As we like to do as much as possible, I sent some questions to the editor of Canis Hoopus, SBNation's great Minnesota Timberwolves blog. The Wolves are relatively healthy for the first time in several seasons, and also added a key piece this summer in Kevin Martin -- all of which means, these guys are good. It's the Clippers first look at the new and improved MIN -- what insights can EricinMadison share with us?
Steve Perrin: Kevin Love has always been able to produce numbers and the first two weeks of the season have been no exception, but averaging five assists per game (with eight on Friday, one off his career high) is something new. Is this just small sample size theater, is Adelman using him a little differently, is he looking to find his teammates more -- or is it maybe that he has better teammates to get the ball to than he has ever had before?
EricinMadison: Love's assists are real and the result of a couple of changes: first, the Wolves have made a tactical decision to have Corey Brewer leak out on opponent's shots instead of stay in to help rebound. And he's really good at it. As a result, Love is picking up a couple of assists per game hitting Brewer (and occasionally Martin) with outlets, which he throws quickly and with precision. Second, they are running more half court offense with Love catching it at the high post/elbow area, then running basket cuts and back screens, and his timing on those passes is also excellent. Love has always had the ability to pass, but this year the team is making intentional use of that skill more than ever.
SP: Speaking of which, the Wolves Big Three of Love, Ricky Rubio and Nikola Pekovic have almost never been healthy at the same time until now. That's great news for Minnesota fans, but is there a question of fit? Pek is off to a slow start with Love back on the floor.
EiM: To the extent that there is a fit question with Love and Pekovic, it's at the defensive end. They are both reasonably effective guarding their own man, but neither is the paint dominator/shot blocking/rim protecting force you would like to have. Offensively, Pek's usage is down some, which was to be expected with the return of Love and arrival of Martin, but mostly he's just in a slump. Missing shots he's made the last couple of years. I think it's mostly variance, and he'll get his percentages back up. I like this group together offensively, because the options are so plentiful among the three main scorers: Pek in the post, Love inside and out, and Martin from the arc and also moving with and without the ball. Plus, all three of those guys draw fouls. The Wolves dominate the free throw line.
SP: LA basketball fans have some familiarity with Shabazz Muhammad, the Wolves lottery pick this year. He's been limited to garbage time in the early going, and that's with Chase Budinger out, who will hopefully be healthy some day. When will Muhammad crack the rotation, if ever? Is his NBA position the 2 or the 3?
EiM: And Muhammad was passed over [Friday] night against Dallas in favor of Robbie Hummel to take a few of Derrick Williams' minutes, who was out with back spasms. On Muhammad: not a draft pick most of us liked. He certainly is not a two, and in fact his numbers, both in college and pre-season, suggest that what he really is is a project four in the body of a combo wing. The one positive thing he seems to do is show aggressiveness on the glass. He is not ready to play, and I expect him to get assigned to the D-league once Budinger returns. Meanwhile, Steven Adams just put up 17 and 10 for the Thunder...
SP: I like Kevin Martin a lot, and have always felt like he's underrated. He's doing his usual high efficiency thing so far this season, making tons of threes and getting to the line. Did the Wolves pick up a crucial piece of the puzzle with Martin? How does it feel to have to seemingly have the shooting guard position nailed down after the motley crew of 2s the Wolves used last season?
EiM: The Wolves have not had a worthy shooting guard in such a long time that Martin is a revelation. A two who makes shots! In truth, I wanted the Wolves to trade for him when Sacramento was moving him, but better late then never. He's absolutely a crucial piece right now, sharing the scoring load with Love and just being a quality pro. He probably won't be quite this good all year, to say nothing of the four years it took to get him, but we love having him and he's a huge piece of what the team is doing.
SP: Be honest -- you hated J.J. Barea before he came to the Wolves, didn't you?
EiM: Actually I didn't, and here's why: like any right thinking person, I dislike the Lakers, and J.J. was fresh off being a big part of dismissing them in a sweep in the 2011 playoffs and also a big part of the Mavs win over the arrogant Heat, who also needed a comeuppance. So I actually had good feelings for J.J. when he came to the Wolves. Didn't have great feelings about the contract we gave him, but I'll say this: for all of his ups and downs, (and he does occasionally drive the team off the road and into a ditch), the effort is always there.
Thanks to Eric for answering my questions. That's a pretty good take on Barea. I just have those nightmares of when he used to kill the Clippers, back before the 2011 Playoffs, when the broader basketball universe knew very little about him and I felt like I was going crazy because whenever I was watching, he was this unstoppable force of nature, but then he was invisible against every other team. Plus, dude's annoying. But he sure can play, and I've always said he's the type of player you love if he's on your team. Like Eric says, the effort is always there.
Should be a great game tonight. I'm really looking forward to it.