|SI.com's NBA Enemy Lines|
An opposing team's scout sizes up the Timberwolves|
I'm not sure what the plan is here. It looks like they're throwing everything together and trying to accumulate the best players they can get and then go from there. They have different styles on the roster, and I don't see how their quick guards are going to match up with their slow big men. But they do have some good pieces.
For starters, it looks like they have a good foundation with the point guards. Ramon Sessions showed signs with Milwaukee of possibly being a starting guard in the league. He's solid in a lot of areas. He's athletic enough to get to where he wants to go, and he can pull up off the dribble knowing that he's going to try to drive it all the way as his first option. He's a pretty good pick-and-roll player, he's a good shooter and he can penetrate with a good knack for getting it out to the shooters. So my question is, How does a guy like him come out of nowhere [as the No. 56 pick in the 2007 draft]? Sometimes guards are hard to gauge. Who would have thought Steve Nash would have been one of the great ones? With point guards, there's a lot of intangible things, and the savvy part of the game can be hard to gauge. Plus, teams seem to fall in love with the big guards, and sometimes the average-sized guys get overlooked.
Rookie point guard Jonny Flynn is very athletic and tough with a good court presence. He competes and he's willing to take over the game. With the floor spaced like it is in the NBA, and given the fact that you can't put your hands on him, he's got the ball in the middle of the floor with the chance to use his quickness and strength and aggressiveness. This league is made for a guy like him. With the Syracuse guys [who play zone defense in college], the question is always going to be whether they can play NBA man-to-man defense, but with him you do see a certain toughness and athleticism at that end of the floor. The main things are that he wants to compete and he's not a finesse player, and those qualities translate to the defensive end. He's even willing to get in there and put a body on a big man when he needs to.
But this is not the ideal situation for a rookie point guard. He'd be much better off coming in with a decent team alongside a veteran point guard who could show the way and teach little tricks. I would assume Flynn and Sessions are going to be fighting for minutes, and how much are you willing to share with the guy who's competing against you? On the other hand, the minutes are going to be there more so than if either one of them went to a good team that's trying to make the playoffs. For Minnesota, it's good in that both should play to a similar style. Both are scoring point guards who like to push the ball.
I wonder how that up-tempo style will work with a power forward like Kevin Love [who will miss the start of the season with a broken left hand] and center like Al Jefferson. They're both lopers -- wait-for-me, set-it-up guys. They're not going to have either of their big men running with them, which means they'll have to get their wings on the break.
But somebody has to rebound and outlet to start the break, and that's a strength for Love. He's an undersized 4 who is a heck of a rebounder. Rebounding is a weird thing that's hard to coach. There are little tricks to it but a lot of it is just having a nose for the ball, and you don't necessarily have to jump really high to get a lot of them. You do need good hands, and Love has them. He seems to be at the right place and he finds a way to get in there. Love plays more position defense than anything else. He gets scored over the top a lot, but he's a heady team defender who tries to front and three-quarter the post. He's not going to patrol the lane or anything like that. He has some nastiness to him, the way he rebounds and clears his arms out with the elbows. He's not going to let anybody just manhandle him.
His outlet passing helps their break because his teammates know he's got the rebound and the pass is coming out quickly. The other thing I've seen him do is take the ball from out of the basket and chest-pass it the length of the court. I saw him do it and the next day I said, "Let me see if I can do this," and I can tell you that chest pass is harder than it looks. I think I got it to half court, and it wasn't on a straight line either; it might have had a little loft to it. So as soon as he gets the rebound, all of their small guys are going to get out fast to the fundamental outlet spots and he's going to get it to them.
Love can shoot from the high post area and he's a really good passer, so that high-low game with Jefferson should work well. They're a different group than you usually see because they're both big, beefy guys. Maybe they'll have an advantage with a frontcourt that nobody else has. Jefferson is more of a shot-blocker than Love, though neither one is really quick off the ground. I know Jefferson started in the league as a power forward with Boston, but he has no problem being a center against all but the biggest guys. His low-post game is his obvious strength; he's got the countermove, the main move and a soft touch to go with a very good head fake that people bite on. He prefers to use the right hook or the drop step, and then sometimes he goes with the dip-under Kevin McHale move -- which I'm sure McHale showed him, because I didn't see it from Jefferson in Boston. If he has a bigger guy on him, he can spin and face up, even though that's not what his game is about. In most cases, he can get to where he wants to go because he's heavy and strong. He's going to draw a double team most nights. The one thing a guy like him needs to really succeed inside is to be surrounded by good shooters, but Jefferson doesn't have that on this team. So maybe he'll have to step out of the post at times, and while he can shoot it decently from 15 feet, you're not going to close out hard to him until he proves he has it going from out there that night. Love, on the other hand, is someone you have to respect more as a shooter.
Jefferson has turned into a better passer out of the double team, though you still want to double and get it out of his hands. He is a very good rebounder with a willingness to be a pounder. It's a long night for whoever is guarding him and trying to box him out and battle with him all game. It was interesting last year that he put up such good numbers. I didn't think he came into the season in great shape and his legs weren't good at all. So it's good news for him that he came into camp in better shape this year, especially coming off major knee surgery. We should all lower our expectations for him because the mental part of overcoming a surgery like that can set a player back for a while.
The most interesting guy behind Jefferson is Ryan Hollins, who is one of the better athletes in the league at the center position -- or any position really. He's a guy who runs the floor and follows up for rebounds. The problem is that he doesn't have a feel for the game yet. He doesn't have a soft touch, but he has a lot of tools, he plays long and big and he can cover a lot of ground and block some shots. I'm guessing they picked him up to see if they could turn him into something. Right now, if you stick him in the game for four- or five-minute segments, he's probably going to foul two or three times trying to block every shot.
Antonio Daniels is an older guy who could offer a lot of insight to their young point guards, and he also can help by playing some off-guard. He was a high draft pick and he's been on winning teams, so he knows what the league is about.
Sasha Pavlovic is not just the typical European spot shooter. He can put it on the floor in the open court, and he'll defend. He hasn't proved he can be consistent over 82 games and give you what you need as a starter, but maybe his opportunities haven't been there either.
Damien Wilkins is probably their best guy at small forward. He does a lot of little things, though maybe he tries to look to score too much for himself. That may be the Wilkins part of him coming out [he's the nephew of Dominique Wilkins], so he can't help it. I would say he's an underrated three-point shooter, though he is a bit streaky. He'll run the floor and also spot up, and dive in when he sees an opening.
Ryan Gomes is an all-around guy who can play some 3, but he's better at the 4 where he can stretch out the defense with his shooting.
My first impression when I saw Corey Brewer was that he had a bad body -- like he was all torso, which doesn't translate to athleticism, with thin ankles and wrists, so you wondered if he would break down over the course of the season. He can be funky and unorthodox in finding ways to score. But I don't know if he does anything well enough to warrant big minutes. He doesn't have a strong enough body to be a good defender.
I thought they made a great choice in picking Kurt Rambis as coach. Obviously, he's experienced at the highest levels of championship basketball, so he has a lot to draw on and offer. But once you lose nine or 10 in a row, everybody says you stink and it all goes on the coach. I wonder about his assistant coaches; Reggie Theus and Bill Laimbeer want to be head coaches, so who is going to be out on the floor working with the players and doing the heavy lifting?
I also wonder if the absence of Ricky Rubio will cast a shadow on the franchise, especially when things aren't going well.