Wolves Record This Week: 3-1
New season, new players, new opponent, new play by play guy... Same old column.
Indeed the '12-'13 Timberwolves regular season has officially kicked off and the team looks(and sounds) vastly different in many ways. This offseason the Wolves jettisoned half of the team -- Michael Beasley, Wayne Ellington, Darko Milicic, Brad Miller, Anthony Randolph, Anthony Tolliver, and Martell Webster. A lot of those guys provided a lot of content for this article in the past, so thankfully the Wolves added a bunch of guys to replace them. Louis Amundson, Chase Budinger, Will Conroy, Andrei Kirilenko, Brandon Roy, Alexey Shved, and Greg Stiemsma all call Minnesota home now, and on paper it's a much better squad. You've eliminated problem children(Beasley, Rudolph, etc) and added former all-stars(Kirilenko, Roy). You've added more white guys for the fan base...Oh wait, that was a different article from a different media outlet. Point being, that's a lot of change for a team that's been going through growing pains over the past handful of years. It was easy to wonder how this half-new team would come together, especially with Ricky Rubio not slated to come back until December. Then Kevin Love got hurt and every Wolves fan saw their world crumbling around them. "If only they can limp along until Love comes back!" they clammered. But just take a deep breath and hold your horses because this team actually looked pretty good in week numero uno. The 3-1 record is actually their best four game start to a season since 2001-2002. How is that even possible?
So let's get to it. In case you're new to the column(you probably are), here's how it works -- Throughout the season, I'll break down some highlights and lowlights of the week in report card fashion. I'm always open to suggestions and new ideas for features, so hit me up via email@example.com or on Rube Chat if you have any. Since this is week 1, and it's the first time we're seeing some of these guys, let's go a little further into depth.
Dave Benz: B+
How about this new play by play guy? After listening to Tom Hanneman narrate games for the past 9 years, Benz is a bit of a change of pace. It was a bit of a shock to hear somebody else at first, and to not hear many of the Hannemanisms that we've grown accustomed to. To his credit Benz seems to be fitting well into the role and brings a touch of excitement to his calls that never seem forced. He says "cash in or cashing in" quite a bit, and I don't think he's quite hit his stride with Jim Pete yet, but I like what I'm hearing a lot. And, just so that we don't miss him too much, Hanneman has been moved to studio host, a role that he's playing extremely well so far.
Of all the additions the Wolves made so far this season, Kirilenko has impressed me the most. He's the kind of all-around guy the Wolves have been missing -- a guy who plays within the structure of the offense and defense and yet always seems to be making plays around the ball. Gifted with what seems to be one of the most effective head fakes of all time, Kirilenko is constantly getting defenders into the air and giving himself some space to either get an open jumpshot or drive into the paint. On those drives, he never seems like the most athletic guy, but he operates so smoothly that it never seems to hamper him. Raise your hand if you expected him to be leading the team in rebounds and field goal percentage after the first week. Nobody?
Brandon Roy: C-
Speaking of guys leading the team in surprising categories, the other former all-star addition is leading the team in assists. I don't think anybody expects him to keep that up once Rubio comes back, but we'll take it for now. Roy is clearly rusty to start the season, but honestly, should anybody really be surprised? The Wolves have kept Roy's minutes in check, and as a starter, he's only averaging just under 27 minutes per game. While he waits for his offensive game to come back(the former Wolves first round pick is only shooting 26% from the field) he's been doing a good job of finding the open man and helping to set up the offense from the off-guard position. I can't see him getting a ton of minutes or being a fourth quarter fixture until he gets his shooting stroke back. In the meantime, I think patience is going to be the key here, but I expect him to be having a much bigger role on the team in due time.
Barclays Center: A
I've only seen two games being played at the Barclays Center on TV so far this year and I'm already feeling pretty comfortable in thinking it looks like one of the coolest, if not the coolest arena in the NBA. The black/electric blue color scheme looks awesome, the herringbone pattern on the floorboards is both unique and stylish, and the stadium lights seem to give the court a bit of a shimmer that we haven't really seen in other arenas. Jay-Z and Company spent just about $1 billion on this behemoth and from afar, it looks like money well spent.
Alexey Shved: B
Rookie Alexey Shved started a bit rocky in the season opener, but seems to be coming into his own these past few games as he's apparently been getting a bit more comfortable. Shved was billed by some as the Russian Ricky Rubio and after seeing him for a few weeks, I'm not quite sure how accurate that is. So far he looks much better suited to the off guard position than point guard. His shot can look pretty smooth at times, and he seems to be good at getting his teammates involved. We haven't really seen him attacking the basket, so I'm not sure what to expect there, but he does seem like a pesky defender. The more I've seen of him, the more I like what he can potentially bring to the table.
Greg Stiemsma: B+
So far, Greg Stiemsma fits the mold of basically everything I wanted in a center during the Kevin Garnett era. In other words, a basic hard hat kind of a guy who would get rebounds, convert putbacks, and help clog the lane on defense. That's it. Unfortunately we never really got close back then, and Stiemsma makes almost the perfect backup center. He'll never go out of his way to force the issue on offense, which is good because I don't think he has much of a portfolio to offer. But as long as he keeps doing the little things well, he's going to be a great addition to the team.
Derrick Williams: B-
So far in a brand new season I'm seeing a lot of the same Derrick Williams that we saw last year. He still seems a tad out of place in either forward position, he still looks a bit disjointed when he drives to the hoop, and he stil likes to take ill-advised outside jumpshots at times. I do think he's gotten a bit more aggressive, which should help his game at least a little bit. There's not much worse than a offensive player on the court who is unsure of himself. It helps neither the team nor the individual. Williams hasn't really been that this year. He seems to be playing with more conviction, which is an upgrade in my opinion. His game against Orlando was his best of the season(even if he jacked up 5 three pointers) and he looked more comfortable than he had the first three games. As athletic as he is, I'd like to see him get more aggressive around the rim. He's shown flashes of that, but he's also shown flashes of insecure layup attempts. More of the former and less of the latter, I say. With Love out for probably three more weeks, he'll continue to get as much time as he can earn from Adelman out there. Hopefully he can make the best of it and at least start to take the next step.
Chase Budinger: B+
I have a friend who told me from time to time and time over the past two years that Chase Budinger would be a great fit on this team and that the Wolves should have drafted him instead of Wayne Ellington in 2009. As somebody who hasn't been able to see much of him other than past games against the Rockets, I wasn't really able to agree or disagree with him. After seeing Budinger play this first week, I'm starting to think he may have been onto something. I like what he can do from behind the three point line, and he actually makes pretty good use of his dunk-contest-certified vertical leap while converting drives to the basket. He looks like somebody that can be a great role player for this team as we move forward this season.
Dante Cunningham: B
Speaking of guys who just seem to fit a role on this team, I'm a big fan of the energy that Dante Cunningham has been able to bring off the bench. Cunningham had his biggest impact in the come from behind victory against the Nets in Brooklyn as he recorded his first double-double of the season. He has a deceptively good mid-range jumpshot, but does most of his work inside the paint. He's been great at rebounding the basketball and converting putback shots. He seems to play tough nosed defense, even if he's not really able to convert that defense into many blocked shots.
Rick Adelman: A
Much of, if not most of the credit for this week's success can be given to Rick Adelman. Counting Sunday's loss against Toronto as an anomaly, Adelman generally coached a pretty brilliant first week. His rotations in the other three games were superb, with the game against Brooklyn being his masterpiece thus far. Finding the right mix, Adelman put out a group that helped the Wolves climb all the way back into the game before taking the lead, and never wavering on his decision to leave the hot hands on the court. Other than specific game situations, he's also managed to put a team on the floor that seems pretty comfortable with eachother overall. This team is built on role players that actually do play defined roles for the team as compared to last seaon's rag-tag handful of misfits. As a result, you have a Wolves team that has had different stars for each of its 3 victories and a team that looks much better than you'd expect considering they're playing without their two best players. Of all the moves the Wolves have made over the past few years, Adelman might be the best.
Wolves Highlight of the Week:
Derrick Williams earned this spot for me with this massive putback dunk Wednesday night over two Magic Players while having to get his head out of the way of the rim:
Wolves Twitter Photo of the Week:
I'm disappointed in myself for not really noticing it before Ricky Rubio(@RickyRubio9) pointed it out, but, hot damn, did he make a good point on Alexey Shved's new look. Along with the caption "Gotcha!!!! The young Toni Kukoè is tired! #rookieproblems.", Ricky posted this gem:
Image Courtesy of Ricky Rubio via Twitter
Stick with me this whole season as we continue to look back on the Wolves Week that was. Comments, criticisms, etc? Please drop me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org with your thoughts. Or discuss it with me on Rube Chat here.
Make sure you're following The FAN on Twitter for the latest news and notes, and follow our guy AJ on Twitter for the latest on the Wolves and more.
This article was written by jab. You can normally find him meandering around Rube Chat. Or feel free to email him at email@example.com.