Howling At The Moon
Alexey Shved‘s time with the Minnesota Timberwolves is dwindling. In the Wolves 124-95 victory last Wednesday over the Cleveland Cavaliers Rick Adelman started Robbie Hummel in place of Kevin Martin, who was suffering from flu-like symptoms. Shved, the beneficiary of the Wolves injury woes last season, sat on the bench wearing warm-ups — his disinterested face buried in his left hand. He could only watch helplessly as his teammates took a 23 point lead, 70-47, into the half. Hummel finished with 10 points, hit two of four attempts from behind-the-arc and acquired four rebounds in his first NBA start — the Wolves cruised by the Cavs, 124-95.
It’s Adelman’s decision to play Hummel, and not Shved, that reflects change within the Timberwolves organization that’s providing opportunities for those who have paid their dues.
The Timberwolves front office underwent a plethora of front-office changes in the offseason. The essential turnover process began after the termination of David Kahn. Flip Saunders, who has more wins than any other coach in the team’s history combined, was hired as President of Basketball Operations. Shortly after Kahn’s dismissal Saunders fired International Scouting Coordinator Pete Philo, as well as scouts J.T. Prada, Curtis Crawford and Steve Gordon.
Saunders spent seven years as a head coach in the Continental Basketball Association (CBA) from 1988-1995, before the league disbanded. He’s described himself as a ‘proprietor of minor leagues’. Before being hired to replace Kahn, Saunders was the Head Coach of the Washington Wizards from 2009-2012, that’s where he met and worked with Milt Newton.
Newton was Washington’s Vice President of Player Personnel dating back to 2003, helping with the team’s draft preparation and salary cap management. He had the same job title working with the NBA Development League during the league’s inaugural season in 2001. Newton is also on the NBA Undergraduate Advisory Committee, a group of executives that provide career advice to collegiate underclassmen aspiring to enter the NBA.
Although, Newton may have not had much influence on personnel decisions in Washington as his accolades suggest.
Philo scouted, recruited and Kahn signed a smorgasbord of international players; Darko Milicic, Sasha Pavlovic, Oleksiy Pecherov, Kosta Koufos, Nikola Pekovic, Ricky Rubio and the aforementioned Kirilenko and Shved are all current or former Wolves players of European descent. Rubio, Pekovic, Shved and Coach Adelman were left to Saunders and Newton
“It hurts to go through all those years, painful seasons, knowing we had a plan and things started to shape up. “I’m very proud to be part of that. It was a lot of hard work and now not to be part of it.” Said Philo after being terminated.
Although Shved didn’t enter the NBA until 2012, his reputation was established long before playing in the United States. This was written in 2006 by Dimitris Ritsonis, a Greek Correspondent, and published on DraftExpress.
“It seems as Alexey thinks pretty highly of himself, because his shot selection appeared to be poor at some specific moments of both of his last games, showing that he believes he can beat a 5-player team himself […] This might be a matter of his age, but also a mental issue, as he seemed to underestimate his teammates in some cases, limiting his fine contributing ability and also harming his team game potential.”
Six years later, as a rookie, Shved started in 16 of his 77 appearances, averaging nearly 23 minutes per game. Despite shooting 37% from the field and 30% from three-point range he never appeared to grasp the pace, style and physicality of basketball played in the NBA.
The lone element familiar to Shved during his first season playing in America, a bond with teammate and friend Andrei Kirilenko, was lost in the offseason by way of business.
Over the summer Kirilenko opted-out of the one year remaining on his contract option with the Timberwolves, valued at $10 million dollars. Speculation marked “AK47” as a player that desired a three-year deal worth $8 million a season, however, the three-time All-NBA defensive player signed a mini-mid level contract sheet with the Brooklyn Nets valued at just over $6 million over the next two seasons. Mikhail Prokhorov, a Russian businessman and majority owner of the Nets, was criticized by his peers who labeled the mysteriously affordable contract ‘obvious’ and ‘brazen’. Kirilenko accepted a deal after being offered, and having asked for, more than will earn in Brooklyn.
“I think he just sort of wanted something different,” said Shved on the departure of his teammate and -more importantly- friend “It’s his life.” later on he continued, “He always helps me, he and his wife Masha, they’ve lived here 11 years, so they know everything. For sure, I’ll miss them there.”
Shved returned to Russia this summer to prepare for FIBA’s World Cup Qualifier — Eurobasket. He averaged 16 points on 47% shooting from the field and 51% from three-point range, handing out five assists per game. He was the team’s best performer, specifically scoring 25 in a double-overtime loss to Finland and recording nine assists en route to his team’s only victory in the five-game opening round. He was without Kirilenko, one of the best Russians ever to play in the NBA and represent the country internationally.
In a preseason exhibition the Wolves hosted CSKA Moscow, it was Minnesota’s first preseason game. CSKA left Target Center with a 108-106 victory but prior to the game Adelman spoke about his alienated Russian guard.
“Maybe not having A.K. here does affect him because he used to talk to ‘Lexey’ all the time, and in Russian. We don’t have anybody who can do that right now.”
It’s the transition adapting to the NBA style of basketball after learning to play under FIBA’s regulations that the 24 year old from Russia is struggling with. Coach Adelman’s Princeton offense requires off-guards to react and act upon instinct. Shved isn’t known for playing without the ball and he lacks the experience reacting to defenses to do anything ‘instinctively’. He continues to struggle comprehending Adelman’s system and things aren’t getting easier without the companionship of Kirilenko. Prior to facing CSKA, Adelman said this about Shved’s place in the offense:
“When he’s off the ball, he has a tendency to shortcut things. He just has to stay with it and become a cutter as well as a ball handler.”
Hummel was a three-time Academic Big 10 honoree and earned a degree in business management. He spent time promoting the importance of literacy in local elementary schools during his time at Purdue University. He’s hardworking and charismatic; something fans -especially in Minnesota- take notice of and admire. Hummel is the only Boilermaker in school history to tally 1,700 points, 850 rebounds, 250 assists, 125 steals and 100 blocks in a career.
It’s not off-the-court issues or in-game performance that make Hummel a concern; it’s staying healthy, a Wolves fan’s largest fear after last season — the reason Shved saw so much time on the floor.
As a sophomore his body began to forsake him and he missed five games due to back spasms and broken vertebra. These injuries also limited his participation in practice. Head Coach Matt Painter monitored his minutes and Hummel wore a back brace throughout the season — both monitored the injuries closely. Purdue won the Big 10 tournament at the end of the regular season.
Next season the expectations had grown higher for Hummel and his team. As a junior he was a Naismith Finalist, an annual award given by the Atlanta Tipoff Club to the top collegiate basketball player and Purdue opened the season with 14 consecutive victories. On February 24th the third-ranked Boilermakers arrived in Minneapolis to take on the Minnesota Golden Gophers. Driving toward the basket, Hummel planted, felt his leg fail to support him and fell to the floor clutching his right knee. Sympathetic applause from the Minnesota faithful could be heard as he was helped off the floor and into the locker room, Hummel’s ACL was torn.
Six months, a reconstructive surgery and countless rehab exercises later Hummel practiced prior to the start of his senior season. It was only eight months after being helped off the floor in Minneapolis until Hummel tore the same ACL during a practice in October. What was supposed to be his final year in West Lafayette, Indiana turned into more surgery and rehabilitation.
The following year, as a redshirt senior, Hummel averaged 16 points, 8 rebounds and 2 assists per game and was awarded the Thomas A. Brady, MD Comeback Scholarship Award.
Despite the strong finish to his collegiate career Hummel failed to crack an NBA roster in the fall. He traveled overseas and played with Blusens Monbus Obradoiro, a club located in northern Spain. Playing in 30 games Hummel averaged 10 points, shot over 40 percent from both the field and three-point arc in addition to collecting 4 rebounds a game — another full, healthy and productive season was under his belt.
It’s the dirt beneath the nails of Hummel, Newton and Saunders that attracts the support of fans in Minnesota.
Because of his accomplishments, as well as his homegrown background, Saunders is man of trust to the Timberwolves faithful. Hiring Newton brings aboard a credentialed, hard-working and eager associate that’s familiar with the President of Operations as well as the NBA Development League, a league used more and more each year as a place to develop talent that’s not quite ready for the big stage.
Kahn and Philo, attracted to the flash and mystery of European players, landed Pekovic and Rubio but missed on many, Shved appearing to be one of them. The narratives of hope after the “Change this face, be happy,” moment between Rubio and then rookie Russian guard inclined many -including myself- to believe that there was still hope for Shved.
“Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work.” – Thomas Edison
Hummel, born in Indiana, never hesitated working towards the chance at an opportunity. He’s probably not a stranger to overalls, either. He acknowledged his arrival but remained humble, speaking to the media, after making the Timberwolves final roster.
“Pretty crazy, you’ve worked for something for so long, dreamed about it since you were a kid. And in my situation, to have it delayed by a couple years, it’s pretty cool, pretty satisfying. It just makes it all the sweeter, but at the same time there is a lot of work to be done. It’s great to accomplish a goal, but there are more things I want to get done than just make the team.”
Hummel was two of five from the field, scored eight points and grabbed eight boards in the Timberwolves’ win, Saturday, over the Boston Celtics. He played just over 20 minutes and it appears as if Adelman has found a trusting hand to try and help production outside the starting five. The Wolves bench ranks last in offensive and defensive efficiency through 11 games this season.
Shved’s battle is no longer trying to live up to his reputation; it’s about fighting through adversity, and it’s going to be harder than it ever was before. A wolf pack consists of an Alpha, Beta and Omega Wolf. With Love as the Alpha, Rubio as the Beta — Shved has become the Omega in Minnesota.
An omega wolf receives the brunt of the aggression from his peers. The omega wolf is also known to instigate play and not always at the most opportune times — Shved is the one that has become the outcast. It’s the air of disinterest and an inability to play outside his niche that places Shved on the outside in Minnesota. The Wolves are looking for capable hunters before the elements of winter hit hardest, the pack must be at it’s strongest as it hunts for the postseason for the first time in nearly a decade.