What the Timberwolves should do when the lockout ends…

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This is the third installment of PBT’s series of “What your team should do when the lockout ends.” Today it’s the Minnesota Timberwolves. You can also read up on the Lakers and Mavericks as we start to work our way through all 30 NBA teams.

It was a rough year for the Timberwolves last season. The team was awful on both ends of the floor, and finished with the league’s worst record. But even though the T-Wolves were the league’s worst team last year, there are some positive things happening in Kahn’s kingdom. Kevin Love had an All-Star breakout season. Ricky Rubio is finally coming over from Spain to join the team, and he’ll be joined by #2 pick Derrick Williams. Michael Beasley and Anthony Randolph actually showed signs of life.

There is talent on Minnesota’s roster — if they can make a few things work, they may finally be ready to crawl out of the NBA’s basement. Here are a few suggestions for the Timberwolves:

1. Find a way to hide Kevin Love on defense

Kevin Love’s breakout year last season wasn’t merely a case of someone putting up good numbers on a bad team because there was nobody around him talented enough to stop him from taking shots or grabbing rebounds. (Love’s teammate Michael Beasley actually fits that bill fairly well.)

Love’s scoring and rebounding are the real thing. We’ve never seen a player who combines rebounding prowess with deadly three-point accuracy the way Love does, and the UCLA product can score on the inside and pass as well. Love’s 47% field-goal percentage last season may seem pedestrian, but his prowess from beyond the arc and 85% free-throw stroke actually made him one of the most efficient scorers in the league last season.

Love’s rebounding is also special. Even though Love can barely get off the floor, he has an incredible knack for tracking down caroms off the rim, and he averaged 15.2 points per game while the Timberwolves were actually one of the better rebounding teams in the league. There isn’t a single offense or rebounding unit in the league that wouldn’t greatly benefit from the addition of Kevin Love.

Love’s defense, however, was and is a serious issue if Minnesota ever wants to be a serious playoff team. Minnesota was a horrible defensive team last year, and both advanced statistics and the eye test say that Love was a major part of that problem. Having athletic forwards and centers who can change or block shots at the rim or jump out to the perimeter to shut down the pick-and-roll while recovering back to their man has never been more important than it is in today’s NBA, and the slow, undersized Love can do neither of those things.

Whoever Minnesota’s next coach is, his first priority should be to draw up a defensive scheme that can hide Love effectively, and the Wolves should be actively looking for players who can pick up the slack for Love defensively.

2. Find a way to effectively use Ricky Rubio

Rubio’s size, athleticism, court vision, creativity, and defense are still worth getting excited about, but a few miserable statistical seasons in Spain have dampened the excitement surrounding him somewhat. In Rubio’s defense, he was forced to play in a slow-it-down system that isn’t at all suited for his open-floor gifts, and some would say that he sacrificed his own numbers in order to fit in with a very successful FC Barcelona club.

Still, Rubio’s jarringly low field goal numbers are a red flag, and there’s no getting around the fact that the 20-year old simply has no outside shot right now. (This makes any comparisons of Rubio to floppy-haired creators like Pistol Pete Maravitch or Steve Nash completely ludicrous, by the way.) Most guards who can’t shoot know their limitations from a young age. Rajon Rondo, who was stuck in a slow-it-down system before getting to the NBA, still knew what shots not to take in college, and he shot 51% and 48% from the field during his two years at Kentucky.

Jason Kidd, who has the same kind of size and passing ability as Rubio and has a 40.1% career field goal percentage, is a more hopeful comparison, but he’s always offset that by shooting a LOT of threes — conventional wisdom is that Kidd didn’t find the three-point shot until late in his career, but he actually made 133 of the 396 (33.6%) of the threes he took his second year in the league. Rubio hasn’t been shy about taking threes in Spain, and has had mixed success with the shot, but the bottom line is that he’ll either have to seriously overhaul his jump shot or have Rondo-like penetration ability and shot selection in order to become an efficient scorer in the NBA.

For their part, the Timberwolves must make sure that Rubio is given the chance to get out in the open floor and create for his teammates as much as possible, and keep him from having to try and be a one-on-one scorer. Using Rubio correctly will be a challenge, but the potential rewards are worth the challenge.

3. Figure out what to do with all of those wings and forwards

Michael Beasley. Derrick Williams. Martell Webster. Wesley Johnson. Anthony Randolph. Anthony Tolliver. The Wolves’ roster is absolutely packed with young wings and bigs, and all of them (with the exception of Williams), had their ups and downs last season. Williams is a talented scorer, but he’s a natural four offensively. Johnson is a great perimeter defender, but he struggled on offense. Randolph is up-and-down incarnate. Beasley is a volume shooter and can have big scoring nights, but he struggles at everything except for heaving the ball towards the basket with great regularity.

The Timberwolves need to figure out which wings should be getting the lion’s share of the minutes, and which ones will work best next to the Rubio/Williams/Love core the team should be building around. If they can do that while getting effective seasons from Williams and Rubio and hiding Love on defense, the Timberwolves might actually begin their return to post-Garnett respectability in earnest this season — if this season happens.

Suns, Crowder agree he will sit out training camp while they seek a trade

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Jae Crowder wants out of Phoenix and the Suns have been looking for a trade to accommodate that.

It hasn’t come together, so the Suns and Crowder agreed he should sit out training camp while they find one (this team does not need another distraction in camp).

We knew this was coming because Crowder himself announced it a couple of days ago. While he deleted the Tweet, nothing ever completely disappears online.

Two quick thoughts on this news.

First, it means Cameron Johnson will start at the four, something that was likely anyway as the Suns look to add shooting to help space the floor.

Second, this news does not help the Suns’ leverage in getting a trade. It’s understandable that Crowder didn’t want to be in camp and that the Suns didn’t want the distraction, but now everyone knows the pressure on the Suns to get a deal done and they will lowball their offer.

There are a few potential landing spots out there. Crowder hinted online he would welcome a return to Miami, and the Heat need help at the four after P.J. Tucker left for Philly. The Heat would base a trade around Duncan Robinson, but to make the salaries match the Suns would have to throw in another player — Dario Saric, Landry Shamet, Cameron Payne, Torey Craig or after Jan. 15  — and that seems unlikely.

Atlanta, Dallas, Chicago, Boston (but it’s tough to make the salaries match up), and even a team like Minnesota could work. The challenge is the Suns are a win-now team and will want a player who can help them this season and all those teams are in the same space. Right now there may not be an offer available. As camps open and teams start to understand what they do and don’t have, a deal could come together.

Crowder will be home waiting for that to happen, not with the Suns team.

Giannis Antetokounmpo says Stephen Curry is the best player in the world

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Giannis Antetokounmpo is at the top of pretty much every “best player in the world” list right now.

Except his own.

For Antetokounmpo, the best player in the world is the one that leads his team to the title, so today, it is Stephen Curry (hat tip to Lance Allen of NBC Milwaukee).

It’s easy to see where Antetokounmpo is coming from, but basketball is a team game. The best player may not be on the best team, despite his skill set, and that team may not win. Curry was spectacular in leading the Warriors to their fourth banner since he arrived, he’s near the top of the best in the world list, but it’s not all about winning.

The takeaway from what Antetokounmpo said is how much he wants to win — he wants a second ring.

The Bucks enter the season as one of the favorites to win that ring, but it’s going to take a lot of things going right for that to happen.

Including Antetokounmpo showing he is the best player in the world.

 

Is Matisse Thybulle ready for a big step forward with 76ers?

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Matisse Thybulle brings a valuable NBA skill to the table — he is an elite perimeter defender. Two-time All-Defensive Team in three years in the league.

But when the 76ers got up against Miami in the playoffs, Thybulle’s role shrank dramatically. While Doc Rivers needed his defense, Thybulle’s lack of an offensive game became a problem — the Heat largely ignored him and helped off him, allowing Miami to muck up the Philly offense (he was limited in the Toronto series because he was not vaccinated and could not play in road games). The 76ers tried to solve that problem this offseason by bringing in DeAnthony Melton, Danuel House and P.J. Tucker — solid role-playing defenders who can contribute on offense, too.

Thybulle wants to be part of the solution, too, and told Keith Pompey of the Philadelphia Inquirer he spent the summer focused on his offensive game.

“I’m really proud of what I did,” Thybulle said of his offseason. “I’ve worked harder than I’ve worked. And I had a meeting with [Sixers coach Doc Rivers] early this week and was telling him I feel more bought in than I’ve been before.”

No doubt Thybulle put in the work, we will find out soon if it paid off — and if that will get Thybulle paid.

Thybulle is entering a contract year — the 76ers can extend him up until Oct. 18, after which he would become a restricted free agent next summer. Thybulle said his goal is to remain in Philadelphia (and he’d like an extension).

“At this point, I would always want to stay in Philly,” he said. “And if it’s up to me, that’s always going to be my choice.

“But considering that I’ve realized the reality of how far out of my control it is, if I do get traded or something does end up happening, I can look at myself in the mirror at the end of the day.”

With a win-now Sixers team, Daryl Morey may be in a wait-and-see place with Thybulle, letting the market set his price next offseason. If he signs now, it will likely be on a team-friendly deal (but maybe one that still works for the 25-year-old).

If Thybulle gets on the court this season and shows an improved offensive game, one where he can make teams pay for helping off him, his price goes up and there may be multiple teams bidding for his services next summer. And Doc Rivers would be happy in the short term.

It’s up to Thybulle to prove it now.

 

Markelle Fultz will miss start of training camp, at least, with broken toe

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The basketball gods continue to turn their backs on Markelle Fultz.

A torn ACL had limited him to 26 games over the past two seasons, but he was healthy and ramping up to a larger role this season with a young and interesting Magic team. Then came the news he fractured his left big toe during a training session. As a result, he will be out for at least the start of training camp, the team announced. From the official announcement:

“He has been placed in a walking boot and his return to play will depend on how he responds to rehabilitation and treatment. Fultz suffered the injury during a preseason workout prior to returning to Orlando and imaging confirmed the fracture.

He will not need surgery, according to the team.

Fultz was set to split point guard duties with Cole Anthony, this injury means RJ Hampton could see more run at the point for now. Fultz should be able to return either during the end of the preseason or early in the season.

Fultz was the No.1 pick in the 2017 NBA Draft but never found his footing with the 76ers (in part due to injury). However, since getting out of that spotlight and allowed to develop in Orlando he’s been a solid rotation point guard when healthy. Last season in 18 games he averaged 10.8 points and 5.5 assists a game, and while he’s still not an efficient shooter he can run a team.

How Anthony and, eventually, Fultz will work off the ball as rookie Paolo Banchero gets the opportunity to create more offense will be just one of the interesting things to watch with this Magic team this year. We’ll have to wait a little while to see Fultz.