MINNEAPOLIS – When Alexey Shved was a child in Russia, his father, Viktor, a basketball coach, would bring home VHS tapes of NBA games to his son. Without the Internet or satellite television, it was Shved’s only way to watch the basketball stars he emulated and form his dream of playing in the United States.
At that time, such a dream might have seemed far-fetched. The first-ever native of Russia to play in the NBA was Alexander Volkov, who played two seasons with the Hawks in the early 1990s. Since then, only seven Russian-born players had played in the NBA before Shved signed his contract with the Timberwolves on Wednesday.
After reaching a verbal agreement with Shved on July 10, the Timberwolves officially signed the guard to a reported three-year, $10 million deal Wednesday, just hours after trading guard Wayne Ellington to Memphis for forward Dante Cunningham.
Shved, 23, has played professionally in Russia since 2006. In 2011-12, the 6-foot-5 guard averaged 11.6 points, 3.0 rebounds and 3.3 assists in Russian League games with CSKA Moscow. In the Olympic Qualifying Tournament, Shved helped Russia defeat Nigeria to earn a spot, and he averaged 10.5 points and 5.0 assists in four games.
The Russian guard has been on the Timberwolves’ scouting radar since last September, when president of basketball operations David Kahn watched him play three games in Lithuania. Kahn took credit for discovering Shved and initiating the Timberwolves’ interest in him, and he said he was impressed immediately with his ability to take the ball where he wanted offensively and with his on-court creativity and imagination.
“We are excited to have Alexey join the Minnesota Timberwolves,” Kahn said in a statement. “Alexey has been regarded as one of the best young talents in Europe for the past few seasons and will be a tremendous addition to our club. He is a smooth, fast-paced player who brings great shooting and passing abilities to our team. He will fit in well with our style of play and we look forward to seeing him a Timberwolves uniform.”
Kahn said Shved is capable of playing up to three positions, but he’ll likely spend most of his time at shooting guard with the Timberwolves. He also addressed Shved’s size; his weight has been reported as anywhere from 160 to 190 pounds, and no matter where on that spectrum he currently lies, Shved is still extremely thin. Kahn acknowledged that but said there have been other skinny players who have found success in the NBA.
On Monday, Shved spoke with R-Sport, a Russian news service, about the Timberwolves and the reasons for which he chose the team for his NBA debut.
“Minnesota’s a good, young and ambitious team,” Shved said. “All those factors were reasons to choose this club in particular, plus coach Adelman. They say that Rick trusts young players and discovers talents, and I’m ready to work for my part.”
Shved also said on a conference call Wednesday that he’s watched the Timberwolves’ games and is familiar with their style of play. Even before the team had officially expressed interest, he tuned into its games, and he said he’s impressed with its outlook in the near-term and its quick style of play.
“I noted that there were completely two different teams before Ricky Rubio’s injury and after Ricky’s injury,” Shved said through his agent and translator, Obrad Fimic. “The team really went in problems after Ricky got injured.”
Last season, two of the Timberwolves’ biggest breakout players were international additions: Rubio and Nikola Pekovic. Their experiences have given the Timberwolves a good idea of what to expect from international players making the transition to the NBA, and thus Shved will not arrive to inflated expectations.
Kahn did compare Shved to Rubio in that he’s played professional basketball for six years, since he was 17. However, Kahn cautioned that the team does not expect that he will automatically adapt to the NBA as quickly as Rubio, pointing out that it took a full season for Pekovic to find success.
“Typically there is a transition, we thought with Pek the first year,” Kahn said. “With Ricky, we didn’t see it. But there typically is… This year in particular, I don’t think it’s important for us to put too much pressure on him to produce at a very high level. If it happens, terrific, but I think we have the kind of depth in the backcourt where he’ll be able to make the transition at his speed.”
Shved isn’t the only Russian player in whom the Timberwolves have expressed interest this offseason. According to multiple reports, the team is considering signing Andrei Kirilenko, who spent 10 seasons with the Jazz before returning to Russia last season. Shved said he has not discussed the possibility of playing together in the NBA with his teammate on the Russian national team and that both players are now more focused on the Olympics than anything else.