The Minnesota Timberwolves enter the 2013-14 season with depth at every position, and point guard is no exception.
Ricky Rubio is the starter and will look to elevate his game to the point where he can be considered a franchise player in the NBA—if he isn’t already.
The Spanish sensation will be backed up J.J. Barea, who is from Puerto Rico, and Alexey Shved, a Russian, making this position, like many others on the team, very diverse in terms of nationality.
Lorenzo Brown, the team’s second-round pick out of North Carolina State, is the exception. He is from Roswell, Ga., and will probably spend the entire season buried beneath his international brethren.
The game dynamics will change dramatically when Rubio is substituted. Rubio is a ball distributor who makes the highlight reel not by hitting a clutch jumper or throwing down a massive dunk in transition, but by tossing the ball between his opponent’s legs.
Barea excels off of the pick-and-roll and has a scorer’s mentality, and Shved can create off the dribble and has developed an outside shot. Keep in mind that both Barea and Shved are combo guards and also will be used as shooting guards this year.
Brown is going to have to find his game. He’s built like a point guard prospect, tall and wiry, but he did not improve much between his sophomore and junior seasons in college and, at age 23, is old for an NBA rookie.
All four players have something they can offer at the point guard position, and the first three will see the court frequently next season. Even Barea and Shved see most of that time at the 2. To better understand what each player brings to the team, let’s look at each one individually.
All projected stats via Basketball-Reference.com (per 36 minutes). Slash line is field goal percentage/three-point percentage/free-throw percentage.
Projected stats: 8.6 assists, 2.7 steals, 3.4 turnovers, 12.8 points, .375/.321/.804
The projected stats probably aren’t generous enough with how many assists Rubio is going to have this season.
Even if he improves as a shooter, he is a pass-first kind of player, and his biggest attribute is his ability to create opportunities for his teammates. Plus, his dazzling passes make the Timberwolves a League Pass team and generate interest in what has been a moribund small-market franchise for years.
Not only is Rubio likely to improve in Year 3, but he’s also got better teammates around him. Longtime Wolves Kevin Love and Nikola Pekovic are elite big men at the 4 and 5, and Derrick Williams is an improving versatile scorer.
Then, there were a few weapons that Minnesota added in the offseason. Kevin Martin is an experienced shooting guard who helps fill a void from last season, Corey Brewer improved in transition as a member of the Denver Nuggets and Shabazz Muhammad is an incredibly gifted player who will make an impact on the court if he can resolve his issues off of it.
Rubio is the proverbial tide that raises all boats. He’s not going to take the ball and try to create scoring opportunities for himself. He is going to dish it to open teammates and ask that they put up the big numbers every night.
On the other side of the court, his long arms, speed and quickness allow him to hold his own on defense and create opportunities in transition. He has a tendency to gamble, but that is welcomed on a team with a high-powered offense that is probably going to have to outscore their opponents rather than lock them down.
In general, Rubio is the nucleus of the team through which all other players operate. He passes the ball with finesse, is a legitimate two-way player and gives awesome pep talks.
Expect big things from Rubio this season.
Projected stats: 6.4 assists, 0.7 steals, 3.1 turnovers, 16.9 points, .417/.351/.787
Barea may get a little flak from Wolves fans this season because he is not Lukas Robin Ridnour.
During the offseason, everyone knew one of these guys had to go. They were both taking up cap space needed to pay Pekovic and add depth. Although Wolves management in the past had a weird point guard fetish (see: 2009 NBA Draft) everyone kind of realized by trial and error (let’s call it that) that you have to have other players like “centers” and “forwards” and “shooting guards.”
So basically, one of these dudes was going to be playing in another city, and Ridnour, who signed a four-year, $16 million deal with Minnesota in July of 2010, was eventually shipped back to the Milwaukee Bucks in order to acquire Kevin Martin in a three-way deal with the Oklahoma City Thunder.
There is an argument to be made that Barea offers an intangible “winner’s mentality” after he won a championship with the Dallas Mavericks in 2011, but Ridnour, 32, was one of the only players who stayed healthy last year and is old enough to say he played with Ray Allen on something called the Seattle SuperSonics. It's safe to say he offered some leadership that isn’t always seen by the average viewer.
Barea will allow Wolves fans to forget about Ridnour if he continues to be effective off of the pick-and-roll. Generously listed at 6’0” and 175 pounds, he is one of the smaller players in the league and can weasel his way to the basket.
He is also a clutch shooter who offers an outside shot that Rubio lacks. While he will have difficulty hitting a pull-up jumper without getting swatted against the NBA’s giants, he has a knack for getting to the rim and has an explosive first step as well as a scorer’s mentality.
His size prevents him from being much of a factor on defense, but he has flopping down pat and will either end up getting a few fouls he shouldn’t or slapped with a big fine, depending on how crafty he is this season.
Word is he saw LeBron’s flopping coach in the offseason.
Projected stats: 5.5 assists, 1.1 steals, 2.8 turnovers, 13.3 points, .384/.303/.728
As a character, if you will, Shved is basically Russian Rubio. He’s got the look, style and flair often associated with European basketball players.
Unlike Rubio, Shved was not drafted and signed a three-year, $10 million deal as a 24-year-old last season. He took advantage of Rubio’s absence in the middle of the season and became an impact player for the Wolves, despite people’s concerns over how he would handle the new rules, especially the longer three-point line, in the NBA.
Rubio and Shved did not mesh on the court, however, because Rubio often sets his shooting guards and small forwards up to shoot right away, and Shved likes to create off the dribble.
Shved will likely back up Rubio and be expected to be a change-of-pace player who presents a scoring threat at the point. He can also be used in tandem with Barea when he plays the 2 and, who knows, maybe having another offseason with Rubio will help their chemistry on the court.
Shved has to improve defensively. While he’s definitely got height (6’6”), especially when compared to Barea, he is paper-thin (182 pounds) and doesn’t disrupt opposing players very often.
As a whole, Shved is a valuable asset to the team but needs to find his niche in Year 2.
Projected stats: None listed on Basketball-Reference.com
Flip Saunders felt he got a value pick when he got NC State’s Brown late in the second round (No. 52 overall), telling Phil Ervin of Fox Sports, “He’s a first-round talent. He was, by far, a very value pick.”
Time will tell how he fares in the NBA.
At 6’5” and 186 pounds, he has size and can create off the dribble, but scouts found he lacks explosiveness and has funky shooting mechanics.
Kyle Nelson broke it down for NBA Draft Express:
In addition to his average athleticism, another area of concern when projecting him at the next level is his struggles on the offensive end of the floor. While it is worth noting that Brown has transformed into a pure point guard, he remains one of the least productive scorers among our top-100 prospects, averaging just 13.8 points per 40 minutes pace adjusted as a junior, nearly a point less per 40 minutes pace adjusted than during his sophomore season despite seeing an increased offensive role.
Brown is a long shot but worth mentioning, especially considering that Shved and Barea will see time at the 2 this season. Rubio is the man in Minnesota, but he’ll need a sub, and Brown could potentially earn a role as a go-to backup this season if everything works out for him.
Tom Schreier covers Minnesota sports for Bleacher Report and is a contributor to Yahoo! Sports.