July 8, 2012; Las Vegas, NV, USA; Team USA forward Kevin Love and forward Blake Griffin during practice at the UNLV Mendenhall Center. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

LAC-MIN Preview #8 - Q&A With Zachary Bennett of Timberpups

Instead of the traditional preview I decided to speak with Zachary Bennett of Saving the Skyhook and Timberpups about the Minnesota Timberwolves season so far and tonight’s matchup with the Los Angeles Clippers.

1. How would you grade the Minnesota Timberwolves play up to this point?

If I’m grading the Wolves play on a scale with 10 being the highest, it’s a seven. It’s not that I’m not impressed with wins on the road against the New York Knicks and, yesterday, in Los Angeles over the Lakers; it’s my concern about them being able to keep this up, the performance of the bench and the idea that this team lives off jump shots that has me keeping them below an eight.

The Wolves bench has accounted for only 19 percent of the team’s points this season, most of that is J.J. Barea. Barea’s scored 55 points this season which is over one-third of the points scored by anyone not in the starting five. The starters have scored 603 of 743 total points this season. Barea, Dante Cunningham and Derrick Williams are averaging 18 minutes per game but Alexey Shved and rookies Gorgui Dieng and Shabazz Mohammed are virtually nowhere to be found. Part of it is Rick Adelman sticking with his guys, but I’m led to believe that guys in the second-unit aren’t performing up to his standard.

2. What’s going on with Ricky Rubio’s shooting? He’s struggled from all spots of the floor.

Rubio’s shooting is a struggle. It always has been and there’s not any significant proof that’s going to change. However it is worth noting that he’s taking less shots out of anyone in the starting lineup (nine attempts from inside the arc and two from downtown per game) and, as of right now, it’s not problematic during games. However, in last week’s loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers, he was 0 for 7 and was nowhere to be found on the final possession of the game. De watched from the sideline as Barea, who almost lost control of the ball, ran left on a screen-and-roll and passed it to Kevin Love who clanked a three-pointer off the front iron as time expired. Rubio needs to be out there in those type of situations if he’s going to be considered a premier point guard in this league.

I kept an eye on his shooting over the summer during FIBA’s Eurobasket. He’s most successful in the mid-range area, the middle of the lane extending past the free-throw line and before the 3-point stripe. At that point of the tournament he was 5-of-12 from that location and had the most success pulling up off-the-dribble, rather than set shots. His 42 percent average from that area on the floor during Eurobasket is higher than his 37 percent average from the field through two years in Minnesota. His outside shooting, however, isn’t the worst — though it’s not the best look the offense can get. So far this season he’s shooting better from outside than inside the arc, 31 percent from the field and 33 percent from downtown. Both numbers could be higher, but leading the league in steals and averaging almost nine-assists per game means he’s forgiven for now.

3. Give everyone an update on the Derrick Williams situation. Do you think he’s in Minny by years end?

There are fans and bloggers who want Derrick Williams here to give him more time to show his stuff, but there’s also those calling to trade him for his current value as soon as possible. I’ve been a fan of his since his time at the University of Arizona and have spoken out in his defense on numerous occasions. There’s two reasons he’s not yet defined his role in Minnesota, yet. He’s a tweener who’s yet to find his niche in Rick Adelman’s Princeton offense and Adelman’s offense requires a lot of instinctive cutting off-the-ball. The wings don’t handle the ball very often.

There’s an opportunity with Chase Budinger injured for him to show he can play the small forward spot, but Adelman has tinkered with options behind Corey Brewer this season and not to Williams benefit, either. He’s played in five games thus far this season, sitting out last Friday against the Dallas Mavericks and marked as a DNPin the opener against the Orlando Magic.

It’s clear coach doesn’t feel confident in what he’s seen in practice or on the floor, leading me to believe it just isn’t the right place at the right time. The Wolves picked up his option through the 2014-2015 worth $6 million for the upcoming season. From a local’s perspective, what’s he worth to other teams? Is his contract tradeable? If so, who’s going to go after him and what can Minnesota get in return? I expect him to be here through the season and don’t believe he’ll be moved at the trade deadline (or near it), but pending the outcome of the season Flip Saunders, the new president of Basketball Operations, isn’t afraid to get things done on the open market. The name mentioned most in any trade rumors — Evan Turner of the Philadelphia 76ers.

4. What player on the Los Angeles Clippers is the biggest threat to the Timberwolves?

I won’t answer Chris Paul, but that dude’s good — instead, iIll get crafty and go with DeAndre Jordan. Jordan is a monster and seems to be coming into his own at center. He’s a huge body that poses a challenge for Nikola Pekovic. Pek’s struggles didn’t really show in last night’s win over the Lakers, but they’re apparent and it’s somewhat of a concern. He’s averaging 12 points and 9 boards a game, a drop in scoring but an improvement in rebounds from last season. The decrease in scoring can be attributed to both of the Kevins (Martin and Love) and their productivity lighting it up from outside, but it’s not the numbers that concern me tonight, it’s his stamina.

5. Who has the better game tonight? Blake Griffin or Kevin Love?

Kevin Love has the better game right now. It’s going to bother some people in Minnesota that I’m even making the comparison, but the two’s careers are mysteriously intertwined. Though the Clippers have themselves a human highlight reel, it’s Love that leads the league in rebounding and is second in scoring only to Kevin Durant — so that’s neat. He’s lighting it up from downtown and has worked on his passing from the perimeter and is averaging almost five assists per game. Imagine K-Love being a triple-double threat on a nightly basis? Scary, huh?

It is worth noting, though I don’t know the numbers, that I’ve seen Griffin taking jumpers from the 15-18 foot range and he’s knocking them down. Again, that’s a small sample size from what I have seen from the Clips this season. If a guy with his athleticism and size can get things going with his jumper, that’s a scary thought too.

I spoke with Bennett over at Timberpups about the Clippers. Check it out here. 

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Tags: Blake Griffin Chris Paul Kevin Love Los Angeles Clippers Minnesota Timberwolves NBA Ricky Rubio TImberpups Western Conference

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