For all you basketball junkies who have been depressed since the NBA Finals ended, it's just about that time of year to satisfy your hoops craving. The annual Las Vegas Summer League starts July 12, and the Timberwolves will look to follow up their strong 4-1 showing last season with a championship this year.
That's right, this year the NBA will crown a summer league champion for the first time. There will also be storylines aplenty when the T-Wolves step on the UNLV campus this time around.
The core of the roster is set for the most part, aside from Nikola Pekovic's looming free agency. In that regard, let's hope that no news is good news. In Vegas, there won't be any indisputable key cogs of the squad on display, although a couple of guys will be fighting to show they deserve a bigger role or to make the team in general.
On Monday, Minnesota announced its roster. Not many names stand out, but there will be a few things worth watching for.
Can Shabazz Muhammad Put On a Show?
A draft day swap landed the Wolves shooting guard Shabazz Muhammad out of UCLA with the 14th pick. He comes across as a volatile loose cannon to the media, but in basketball terms, he is strictly a gym rat with a knack for scoring the rock.
Muhammad averaged 17.9 points per game as a freshman, the second most for a frosh in UCLA history. Given their rich basketball background, that is no small accomplishment.
Can he alleviate a few of the doubts surrounding his potential? Granted, five summer league games will not prove what kind of player he will ultimately be, but they will represent a small sample size of what is to come.
He will likely be the No. 1 option offensively on the T-Wolves' squad this summer. Seizing this opportunity to put up some big point totals will silence a few gripes about his ability to score at the next level. Expect a various flurry of jumpers with some ruthless drives to the basket sprinkled in.
What would really make it a successful summer league for Muhammad is if he can demonstrate some ability to create offense for himself and possibly for his teammates. He had 27 assists in 32 games at UCLA and forced shots far too often.
Obviously, he cannot be expected to turn into a passive role player, but a willingness to move the ball to open teammates will go a long way with the coaching staff.
Can Gorgui Dieng Seize His Role on this Team?
Minnesota landed Louisville center and Big East Defensive Player of the Year Gorgui Dieng with pick No. 21 in the draft, with intentions of him filling a huge need as a defensive anchor off the bench.
Greg Stiemsma was brought in to fill a similar role this past season. He underwhelmed at times and proved to be merely average at defense aside from his shot-blocking ability. His ineffectiveness, coupled with the acquisition of Dieng, has left him searching for work elsewhere, as Minnesota recently waived him along with Mickael Gelabale.
Dieng is already 23, with a sturdier build than Stiemsma. He also averaged 3.2 blocks per game last season with the Cardinals, so there will be no drop off there.
In Las Vegas, Dieng will likely log big minutes at center. Along with D-League center Phil Jones, they are the only true centers on the summer roster. Dieng will have no competition at the position, nor will he have much with the Timberwolves, as he is the only center they have until Pekovic re-signs (knock on wood).
He will not be asked to score 20-plus points, but he is an effective finisher around the rim and can wreak havoc on the glass. His overall feel for the game is strong as well. Combined with his advanced age for a rookie, there should be nothing but strong performances to look forward to from Dieng.
Will Robbie Hummel and/or Lorenzo Brown Make the Team?
Chris Johnson is the only player on the summer league club to have previously logged minutes with the Timberwolves. He provided a spark last season in a time of need and is the only player certain of a roster spot—besides the aforementioned Muhammad and Dieng.
As for the rest of the gang, second-round pick Lorenzo Brown out of NC State slipped in the draft because his Wolfpack underwhelmed last season. If he can lead this pack of Wolves in Vegas better than he led the ones last season in Raleigh, then he could very well make this team.
Brown has good size at 6'5" and an innate ability to get his teammates involved. He will likely not have his summer league minutes handed to him, but with the big club looking to move Luke Ridnour and/or J.J. Barea, there could be room for him to back up Rubio if he can show out enough.
Hummel is more of a feel-good story. The 2012 second-round pick is already 24 and has fought his way back from two torn ACL's and most recently a torn meniscus this past season in Spain.
Since Gelabale is no longer in the picture, a big showing in Vegas could land Hummel on the bench in Minneapolis. Again, this is not a summer league roster full of established talent or loaded with potential. He will have his chance to thrive in Vegas, and with all that he has gone through, we can only wish him the best.
Being in Las Vegas, it is only fitting that the coaching staff rolls the dice on a guy like Hummel. If they roll snake eyes, he simply returns to Spain for more seasoning. If they roll a seven, they just might have another nice shooter off the bench next season.
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