Rather than post a series of individual overreactions after each pre-season game thus far, I thought it would make sense to take what we have learned in the first few games and write up one larger-scale overreaction. And of course, what better way to add to the theme of generalities and summarizing than through use of bullet points!? Bear in mind I watched all of these games online through, um, Pinterest, and thus the resolution was that of an early 2000's cell phone video camera. Like our always-excellent play-by-play folks on TV and Radio, I also got Othyus Jeffers and Shabazz Muhammad confused consistently. And maybe even Pek and Rubio. It was a bad feed, ok?
-The Return of K Love. Skinny Love is in this year and Rotund Love is out. It might be as simple as that. Love has looked to be a much more willing facilitator since Rick stated to the media it is a requirement for Love to evolve as a player. The outlet pass is also back. We haven't quite seen the ludicrous rebounding numbers, but an early look at K Love suggests things look much more calibrated vs. last year's forgettable campaign. He has hit some threes, has made some impressive moves (though still has a bit to go to be a crunch time takeover guy) and is getting to the free throw line at a high rate. The big questions remain: can Love stay healthy this year and avoid his odd string of fluke injuries? Will the roster Flip has assembled, essentially all but locked in for the next few seasons, be enough to keep him here for another extension?
With all the attention Ricky gets, it is easy to forget how dominant Love can be at his best. Hopefully his next evolution is adding a little Pau Gasol finesse to his game, and we see a lot more of this this season:
-The Starting 5 lethargy: In the pre-season thus far, Ricky and the other starters have looked a bit tentative to say the least. Among the first things I noticed over the first few games was the body language, an unusual lack of energy from the starters, and an overall lazy start to games. Ricky hasn't made any "Ricky" plays, there has been poor defense, and what appears to be a group of guys with their heads at their feet, almost drained. This could very well be a pre-season issue, but we have seen this with the Wolves in the Adelman-era before, where falling down hard to start the game was commonplace, and every win seemed to be a desperate come-from-behind epic. Hopefully playing real games in a crowded Target Center will light the fire.
As an aside, though, and not as relevant, Kevin Martin is going to be fun. Having a ball handler who can finish shots, dribble, get to the line, and shoot, not to mention was mainly added as a "4th wheel" is going to lead to some breathtaking action with a Rubio-run back court this season. While KMart's shots weren't falling at his normal mark during his few pre-season games, I liked the potential of what he showed.
-The Defense: Right from when the Wolves faced Moscow, the overall team defense was definitely needing work. Now, this isn't really due to a lack of an ace individual defender on the floor such as Kirilenko, but more an obvious lack of communication and a disconnect from the team D side of things. A lot is made of having individual defensive specialists on your squad versus what is arguably more important: how teams move and rotate together on the opposite side of the ball. With some discipline and focus, the Wolves should be able to hold their own in time at the very least. Ricky Rubio is a future NBA All-Defense Point Guard. Brewer, though and erratic over-gambler, has the quickness to cover breakups and rotate when needed. Pekovic, though not a shot blocker, is the equivalent of putting an Easter Island statue in the lane (for better or worse). And off the bench you have Dieng and Turiaf to help out up top. So, basically, yes, that isn't a lot to rely upon. Russia got off whatever shot it wanted against the Wolves and it is going to be a problem until the defense starts playing rhythmically "in the pocket" so to speak.
The loss of defensive coach Bill Bayno is a blow, and I would have have liked to see Adelman hire a known defense strategist to help build a better defense, and promote harmony as a team defensively, rather than resort to nepotism. it is certainly going to be an ongoing process that will create a ton of frustration to start the season, if not the whole year, based on what we have seen from the lack of sync among the players who will dominate the nightly minutes allocation.
-The Battle for Spot 15: What a battle! Can you recall a more ferocious battle-for-life in Wolves HISTORY? Of the 4 roster hopefuls (Jeffers, Hummel, Brown and Price), only one will make the team as of now. However, a plot twist to this story is likely to develop and that is the fate of Chris Johnson. Johnson, spurned by Adelman after showing some promise during the Terry Porter-run teams of Wolves lore, hasn't logged a second of pre-season play, and one would think this may mean Taylor will eat his $1 million salary guarantee as David Kahn's final laugh, and send him on his merry way. This would mean two spots open up. Regardless, let's pretend for now only one final spot is filled. Of the four hopefuls, all have shown some specialized ability to contribute on an NBA floor. Hummel has shown he can shoot the ball, Brown has been a patient facilitator and defender despite not lighting any box scores on fire. Price has been a bit of a spark plug as an offensive-minded pure PG.
But the most likely guy to make the roster? The one nobody would have predicted months or even weeks ago: Mr. Othyus Jeffers. When coaching staff and FO members call him the "best individual defender on the team" in the pre-season (which is concerning on higher levels, but we won't get into it here), and he is logging minutes ahead of Shabazz Muhammad, it is pretty clear what the most likely outcome is. Jeffers is not going to provide much offensively other than situational buckets, but could be a solid intangibles/defensive guy who eats some spot minutes off the bench. This isn't a bad thing.
-Shabazz on the Boards: Last but not least, Mr. Muhammad, the most polarizing Wolves draft pick since the Wolves traded for K Love in 2008, and your new Reggie Evans of Swingmen. A lot has been made of his newfound glory of developing an inside game as a tough-nosed guard who crashes the boards and scores from inside. Thus far in the pre-season, unless I am mistaken, he has not successfully completed a drive to the basket nor a jump shot, instead relying on rebounding, post moves, and above all: free throws (always excellent) to generate scoring opportunities for himself. Let's be clear, it is a bit silly how much has been made of a guard trying to become an elite offensive rebounder. However, it is fairly clear that his style of play from UCLA, and sticking to it, would not bode well for his NBA future. He is not a knock down shooter, he isn't a good enough ball-handler (yet) or quick enough to succeed in iso-situations, and he would simply be overmatched sticking to his college guns.
I'm going to play the rare positive card here. No matter how irrelevant you see his contributions this pre-season (and I disagree with that stance), the fact that he is working hard to change his game and adapt to the NBA is a positive thing. Kevin Lynch put it very nicely on the broadcast the other day, likening Shabazz's willingness to develop an inside game, and also showing some promise there, as his ticket to potentially getting onto the court. His outside shot is there and will come, but from a guy who has been told he is the greatest thing on this planet since the day he was born, who was lauded as selfish and self-centered at UCLA, to show some humility and determination, and a willingness to accept an inferior role in the NBA is actually a really good sign for his future, which looked dim even before he was drafted. Players like Shabazz are supposed to turn into the Rashad McCantses of the world. Shabazz is showing early signs that he may avoid that fate and, though unconventional, I have liked what I have seen so far, even if it hasn't been entirely perfect enough for all of us snooty know-it-all fans out there.
And many more notes to be shared as well. Shved is Shved, awesome one minute, lackluster the next. Dieng has shown some solid defensive promise, Derrick has shown some nice improvements offensively and appears more in control, Turiaf is the guy most likely to put a romantic spell on Adelman and drive the fans a little nuts with how many minutes he gets, and more. There is a lot to keep fresh in mind as the back half of the pre-season begins.
The Wolves pick it up again this Sunday against almost-Timberwolf Kelly Olynyk and the Boston Celtics. Hopefully Adelman and team use this unusual amount of extra time to tighten the defense and get the starters a little bit more juiced. The season is just around the corner.