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The Shved Army


A Russian expatriate is becoming a Minnesota fan favorite
@BreakTheHuddle

Shved
This past offseason was one of tremendous upheaval in the offices at the Target Center. Malcontents and inconsistent buffoons were jettisoned in favor of long, athletic and intelligent wing players. Out went Michael Beasley, Darko Milicic, Martell Webster, Anthony Randolph, Wayne Ellington and Wes Johnson; in came Andrei Kirilenko, Greg Stiemsma, Dante Cunningham,  and Chase Budinger. Brandon Roy, sans knee cartilage and all, was also signed to (hopefully) fill the void at shooting guard, the caveat being – “if he can stay healthy.”

The Roy experiment lasted five games before knee pain, and another surgery, sidelined him indefinitely. The risk was well worth it: the dearth of talent at shooting guard has made it a premium position in the NBA. If Roy could have managed to be 75% of his former self, for 24-28 minutes per night, his $5 million salary would’ve actually been a bargain.

The answer to the Wolves’ shooting guard deficiency, or at least part of the answer, came in the form of their least heralded offseason pickup: Russian guard Alexey Shved. Lured away from his Euroleague club, CSKA Moscow, Shved was an unproven commodity. A combo-guard with good length, he was seen in the Olympics playing for the bronze-winning Russian national team along with fellow Wolves’ newcomer Andrei Kirilenko.

It isn’t often that impact foreign players go completely undrafted – usually, someone will take a second-round flier on an international guy just in case he develops into a back-of-the-rotation contributor – so what happened with Shved? How come he was an international free agent, ripe for the plucking?

Shved 2

Also a problem: the hair, which he has since fixed.

Shved was draft eligible in 2010, at the age of 21. According to scouting reports from around that time,[i] concerns about his wiry frame, as well as his perimeter shooting, held him back. According to Wolves’ beat writer Jerry Zgoda, there were also some doubts about his maturity.[ii] Oddly enough, it seems as though his game wasn’t suited for the Russian leagues in which he played, which are known for their slow-it-down, half-court style of play. Shved is more of a slasher, which is possibly attributable to his time with American players such as Trajan Langdon, a former Duke star who wound up with CSKA Moscow after his college days were over.[iii]

All that was enough for Alexey to slip through the cracks – that is, until his 2011-12 Euroleague and club season, in which he broke out in a big way. In 21 Euroleague games (Europe’s highest level of competition) he averaged a 10.6/2.6/3.6 line on 49%/50%/81% shooting splits. In club games, he went for 11.6/2.9/3.3 on 46%/39%/78% shooting. Two years older, and having addressed his perimeter shooting woes, Shved was now a free agent, thanks to the fact he’d gone undrafted in 2010. It was a blessing in disguise.

To be fair, the Wolves weren’t the only team who approached Alexey with a contract offer – Memphis and Cleveland were also in the mix – but he chose to come to Minnesota, and it’s difficult to believe Andrei Kirilenko didn’t have something to do with it. The two came as something of a package deal – 3 years, $9-$10 million for Shved, and 2 years, $20 million for Kirilenko, with both deals signed within two days of each other at the end of July.

Andrei Kirilenko has arguably been the Wolves’ most important player to this point, but Shved’s contributions to the back court cannot be understated. Though he has yet to start a game, Shved has played more minutes than the nominal “starting” shooting guard in 11 of the team’s 18 games, including the last 7 in a row. The Wolves are 6-5 in such games, and 3-4 in the rest.

Shved’s non-starting irks some Wolves fans who’d like to see him on the floor at the opening tip – but Adelman’s handling of his backcourt rotation is anything but conventional. Most teams start their best players and rest them from the 3:00 mark of the 1st and 3rd quarters to the 10:00 mark of the 2nd and 4th quarters. Adelman, however, starts Malcolm Lee at the 2-guard, plays him until there’s about 3:00 left in the 1st and 3rd quarters… then Alexey Shved comes in, and rarely leaves the court afterward. Shved ends halves and games on the floor – a sign that the coaching staff trusts him a great deal.[iv]

The trust in Shved makes sense – he’s hardly your typical rookie. He’s been playing professionally since he was 17 years old. This season, he’s averaging 10.6/2.7/3.6 on 40%/33%/79% shooting splits – remarkably similar to his production with CSKA Moscow last season. While a 33% mark from the perimeter is nothing to write home about, he’s had to become more of a gunner with the absence of Chase Budinger (out with a knee injury) and the struggles of Kevin Love (22% from 3-point range).

Despite the low Field Goal and 3-point percentages, he’s still an efficient player, with a 14.3 PER.[v] For some reason, he’s labeled as a point guard in all the NBA statistical databases, which is odd, because he’s rarely the primary ballhandler on the floor; almost all his minutes come with Barea or Ridnour on the court with him. If he were labeled as a shooting guard, that 14.3 PER would be good for 23rd in the league, ahead of big money guys like Joe Johnson ($19.7 million salary) and Andre Iguodala ($14.7 million). He’s about on par with J.J. Redick ($6 million) and Jason Terry ($5 million) in that category.

I’m not saying he’s as good as those four guys, but if he’s in the conversation with them, and for half the cost, it’s pretty clear the Wolves found a diamond in the rough when they snagged him out of Mother Russia. If you insist on calling him a point guard, his efficiency looks a little worse, but is still higher than Ty Lawson, Devin Harris and some guy named Jeremy Lin – and again, Shved makes significantly less money than all of them.

What remains to be seen is how Shved meshes with Ricky Rubio when he returns. Malcolm Lee has abysmal as the starting shooting guard, and should see a significant decline in minutes once the Spanish prodigy is cleared to play. But time will tell how Adelman distributes the minutes in a crowded backcourt, with Shved, Barea and Ridnour all viable options at the guard spots.

The potential lineup that really excites many Wolves fans – most of all, me – is Rubio, Shved, Kirilenko, Love and Nikola Pekovic. It would be fun to see players with the passing skill sets they possess take the floor at the same time – the unselfish ball movement, playing within Adelman’s offensive system, would be a sight to behold.

Will Adelman agree with our premise? Would that lineup even be successful? Hopefully, we start to get some answers on Wednesday night.

Rubio

 

BreakTheHuddle is a fan of the Twins, Timberwolves and the 13-time World Champion Green Bay Packers. Reach him at BreakTheHuddle@gmail.com, @BreakTheHuddle on Twitter or leave a comment below!


[ii] Personal correspondence via Twitter. Jerry Zgoda is a must-follow for Wolves fans – he’s engaging, pleasant and sticks strictly to Wolves-related business.

[iii] Also in the Draft Express article referenced in footnote 1.

[iv] As of December 3rd, Shved had played in 86% of the team’s 4th quarter minutes, per 82games.com.

[v] PER stands for “Player Efficiency Rating”, a statistic developed by ESPN’s John Hollinger that is a little like WAR in baseball. There’s an explanation here: http://insider.espn.go.com/nba/hollinger/statistics

Timberwolves Summer Synthesis


Trying to piece together this puzzling Timberwolves offseason.

The Timberwolves still have these two guys, so they’re still in pretty good shape.

@BreakTheHuddle

Last summer, the lockout loomed, players fled for Europe or Asia in search of temporary employment, and Minnesota General Manager David Kahn took his sweet time before firing coach Kurt Rambis. The entire offseason was a bizarre anomaly – player movement paralyzed, front offices unsure of how to proceed in the face of the new rules to come in the collective bargaining agreement. In the foggy malaise, the Timberwolves hired veteran (borderline Hall of Fame) coach Rick Adelman, instantly bringing credibility and pedigree to an organization which had possessed neither in nearly a decade.

Any notion that Adelman would teach the talented but inconsistent Wolves roster the “right” way to play, slowly molding them into a winner, has been kicked to the curb. He wants to win, and win now… or at least, that’s the narrative being put forth. Kahn is nearing the end of his deal and needs concrete, on-court success in order to get an extension. Majority owner Glen Taylor gave an interview with Jon Krawczynski of the Associated Press after the conclusion of last season, essentially saying that he wants a winning product to drive up the value of the franchise so he can cash out his interest while the going is good.

The priority of the current offseason seems to be upgrading the roster at all costs – to build around the core of Kevin Love and Ricky Rubio. The pressure to win, and win this season, pushes down on the franchise from all sides. Calling it a “perfect storm” probably conjures the wrong connotation – but the metaphor isn’t far off. Timberwolves fans would be justified to feel a bit uneasy, knowing Kahn is still the person calling the shots. For all of Kahn’s tomfoolery his first few years on the job, he’s purchased some political capital with the fans now that we see how brilliant the Ricky Rubio pick turned out to be.

Still, it’s fair to question whether the Wolves’ brain trust is making decisions that will hamper the future of the franchise, sacrificing assets for a shot to win this season. Here are the moves the team has made since the offseason began:

Bad news: Martell Webster, and his hair, are out of here. Good news: Andrei Kirilenko is coming to town.

-They got rid of one eccentric scorer (Michael Beasley, who wound up in Phoenix for 3 years at $18 million) and brought in another eccentric scorer, one who hasn’t played in the NBA in over a year (Andrei Kirilenko) for more money (2 years, $20 million – though only the first is guaranteed).

-The Wolves jettisoned one inconsistent, three point shooting wing (Martell Webster) and replaced him with another – Chase Budinger, who cost the team their 1st round pick in this year’s draft.

-Since Adelman doesn’t seem to have the time or patience for “projects”, the team had no place for the disappointing Wes Johnson, who they shipped to the Phoenix Suns to clear room for Kirilenko’s contract. They replaced him with another Russian, the unknown Alexey Shved… who will undoubtedly be somewhat of a “project” in the NBA.

-Minnesota swapped shooting guard Wayne Ellington with Memphis for backup power forward Dante Cunningham and signed Greg Stiemsma to shore up the center position behind Nikola Pekovic. Stiemsma came off the bench for Boston last season, and somewhat surprisingly turned in a solid campaign.

-The team also brought in a guy with no cartilage in his knees – Brandon Roy – on the hope he can be 60 or 70 or 80% of what he once was. His contract is 2 years at about $10 million, and hopefully includes some language about knee injuries voiding the second season. It could be a bargain, considering Roy was an All-Star a few seasons ago. It could also be a non-factor, considering, uh, the fact that he has no cartilage in his knees.

-Gone are a nutcase with some upside (Anthony Randolph), a nutcase with no upside (adieu, Darko Milicic, sent packing via the “amnesty” clause), an aging big man with a big contract (Brad Miller), and coach’s favorite Anthony Tolliver. (Side note: Tolliver seems like one of the real good guys in the NBA… but he won’t be missed. The minimal on-court contributions couldn’t warrant keeping him around.

-The exploit which attracted the most attention this summer never actually came to fruition – I’m talking, of course, about the Timberwolves’ offer sheet to Portland’s Nicolas Batum, which was matched by his original club. Attempts to work out a sign-and-trade with the Blazers failed as the two franchises reportedly descended into the kind of behind-the-scenes catfight only a teenage girl could really appreciate.

David Kahn. Some say he resembles ‘Timon’, the meerkat from “The Lion King”…

-The shameless, gory details of said catfight:

1. Since the Wolves signed Brandon Roy, a former Blazer, Portland will not be able to use insurance money to cover part of the mammoth salary still owed to him when he “retired” last year.

2. The Blazers were also mad that the Wolves gave Batum an offer sheet for much more than he was worth ($45 million over 4 years) thus putting them in the awkward position of overpaying Batum to keep him or letting him walk away to a division rival.

… I smell another Random Doppelganger coming.

3. Back in 2010, the Wolves traded starting forward Ryan Gomes and the team’s 16th pick in the 2010 Draft (Luke Babbit) to the Blazers for Martell Webster. Portland team doctors already knew that Webster needed back surgery that would hinder his 2010-11 campaign (turns out, it did). The Blazers organization didn’t disclose this to the Wolves before the deal was official, which is, uh, frowned upon around the league.

Throw in the fact that Kahn’s previous employer was – you guessed it – the Portland Trail Blazers, and you’ve got a good ol’ fashioned blood feud. Blazers owner Paul Allen is convinced Kahn is doing all this to try and make his life difficult, and Wolves fans are convinced Kahn is trying to make OUR lives difficult. The meerkat is doing a fantastic job on both fronts.

I digress. So where does all this movement left the roster? Does the prospective 2012 squad look that much better than the 2011 team? (Starters in bold, new arrivals in italics, departed players struck through.)

Position 2011 2012
Backcourt Rubio

Johnson

Ridnour

Barea

Lee

Ellington

Rubio

Roy

Ridnour

Barea

Lee

Shved

Wings Webster

Beasley

Kirilenko

Budinger

Frontcourt Love

Pekovic

Williams

Milicic

Randolph

Tolliver

Miller

Love

Pekovic

Williams

Cunningham

Stiemsma

If you had to pick one word to describe the 2012 versus 2011 versions of the Wolves roster, that word would probably be… different. And I don’t mean that in the pejorative sense, but the literal one – eight faces are gone, and six new ones have arrived (so far) to take their places. Barring an unexpected blockbuster trade, the team’s notable moves are over – it appears all they have left to do is bring in a couple more backup big men, or perhaps another wing and a big, to fill out the roster.

If the Timberwolves improve this coming season – if they are an above .500 team that makes it into the playoffs – the primary reasons won’t be Brandon Roy, Andrei Kirilenko and Alexey Shved. It will be because Ricky Rubio returned from his ACL injury in a timely fashion, Kevin Love continues to be great (and plays a little more defense) and Nikola Pekovic follows up on a solid season with a breakout season. None of those things have anything to do with Kahn’s offseason maneuvering.

Rick Adelman’s window of opportunity to win before retiring is closing somewhat rapidly.

Don’t get me wrong, it’ll be nice if Brandon Roy is healthy, Andrei Kirilenko fits in at small forward and Chase Budinger contributes as a sixth man. The moves are okay, even though they are littered with questions. Can Roy survive an 82 game schedule? Can Kirilenko find his groove after a year abroad?

For all the fuss about Kahn and Adelman’s offseason project of improving the roster, what it really comes down to for Wolves fans are Kevin Love, Rubio’s knee and Pek’s presence in the middle. If it all comes together, we’ll see an up-tempo, unselfish and fun brand of basketball on display in Minneapolis – whether that’s because of David Kahn or in spite of him remains to be seen.

BreakTheHuddle is a fan of the Twins, Timberwolves and the 13-time World Champion Green Bay Packers. Reach him at BreakTheHuddle@gmail.com, @BreakTheHuddle on Twitter or leave a comment below!

Rubio, Love and Flirting with Relevance


An ode to the 2011-12 Timberwolves

@BreakTheHuddle

Technically, the Timberwolves’ season isn’t over yet. They play tonight in Detroit before closing out the season with home games against the Warriors (Sunday) and the Nuggets (one week from today). Officially, there are three games to go.

Unofficially, and in hindsight, I could have written this column on March 9th. Specifically, I could have written it 47 minutes and 44 seconds into the Timberwolves’ game against the Los Angeles Lakers.  That’s the moment when Ricky Rubio crumpled to the floor and left the sellout crowd in the Target Center holding its collective breath. I was there that night, and the intense feeling of dread I felt watching him being carried off the court by his teammates was met with unfortunate news the following day: it was a torn ACL, and Rubio was done for the year.

What’s happened since has been a mixture of good and bad, but mostly bad. And despite the three games the Wolves have left to play, I’m forgoing their input on my opinion of the season. The moment Love went down with a concussion (April 11th versus the Nuggets), the season was more or less finished. Nothing that has happened since should alter our views of the season that was.

It’s time to take a look at what the core of the Timberwolves (Rubio and Love) as well as the rest of the roster did in 2011-12. It’s time to appreciate the Wolves’ newfound sense of relevance. It’s time to look ahead, to see what’s coming, and hope for better things in the years to come. It’s time for some perspective.

Rubio

It’s really hard for me to maintain any sense of perspective when I talk about Ricky Rubio – and I am not alone in this. He is beloved around the league, by both observers and his peers. Chris Mannix of Sports Illustrated seemed catatonic in a Dan Patrick Show interview immediately after the injury. This followed years of Mannix driving the Rubio bandwagon, calling his passing ability “Magic Johnson-esque” in a podcast just two games into his NBA career. Larry Bird told the Sports Guy (Bill Simmons) that he watches Rubio (and the Timberwolves) “every single night” because he loves the way the team passes the ball when Rubio’s on the floor. When the news broke of his injury, the support that poured in for Rubio (via Twitter, mostly) from players around the league was incredible.

The Wolves were 21-20 with Rubio, and are 4-18 without him. In the 14 games Kevin Love played without Rubio, and before his concussion, the Wolves were 4-10. His importance to the team cannot be overstated. Despite the fact the team has been ravaged with injuries in this condensed season (Nikola Pekovic, Michael Beasley, J.J. Barea, and Luke Ridnour are main contributors who have all missed significant time) there was a clear demarcation, both in style of play and in the results, between the games he played and the ones he didn’t.

His turnover rate was low (for a pass-first point guard), his three point percentage (34%) was  decent, he rebounded the ball very well for a point guard, and he exhibited on the court leadership that belied his status as a “rookie”. He had, after all, begun playing professionally in Spain at the tender age of 14. Once he came onto the court, he was the master of the offense, and wasn’t timid about directing traffic.

Love

Despite being voted the NBA’s Most Improved Player the season before, Kevin Love managed to elevate his game to new levels in 2011-12. He lost a shocking amount of weight (20-25 pounds, but it looks like 40), began driving to the rim more, and improved his outside shot. In March, Love averaged 30.7/13.9/2.1 with 46% Field Goal, 79% Free Throw and 45% 3-point shooting splits. Those numbers are unheard of for an entire month. For the season, his line was 26.0/13.3/2.1 with 45/82/37 percent splits –  making him the first player since Shaquille O’Neal in 1999-2000 to average 26 points and 13 rebounds per game for a season.

He also hit clutch shots late in games – a 3-pointer to beat the Clippers comes to mind, as does another 3 during his 51 point evening versus the Thunder which sent the game into overtime. He doesn’t seem afraid of the moment, which was something that plagued even a terrific player like Chris Webber. Rick Adelman designs plays for him at the end of games, and Love does not shy away from the challenge.

His willingness to improve the holes in his game makes him a terrific leader for this franchise, and the type of guy who deserved (and will earn every penny of) the lucrative extension given to him in February.  While the PR campaign begun by the Timberwolves promoting him as an MVP candidate was a few years’ premature, it’s clear that Love has the potential to win the award in the very near future.

The Rest of the Roster

A diamond in the rough – Nikola Pekovic

The best tattoo in the NBA.

Not to keep quoting Bill Simmons as though everything he writes is basketball Scripture, but in his annual Trade Value column, he ranked Pekovic 51st – FIFTY FIRST – in the NBA. In his mind, at least, there are only 50 people he would trade for Nikola Pekovic. A year ago, the book on Pek was that he was an awkward foul machine. This season, he’s displayed soft hands, deft post moves, shot well from the free throw line, and displayed the best tattoo in the NBA. If his health concerns clear up in the offseason, he should be a force in 2012-13.

You were impressive in spots – Luke Ridnour, Anthony Randolph, J.J. Barea, Wayne Ellington

Ellington is a spot-up three point shooter that actually doesn’t shoot three pointers all that well, yet. But if he ever figures out his stroke, he could be a nice role player for a good team – a poor man’s Mike Miller. Barea is a decent third point guard – he’s a natural scorer who can give you a jolt of energy off the bench when you need it. But when he’s asked to carry the load, well, 11 game losing streaks happen, which is what the Wolves are in right now.

Anthony Randolph never looks happy, unless he’s bolting down the floor with a chance to finish a lob from Ricky Rubio. But again, big men are hard to come by, and Randolph’s skill has never been questioned. A project like him has terrific upside and is worth keeping around, in case he ever figures things out. Luke Ridnour did yeoman’s work this year – he played out of position (at the 2) and never complained, then averaged 14 points and 8 assists as the team’s main point guard after the Rubio injury, battling through injuries all the while… until an ankle injury ended his season. If the Wolves want to contend, they can’t have him in the starting lineup as a shooting guard – but he’s a reliable veteran and a capable backup point guard. He’s definitely a keeper.

The enigma – Derrick Williams

More on him in a bit… suffice it to say, Williams holds the key to the Timberwolves’ success in 2012.

Rick Adelman loves you, and who am I second guess him?- Martell Webster and Anthony Tolliver

Drafted straight out of high school, this was Webster’s seventh season in the league already. In the past, he’s been a smart defender who shot well from distance – but this was a down year for him. Despite that, there seems to be a belief that he can contribute to winning basketball in a reserve role. I don’t believe it – but the Wolves seem to. Another guy I am not sold on, but who is a coach’s favorite, is Anthony Tolliver. By all accounts, he’s one of the nicest guys in the NBA and one of the sport’s hardest workers. According to Adelman, he gets minutes because “he listens”, which is apparently not as common as it ought to be. That means he’ll probably be around in 2012-13… thought it’s hard to feel anything but ambivalent about it.

It’s been real, it’s been fun, but it hasn’t been real fun… Darko Milicic, Michael Beasley, Wes Johnson

Darko can defend big men, and though Pekovic has developed nicely this season, he has some faults on the defensive end. The trouble is, that’s all Darko can do – defend, and he’s not exactly an elite defender. The real issue is that he has the worst set of hands in the NBA. He’s a complete lost cause on the offensive end. And through no fault of his own, since he was once drafted second overall (ahead of Carmelo Anthony), he’s a league-wide symbol of disappointment.

Michael Beasley could be a bench scorer for a playoff team. He could be a valuable asset to someone. He could embrace his role and understand that he isn’t a starting NBA player playing a reserve’s minutes – he’s a career backup, unless he devotes himself to basketball. His talent alone gets him paychecks. The problem is, he seems like a malcontent. He’s spacey and doesn’t seem to “get it”. Winning teams don’t usually have guys like Beasley.

You're nice and all... but this ain't working out.

Wes Johnson has the opposite problem from Beasley – seems like the nicest, most coachable kid on the planet, with one problem: he doesn’t do anything well on a basketball court. Nothing. According to 82games.com, of the 180 players who qualify, Wes ranks 178th in SIMPLE rating (the basketball equivalent to WAR). He doesn’t shoot well (40% FG, 30% 3P%), doesn’t rebound (less than 3 per game) and doesn’t defend well, despite having a size advantage (he’s 6’7) over just about every shooting guard he plays against.

If all three (Darko, Beasley and Johnson) found new homes next season, I’d be happy. My guess is, however, that Darko and Johnson hang around for one more season. And I’ll weep.

 

Closing: Three Offseason Questions

1.       Can Derrick Williams play Small Forward?

A Timberwolves frontcourt of Williams, Love and Pekovic would have matchup issues all over the place. But that configuration requires Williams to play Small Forward, and he’s looked out of sorts when he’s been asked to do that this season. He has the size and athleticism to do it, but had trouble playing out of his ‘natural’ position. Williams actually performed okay, considering he wasn’t allowed to have contact with the coaches until two weeks before the first game (due to the lockout).

A normal offseason and a normal training camp ought to benefit him greatly for next year. Hopefully, the Wolves don’t abandon ship on him just yet – the trade rumors don’t seem to go away – and he can show some improvement in his second season. As the Celtics learned the hard way with Chauncey Billups, it usually isn’t wise to abandon lottery picks before you give them a fair chance.

2.       Can the Wolves find a Shooting Guard?

A backcourt combination of Rubio and Ridnour do some impressive things on the offensive end. The team’s passing is at an elite level if that combination is on the court. But neither one can handle defending shooting guards on a nightly basis, and neither can score with enough regularity to keep pace with the opponents’ 2-guards.

The answer might lie in free agency, where the Wolves have plenty of cap space. The top shooting guard available is Eric Gordon of the Hornets, who has significant upside, but has been injury prone. Giving him a big contract would be a considerable risk. Ray Allen will be a free agent, but it’s unlikely he’d come here. O.J. Mayo would be an interesting scenario – he was drafted by the Wolves and traded to the Grizzlies for Kevin Love – but it’s hard to see that one playing out either.

The possibility – Jamal Crawford, who the Wolves were rumored to be interested in at the deadline. He has a $5.2 million option for next season with Portland, and if he declines it, he’d be a decent fit at a position that is scarce right now in the NBA.

3.       Will the team’s defense improve in 2012-13?

This is the big one. Just about every measurable statistic has the Wolves near the bottom of the NBA in defensive rankings. They’ve allowed the 5th most points per game in the NBA, blocked the 6th fewest shots, are 25th in steals per game, and have allowed the 12th highest opponent field goal percentage. The thing they do well, rebounding, is offset by the fact that they also give up the 8th most rebounds in the game.

The great teams in the NBA – the Thunder, Bulls, and Heat – are all superb defensive teams, led by their superstars. Look for Kevin Love to devote this offseason to his defensive game. He’s been polishing his offensive prowess the past couple of offseasons, and has become one of the league’s best at that end of the floor. But if your superstar really “gets it” – and it seems as though Love does – he’ll continue working tirelessly to improve.

He won’t ever be Kevin Garnett, but at least if he sets the tempo, the team will follow. If the Wolves can add some defensive-minded role players this offseason,  and Love comes in leading the way during next year’s training camp, the team could make the playoffs for the first time since 2003-04.

A playoff appearance is a completely reasonable expectation – and it’s permissible to dream about a first round victory in 2012-13. For the first time in a long, long time, there are reasons to hope for the Timberwolves… and it feels really, really good.

 

IF YOU MADE IT ALL THE WAY TO THE END… Thank you! Let me know what you think – BreakTheHuddle@gmail.com, leave a comment, find me on Facebook, or hit me up on Twitter @BreakTheHuddle.