Earlier this week, Wizards Extreme teamed up with the John Flesta (@jflesta) of Timberpups.com to preview tonight's matchup between the Wiz and the Wolves. The post is in Q&A format, with the answers to three questions pertaining to both of our respective squads. John provided some good insight on the state of the Timberwolves and I did the same for our Wizards. Here is a simulcast of the post. We'll start with my answers regarding the Wizards.
First and foremost, John Wall is back in action and looks like he is close to 100% already. What have you noticed thus far in his play – strengths, potential weaknesses, where he may be struggling, etc.?
Abdullah: Wall’s return has posed an immediate impact on the team, as the Wizards find themselves playing with a refreshing sense of aggression and fluidity that’s been rare to the Wizards faithful up until his recovery from the stress fracture in his knee. Over the past week and a half, the Wizards have won 5 of their last 7 games, including wins over Oklahoma City, Denver and Portland. Wall has defied several concerns regarding his conditioning, physical strength, and his overall rust from being away from the game for so long. While he displays the same speed and agility we’ve been used to, Wall has also been facilitating the offense in a more disciplined manner.
However, Wall has also proven that he still has some improvements to be made. His mid-range jump shot remains questionable, although his form has clearly improved. At times, Wall finds himself underestimating his speed down court, which usually results in making the wrong decision in transition, leading to a charging foul or a turnover. But overall, Wall’s long absence has proven his worth, and as a result, the Wizards are now in the midst of newfound success, with John being the catalyst.
Tell us how you feel about Randy Wittman, but please keep it PG-13. As a former coach for our Pups, I remember Wittman driving fans criminally insane in Minnesota. Has he made any improvement whatsoever? Would you like to see him return as coach next season?
Abdullah: Wittman’s tenure in Minnesota is very similar to his current one in DC. Besides the short stint he had coaching Kevin Garnett in 2006 and then-rookie Kevin Love in 2008, Wittman’s basketball teams have been sorely untalented. When his predecessor Flip Saunders was fired 17 games into the season last year, Wittman was called upon to take over a squad in complete disarray and misdirection. If you follow DC sports, you’ll clearly notice the blame for the team’s failure is directed more towards the men in upper management, as opposed to the coach himself. While Wittman does endure scrutiny for his questionable player rotations and strategies, many consider Wittman to be a victim of a bad culture and a coach who has had very little talent to work with. Wittman’s Wizards finished the season last year riding a six-game win streak, but several key injuries and managerial mishaps led to an underachieving lineup and the worst start in franchise history.
As mentioned in my previous answer, the Wizards are now back at full strength with John Wall back in the lineup, along with a healthy Nene and a vastly progressing rookie in Brad Beal. In his short time as Wizards coach, Wittman has proven that with the right tools and personnel, he can make for a respectable coach in the NBA.
Rumors swirled recently that Bradley Beal might be available for the right price. What do you think of the rookie and his play thus far? What does he need to improve on to become a complete player for this franchise (or another)? Can the team build a contender with both Wall and Beal?
Abdullah: Bradley Beal got off to a bit of a slow start to his NBA career. As a player who was touted for his deadly shooting and abilities to create scoring opportunities, Wizards fans initially observed a player who lacked aggression and shot poorly from the field. Just a few weeks later, Wizards fans observed a player who was named Eastern Conference Rookie of the Month for December. During that span until now, the 19-year old has found his comfort on the floor and is no longer shy about attacking the rim. Beal shows great poise and confidence. His skill set is starting to take great shape as he has shown his ability to create offense and find open space for high percentage jumpers. These factors all led to the dismissal of potential trade offers and the decision to keep him in DC with the pursuit of eventually constructing one of the more dangerous backcourts in the league along with John Wall.
And now meet the Timberwolves...or the "Pups" as they like to call them...
How frustrating has the health of Kevin Love been this season and how have the Timberwolves been able to fill the void with the absence of his inside presence as well as threat as a shooter around the perimeter?
John: Kevin Love’s broken hand from knuckle push-ups essentially set the tone for what was yet to come this season for the Timberwolves. This freak accident started off a stretch of terrible luck in the injury department that has hit the vast majority of the lineup. To be honest, before losing Budinger, Roy, Pekovic, and/or Shved (not to mention Josh Howard or the random games that JJ Barea and Andrei Kirilenko have missed … yes, this is all in a half a season) the Wolves were doing “OK” and treading water in Love’s earlier absence from the team.
However, the roster is far too deep in the water at this point and it is hard seeing this team stay afloat while Love recovers from the surgery and extended amount of time he’s now scheduled to miss (8-10 weeks after the surgery, which happened about a week after the injury occurred. This was due to … the surgeon being sick and out of the office. You can’t make this stuff up with how the season is going.)
At this point, they aren’t able to make up for Love’s absence. Earlier in the season, Kirilenko, Dante Cunningham, and Derrick Williams were filling in admirably and rotating nicely based on match-ups. Unfortunately, that isn’t happening anymore. To your last point, the team is abysmal from beyond the arc. Love’s hand injury led to a lot of his own struggles here when he was playing, but there really isn’t another player on the current roster that can consistently hit a three pointer right now.
What are the general outlook and opinion of Ricky Rubio and his potential success as a member of the Timberwolves? How much of a difference maker is he when on the floor and how does his game compare to John Wall’s?
John: (Disclaimer: I’m a huge Rubio backer) Rubio is struggling to find his form right now as he continues to fight his way past the torn ACL injury from last season. He is passing up too many open shots and then when he is taking them, they are consistently falling flat and drawing iron. He has shown flashes of brilliance, but you won’t see it in the box score on most occasions, as the team has been very strict in limiting his minutes and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future.
Ricky is very clearly who David Kahn and company want to build around. Assuming he shakes the rust off over the course of the rest of this season and comes back to form (and beyond) to what was seen in his rookie year, you can expect a maximum offer on the table waiting for Ricky to sign. There are a lot of “what if” scenarios to play out between now and then though, so it is impossible to say whether or not he remains with the team through all of that.
His potential success is off the charts. On the court, his vision is bar none. He almost singlehandedly made the bounce pass cool again in the NBA last season. From what is seen from afar, teammates love playing with him. You can sense his leadership on the court and it seems to carry over to practice and the day to day life with teammates.
I believe he is more “valuable” than Kevin Love. I’m not saying he is “better”, but I do believe he is more valuable to winning games for this franchise. Frankly, they need each other to succeed in Minnesota, but Rubio definitely makes everyone else around him better and I can’t necessarily say the same thing about Love.
With the halfway point of the season approaching, the Wolves are just a few games out of the final playoff spot. What areas do the Wolves need to address in order to make their second half push and secure that spot?
John: Simply put: Health and good luck. Unfortunately, the former is nowhere to be found and it isn’t coming back to this roster anytime soon. With Budinger out until February/March, Love out until March or so, Roy out indefinitely (and probably done), and Rubio still working out the kinks, it just seems like too much to overcome. The team’s recent play suggests that they have finally hit that threshold where enough is enough. They have not looked very good over the past few weeks and I fear that there isn’t an end in sight to this.
It also doesn’t help that Rick Adelman has left the team to be with his ailing wife and the sidelines have been left to Terry Porter. (To clarify this so it isn’t interpreted incorrectly – Adelman needs to do whatever it is he feels best for his family. The point I’m making here is we are very clearly “trading down” when going from Adelman to Porter on the sidelines.) While a tremendous amount of the current situation is due to injuries, you will likely get a chance to see a few head scratchers from the coach in Friday night’s game.
To be honest, I’ve already talked myself into the fact that this team is not going to make the playoffs again this season. Going into the trading deadline, I don’t expect to see a significant move made. However, I wouldn’t be shocked if JJ Barea or Luke Ridnour is moved for more of a true SG. In the offseason, I do expect at least one of them moved, potentially with Derrick Williams, as the former #2 pick in the draft will have a new home for the ‘13/’14 season. Hopefully, those one or two moves provide the team with a significant upgrade at the SG or SF position to move into next season with.