Friday, December 14, 2007

Opposing View: 12/14 at Minnesota

All season long, Sonics Beat will be consulting an expert on the opposing team as part our gameday preview. Today, Mike Trudell from shares his answers. The official site of the Wolves has a video scouting report on the Sonics with Assistant Coach J.B. Bickerstaff, the son of former Sonics head coach Bernie. There's also plenty of blogs : Check out Britt Robson's analysis at On the Ball, and WolvesWatch.

What did Monday's win over Phoenix say about how the Timberwolves are coming along in their development?
What the Timberwolves want to see more than anything are steady signs of growth. Sure, winning more games would be nice, but with nine guys under the age of 25 - most of whom haven't played together before this year - it's been particularly difficult for the Wolves to close out close games against veteran teams. At the same time, the Wolves have exhibited the kind of fight that keeps them in nearly every contest, and that's what happened against Phoenix. Minnesota battled for 48 minutes, and for once, made more plays down the stretch. The Wolves have also played the Spurs, Nuggets and Mavericks tough, which hopefully is a sign of things to come.

How has Al Jefferson responded to being "the guy" in Minnesota?
Most simply, he's responded by being one of five guys in the NBA to average 20+ points and 10+ rebounds. Well ... you have to round up tonight, because he's at 19.9. Just give it to us, OK? But like we've been saying here all year, Jefferson is even better than Kevin McHale and Randy Wittman thought he was when they traded for him. His basketball instincts are unreal - much like your own Kevin Durant - as he just finds different ways to score the basketball. But even better, he's a great kid who loves the game and is eager to improve on a daily basis; He likes being "the guy," and has shown his shoulders to be sturdy enough to form the foundation for a franchise.

Craig Smith had a lot of success against the Sonics last season. Is it safe to say the entire league is seeing that same performance now?
That's definitely safe to say. Craig Smith - we call him the Rhino - is a freaking beast. You folks in Seattle witnessed this first-hand last year when he dropped a career-high 26 points in Key Arena on Jan. 26. However, he lost about 14 pounds over the summer, worked on several aspects of his game and just in this last week has truly emerged like many thought the would. The reason it didn't happen earlier in the season is that Smith sprained his ankle (twice), so he didn't have the same confidence he's now showing in aggressively getting to the rim, or pulling up early with a patented floater. Seriously, check out his floater tonight: It has to be in the league's top two or three, up there with Tony Parker. But it's true, against smaller teams like Phoenix, Atlanta and (potentially) Seattle, Smith is particularly effective.

What have the Timberwolves rookies shown this season?
Corey Brewer and Chris Richard have shown that there's a reason why Florida won back-to-back championships. Both do several things very well. Brewer pulled down 18 rebounds against the Hawks - from the small forward position - and has been terrific defensively and in transition. He's struggled offensively as he builds confidence in his shooting, but the positive things he does on the floor more than outweigh that aspect, and as a result he's been starting. Richard is one of those players who just always does something positive for your team: grab a tough defensive rebound, tip a ball in on the offensive end, take a charge, rotate on defense ... He's been a great value for a second rounder, much like Craig Smith was last season.

What don't we know but should about the Timberwolves?
That our mascot Crunch is actually a real wolf. For real. Watch the game Friday night, you'll see. ... And if you wanted a serious answer, fourth-year guard Sebastian Telfair, who for no really good reason was written off nationally in several publications, has been absolutely outstanding this season. One stat for you: In his last two games, Telfair's tallied 21 assists to just three turnovers.