I was unable to watch the Wolves' two most recent contests and as such, the following two recaps have been consolidated and will be brief.
The Minnesota Timberwolves were back in action on Friday night in Cedar Rapids for a border battle with the Milwaukee Bucks. The result was a 98-105 win for the Bucks, led by Jabari Parker (21pts), Giannis Antetokounmpo (19pts) and O.J. Mayo (19pts).
Jabari Parker was the 2nd overall pick in the 2014 Draft after Andrew Wiggins went number one overall. In addition to his game-high 21 points, Parker added 11 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 steals and 2 blocks in 35 minutes of action.
The Bucks have a nice young core that will continue to learn and build together over the next few seasons: Jabari Parker, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Brandon Knight and John Henson. It's likely that Jabari Parker will go forward as the cornerstone of this franchise as they continue to put pieces around him.
The Wolves also have a nice young core that they're hoping builds and learns quickly over the next few seasons to finally end the postseason drought: Andrew Wiggins, Ricky Rubio, Zach LaVine, Gorgui Dieng, Anthony Bennett and Shabazz Muhammad.
The biggest difference between these two teams this year is that the Wolves not only have a number of young and talented players, but also a nice mixture of veteran talent that will be big contributors (Kevin Martin, Ricky Rubio, Thaddeus Young, Nikola Pekovic, J.J. Barea, Mo Williams and Ronny Turiaf).
The Wolves sat regular starters Ricky Rubio & Kevin Martin in this one. In their place, Saunders started LaVine at point guard and Corey Brewer at shooting guard. Joining them in the starting lineup: Wiggins, Young and Pekovic.
The Bucks also sat two of their regular starters: point guard Brandon Knight and center Larry Sanders. Their starting lineup included Kendall Marshall, Khris Middleton, Jared Dudley, Jabari Parker & Zaza Pachulia. The Bucks have a couple of veterans that could definitely help this team win some games, however their roles on the team will likely be determined by how the team fares in first portion of the season. For instance, if the Bucks are 20 games back from the playoff picture a few months into the season, it's likely that coach Jason Kidd reduces the roles of veterans like Zaza Pachulia, Jared Dudley, Ersan Ilyasova and O.J. Mayo.
The same could be said for the Wolves and players like Thaddeus Young, Nikola Pekovic, Corey Brewer, Kevin Martin, etc.
The Timberwolves faced the Oklahoma City Thunder on Sunday evening. The Thunder were, of course, without their franchise superstar (Kevin Durant). As such, this is most certainly Russell Westbrook's team. That being said, this wasn't the same Westbrook we've seen in year's past against the Timberwolves.
Russell finished with just 11pts, 3reb, 2ast, 1stl, 5tos, 1fl, 3-12 FG, 0-3 3PT, 5-5 FT in 23 minutes. It's nothing to look into too much, however considering this is only a preseason game. Come the regular season, I'd say there is a VERY good chance Westbrook is leading the NBA in scoring after a month!
The Wolves played a lot of zone defense and pressured in the ball in full-court and half-court sets. With so many long athletic defenders, this is something the Wolves will do quite a bit this season. Flip Saunders has said that they will run those types of defensive sets this season--so long as they are effective. Those that have watched the Wolves the past couple seasons, they know zone defense wasn't something that Adelman ran too much.
Those looking at the box score will notice that the Wolves started a very interesting unit. Saunders started J.J. Barea, Kevin Martin, Corey Brewer, Thaddeus Young and Ronny Turiaf. The reason? Apparently the Wolves played some scrimmages on Saturday. They were sorted into three teams and the first team to notch four wins; won. It wasn't until Sunday evening that Saunders informed his players that their reward for the wins was starting against the Oklahoma City Thunder that night.
It was definitely interesting having regular starters like Ricky Rubio & Nikola Pekovic come off the bench. Pekovic finally 'got going' around the bucket. he knocked down those shots, finishing with 11pts on 5-of-8 shooting. I think bringing Pekovic off the bench, is something the Wolves could/should look into doing this year. Starting Gorgui in that very athletic/defensive starting unit could be great for the Wolves. Pek would still play his 24-30 minutes a game and he'd being going against some lesser competition, too. The only problem? Do you want to pay your backup center $12million a year? That would be the question many would ask, however playing those 30 minutes a game--he'd be a lot more than just a backup.
Backup point guard Mo Williams led the way with 19pts on 6-7 FG in 23 minutes off the bench. In year's past a concern was how the Wolves would fair without a healthy Ricky Rubio. If the Wolves end up keeping J.J. Barea--they have a terrific three-prong committee at point guard. Mo Williams is an upgrade over J.J. Barea and J.J. Barea is a BIG upgrade over A.J. Price (from a season ago). The greatest thing about having three veteran point guards all capable of getting it done? Flip Saunders will have complete confidence in calling any of their numbers--on any given night. That wasn't something that Rick Adelman could do a season ago with Rubio, Barea & Price.
Through four preseason games, Saunders continues to play with rotations. It's not entirely clear what Flip's rotations will be, however from what we've seen thus far...
PG: Ricky Rubio, Mo Williams, J.J. Barea
SG: Kevin Martin, Zach LaVine, Chase Budinger
SF: Andrew Wiggins, Corey Brewer, Shabazz Muhammad, Glenn Robinson
PF: Thaddeus Young, Anthony Bennett, Robbie Hummel
C: Nikola Pekovic, Gorgui Dieng, Ronny Turiaf
In this scenario, the Wolves cut Brady Heslip. They still have 16 players under contract and a big decision looming with who will be the last cut. Will it be Chase Budinger departing via trade? J.J. Barea traded or waived/bought out? Glenn Robinson cut? At this point, your guess is as good as mine. However, if you twisted my arm...I'd say the Wolves trade Chase Budinger for a pick/exception and keep Barea & Robinson.
Cody D. Anderson
A Wolves fan bringing you Gameday Recaps all season long!