The Thunder and Timberwolves have developed a small rivalry over the past two seasons. Of course, that is with superstar Kevin Love healthy and in the lineup.
The two teams square off Friday in Oklahoma City with the Thunder riding a three-game losing streak and coming off a loss to James Harden and the Rockets. Although the T-Wolves are without Love, there is still plenty to look forward to Friday at the Chesapeake Energy Arena.
1. Kevin Love has expressed his problems with the organization in December before re-injuring his hand, forcing him to sit out until maybe next month. What are your thoughts on the situation and is there any chance at all they get a deal done before he becomes a free agent in 2015?
I am one of the few that does not have a strong opinion on Kevin Love one way or the other. Nothing would surprise me. I could absolutely see him requesting a trade and/or the Wolves unloading him going into that option year and trying to rebuild around Rubio and others. There are a few dominos that have to fall before Love’s second extension – Pekovic’s impending free agency, finding a competent SG and a replacement for Kirilenko – so I tend not to worry much about it at all (until he gives an interview to a reporter and calls out the front office, that gets me going).
Love is a phenomenal player and probably the best PF in the game. While I would love to see him stay, I’m a Wolves fan first and the franchise needs to do what is right for itself before worrying about one player – particularly when said player is under contract for the foreseeable future.
2. Ricky Rubio has played well as of late with double-digit assists in five of nine games in February. He hasn't developed much of a scoring game yet in his career, but do you believe he is a guy the Timberwolves can pair with Love (when healthy) and have success? As in make the playoffs and get out of the first round success?
Absolutely. This was a playoff roster going into this year’s season before all of the injuries. We knew Rubio would be back at some point in the first half of the year and could/should have expected Brandon Roy to go down. We should also have figured for a minor tweak here and there and a few off games for Kirilenko and Barea.
Unfortunately, it has been a perfect storm this season. Even our replacements are suffering season ending injuries (Josh Howard). This year would have been a nice test to get that playoff experience and maybe catch a good match-up or few breaks and make it to the second round. Then, build off of that momentum with a few tweaks in the summer and make a two year run at the title with Love and Rubio. My biggest fears are that A. this season puts us behind that "how to win in the playoffs" learning curve and B. this offseason is pressure packed for David Kahn and I can’t say that I’m fully confident he can make it happen.
3. Rookie Alexey Shved is averaging 10.4 points and 4.4 assists in 27.6 minutes per game. How big is his upside and how do you see him developing over the rest of the season and into his sophomore year?
Shved has been a blessing this season. To tell you the truth, I’ve never really thought of his ceiling or made a player comparison to him. He’s a combo-guard that has the ball skills and ability to play the point, but the shooting ability and length to play the wing. Alexey can play in this league for a very long time and be a solid contributor for a winning team. As I have thought about this to provide a better answer to your question, the name that pops up is Manu Ginobili. A guy that doesn’t need to be in the starting lineup, but someone you want out on the floor at the end of games.
Shved hit a little bit of a rookie wall several weeks ago and I would expect him to hit another one at some point over the second half of the season as he adjusts to the NBA lifestyle and schedule. Some basic maintenance to his game and adaptation to the NBA would be focal areas this offseason and going into next season – putting on a few pounds of muscle to help his durability, continuing to improve his ball handling and decision making, and becoming that much more acclimated to his teammates which will specifically help on the defensive end.
While watching Alexey this past summer in the Olympics, I noticed that he left his feet a lot when he was making passes to teammates and playing the role of facilitator for Team Russia. That caught my eye almost immediately and I figured he would not get away with it in the NBA. Sure enough, this led to a lot of his turnovers in the first two months of the season but is also something he is doing much less frequently now. Moral of this story – I fully expect Alexey to be able to make the improvements listed above over time and to be a very solid contributor to this club for a number of years.