Minnesota Timberwolves Summer League Roster Preview
Glenn Robinson III, F: Falling into the second round, Robinson falls nicely onto a team that needs his shooting, especially as something of a stretch forward. With Kevin Love likely leaving town, Robinson has a chance to make some noise as part of a high-flying wing stable of scorers. Playing alongside Shabazz Muhammad, Zach LaVine and veteran Alexey Shved, there won’t be many shots to go around, but Robinson’s excellent off the ball after playing with Nik Stauskas, Trey Burke, and Caris Levert at Michigan. Like LaVine, Robinson can jump out the gym and it will be a spectacle to watch both in flight. On defense, his nearly seven feet wingspan hints at a decent defender on the next level.
Zach LaVine, G: Part of a loaded UCLA team that included fellow first-rounders Kyle Anderson and Jordan Adams, LaVine has his chance to shine. Adams has sparkled as a shooter and creator on the Memphis Grizzlies and as for Anderson, I don’t think anyone has even attempted to think he’ll fail with the San Antonio Spurs. LaVine’s game is predicated, and I base that loosely because he wasn’t much of a player last season – averaging 24.4 minutes per game – on freakish athleticism and potential. Those are code words for a potential bust and LaVine is the type of player that’s spectrum of comparisons range anywhere from Russell Westbrook, Gerald Green, or someone you’ve never heard of disappearing into the ether of the Euroleague. Whatever is going to happen, we know it’s Summer League, and for a lottery pick that’s a lot of run in a pickup game. Prepare for a highlight show.
Under Contract Players:
Alexey Shved, G: A favorite of mine when he first broke into the league, Shved has not developed the way Minnesota expected paired with Ricky Rubio in the backcourt. Despite a projected ability to drive, dish, and create, he has done none of the above. Shooting a measly 29.5 percent from three and a less than two-for-one assist-to-turnover ratio in his two seasons, Shved has regressed. A lack of strength and aggression caused him to settle for long jumpers, haphazard drives and an overall passive game. Of course, this is likely to happen when your minutes are cut in more than half (nearly 24 in his rookie season to 10.5). The Wolves are hoping lesser competition and a higher load to shoulder grants him some confidence. Change your face, be happy.
Shabazz Muhammad, G/F: One of the early candidates for the “best shape of my life” BS award, Muhammad is already talking the talk. Vegas is his chance to walk the walk, apparently on lighter feet. He didn’t get off the bench in his rookie season but showed flashes, at times (I guess), when he was inserted. He’s not a bust despite the comparisons to fellow hyped-and-now-disappointing forward Harrison Barnes. Muhammad has talent, a long wingspan, and a willingness to stay aggressive on offense. How much he shows us in a low-pressure setting won’t tell us much, but will still be interesting.
Gorgui Dieng, C: Drafted late last year because of age concerns – whatever that means – Dieng exploded in the second half, making the case for the Rookie of the year, albeit in a horrible draft class. Dieng sparkled in averaging a double-double (12-11) over the last month of the season. His huge 7’4″ wingspan helped protect the rim unlike teammates Kevin Love and Nikola Pekovic. Throw in his ability to pass and make the occasional jumper and he’s a keeper, no matter the age. Dieng will be a man amongst children in Vegas.
Former NBA Players:
Kyrylo Fesenko, C: Fesenko hasn’t been in the league since 2012, never averaging more than 9 minutes game bouncing between the Utah Jazz and Indiana Pacers. Between Fesenko and Dieng, the Wolves are going to destroy the backboard, generally looking fearsome as all hell on the frontline. Fesenko has good hands, quick feet, and excellent size, but what we know of him might be considerably different at this point. For Summer League watchers, the sight of a former pro player already perks interests.
DJ Kennedy, F: With only a stint in the big leagues, Kennedy is considered an ex-NBA player in name. One of the more entertaining college players during his time at St. John’s, Kennedy has struggled at all levels, especially in Summer League. He’s a combined 36 percent shooter from the field the past two Summer Leagues. That might mean nothing in the long run, but for a player without assurances and fighting for a spot either on a D-League team or overseas, it’s been disappointing. Kennedy is an excellent defender and is a shifty dribbler off pick-and-rolls. He’s valuable as a small forward that can handle the ball but until he explodes sometime soon, it might be too late.
Brady Heslip, G: The Canadian sharpshooter, Heslip shot an absurd 45.1 percent on 6.7 threes per game. This, on a team that essentially planted him as the only player than can shoot. As you can guess, Heslip has a chance to make the big leagues on long-range striking alone. Unlikes Doug McDermott or Nik Stauskas, Heslip doesn’t have the length or ability to compliment that with anything else. His best case is probably Prime James Jones or the Jason Kaponos of the world. But during the Summer League? When everyone’s open? Fire away, Brady.
Markel Starks, G: Starks is fun. A somewhat poor man’s version of Marcus Smart, Starks can handle the ball, get to the rim at will, and frantically defend, all while standing a tiny 6’1″ without shoes. Starks shot 40 percent from three his junior year at Georgetown before falling to 32.6 percent in a high-usage senior season. His upside is probably that of an energetic combo guard off the bench (Will Bynum?) but that doesn’t make him less exciting to watch.
Jordan Morgan, F: Morgan was overshadowed at Michigan behind big names like Trey Burke, Nik Stauskas and even Glenn Robinson III. Morgan isn’t terribly athletic and doesn’t possess absurd length but is a decent finisher and solid defender in the right system. Those are code words for a lack of elite-level talent and I wouldn’t hold it against you for calling me out on that. There’s not much here to see, unless he’s playing with Nik Stauskas, of course.
Non-Rookie, Non-NBA Players:
LaRon Dendy, F: Out of Middle Tennessee State, Dendy went undrafted in the 2012 NBA Draft and played overseas for a couple years before latching on to Minnesota this summer. Dendy excels down low, and led the Ukranian league in rebounds (9) and blocks (just over one per game). He’s the non-flashy big man you see working the boards, getting put-backs, nailing the random jumper and consistently being a guy.
Mamadi Diane, G: Diane was an undrafted guard out of Virginia in the 2009 NBA Draft. An older player, Diane has bounced around the world without playing much in either spot. An obscure player that’s likely nailed to the bench, the best that can come out here is a really cool feature and a flashy minute or two.
Dennis Horner, F: Your typical NBA tweener, Horner has played three seasons in the D-League trying to make it to the big leagues. A power forward, Horner’s path towards the NBA probably lies on his ability to make threes. As stretch forwards go, Horner is the perfect size, a 6’9″ quick forward that shoots in the sub-30s on about two attempts from distance. An excellent free-throw shooter and decent rebounder, there’s some potential here.