Scouting the Opposition: Minnesota Timberwolves
For every home game this season, we’ll be gathering some intel on the opposing team from someone who knows them best — a team employee, a rival blogger, beat writer or broadcaster.
For the Hawks’ home game Monday afternoon against the Timberwolves, we reached out to Mark Remme, who writes about the team for the team’s official website, for his take on their team.
His answers are below:
Hawks.com: The Wolves have been bitten by the injury bug a lot lately. How is the team responding to so many players missing time?
Mark Remme: They’re doing as best they can to deal with the fluctuating roster, and despite the tough stretch on this past road trip and all the injuries and illness they’ve dealt with the team is very conscious that they are still in the thick of the Western Conference playoff race. But every time someone else goes down with injury, it makes them shake their heads and wonder what more can happen in this season? I think the biggest attribute this team does have is resolve, because they’re still very focused on what they want to achieve this year. Right now it’s a matter of having enough personnel to hang with opposing teams in the third and fourth quarters
Hawks.com: Speaking of injuries, Ricky Rubio is still working his way back into shape from his knee injury last season. How far away is he from being full strength?
MR: He’s getting there. The coaching and training staffs have been very cautious about how they handle Ricky’s recovery since it was a major knee operation, and they’ve stuck to a regimented plan throughout his recovery in the offseason and through his return this winter. He started by playing about 18 minutes when he returned last month, and he’s worked his way up to about 28 minutes and returned to the starting lineup. I think Ricky’s a guy who will benefit from being back in that starter’s role and playing more minutes.
Hawks.com: The Wolves have had a bit of a Russian invasion this season. How much impact have Andrei Kirilenko and Alexey Shved had on the team?
MR: AK and Shved have been two players that have really made significant impacts on this team through all the injuries and uncertainty on this roster. Shved made an impact coming off the bench in the first month of the season, then transitioned into the starting shooting guard role after Brandon Roy, Chase Budinger and Malcolm Lee all suffered knee injuries that resulted in surgeries. Particularly early on in the season he stepped in and logged significant minutes in the fourth quarter, and he proved early on that he wasn’t afraid to take 3-point shots in big moments. AK has become a crucial player for the Wolves across the board. He impacts games with his defense, his court awareness and his scoring. It seems like on any given night he makes his mark on the game in different areas based on what the team needs. Last year the shooting guard/small forward roles weren’t consistent for the Timberwolves, but Kirilenko has stepped in and been a solid addition at the 3 spot this year because of his versatility and his willingness to take on the team’s best offensive player each night.
Hawks.com: Do you foresee the Wolves making many roster moves before the NBA trade deadline in February?
MR: I can see the Wolves being active at the trading deadline, particularly if they are still in the hunt for the 8th spot at that point and knowing they will still be without Love and Budinger until mid-March. What they do or how they are active is still up in the air. I’d imagine they’d want to add depth at the wing position if they do make a move, adding another scorer that can take on some extra offensive responsibilities before Love returns and then complement him on the floor when he is back. Right now you’re seeing a lot of roster moves with 10-day contracts to keep the team’s numbers up, but by the deadline I’m sure the team will be interested in making some sort of move if the right deal presents itself.
Hawks.com: Minnesota is currently only a few games out of the 8 spot in the West. What does the team need to improve upon the most to get into the postseason?
MR: The biggest thing really is health. When they were healthy early on in the season, they looked like a team that had a really good shot at finding themselves in the 6-8 spots in the West. But this team has had 10 players miss time this season, including four that have undergone knee surgeries and five surgeries overall. They’ve signed players like Josh Howard to fill a role on the wing, and then he tore his ACL and is done for the year. But aside from that, the biggest thing the Wolves need to improve on in their play is their 3-point shooting. They’re last in the league in that department and are shooting less than 30 percent as a team from behind the arc. Improving their 3-point shooting will give their offense a much-needed boost. Luke Ridnour moved over to the starting 2-guard spot when Rubio returned to the starting lineup, and his presence off the ball helps a lot because he’s one of the team’s best spot-up shooters. But if the Wolves get healthy and start hitting shots from deep, they should contend for one of the final playoff spots.