On the Wolves: Canis Hoopus / A Wolf Among Wolves / T'wolves Blog
The Minnesota Timberwolves and Milwaukee Bucks kick off their home-and-home preseason series at the Target Center in a matchup that is expected to feature the NBA debuts of Ricky Rubio and #2 overall pick Derrick Williams.
What to watch for. REAL NBA BASKETBALL. It's just nice to say out loud, isn't it? Granted it's just preseason, but with the season starting two months late we'll take what we can get. Naturally we'll all be keeping an eye on the Bucks' newest acquisitions: Will Mike Dunleavy be the floor-stretching wing this team has badly needed? Can Beno Udrih play at a consistently high level for a non-awful team? Are the rookies going to sniff the court this season? Will Stephen Jackson explode in a good or bad way?
Realistically though, the most important questions still revolve around the Bucks' two most important players. A healthy, more offensively potent Andrew Bogut would be enormous, and a (much) more efficient Brandon Jennings would be a delight. I'd caution against trying to read too much into the first preseason game, especially given how little practice time players have had together, but something tells me we'll all do it anyway. Jim Paschke posted interviews with Skiles and Jennings from shootaround earlier today.
Fresh faces. Are the Wolves finally ready to go from lovable losers to legitimate playoff contenders? That's the hope in Minnesota, where the arrival of a real coach (Rick Adelman) and the additions of #2 overall pick Derrick Williams and 2009 #5 pick Ricky Rubio is generating plenty of buzz. Rubio is expected to come off the bench behind Luke Ridnour in his first NBA game--Jennings can relate, having done the same two years ago--while Williams will likely do the same behind Michael Beasley. There had been some hope of Williams getting time at small forward, but Adelman isn't seeing it right now. Big men who want to be perimeter players is a personal pet peeve of mine, so that sounds good to me. You're 6'9" and 250 pounds, Derrick, embrace it.
Meanwhile Rubio is one of the stranger players to enter the league in a while--he can't shoot, jump or finish, but he's a terrific passer and rangy defender with dreamy hair--so it will be fascinating to watch his adaptation to the NBA. The 21-year-old was a pro in Spain before most American kids can legally drive and spent the last couple seasons for European powerhouses FC Barcelona, so don't expect him to be too starstruck by the NBA. Many have speculated that the faster-paced NBA game will suit his style better than the more grind-it-out approach favored in Europe, and in that sense Minnesota looks like a particularly good fit. The Wolves led the league in pace under Kurt Rambis last season while Adelman's Rockets ranked eighth. And tonight there's also the Rubio/Jennings subplot.
Luc travels. Luc Mbah a Moute has yet to practice due to delays in his visa being finalized, but word from the Bucks is that the paperwork is now done and he joined the team in Minnesota last night. The BucksPR Twitter account announced earlier today that the likely starters will be Jennings, Dunleavy (in place of Jackson), Delfino, Gooden and Bogut.
Scott Skiles said on Friday that he would like to get his rookies some burn tonight, though there had been some questions as to whether Tobias Harris and Larry Sanders would play after both were hospitalized with dehydration earlier in the week. However, the Bucks are now saying that "most" players will play tonight, including Harris, Jon Leuer and Mbah a Moute. Darington Hobson played in the open scrimmage on Wednesday, so no reason to think he won't feature as well.
Skinny Love. There was plenty of speculation during lockout about which players might use the work stoppage as an excuse to let themselves go--the Shawn Kemp sweepstakes if you will--but so far all the camp stories seem to be about guys doing the exact opposite. Drew Gooden lost nearly 30 pounds after ballooning to 264 last season following his foot injury, Carlos Boozer supposedly dropped 20 pounds, and Kendrick Perkins is also looking svelter than we've ever seen him before.
And then there's Kevin Love, who's never looked particularly toned and tipped the scales close to 265 at the end of last season. Despite a monster year that saw him lead the league in rebounding, earn his first All-Star berth and claim the NBA's most improved player title, Love didn't rest on his laurels over the summer and fall, dropping all the way down to 240 pounds at the start of camp. That might make it a bit harder for Love to bang with centers down low, but it should be a big plus in the long term for his knees and stamina.
Inaction Jackson. Gery Woelfel revved up the rumormill yesterday with another report about Stephen Jackson's extension demands, so yeah...good times. We'll see if the story goes anywhere. In the meantime, Jackson tweeted today that he wouldn't be in the lineup tonight but that he will be "ready for the next one"--which would mean next Wednesday's MACC Fund game at the BC. Jackson dealt with hamstring issues for much of the summer and has been held out of practice the past few days with back spasms.
One less Wisconsin connection. The Wolves surprised many when they selected former Marquette swingman Lazar Hayward at the end of the first round in 2010, and surprised a few more when they managed to get two second round picks from the Thunder for him last week. Filling the Wisconsin college void tonight will be Minnesota native Jon Leuer, who agreed to a two-year deal with the Bucks on Thursday. Dan is excited.