from the field to start his career and has just two points to show for his first four NBA games. This means nothing unless his career winds up being four games long, but is just interesting to watch.

 

Timberwolves at Knicks Preview: Three Long Years Away


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It’s been three years since the Timberwolves have beaten the New York Knicks, which they did on November 12th, 2010. Back then, we didn’t know what Linsanity was and Corey Brewer had yet to be traded for Darko Milicic and Anthony Randolph (Bad thoughts…block them out…block them out…), who were still Timberwolves and Knicks, respectively. Heck, the Knicks didn’t even have Melo yet, so this is a very different NBA we are talking about.

At least the three consecutive games that they have lost to New York were all closely contested affairs. Jeremy Lin lifted the Knicks over the Timberwolves in February ’12 despite struggling for most of the game. Then last season they lost by three in their lone visit to Madison Square Garden by three (although the Knicks went 6-26 from three, ‘Melo had 33 points) and the Knicks would go on to sweep the series later on at Target Center.

How about the last time the Timberwolves beat the Knicks? If you’ll remember, that was Kevin Love’s big 31-point/31-rebound game. Not only is 31/31 impressive to begin with, but even more impressive considering the build of the roster around him at that time.

Wolves Knicks roster
Chart courtesy of Basketball-reference.com

My, look at those starters. Michael Beasley, Wesley Johnson and Sebastian Telfair– the trio who enabled the Phoenix Suns to earn enough ping-pong balls last season to draft Alex Len. Then there’s Darko, who decided to ultimately walk away from the NBA altogether before last season with the Celtics. So, just three years later, the players aside from Love who started this game are either A) out of the NBA; or B) on minimum deals elsewhere.

This was also Nikola Pekovic before he was Nikola Pekovic: Destroyer of worlds, and be also before Kosta Koufos and Corey Brewer were able to carve out their niches in the NBA, otherwise I would regard the talent in this game much more highly. Still, Love didn’t just grab 31 rebounds: he needed to grab 31 rebounds given the personnel around him.

Although the Knicks were pretty imperfect from a roster standpoint, putting up 31/31 is remarkable to do against anyone. Now, if you replayed this game with these exact players, Love probably grabs 41. Look:

Knicks roster
Chart courtesy of Basketball-reference.com

There are some still very good NBA players on this  team — Gallinari, Felton, Mozgov, and Amare, when healthy — but it’s not so surprising they came into this game with a 3-6 record. I can recall at the time people questioning how long you could run Amare at center and hope to keep him healthy, but there’s a reason they traded for ‘Melo and a reason they would sign Tyson Chandler from Dallas the following season.  Still, Wilson Chandler, who found success last season in Denver as a power forward, was not going to keep Love off of the glass that night.

Additionally, this was probably also the greatest game of Michael Beasley’s career and the game fans of the team he signs his minimum contract with every season that HE JUST NEEDS MORE TIME!!! Beasley was efficient — 16 for 29, or 52% — and added four assists (Sounds high, but it’s true) and six rebounds on 35 points. Even I got caught up in thinking that there may be something here, but looking back it was a little naive since he took two free throw attempts all game. So what, right?   Well, that means that since he also took four threes that most of his attempts were of his famous midrange variety and wasn’t being as aggressive as he needed to be– a common Beasley complaint.

But it was an incredible night to be a Timberwolves fan since it had been such a long time since it had been so long since we had much to be excited about at all. Al Jefferson had just been traded months before to free up playing time for Love, and Love put up a historic performance early in the season, and was really the starting point of him taking that next step as a player. We even talked ourselves into Beasley, fronting him credit for weeks after this game, but realized that it’s probably not true if you have to talk yourself into it.

Finally, later on in that season Brewer is dealt to New York after the Timberwolves decline his option for the following season for Randolph and Darko as a part of the Carmelo Anthony trade.

The last time the Timberwolves beat the Knicks feels like it was much longer than three years ago since the NBA amalgamate has changed so much in that time. I mean, the ‘Melo trade was an absolute blockbuster, and whether or not you thought it would last, Linsanity had yet to be a thing and you probably had a strong opinion either way. For the Timberwolves, Love is a star, Nikola Pekovic is a max-contract player and Ricky Rubio has now been here for his third season now. For the Timberwolves, the NBA and everyone involved it’s been a whirlwind of days since November 2010.

Tonight, the Timberwolves look to push their winning streak to three and the Knicks will look to hit their stride at home. There are lots of new faces in New York including Ron Artest  Metta World Peace and Andrea Bargnani, which is Italian for “Bargsanity.” Perhaps a Timberwolves team coming off of a blowout of Oklahoma City on Friday night is not what the Knicks need to try to get on a roll, but Minnesota will have to be on the lookout for a trap game since the Knicks are likely a better team than they’ve shown and will wind up in the middle of the Eastern Conference playoff picture.

These two teams have changed so much since 2010, it’s hard to recognize them when you reflect back on that game three Novembers ago. With both teams improved since then it should be another good game considering the subsequent three games have been very good. Besides, padding their first place division lead wouldn’t be a bad thing for the Timberwolves. Not at all.

Where: Madison Square Garden, New York

When: 6:30 CST

See/Hear It: FSN Plus and WCCO AM 830

Note: Ronny Turiaf is out tonight after fracturing his elbow on the hardwood at Target Center on Friday night.

Kevin Love stars in new SportsCenter Ad


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http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=1R376Qt1enc

We know Kevin Love has been very marketable in the past in his past spots in Pepsi’s Uncle Drew  and Yahoo! Sports’ Fantasy Sports ads, but he has done it again. This time, he’s the in-studio barista for the SportsCenter anchors with his own signature drink: a Double-Double espresso. And you see the effects of Love’s concoction when the anchors take the air.

Here is Uncle Drew and here is the Yahoo! spot, in case you missed them.

(Also, Happy Birthday to Ricky Rubio today!)

Rumor: Timberwolves Considering Bulls’ Teague


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Today, The Chicago Tribune reported that the Timberwovles were possibly interested in trading for the Chicago Bulls’ Marquis Teague. As CBS Sports’ Eye on Basketball’s Matt Moore also noted, Teague has struggled with his execution in preseason, which does not make Bulls coach Tom Thibideau happy.

Teague is another point guard who would interest the Wolves as a third point guard behind Ricky Rubio and JJ Barea. The Timberwolves did bring in AJ Price but this tells me that they haven’t liked what they’ve seen from Price so far. And they would really need a point guard if they plan to move Shved to the off-guard spot and view second round pick Lorenzo Brown as more of the same.

As for Teague, he’s definitely an athlete, but struggled shooting everywhere. Seriously. He shot .381 percent from the floor; .174 from three, which didn’t stop him from taking two per game; and .563 from the free throw line. Even at Kentucky he was an average shooter at best, and on top of all of this he had an incredibly high turnover rate during his rookie season.

Teague was the 29th overall pick just a year ago, so his contract is guaranteed, but he is just 20 years old, so there may still be some hope for him to grow into a serviceable player someday. But, sheesh, AJ Price, you really can’t inspire enough confidence for the Timberwolves to not considering giving anything up for Teague?

That’s the other thing– what would they give up for him? Probably not too much. We’re talking a second rounder, probably, so it’s not like they’d be giving up anything of value.

This is really no big deal and probably just the Timberwolves doing their due dilligence. It’s actually really no big deal even if they do wind up making a move for Teague since he likely wouldn’t matter on a team with this depth and not in the project development business at the moment.

#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: #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: #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

#TwolfRank: #11 Alexey Shved


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Source: AWolfAmongWolves.com

Welcome to the second annual #TwolfRank. It’s one of our favorite times of the year, to say the least. I bring you the third part in this roster-long series.  As always, you can follow Tom (@Tom_NBA), Jonah (@howlintwolf) and Derek (@DerekJamesNBAon Twitter as well to partake in the fun.

I think it’s safe to say that Alexey Shved’s rookie season didn’t wind up being what we or himself initially thought it would be. As a result, Shved’s performance turned into a source of frustration for fans and the rookie himself. And unfortunately we saw the side of Shved that we were afraid of and the one that Shved worked so hard to improve himself.

See, because of injuries Shved was asked to take on a larger role than anyone originally expected him to, and when things went sour, so did Shved. And it’s not entirely unfounded.

No, no I’m not condoning pouting, but Shved hit his rookie wall, and hit it hard.

See, in December Shved shot .420 and .355 percent from the floor and three on his way to averages of 11.4 points per game and 5.8 assists per game. I know what you were thinking at the time. You were thinking, “Oh, what a great sign from a rookie 27 games into his career! What a steal!”

Then, unfortunately for Shved, the rest of the NBA figured him out quickly and his minutes dwindled as his production did. Seriously. He never shot above .400 percent from the floor for the rest of the season, and only shot over .300 percent from three again once, when he shot .300 from distance in April. Before we knew it the once promising start was beginning to look like an anomaly, or a flash in the pan. Was it the attitude? Was it his smallish frame? Both?

However, it wasn’t all doom and gloom as soon as the calendar rolled from 2012 to 2013.

Shved still managed to finish fourth — third if you don’t count Brandon Roy — on the team in Assist Percentage, demonstrating a willingness to set up teammates while also posting a near-average Usage Rate. Additionally, although his efficiency at the rim may have been perfectly average, it was still his best floor shooting spot, which may or may not be a good thing after all.

The answer for Shved may be to take on a smaller role– which he will. Well, so long as Shabazz Muhammad, the player ranked one spot below Shved in #TwolfRank, can prove to be a productive contributor. If each player can help each other adapt to the NBA slowly,the team will be better for it. If they both falter…I…I…don’t want to think about that right now. When you think about it, the Timberwolves don’t actually have much of a choice with their bench guards than to put their faith in two young players with questions concerning their maturity.

With the Timberwolves mass-injury troubles hopefully behind them, they can finally bring Shved along at the more deliberate pace they intended to last season. If a smaller role can bring back December Shved while simultaneously boosting his confidence long-term, Shved could possibly ascend up this list sooner rather than later. As for now, there are questions about which Shved is the real Shved, and how much more a 24 year old guard can improve since young guards mature quicker than bigs.  I’m not saying he can’t improve, especially since there is an adjustment period from Europe to the NBA, but historically, guards are approaching their apex at his age, which would be troubling if this is near Shved’s.

Sometimes, it’s important to — HERE COME THE CLICHES — walk before you can run! Take baby steps! Less is more! Actually, “less is more” is a good one to keep in mind with Shved, because that may just be the key to re-unleashing December Shved once again. Or better, because I’m too excited about average production.