That was Brooklyn Nets forward Andrei Kirilenko’s advice,
verbatim, for longtime friend and Timberwolves guard Alexey Shved when the two
Russian transplants got together last Thursday, a day before their respective
teams squared off at the Target Center.
This NBA season’s early stages haven’t gone as planned for
either Russian national-team standout. After opting out of his contract with
Minnesota and signing with Brooklyn, Kirilenko has missed the past eight games
with back spasms, while the injury-plagued Nets have sputtered to a 3-10 start.
Shved’s quandary, alternatively, is of the mental variety.
“He lost a little bit of confidence,” Kirilenko
It’s bound to happen to a second-year pro playing limited
minutes, shooting horridly and hearing his name tossed about in the trade-rumor
winds. Shved hasn’t showed Timberwolves coach Rick Adelman enough reliability
to earn sustained playing time, and when he does see the floor, he clangs 3s,
dribbles recklessly and just doesn’t appear comfortable.
“A frenzy,” Adelman calls it.
“Basically, he hasn’t played well,” the coach
said. “There’s nothing you can do about it. I think the one thing you can
do is keep talking to the guys who don’t play and say ‘You have to be
When called upon, Shved hasn’t been.
Appearing in all but one of Minnesota’s 15 games, the lanky
24-year-old is shooting 24.4 percent from the field (10-for-41) and 15 percent
from 3-point range (3-for-20) in 9.4 minutes per contest. He hasn’t been able
to develop much cohesion with the rest of the second unit, and he hasn’t
adjusted well to playing more shooting guard while J.J. Barea backs up Ricky
Rubio at the point. Shved’s body language hasn’t been much better; an in-game
smile has become a rarity.
Shved is due to earn $3.15 million this season and is under
contract through next year. Some reports say he and forward Derrick Williams —
who’s experienced similar struggles — are on the trading block, as the
Timberwolves seek better fits on the wing.
Shved knows, it, too. When discussing his early-season woes
with reporters, he explained without provocation that he doesn’t want to leave
the team that signed him as a free agent in July 2012.
But he wants to see the floor, too.
“I have preference to stay here,” Shved said in
his thick Russian accent, “but if I want to play more, I’ve got to work
Especially without the ball in his hands. Adelman has taken
to rotating starters Kevin Martin and Corey Brewer and reserve small forward
Robbie Hummel at the wing spots before using Shved — a point guard for Russia
and CSKA Moscow – except during spot or garbage-time duty.
It’s frustrating, he admits.
“It’s tougher to play without the ball,” Shved
said. “You can do nothing. You can play with the ball, you can play bigger
role, make shots; but without the ball, it’s hard.”
His rookie season featured the opposite problem; due to an
array of injuries, Shved was forced to play 23.9 minutes per game — too many
for him to gradually adjust to the NBA, according to Timberwolves coaches.
“It’s more easier if you play all the time,” Shved
said. “It’s like if you played 25, 30 minutes, it’d be more easier for
everybody. It’s just hard when you come in with not a lot of time, but you need
to do your best for five, 10 minutes. How many minutes coach gives you doesn’t
matter, you just need to play 100 percent.”
That’s what Kirilenko — a 32-year-old, 12th-year NBA
veteran — reminds his former protégé during their weekly conversations.
The two grew rather close during their season together in the
Twin Cities. Kirilenko encouraged Shved as he labored to a 37.2 percent
field-goal clip as a rookie, then watched him this summer as he took charge of
Russia’s Eurobasket squad.
The team finished 1-4 and was bounced in the first stage,
but Shved shot 47 percent and averaged 16.4 points and 4.8 assists per game.
That output came while playing point guard, though.
Regardless of position, the sophomore still has a slump to
“I can’t help him go through that,” Kirilenko
said. “I’m obviously not playing (here). And he’s in little bit of a tough
position right now.
“All he needs to do is keep working. Like, in this
stretch when you’re playing five minutes, 10 minutes, just go hard. Be
available for the team, create the credibility.”