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.