As we try to do as frequently as possible, I asked a few questions of Tim Allen from the SBNation Timberwolves blog Canis Hoopus. His answers are most illuminating, and really helped me get a better handle on this resurgent team. Hopefully you'll enjoy his answers as much as I did.
Many thanks to Tim for taking the time to answer these questions. These are exciting times in Minnesota, as in some ways the T-Wolves are the new Clippers of the NBA -- the up and coming team that came from nowhere to become must see TV on League Pass. As young and talented as these two teams are, this could be an interesting rivalry for the foreseeable future.
[Note by Steve Perrin, 02/28/12 11:45 AM PST ] My answers to Tim's questions are here.Steve Perrin: To the general NBA fan, Kevin Love burst onto the scene out of nowhere last season, but he was always a per minute monster. In his first two NBA seasons, Love just didn't really get the minutes, playing just 25 a game as a rookie and 29 in his second year. He finally became a full time starter last year, and is leading the entire league in minutes per game at almost 40 this year. So this is a two parter -- what the heck was Kurt Rambis thinking those first two seasons, when he wasn't starting? And are you worried that he's playing
Tim Allen: David Kahn and Kurt Rambis were, in a way, meant for one another. Neither one seems to put much stock in analytics, including per-minute numbers. Both overrate players who look the part and underrate players who do not. And as an extension of the first two, both underrated Kevin Love. When Kahn arrived in Minnesota, he declared that Love's ceiling was the 4th best player on a championship contender. Kurt Rambis thought Love was better suited for a sixth man role and only started him 22 games in 2009-2010. Even Randy Wittman started him 37 games in Love's rookie season. Rambis (and Wittman) both told Kevin Love, who is now the reigning three-point contest champion, that he should not shoot three pointers.
Rambis and Wittman are two of the worst head coaches in NBA history. Thankfully, one is doing commentary on ESPN, one is coaching the Washington Wizards and neither one has anything to do with the Minnesota Timberwolves.
I am not terribly concerned about Kevin Love's minutes. He is in the best shape of his career, having lost a significant amount of weight in the offseason. Power forward is also the Wolves' strongest position with rookie Derrick Williams and energy guy Anthony Tolliver (who was a top-3 player for Minnesota last year), so there are options aside from Love. Additionally, the emergence of Nikola Pekovic has given the Wolves an inside scoring presence to take some pressure off of Love.
SP: I think Rick Adelman is one of the top coaches in the NBA and have a serious case of coach envy. I had a feeling that Minnesota was going to improve a lot this season (and was consequently pretty happy that the Clippers 'sold high' on MIN's 2012 draft pick, which helped them land Chris Paul). What do you see in Adelman's coaching that is making a difference? How much credit do you give to Adelman, and how much to a general talent upgrade?
TA: I give a tremendous amount of credit to Rick Adelman for the Wolves' improvement this year. One of the things I've grown to love most about Adelman is his willingness to play the guys who are performing and to sit the guys who aren't, regardless of whose name is on the back of the jersey. Ricky Rubio has sat out entire fourth quarters when Luke Ridnour and/or J.J. Barea have been performing at a high level. Other than his strange insistence on keeping Wesley Johnson in the starting lineup, his rotations have made sense, which is a breath of fresh air after Rambis last season.
Additionally, Adelman is improved the Wolves in two ways.
1. On defense. Last season, the Wolves gave up the most points per game in the league at 107.7. This season, that number has dropped to 95.6. Unlike last season, the Wolves are now able to get key stops down the stretch. While Minnesota has no lock down defenders, and even Kevin Love is a below-average individual defender, they are finally learning how to play team defense. Ricky Rubio is an above-average defensive point guard, but I credit Adelman with the bulk of the Wolves' improvement in that area.
2. Offensive playcalling. Instead of the crummy version of the Triangle that Rambis tried to import from Los Angeles, Adelman has simplified things and is trusting his guys to make the right decisions with the ball. I can only imagine what would've happened if Rambis was still here and he made Rubio drift to the corner on offensive possessions. The Wolves run a higher number of pick-and-roll/pick-and-pop plays now that has allowed us to get easier shots. Now, Kahn just needs to find some wing players who can make those shots.
SP: Nikola Pekovic. What's up with that?
TA: Pekovic is a beast. Over in Europe, he had this type of production on a regular basis. Over here, he had trouble adjusting to how refs called fouls and to the three-second rule (both offensive and defensive), which made it tough for him to stay on the court. It appears he is finally learning those skills. He might be the strongest player in the league and opposing bigs cannot force him out of post position. Against DeMarcus Cousins, for example, Cousins was unable to slow Pek down because he simply wasn't strong enough. Pek has very little athleticism, and is not a terrific defender, but in terms of low post scoring, he is replacing much of what the Wolves had with Al Jefferson.
SP: David Kahn has been a punchline around the NBA for a few seasons, but with the Wolves at 17-17 and just a game out of a playoff spot at the All Star break, it looks like we may need a new punching bag. Tell us what Kahn has done right with this team.
TA: What Kahn has done right...selected Ricky Rubio when he fell into the Wolves' lap with the 5th pick in 2009; convinced Rubio to play for the Wolves; hired Rick Adelman; and was lucky enough not to find a trade partner for Kevin Love.
Look, I'm encouraged by the Wolves right now, but Kahn was lucky more than he was good. Two of the Wolves' top three players - Love, Rubio and Pekovic - were McHale guys. In three drafts, Kahn managed to draft four players who will be lucky to be in the league in a couple of years (Jonny Flynn, Wesley Johnson, Lazar Hayward and Wayne Ellington), one player who is TBD (Malcolm Lee) and one player who was the consensus #2 pick (Derrick Williams).
He hired Kurt Rambis. He signed Ramon Sessions and Ryan Hollins, only to ship them out a year later. He gave Darko a $16 million deal and he traded for Martell Webster before doing due diligence to discover Webster's chronic back problems.
Now that Adelman is in town, voices in the front office are telling us that Team Adelman is in charge, not Kahn. His Kahntract (heh) is up at the end of this season and most fans are hoping that he does not get an extension.
SP: How much fun is it to see Ricky Rubio take the league by storm? For those of us who don't get to watch him every game, tell us who he reminds you of. Is there an existing NBA player who Rubio is like, or is he a unique NBA entity?
TA: His name is Ricky Rubio. He's not like anybody else. It has been a lot of fun to watch him this season. Sure, there are the flashy passes and Rubioops (that's alley-oops from Rubio, for those not familiar with the lingo). But he also does a lot of the little things. He plays solid on-ball defense. He knows how to direct players to the right positions on the floor. He even knows how to deliver hard fouls in the right spots. Even his shooting has been much better than what most people were anticipating. His basketball IQ is very high, and while he turns the ball over too much, that is bound to improve as he learns and grows in the NBA.
In terms of comparisons, I think his ceiling is probably Jason Kidd. When Kidd came into the league, he didn't have much of a shot. But Kidd has always been able to find the right angles and make the right passes. I'm not saying he is as good as Kidd, but that's probably the best NBA comparison.