O’Quinn Inks Three-Year Deal With Orlando

Per his agent, Kyle O’Quinn has signed a three year deal with the Orlando Magic. O’Quinn’s deal is worth $2.5 million over three years. The first year of his deal is guaranteed and worth about $788,000.

O’Quinn, picked 49th in the 2012 NBA Draft by the Magic, was impressive playing for the Orlando Summer League team. In roughly 21.4 minutes per game, O’Quinn averaged 8.8 points and 6.2 rebounds. O’Quinn used his 7’5 wingspan to make post offense difficult for opposing big men, including one impressive defensive performance against Piston’s rookie Andre Drummond, the 9th pick in this year’s draft, that frustrated Detroit’s rookie into three points on 1-4 shooting and three rebounds.

O’Quinn told HOOPSADDICT.com in July that his plan was to become a backup for Dwight Howard.

“We go off what’s going on today, and [Howard] needs a reliable backup. I’m think I can be that,” he said. “[General manager Rob] Hennigan and Scott Perry are always looking for young talent and you want to be in those type of situations.”

Most people were introduced to O’Quinn after his college team, Norfolk State, upset 2nd ranked Missouri in the opening round of the NCAA tournament. O’Quinn’s endearing post-game interview with Craig Sager made him an early fan favorite.

Orlando Summer League Review

Orlando Summer League MVP

The Candidates: Austin Daye, Detroit; Lance Stephenson, Indiana

Statistically, Lance Stephenson was the runaway camp MVP; when engaged, the Pacer guard was borderline unstoppable. But when he was less engaged, it was unfortunately obvious. In no game was the difference as pronounced as Friday’s matchup with Brooklyn. When he wanted to score, Stephenson reached into his bag of tricks (the prettiest of which is his quick, sweeping crossover dribble) and got to the rim at will. When he wasn’t engaged, he was rolling his eyes and walking away from teammate Miles Plumlee, who did not perform well.

Stephenson led the Orlando Summer League in points by well over two per game, and he was third in assists. He showed that he can play point with some serious size, as well as shooting guard. Statistically, he’s the MVP. But considering the Pacers’ mediocre record (2-3) and Stephenson’s occasionally questionable body language, the MVP award goes to Austin Daye.

Daye was fantastic, averaging 15.8 points per game to go with 7.4 rebounds. His 3-point percentages were a little low (.353), but his pace-adjusted stats were excellent: per 48 minutes, Daye averaged 28.9 points. More importantly, the Pistons went 4-1 in Summer League. One could make the argument that Daye had more help than Stephenson (Brandon Knight averaged 7.3 assists, Kim English averaged a ridiculous .455 from 3-point range), but by that logic, Kevin Love would have won the MVP award over LeBron James this season, which would have been a travesty.

MVP: Austin Daye, Detroit Pistons

Biggest Project

The Candidates: Fab Melo, Boston; Andre Drummond, Detroit

For the purposes of this “award,” we aren’t including players who probably will never play in the NBA. Thus we exclude the Blake Ahearns and the Bradford Burgesses. Instead, we focus on two players who simultaneously present a series of frustrating challenges and intriguing skill sets.

Let’s begin here: Fab Melo is not as good as Andre Drummond, and if that’s the qualification for “project,” Melo wins. Hands down. Drafted for his interior defense, Melo has a very difficult time defending the paint. He got lost several times when the team went into a 2-3 zone, which is understandable since he’s new to the system, but he got lost several times in man to man defense as well. Melo has an NBA body; he’s very tall, very long, and very strong. But he has a fairly low basketball IQ, which is worrisome for his career going forward. Celtics fans would undoubtedly like to believe that playing with Garnett will help, and perhaps it will, but Melo has a long ways to go before he is an impact player in the NBA.

But while Drummond entered camp with a few more skills than Melo, Drummond also can rise considerably higher. Drummond’s go-to shot in the post at the moment is an awkward turnaround, which he releases very low for a 7-footer. With offensive polish, Drummond really could become one of the dominant big men in the NBA. But it’s going to take a ton of work to get him there, a ton of work which Detroit has invested in themselves by picking him 9th.

Biggest Project: Andre Drummond, Detroit Pistons

Biggest Stock Boost

The Candidates: Kyle O’Quinn, Orlando; Jacob Pullen, Philadelphia

Though Pullen went down with an ankle injury and didn’t play in the final two games, his 13 points per game were impressive, as was his court vision and, to borrow an annoying basketball cliché, his sense of the moment. It was deadly for teams to leave him late in games, and in multiple games, Pullen’s confident 3-pointers brought his team back from large deficits.

O’Quinn impressed early and continued to be a tough, intimidating defender and rebounder as the week progressed. O’Quinn is a hustle player, extremely coachable, who constantly has a great attitude with his teammates. Pullen played well, but O’Quinn went from a moderately uninteresting second round pick to one of the most likable Summer League players in a matter of five days.

Bring on O’Quinnsanity.

Biggest Stock Boost: Kyle O’Quinn, Orlando Magic

Most Intriguing

The Candidates: Tornike Shengelia, Brooklyn; Andrew Nicholson, Orlando

Shengelia started Summer League as an unknown foreign quantity, but after Friday concluded, he had shown himself to be a multi-faceted player with a bunch of interesting assets. Shengelia averaged 10.3 points per game on 52% shooting (with range stretching out to the arc) to go with 7.3 rebounds, but perhaps more intriguing was his court vision, basketball IQ, and NBA-ready body. Unlike many of the young players in Summer League, Shengelia is powerfully built, which should serve him well going forward, and he demonstrated a good sense of spacing around the basket, both giving and receiving passes.

Andrew Nicholson was intriguing for other reasons. First, let’s be blunt, he looks goofy. His awkward duck-footed gait is only exacerbated by the ridiculous length of his other limbs; his long, gangly arms seem to stretch to his shins. But he puts those arms to good use, stretching them over the defenders’ fingertips and using excellent touch around the basket. Unlike Drummond, Nicholson doesn’t seem to fear the post; rather, he embraces it despite his lack of strength and bulk, and we can expect his body to fill out as he commits his regimen to basketball.

It’s a tough decision, but Nicholson gets the nod for showing more potential star power…for now.

Most Intriguing: Andrew Nicholson, Orlando Magic

Miscellaneous Notes

-His excellent play should be duly noted, so please note: Utah guard Alec Burks was fantastic in every game except for Friday’s. His jumpshots were on point, he was getting to the basket fluidly and finishing at the rim, and he appeared to have added some muscle over the summer. Never judge a wing at Summer League, but Burks looked very good.
-Dunk of the week goes to Reggie Jackson of Oklahoma City, who absolutely demolished Jeremy Evans on Friday. “Max contract, man,” Perry Jones yelled from the bench.
-The funniest moment of the week went to Jared Sullinger for his self-awareness. After being called for a foul, he was told by a ref to stop flopping. “Come on, man,” Sullinger said in disbelief. “I’m too big to flop.”

Morrison Is Unsure Of His Future In The NBA

As media members slowly filled the Orlando practice facility on Monday, there was a small buzz when, collectively, everyone realized that the first game would include Adam Morrison, the floppy haired 3rd pick in the 2006 NBA Draft.

Standing outside the Amway Center locker rooms, the former Gonzaga star’s 6’8 lean body and long hair still strike an impressive figure. But when HOOPSADDICT.com talked to him on Thursday, we asked what he had improved since he left the NBA.

Morrison grimaced, then forced a smile.

“I’m not sure,” he said, and the implication was clear: move on to another question.

It was a moment of uncomfortable honesty. This uncertainty has seemed to plague Morrison throughout the Summer League.

In Brooklyn’s first game on Monday, Morrison started off well, scoring the first four points for the Nets off short floaters. But playing off the ball has never been Morrison’s strong suit and as the game progressed and this teammates became more comfortable, Morrison’s touches became fewer and further between.

After taking four shots in the first quarter, Morrison took just three the rest of the way. He had just nine field goal attempts in 31 minutes on Tuesday, and on Wednesday and Thursday, Morrison played just 13 and seven minutes respectively.

“I had a good camp,” Morrison said. “I haven’t been playing well here. Hopefully I can play better in Vegas and see what happens.”

Watching his minutes gradually trickle away may feel uncomfortably familiar to Morrison. A phenom in college, a lack of athleticism and confidence doomed him in the NBA. His field goal percentages were consistently disappointing, and as he struggled, his minutes per game dipped lower and lower until they fell into single digits in his final two seasons.

After spending two consecutive years watching the Lakers win championships from the bench in 2009 and 2010, Morrison took his talents overseas. In 2011, he traveled to Serbia before playing in Turkey for 16 games in 2012. Despite averaging 31 minutes per game in Turkey, Morrison left because he wasn’t pleased with his playing time. So now, as the Brooklyn Nets have brought him back to the United States for Summer League, Morrison, like most other players, is trying out for a roster spot.

“Overseas, you’re not going to have the nicer things you have in the League,” Morrison said. “Obviously the play is a little bit different. The game is really different.”

In Turkey, Morrison was effective. Though his three point percentages never topped .400, even with a shorter line, Morrison was able to get shots closer to the basket and score the ball inside the arc.

He shot .513 from the field overall in Turkey and averaged 13.7 points per game.

“I just want people to see that I’m healthy, that I can move and that I can play a little defense,” Morrison said. “Hopefully people understand I feel like I can still score in this league. So maybe it will happen.”

Confidence is a strange phenomenon. For Jacob Pullen (profiled yesterday by Hoops Addict), confidence gives him a desire to have the ball in crunch time. It gives players a knowledge, even if the knowledge is false, that they are the best player on the court, and that belief can be part of what makes a player great.

“Maybe it will happen.”

The spoken implication, of course, is that Morrison hasn’t given up hope, but the unspoken implication is that an NBA comeback might not happen. He doesn’t know whether or not he will make a roster. He isn’t certain.

For Adam Morrison, and for any NBA player, uncertainty does not bode well for the future.

Pullen Proving He Belongs In The NBA

One of the most contentious ideas in basketball jargon is the idea of clutch. The internet has examined the word from every angle and come up with no solid consensus on what clutch is, how much it matters, or whether the narrative has any basis in reality.

But make no mistake: some players do rise to the occasion in big moments. Jacob Pullen is one of these players.

Pullen, a point guard for Philadelphia’s Summer League team in Orlando, has been putting up big numbers for the Sixers. And even though Philadelphia is 0-2 in games that he has played (he sat out Wednesday’s game with a mild ankle sprain), in each contest his confidence seems to swell when his team needs late buckets.

“I want the ball, man,” Pullen told HOOPSADDICT.com on Wednesday. “It’s a mentality. I don’t know if everybody has it, but I know I do. At the end of the game, I’d rather have the pressure on me, take that shot and take the blame because I know that I can make it.”

He can indeed. Against the Jazz on Tuesday, Pullen scored 23 points, including 4-7 from three point range. Several of those threes were in the final minutes, as he pulled the Sixers to within striking distance before Utah closed out the game.

“Rather than sitting around and not knowing what’s gonna happen, I’d rather try to make something happen,” Pullen said. “That’s the way I was brought up.”

Pullen, previously a star under Frank Martin at Kansas State, spent the lockout playing professional basketball in Italy for Angelico Biella. Pullen played well in Italy, averaging 34 minutes, 16 points, and 3 assists for the club, but he accepted when the Sixers offered him a Summer League roster spot.

“It’s different,” he said, of the style of basketball in Italy. “It was a great experience for me and I enjoyed it a lot, but it’s two different types of basketball, with the athleticism and everything. You just have to be able to adjust.”

Pullen’s play has been eye-opening in Orlando. A supremely confident competitor, his style mirrors his mentality. He scored 15 points in 20 minutes of action against the Pacers on Monday. But he can also dish the ball, recording four assists Tuesday against the Jazz, a high number for a Summer League offense.

Combined with his dangerous pullup jumpshot, his court vision and basketball IQ make him a handful in pick and roll situations.

“The biggest mistake people make about me [is thinking that] me scoring is me shooting a lot,” Pullen said, and indeed, his 19 ppg in Orlando have come while shooting 52%, a very high number for a perimeter player. “I don’t really need a lot of shots to score. I want people to understand I can control a team and get people shots. But at the same time, when you need me I can put the ball in the bucket in a hurry.”

While Pullen is making a strong case for a roster spot on any team, he believes that he would fit in well with the Sixers.

“I think if I did get a shot, I could really help the team, which is all up to the people upstairs,” Pullen said.

If Pullen continues to play the way he is playing, the people upstairs would do well to take notice. Clutch or not, Pullen is leaving little question as to whether he belongs.

Catching Up With Perry Jones III

Perry Jones III talked with HOOPSADDICT.com about his ankle injury, adjusting to the pace of the NBA, what he feels he will bring to the Oklahoma City Thunder and his fall on draft night.

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Stephenson Is Turning Into A Leader

After a sophomore campaign that saw just 10 minutes per game and 42 appearances overall, Indiana Pacers’ guard Lance Stephenson has set himself a goal for this Summer League.

“Being a leader on the floor,” the 6-5 guard told HOOPSADDICT.com Tuesday evening. “That’s the big thing. I know I got the game, and I’ve got the physical body, I’ve just got to get people in the right spots to make good plays.”

He certainly took a good step in that direction on Tuesday in Orlando. Stephenson was integral in the Indiana Pacers’ Summer League win over the Oklahoma City Thunder, going off for 28 points. He also played aggressive, physical defense and dished out seven assists to his teammates in the win. Several times, his passes created easy looks around the rim, and he was robbed of an assist more than once by a quick foul that prevented a basket.

“I just let the game come to me,” he said. “I looked for the open spots and tried to get my teammates involved. Just trying to win the game. Everybody played good. That’s what opened things up for me. Everybody was hitting shots and I was trying to get everyone involved.”

Showcasing a jumpshot that has clearly seen some work since Indiana’s season ended in the second round of the playoffs, Stephenson was very efficient from the field, dropping 10 of 14 shots, including 2-4 from three point range. His mechanics were noticeably improved. Where as before his body twisted going into his jumpshot, on Tuesday his feet were squared to the basket on spot up opportunities, and his stroke appeared fluid.

“[I've been] working on my jumpshot off the pick and roll,” Stephenson said. “I’m feeling good, I’ve just got to keep working hard.”

The Pacers have a team option on the third year of Stephenson’s contract, so even though he has more NBA experience than many of the players in Orlando, Stephenson has to prove himself equally. If the Pacers decide that he isn’t worth a contract on their team, they can decline his option, sending him into free agency.

But Stephenson certainly doesn’t lack confidence. After draining one three pointer in the face of an Oklahoma City defender, Stephenson skipped backward down the floor and screamed “Buckets!” at the Thunder bench.

His handles appeared fluid, and he looks more comfortable finishing shots around the rim with contact.

“I’m feeling good,” Stephenson said, “I’m trying to show my teammates how to get better. Get in the gym every day, and the game becomes easier.”

Spoken like a true leader.

O’Quinn Quick To Adjust To NBA Game

Orlando Magic center Kyle O’Quinn has had to make a lot of adjustments, coming from tiny Norfolk State in Virginia, to being drafted in the second round of the NBA draft, and now to the NBA Summer League in Orlando. But perhaps the biggest adjustment has been figuring out an entirely new offensive system.

“Oh man, [I've learned] probably 20 plays,” O’Quinn said. “I had to throw out my whole college playbook.”

How many does he have down?

“I’m not gonna tell you,” he said, laughing.

Not twenty?

“Not twenty, but I’m working on it.”

O’Quinn broke onto the national scene last year when his 15th seeded Norfolk State defeated heavily favored 2nd seed Missouri in the National Tournament. O’Quinn destroyed the Tigers for 26 points and 14 rebounds, so for many fans, that game was his introduction. But he doesn’t enjoy being defined by it.

“I really hate when people say that game developed me,” he said, with emphasis. “I had to be pretty developed coming into that game, you know?”

Regardless of how developed he was then, O’Quinn is certainly developed now. In his first summer league game Monday morning, O’Quinn put up 16 points on 8-10 shooting, showing not only a nice mid-range shot but also a proclivity for diving to the basket at exactly the right time in pick and rolls.

“I’m more comfortable shooting mid-range shots,” O’Quinn said. “My post game is a little immature. At school a lot of plays ran through me, so I didn’t have to use a lot of post moves. But that’s something in the making, just like my jumpshot. So hopefully in the next year or two both will be down pat.”

Though his body is a little underdeveloped (a common theme at Summer League games), O’Quinn has a good frame that should fill out with an NBA regimen. He was a vocal defender, talking constantly, warning his teammates of screens, alerting them to switches, and calling out rebounds. He also displayed excellent defensive timing, recording two blocked shots and utilizing his monstrous length and athleticism to swat the ball away.

As a post player looking for a roster spot with the Orlando Magic, it’s tempting to wonder what O’Quinn thinks about the ongoing Dwight Howard saga. But O’Quinn is focused on the task at hand.

“We go off what’s going on today, and [Howard] needs a reliable backup. I’m think I can be that,” he said. “[General manager Rob] Hennigan and Scott Perry are always looking for young talent and you want to be in those type of situations.”

But first he has to make the roster. Like every player in the Orlando Summer League, O’Quinn has to prove himself, and today, he took one step toward doing so. But he recognizes that one step isn’t nearly enough.

“You constantly have to prove yourself,” he said. “Everything someone thinks about you, you’ve got to make them believe it. They see it one time, you’ve got to show them again. They see it twice, you might have to show them a third time.”

Let’s count Norfolk State’s big victory as the first time. Today was the second.

Ware Is Okay With Being An Underdog

It would probably be fair to call Casper Ware an underdog. At 5’10, the Detroit Pistons point guard is the shortest player to get an invite to the Orlando NBA Summer League, but he hasn’t let that stop him from competing.

“I just play hard, play with my heart, you know?” Ware said. “Most people don’t like to get active and do the dirty work, but that’s what I have to do because of my size.”

He certainly does get active. At 5’10, Ware’s height would seemingly be a problem defensively at the NBA level, but he excelled at that end on Monday. Ware was a pest to ball-handlers, frustrating his defensive assignments all game by crowding their space and giving them no room to dribble or pass.

Though his stat-line didn’t stand out (five points on 1-5 shooting, four rebounds), his defense was undeniably effective, and his quickness and ball-handling skills were also evident.

“I had an alright game,” Ware said. “I didn’t hit my shots, but I think I controlled the game well. I penetrated for my teammates sometimes. So when my shots start falling I think my all-around game will be good.”

Hailing from tiny Long Beach State, Ware is no stranger to tough competition. Though the 49ers weren’t in a power conference, their coach made sure they got to face tough opponents every year.

“I really don’t see a difference in competition [here in Orlando] because my coach scheduled big time schools like Kentucky, Duke and Louisville,” Ware said. “So I’ve seen a lot of these players already, it’s just getting used to seeing it all the time.”

But once he gets used to the competition, Ware believes he is in a good position to contribute to a team, perhaps Detroit in particular.

“I think I fit in good because the Pistons like to get up on people and play defense,” Ware said. “That’s my style, getting up and down the court running, so I really feel like I fit in with this squad.”

If Ware finds an NBA home, it will be with a team that appreciates defense, toughness, and the ability to shoot from deep. And perhaps one that appreciates a good underdog story.

Wolves Acquire Budinger

When news broke that the Wolves had exchanged their 18th pick in the draft for Chase Budinger, the focus of the media’s attention was mostly (and understandably) on the ramifications for Houston’s pursuit of Dwight Howard. Howard is, after all, a much bigger fish than Chase Budinger.  For most fans, the pursuit of a megastar like Howard is more interesting than the transition of an unremarkable role player like Budinger from one city to another.

But for Minnesota, Chase Budinger is a solid acquisition, one that will improve the Wolves immediately.

It was no secret last season that the Wolves were weakest at the wings. Michael Beasley, Anthony Tolliver, Martell Webster, Wes Johnson, Luke Ridnour, JJ Barea, Derrick Williams, Wayne Ellington and Malcolm Lee all spent time at the shooting guard or small forward positions and none were effective.

Ridnour was particularly out of his element, guarding the likes of Chandler Parsons, Metta World Peace, and many other bad matchups for his size (6’2). It should be duly noted, however, that Ridnour performed admirably, given the circumstances.

One of the strongest aspects in Ricky Rubio’s highly entertaining skillset is his ability to find open shooters on the perimeter. Too often last season, Rubio would drive into the lane, attracting the attention of a perimeter defender, and pass out to an open man, only to watch the shot hit the rim and carom away.

As a team, Minnesota shot 36% from behind the arc in the corner, well below the league average for one of the most efficient shots in basketball.

This is where Budinger can make an immediate impact for the Wolves. Budinger had one of his best seasons shooting from deep last year, dropping 40% from three point range, including 48% from the corners. Budinger is also extremely athletic and should be a fun weapon for the Wolves offense with Rubio in transition.

While Budinger fills one need for the Wolves, other questions remain regarding his defense. Budinger is an average defender, but he tends to get lost on rotations. Perhaps this can be attributed to his youth (Budinger is just three years into his NBA career), but Timberwolves coach Rick Adelman still hasn’t found his perimeter stopper.

Nor have the Wolves found the shot creator they desperately need. When a possession broke down for Minnesota last season, they often had no choice but to allow players like Michael Beasley or JJ Barea attempt to create a shot. Budinger is a catch and shoot player from behind the arc and rarely attacks the basket.

But beggars can’t be choosers, and last season the Timberwolves were indisputably impoverished on the wing. Budinger immediately improves the Timberwolves, and he fits well with Minnesota’s pieces that are already in place. Also worth noting: he is a known entity, which is considerably more than the Wolves could boast about whoever they would draft with the 18th pick.

Admittedly, draft picks can be fun. Draftees are unknown quantities, a characteristic which allows fans to dream about what they could be. But sometimes a team gets burned by a bad pick. Acquiring Budinger is safe, solid and a good start to the offseason for the Wolves.

Minnesota Has A Three Year Window

For followers of the Timberwolves, there is a point in the future that is fixated in the back corner of the mind: repressed, but never forgotten. As the Timberwolves prepare for another offseason and begin their search for the ideal compliment to Kevin Love, Ricky Rubio, and Nikola Pekovic, fans begin forming trade scenarios and free agency talk begins in earnest.

But behind all the talk, one thought remains: three more years.

When David Kahn signed Kevin Love to a four-year maximum deal, the contract included a player option after three years, meaning that in the summer of 2015, Love can choose: play another year at maximum money for Minnesota or test the waters of free agency. Not so conveniently for the Wolves, Ricky Rubio’s rookie contract is up at the same time, meaning he too will be a free agent that summer.

To make a long story short, the Wolves have three more years to convince Kevin Love that they are a franchise worth sticking around for. Next season will be the first of the three year window.

Several factors may be involved in Love’s decision. The new restrictions on other teams chasing high profile free agents will make it more difficult for a larger market to steal Love from the Timberwolves. But undoubtedly, Minnesota’s success on the court in the next two years will play a huge role in Love’s decision, which is why this offseason is so crucial.

The Wolves need more than a flashy signing; they need one that will help them continue to turn their franchise around. And they need to accomplish this turnaround as soon as possible.

Minnesota isn’t exactly getting a lot of help from their original franchise player. When LeBron James was considering his free agent options in 2010, Kevin Garnett had some advice for him.

“Loyalty is something that hurts you at times, because you can’t get youth back,” Garnett said. “I can honestly say that if I could go back and do my situation over, knowing what I know now with this organization, I’d have done it a little sooner.”

Not a ringing endorsement for Love’s future in Minneapolis. He still has his youth.

Garnett, eventually fed up with continually missing the playoffs with the Wolves and desperate for a chance to contend again, finally requested a trade. It seems he would advise Kevin Love to do the same.

The part that really turns the stomachs of Minnesota’s long suffering fans is that Love actually wanted a five year deal. But the Wolves were offering him four years, presumably to leave room for a Rubio contract, and without knowing what the new CBA would look like, Love took the safe money. Wolves fans now have to hope that Love’s displeasure with the negotiations doesn’t last until 2014.

A winning season and a playoff appearance would go a long way toward convincing Love that the Wolves have a bright future, and that if he stays, he will be a part of a franchise that is committed to winning.

Otherwise, Garnett’s latest quote on the state of the Timberwolves franchise might be most poignant Minnesota’s fans: “It’s always special to come back to true fans…But as far as that franchise, I have nothing positive to say.”

Wolves Face Difficult Decision With Beasley

Last season, Michael Beasley arrived in Minnesota with no expectations. Cast off from the Heat in order to make room for LeBron James and Chris Bosh, Beasley was acquired for just a second round draft pick by Wolves GM David Kahn. Placed in a situation without expectations, and without the pressures of being the number two pick in the 2008 draft, Beasley began to thrive.

In November and December, Beasley averaged well over 20 points per game, shooting nearly 48% from the field. Speculation began to run rampant, as experts and fans wondered if he was finally going to produce at the level that was expected of him. Had a change of scenery turned Michael Beasley into an All-Star? It seemed too good to be true.

As with most cases of small sample sizes and inflated expectations, it was.

Beasley brought several positives to the Wolves. He was one of the best (and only) three point shooters on the team this season, and aside from Barea, Beasley was the only other Timberwolf who could create his own shot off the dribble. But he struggled this year especially, failing to fit into Rick Adelman’s free flowing offensive stylings.

A natural ball-stopper, Beasley settled for mid-range jumpers on 38% of his shots, shooting just 40% from that range. His health was also a problem, as he missed 19 games due to foot and toe injuries. Midway through the season, Beasley lost his role as a starter to an ever changing cast of characters, including the equally disappointing Wes Johnson.

As Beasley’s production waned, so did his minutes. In March, Beasley topped 20 minutes in just two games, and though some of his games were limited by injuries, some were limited by general ineffectiveness.

There is a significant chance that Michael Beasley has played his final game in Minnesota. He is a restricted free agent, but since the Wolves own his option, they may choose to pick up the $8.1 million price tag that Beasley carries, or let him become an unrestricted free agent and try his luck elsewhere.

So Minnesota is left with a difficult decision: should they give Beasley one more year, one more chance to reach his considerable potential? Would a full length season with real practices and real coaching from Rick Adelman, a coach famous for getting the most out of his players, help Beasley become the offensive force that he could be?
Or should the Wolves pass on Beasley, clearing salary space to try and lure more established talent? Minnesota has an attractive package to offer an incoming shooting guard or small forward, boasting a solid core of Kevin Love, Ricky Rubio and Nikola Pekovic. The Wolves visibly enjoyed themselves playing with Rubio, a trait which could attract a talented player.

Conventional wisdom says that the Wolves will let Beasley walk. They have invested two years into resurrecting his career, and while their efforts haven’t been a total loss (Beasley averaged 19 points per game in 2010), the clock is ticking for Minnesota. Kevin Love has two years left before he can decide whether or not to pick up the player option on his contract. He will want to see results from the Wolves if they want to keep him. Minnesota needs a sure thing, a proven star.

Beasley, though dripping with potential and raw talent, is far from proven. And while his career is far from over, his time in Minneapolis has probably drawn to a close.

Minnesota Timberwolves Season Review

It’s hard not to look at Minnesota’s 2011-2012 season and imagine what could have been.

When Ricky Rubio went down for the year, the Wolves were in 8th place in the Western Conference and were surging forward. Behind Rubio’s artistry and basketball IQ, Kevin Love’s arrival as a genuine superstar, and, most improbably, Nikola Pekovic’s emergence as a productive offensive and defensive force, Minnesota was on the fast track to their first playoff appearance since 2004.

Head coach Rick Adelman built an offense around his best players, a revelation for the Timberwolves who spent the past three years shackled by Kurt Rambis’ triangle offense, a disaster for the personnel on the roster. Adelman’s guidance, along with player development, turned the Wolves into a tough, competitive team.

But Rubio crumpled to the floor on March 9, tearing his ACL late in a game against the Los Angeles Lakers. His was the beginning of a veritable parade of injuries throughout the end of the season that quickly knocked Minnesota out of playoff contention. Timberwolves players missed over 160 games combined due to injuries, including key contributors like Michael Beasley, Luke Ridnour, JJ Barea, Pekovic, and Love, who missed the last seven games of the season after being concussed by an inadvertent elbow from Denver’s JaVale McGee.

But while Timberwolves nation understandably mourns the loss of yet another snakebitten season, an optimistic observer sees hope in the coming months. Not the usual abstract, conditional hope that Minnesotans are used to, a hope to see players pan out who never cease to disappoint, but real, tangible evidence of a bright future on the horizon.

Rubio’s injury was devastating to be sure, both to the young point guard as a player, and a team that was starting to gel. But the floppy haired Spaniard will return, and his game was never built on his athleticism. Rather, it was built on his incredible ability to see a basketball court as a chess board, thinking three steps ahead of the opposition, and on his long, rangy arms that filled passing lines and disrupted opposing point guards.

Love proved himself to be a go-to scorer, as well as an elite rebounder. In his highest scoring season yet, Love averaged 26 points per game, and kept his name alive in MVP debates until he was sidelined. His post game was noticeably better than last season, and he made 105 three point field goals in 55 games. Love’s defense, though still merely average, also improved under Adelman’s tutelage.

With two young stars like Love and Rubio, and an emerging post presence in Pekovic, it’s easy to imagine that the Wolves could acquire the players necessary to make a legitimate run to the postseason next year. The first priority will be to sign or trade for some reliable wing players. Wolves beat writer Jerry Zgoda recently reported that Minnesota had a chance to trade for Andre Iguodala last year just before the draft, but turned down the deal. A similar marquee wing star could help turn the Wolves around.

And perhaps, this time next year, Minnesota’s season won’t be over.

Hiring Adelman Puts Wolves Back On Track

Maybe it was the Timberwolves intriguing roster.

Maybe it was the opportunity to experience a real winter, after working several seasons in balmy Houston. No? You’re probably right.

Maybe it was the $5 million/year contract that David Kahn waved in front of him, potentially season ending lockout be damned.

It’s hard to tell for sure, but, regardless of the reasons, the arrival of Rick Adelman is more than just a coaching change for the Timberwolves. If Adelman’s previous teams are any indication, it’s going to be a complete change of style and culture.

It’s been well-documented, but I’ll reiterate: Last season, the Wolves were first in the league in pace (as measured by possessions per game) and committed the most turnovers. They were also 27th worst in the NBA on defense (as measured by points allowed per 100 possessions). And over the summer, Minnesota added Ricky Rubio, a point guard notorious for his flashy style of play in the open court. The Timberwolves don’t appear likely to slow their already frantic pace any time soon.

But this pace is exactly what David Kahn replaced previous head coach Kurt Rambis with Rick Adelman for: controlled chaos. Under Rambis, the Wolves ran a clumsy version of Phil Jackson’s Triangle in Los Angeles, a byproduct of Rambis being Jackson’s assistant for several years. Kahn wants the Timberwolves to play entertaining, fast-paced basketball.

More importantly, Kahn wants to see the Wolves win basketball games, because after two consecutive seasons yielded a combined 32 wins, this franchise has seen its fair share of futility.

It certainly looks like he has chosen the correct man for this job. Adelman boasts an impressive record as a head coach. But more importantly, he has dealt with teams similar to the current Minnesota squad. Adelman coached the Sacramento Kings from 1998-2006, a time in which the Kings were a wonderful, fast-paced offensive machine. They had a flashy, entertaining point guard who liked to run (Jason Williams). They had several post players who could both stretch the floor, and run an effective fast break (most notably Chris Webber). And unfortunately for Adelman, they also had the misfortune of playing in the Western Conference during a time when Duncan was in his prime in San Antonio, and Kobe and Shaq were winning dysfunctional championships together in Los Angeles.

The Timberwolves, like those Kings, are built to run. We covered Rubio earlier. Kevin Love, coming off a break-out All-Star season, has mastered the art of rebounding and making a nice outlet pass as well as anyone since Wes Unseld. Rookie Derrick Williams is projected by many as the best player in the 2011 draft, an athletic combo forward who can both dunk with ferocity and shoot with range, averaging 56% from beyond the arc in college.

But Kahn didn’t hire Adelman exclusively for his prowess as an offensive coach. In 2002, the Kings, under Adelman’s tutelage, were top in the NBA in pace, and 6th in defense. A year later? Fastest again, and second in defense. Adelman’s teams know how to run on offense, but also how to get back on defense. For a young team like the Timberwolves, this kind of expertise will prove invaluable.

Let’s be clear: the Timberwolves will have problems, beginning with big men. Kahn has been a proponent of Darko Milicic for two years, signing the big man to a four year contract last summer. But Darko’s style seems unlikely to mesh well with Adelman’s.

There is also a glut of talent at the forward positions. Love, Anthony Tolliver, Anthony Randolph, and arguably Williams and Michael Beasley should all be playing at the 4. Beasley played relatively inefficient basketball (19 ppg on 17 shot attempts) in part because he was asked to play the three, and in part because of his continuing love affair with long, two point jumpers. Wes Johnson underperformed last year, largely because the Wolves played him out of position at the 2 when he spent his college years playing a Shawn Marion-like combo role at the 3 and 4. Distributing minutes at each of these positions will not be an easy task, even for a coach like Adelman.

But for fans of the Timberwolves, a glut of talent at ANY position feels like a nice improvement. The roster is full of youth and athleticism, and it feels both unfamiliar and wonderful to be in competent coaching hands.

For the first time since Kevin Garnett was traded in 2007, this franchise, though far from ready for a real playoff run, seems to be back on the right track.