No. 11 Anthony Bennett

#TwolfRank No. 11 Anthony Bennett

No. 11 Anthony Bennett

No. 11 Anthony Bennett

In conjunction with ESPN’s #NBARank, we’re unveiling the third installation of our very own #TwolfRank. This year we have more opinions from HTW as well as around the web, thanks to your undying support of the Wolves. For the next few weeks, we’re going to lay out our rankings of all the Wolves players. We’ll share our thoughts, opinions and even give some predictions for each player and the upcoming season. Don’t forget that we want your help in evaluating these players, so be aware on Twitter when we need your help using the #TwolfRank!

Almost from day one, Anthony Bennett’s ride in the NBA has been a less than ideal experience for any player, let alone a former number one draft pick. The big man out of UNLV’s rookie season has been dubbed as one of the worst rookie seasons from the top pick in the draft of all time, and midway through last season he was on pace to have one of the worst seasons for any player ever. This led to the dreaded “b-word” being thrown around. Not everyone may know the struggles Bennett has had to deal with, though. Even before last year’s Summer League, Bennett had to have surgery on his shoulder to repair a torn left rotator cuff, forcing him to miss almost all of Cleveland’s offseason workouts, and gain a few pounds in the process. Then, last October, it was revealed that Bennett was diagnosed with sleep apnea and asthma, which he claimed drastically affected his cardio. Bennett had a PER of 1.1 in January, leading to article after article asking if he could already be declared a bust. As Canis Hoopus wrote: “Last season, Bennett posted not just one of the worst seasons for a lottery pick, but arguably one of the worst of any player in NBA history, posting negatives in nearly every cumulative statistical category.” Dayumn.

The Wolves made some huge offseason moves and, of all the new faces joining the team, Bennett is definitely the biggest question mark. Now, Bennett was able to boost his PER to 6.9 by season’s end, but his final stat line still wasn’t very impressive. In 52 games played (zero starts), the 6-foot-8 former Mountain West Conference Player of the Year averaged 12.8 minutes per game, 4.2 points per game and 3 rebounds per game. While he shot 53.3 percent from the field in his lone year in college, Bennett put up a paltry 35.6 field goal percentage last year, draining only 24.5 percent of his shots from behind the arc and going 63.8 percent from the charity stripe. Looking at stats like that leads one to wonder how the former five-star prospect became the top pick in the 2013 draft in the first place. To put it this way, Gorgui Dieng went 21st in that draft to the Jazz before being sent to the Wolves, and there’s no one in their right mind who would take Bennett over Dieng after each of their first seasons.

Hindsight is always 20/20, of course, which is why taking a look at Bennett’s one-year collegiate career paints a bit of a clearer picture. Playing in all 35 games for the Runnin’ Rebels in the 2012-2013 season, Bennett started 32 of those games and played a respectable 27.1 MPG. Along with Bennett’s quality shooting percentage overall, he made 37.5 percent of his three-point attempts, 70.1 percent of his free throws and shot an outstanding 74 percent at the rim, which was a top-ten mark in the NCAA. Bennett scored in double-figures in 28 of the 35 games, posting 12 double-doubles. He wasn’t the most dominant of rebounders, but he was solid, pulling in 8.1 RPG – nearly a third of which were on the offensive end. However, despite his 7-foot-1 wingspan, Bennett only averaged 1.2 blocks-per-game (0.2 in his first year in the NBA). UNLV would spend the first 10 weeks of the season ranked on the AP poll, 11 on the coaches, and made it to the conference championship where they lost to New Mexico. As a five-seed, the Rebels of the Runnin’ variety were bounced in the second-round by the ever-feared 12-seed, California.

And that was that.

Bennett left UNLV for greener pastures and became the highest draft pick as a Canadian at the time. Bill Simmons was SHOCKED, as I think many of us were, at the former Findlay College Prep standout being selected first. Upon talking to Shane Battier after being selected first by the Cavs, Bennett mentioned making history and said: “…hopefully we can repeat it next year, you know, with Andrew Wiggins coming in.” That much sounded reasonable at least, but who would’ve thought that it’d be Cleveland who would once again find themselves drafting in the top spot?

Bennett sat behind starting Tristian Thompson last year, who played and started in all 82 games last season. While seeing guys like Spencer Hawes and Luol Deng come in for decent chunks of the season, playing time wasn’t exactly there for Bennett as he finished 14th in MPG for all players that played for Cleveland last year, which has almost everything to do with the pathetic year statistically speaking.

So what’s there to be excited about?

For one, it does appear that Bennett’s work ethic is better than a certain Derrick Williams you may be familiar with. Bennett’s first order of business this offseason was his health, which started with getting his tonsils and adenoids removed to deal with his sleep apnea. Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), the more common of the two kinds of sleep apnea as our pals at WebMD will tell you, “is caused by a blockage of the airway, usually when the soft tissue in the back of the throat collapses during sleep.” Some of the common characteristics for having OSA are: being male, being a big dude, having a large neck size and having large tonsils. Large. Tonsils! The worst kind of tonsils! Once those things were out of the way, Bennett hit the gym hard, constantly working with coaches, joining in with Shabazz Muhammad on Chameleon Training in California, and even hiring his own personal chef to help manage his diet.

Reports have varied, but Bennett has dropped 15-25 pounds in his effort, which has shown in his improved quickness on the court during Summer League games and his ability to play nearly 30 MPG. “He’s improved his conditioning, he’s improved his physique,” Cavs head coach David Blatt said. Blatt would also mention that: “He’s really, really trying to do a lot of different things on the court to help the team win and not being under pressure to do one thing, just to stay on the floor.” Bennett averaged 13.3 PPG and 7.8 RPG – his point totals being only second on the Cavs’ Summer League team behind Wiggins’ 15.5. Bennett showed an improved effort on defense, which was one of his biggest weaknesses coming out of college. Watch some footage of him in college and you’ll see backdoor cut after backdoor cut being made on him – *cough cough* James Harden.

Now, offensively, Bennett still needs to improve his game with his back to the basket, being more aware of the shot clock and be a bit of a better passer – or at least more willing to be one. But Bennett can be explosive and is a powerful finisher inside and driving to the hoop, which opens up his shot from outside. He’s a good ball handler for his size and, if he continues to make an effort to improve his defense, his 7-foot-1 wingspan could create yet another defensive threat coming off the bench with Dieng.

Wolves fans might not be the most excited about Bennett coming in, but the 21-year-old, who would only be a junior in college right now, can’t go anywhere but up from here.

No. 12 Zach LaVine

#TwolfRank No. 12 Zach LaVine

No. 12 Zach LaVine

No. 12 Zach LaVine

In conjunction with ESPN’s #NBARank, we’re unveiling the third installation of our very own #TwolfRank. This year we have more opinions from HTW as well as around the web, thanks to your undying support of the Wolves. For the next few weeks, we’re going to lay out our rankings of all the Wolves players. We’ll share our thoughts, opinions and even give some predictions for each player and the upcoming season. Don’t forget that we want your help in evaluating these players, so be aware on Twitter when we need your help using the #TwolfRank!

#TwolfRank – Number 12 and my most intriguing selection is Zach LaVine. The 19-year old UCLA Bruin earned PAC-12 All-Freshman Team honors and saw his draft stock climb as the 2014 NBA Draft approached where the Timberwolves selected him with the 13th overall pick. Needless to say he was pleasantly shocked upon selection!

Approaching the draft he was lauded for his athleticism, quickness, potential, and body control. While at UCLA, LaVine shot 44.1 percent from the field and 37.5 percent from three-point range. Coming to the NBA with above-average ball handling, LaVine has the ability to shoot off the bounce or beat his defender with his quickness at the NBA level. He possesses the ability to play with or without the basketball. Which makes him a dual threat on the wings in transition and also in a half-court set. Listed as a shooting guard, LaVine was able to showcase his point guard skills during summer league. Speaking of Las Vegas summer league, go here to learn how to bet sports online.

Zach LaVine 2014-15 NBA Summer League highlights. A MUST watch.

While playing on the Wolves Summer League team, LaVine was the second leading scorer behind Shabazz Muhammad. He started all six contests the Timberwolves played and led the team in overall minutes played. A couple of things that stood out while watching him play was his better than average free throw shooting, general court command, defense, and ball handling. Over the six-game summer league Zach shot his free throws at an 86 percent clip, which is a tremendous asset to his game if it carries over to the 2014-15 season and beyond. Elite athleticism and free throw rate have always shared a synonymous relationship. Notable players that shot at 86 percent and above last season were: Kyrie Irving, Kevin Durant, James Harden, Damian Lillard, and Steph Curry. Fans of LaVine’s game should hope that we are able to see him use that athleticism to get to the free throw line and also showcase an ability to finish with contact, which is an area he’ll have to improve as the season progresses. LaVine passed my eye test over the team’s six games this summer in Las Vegas where the team had him mostly play point guard.

Zach LaVine – 20 Pts vs. Phoenix Suns

Zach LaVine – 22 Pts vs. New Orleans Pelicans

LaVine has drawn comparisons to former UCLA and Oklahoma City guard Russell Westbrook. I do see many of the similarities. However, the difference, and one I hope LaVine makes, is that in Russell’s third NBA season he took a significant leap. Russell Westbrook was able to get to the free throw line 428 times his rookie season while converting on 81 percent. I know the free throw angle isn’t as glamorous as what we are about to see at Dunks After Dark and throughout the 2014-15 season but it’s an indicator for his long-term potential. If LaVine is able to take advantage of his playing time, attack the basket aggressively and remain in control of his body, attitude and, of course, the ball, I see his playing time on the rise. Comparisons aside, give LaVine some time to be a rookie, as he is a young talent with much promise. After all, that is why the Timberwolves selected him. Trust that his athleticism is elite and, with the acquisition of Andrew Wiggins, the Wolves hopefully have building blocks for years to come.

Timberwolves fans should expect LaVine to get opportunities this season coming off the bench and should be patient with the 19-year old. Learning and executing Flip’s offense, especially if he gives the point guard spot a try, will be extremely difficult for him right away, and “right away” could be well over a year long. So this season is all about LaVine being able to go through the season healthy and progress on an individual level month-after-month. Timberwolves fans should be excited because at 19 years old he has so much promise and his new running mates offer a wealth of upside!

No. 13 Ronny Turiaf

#TwolfRank: No. 13 Ronny Turiaf

No. 13 Ronny Turiaf

No. 13 Ronny Turiaf

In conjunction with ESPN’s #NBARank, we’re unveiling the third installation of our very own #TwolfRank. This year we have more opinions from HTW as well as around the web, thanks to your undying support of the Wolves. For the next few weeks, we’re going to lay out our rankings of all the Wolves players. We’ll share our thoughts, opinions and even give some predictions for each player and the upcoming season. Don’t forget that we want your help in evaluating these players, so be aware on Twitter when we need your help using the #TwolfRank!

The words “journeyman”, “locker room presence”, and “glue guy” get thrown around a little too much, but in reality that’s just what Ronny Turiaf is. Is it cliché when it’s all true? When the 6’10” big man came out of Gonzaga, he wasn’t some highly touted prospect. The young man from the land of Martinique was drafted in the 2nd round, 37th overall by the Lakers in 2005. He didn’t see the court much, and honestly that mantra hasn’t changed a whole lot since then. In essence, he is the perfect example of someone who came into the league with low expectations, yet has managed to stick around and make a career for himself, which takes a rare breed.

When the Wolves signed him away from the Clippers last season, it was seen as a quality move to bring depth to the frontcourt and veteran experience to a young team. This man has been to the playoffs a few times with the Lakers, Knicks, Heat, and Clippers. A place the Timberwolves haven’t been in 10 years. I know that stat isn’t fun to listen to, but it’s true, and it takes guys like Turiaf to change that.

Last year Big Ron appeared in 31 games, even though it felt like more. Of these 31 games, he made 10 starts and averaged about 20 minutes per. He had a few minor boo boos, but was able to stay healthy for the most part. He was essentially our second-string center for the majority of the year, due either to Adelman’s stubbornness or Dieng’s slow development. When asked to step up to the plate, Turiaf was able to do what was asked of him. He shot a high percentage from inside, and averaged nearly two offensive boards per game.

This year, he’ll start off as the last man in a line of rotational bigs behind Young, Pek, Bennett, and Dieng. Things happen in the NBA, the Wolves are going to hit a stretch where it seems the injury gods are picking on us and Turiaf may even have to step up into a few spot starts. He’ll be there, and almost nobody will notice an excellent screen he sets or awesome positioning he creates to no avail. But what they hopefully notice is a spark of energy; that’s what he’s here for.

Lastly, Ronny is kind of a quirky guy. You can often find him photobombing interviews or doing dances on the sidelines that I’ve never even seen before. His ‘old-man dreads’ and his bush of a beard make him look like he could be found sleeping in his van at the park. But quirky is good, especially in the long NBA season. Personality can be helpful coming from a veteran leader, especially if the Wolves have dropped 4 or 5 games in a row, and everyone is feeling down. It only works, though, as long as that person also grabs his lunch pail and shows up to work everyday. Turiaf has proven he can do both things; that’s why he’s stuck around the NBA and that’s why he is on this team.

Here are a few tweets from the Wolves’ glue guy, Turiaf:

Screen Shot 2014-09-25 at 3.28.08 PM

#TWolfRank #14 Glenn Robinson III

Screen Shot 2014-09-25 at 3.28.08 PM

No. 14: Glenn Robinson III

In conjunction with ESPN’s #NBARank, we’re unveiling the third installation of our very own #TwolfRank. This year we have more opinions from HTW as well as around the web, thanks to your undying support of the Wolves. For the next few weeks, we’re going to lay out our rankings of all the Wolves players. We’ll share our thoughts, opinions and even give some predictions for each player and the upcoming season. Don’t forget that we want your help in evaluating these players, so be aware on Twitter when we need your help using the #TwolfRank!

Glenn Robinson III, aka GRIII, was probably the last free agent signing for the Timberwolves this offseason. His father, Glenn “Big Dog” Robinson, played 11 season in the NBA for four different teams. He was the first overall draft pick in 1994 by the Milwaukee Bucks and averaged 20.7 points per game for his career. The expectations for GRIII aren’t quite as high as his father, so if he lives up to his legacy, he would end up being quite the steal. But just because your father was in the NBA doesn’t mean you’ll be as privileged.

The Wolves nabbed GRIII with the 40th pick in the NBA draft, where he was initially thought to be a first-rounder. His numbers actually went up from 11 points per game his freshman year to 13 points per game his sophomore year. But many thought he was next up after Trey Burke’s departure to the Utah Jazz. Instead he took on a different role, while Nik Stauskas became more of the face of the Wolverines last season. He played in the 2013 NCAA championship; all 5 starters from that Michigan team are now in the NBA. GRIII was actually good friends with Mitch McGary before even committing to Michigan. It will be interesting to see how he interacts with his former teammates in their future NBA careers.

Although he wasn’t the team’s leader in either of his seasons at Michigan, GRIII was still one of the most exciting players to watch in the Big Ten. If you watch his YouTube highlight reel, you will see he is no slouch; even compared to LaVine and Wiggins. In fact, he had the top standing vertical in this year’s draft. There is no doubt this roster is the most athletic the Wolves have ever seen, and Robinson actually plays a part in that. Could it be possible to see three players from one team in the dunk contest this February?

It is unclear what GRIII’s role with the Wolves will be this year. It’s entirely possible he might not be seen much in a Wolves uniform, depending on their view of utilizing the D-League to its fullest potential. And even now, he’s one of 16 players on the roster with a guaranteed contract, meaning the Wolves will have to cut/buyout/trade one before the season. The general consensus is that the Wolves will buy out the last year of JJ Barea’s contract to assure room for the young and talented Robinson.

With so much uncertainty on the young roster, GRIII could ride the bench for most of the season or else play for minutes versus Shabazz Muhammad, Zach LaVine, Robbie Hummel and others. In the NBA, it is rare to find treasure in the second round of the draft, but it has been done. Manu Ginobili, Gilbert Arenas and Dennis Rodman were all taken in the second round. Even Chandler Parsons, formerly chosen by the Wolve (for the Rockets) just signed a max contract with the Dallas Mavericks, so anything’s possible. There’s reason to think Robinson could be just as good as Parsons or else he could fizzle out quickly and ride a D-League/overseas career into the sunset. I believe the former is more believable than the latter but you never really know with these second-rounders.

Here are a few tweets/opinions on the Wolves rookie out of Michigan:

Robbie Hummel, no. 15

#TwolfRank: No. 15 Robbie Hummel

Robbie Hummel, no. 15

Robbie Hummel, no. 15

In conjunction with ESPN’s #NBARank, we’re unveiling the third installation of our very own #TwolfRank. This year we have more opinions from HTW as well as around the web, thanks to your undying support of the Wolves. For the next few weeks, we’re going to lay out our rankings of all the Wolves players. We’ll share our thoughts, opinions and even give some predictions for each player and the upcoming season. Don’t forget that we want your help in evaluating these players, so be aware on Twitter when we need your help using the #TwolfRank!

Let’s face the truth: If Robbie Hummel were a free agent right now, he’d most likely be negotiating deals to play overseas or perhaps vaulting for a non-guaranteed deal to be featured in the D-League. But, sure enough, after Flip Saunders signed the former Boilermaker with bionic knees to a fully guaranteed contract on July 21st. He’s not the flashiest player on the roster, nor does he really have even an ounce of upside to him at 25 years old already, but Hummel remains an important piece of this team because of his ability to play the stretch 4.

Last season, Hummel captured the faith of future Hall of Fame coach Rick Adelman, and was awarded minutes in 53 games, while even starting five as well in place of injured starters. Hummel’s lack of a position was actually a blessing in disguise last season and will be again this year. The small forward position is quite stacked with a combination of Andrew Wiggins, Corey Brewer, Chase Budinger, Shabazz Muhammad and even Glenn Robinson III all likely to see some time at the spot. But slide into the front court, and the Wolves’s depth desperately drops off. With just Thad Young and Anthony Bennett the only two splitting time at the 4, there’s very little wiggle room and relief in sight, barring an injury or two during the rigorous season.

That’s where Hummel comes in. Think of him as a 5th or 6th wide receiver for an NFL team that also played quarterback in college and has all the tools to fill in when needed. Hummel’s skill set and lack of strength make him more of a 3 than a 4, but his height (about 6’9″) and ability to stretch the floor in the halfcourt, just like Kevin Love and Ryan Anderson, can create mismatches on the offensive end. Defense is a whole other ball game, but odds are you’ll see Gorgui Dieng or Ronny Turiaf playing the 4 if the match up is more of a ground-and-pound, prototypical 4. But I digress.

In his 655 minutes played last season, Hummel was actually SECOND IN THE LEAGUE in turnovers with just 10 all year. Anderson was the only one better playing more minutes. Hummel doesn’t hold the ball much, nor does he actually dribble very often but that’s a pretty fantastic trait that you can be on the court and rarely cough it up. For that reason alone, I think you’ll see Hummel play more minutes than Robinson this season, and maybe even Muhammad if he can’t figure out his game this season.

Holding on to the ball is important but Hummel’s real asset is in his shooting, with his three-point shooting being especially important. If he were in San Antonio, Hummel’s ass would be parked in either of the corners in the halfcourt as he rotates to get open for that infamous corner three. That’s going to be an important trait for him in Minnesota this year and beyond, if he wants to continue his career in the NBA. It’s a shot the Wolves never have specialized in, while the league starts to catch up. Hummel shot 36 percent from three-point land in general last season but hovered around 30 percent from the corners. That has to improve if he wants to increase his minutes.

While Hummel’s signing early in the offseason was moot at the time, it seems a tad disappointing right now, considering the Wolves have one too many players on the roster for next season. If that conundrum wasn’t a problem, I’d have no issue with Hummel being on the squad. But since it’s hindered the potential for other moves like trades during the late days of the offseason, it’s been rather disappointing.

Still, Hummel has a chance to crack the lineup because of his tweener status and historically solid shooting ability. There are places he needs to improve, such as the corner three, but his ability to prevent turning the ball over is key when trying to find more minutes in the rotation. I don’t expect too much from Hummel this season, but if he can spot-start here and there or simply give the Wolves reliable depth at both forward positions, he’ll live up to his new guaranteed contract.

Here’s what you all had to say about Robbie Hummel:

#TwolfRank: #11 Alexey Shved

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.