Young Timberwolves guard Alexey Shved didn't make a significant jump last year. Instead, he regressed, appearing in 14 fewer games than in his rookie season and seeing his point production decrease by more than 50 percent.
MINNEAPOLIS — Back in April, it may have been difficult to imagine Alexey Shved donning a Timberwolves practice jersey and scuttling around the team’s training facility.
The gangly guard had just wrapped up a feeble sophomore campaign, one unproductive enough for the Minnesota front office to entertain the notion of buying out his contract. His name’s also been brought up in some potential Kevin Love trade scenarios — an annoyance to dump more than anything else.
Shved certainly wasn’t the main problem in the Wolves’ similarly lackluster season, but he didn’t contribute anything toward a solution, either.
But the 6-foot-6, 190-pound 25-year-old from Russia may have been impervious to any rumors surrounding his name. He still struggles to grasp English and booked it for his home town of Belgorod shortly after the NBA slate concluded.
Whether he heard the rumblings or not, Shved doesn’t appear concerned with them as he and some of his teammates prepare for NBA Summer League play this week. His focus, it would seem, is much more internal.
"I can’t say I’m great on defense or offense," Shved said Monday night after Minnesota’s first summer-league minicamp practice, a three-hour session in the Target Center Lifetime Fitness center. "I have to work on everything."
Doing so just might buy him one more year with the Wolves. He’s technically under contract through the end of the 2014-15 season and is owed $3.2 million by then. But that’s not an insurmountable sum for owner Glen Taylor to fork over if it means freeing up an additional roster spot.
Unless, of course, Shved shows he’s worthy of keeping it.
"He lost a lot of confidence last year," coach and president of basketball operations Flip Saunders said.
Coming off a rookie season that admittedly wore him down, Shved didn’t make any significant jump last year. Instead, he regressed, appearing in 14 fewer games and seeing his point production decrease by more than 50 percent.
Part of that’s due to a healthier roster around him. But a lot of it’s because when Shved saw the floor, he played too wildly and shot too inconsistently to stay on it.
If he found some sort of elixir during his time in Russia this offseason, a handful of summer-league games in Las Vegas starting Saturday is the time to show it off.
"A lot of good players come to play in summer league," said Shved, who along with Wolves returners Gorgui Dieng and Shabazz Muhammad and rookies Zach LaVine and Glenn Robinson III will travel to Las Vegas later this week. "You working hard, play hard, stick together, play basketball, speak a lot of basketball. So I come here, it’s important for me."
A new, higher-tempo system under Saunders and his staff could benefit Shved’s aggressive, attacking style of play. So could the ability to play both guard positions that Saunders sees untapped deep within Shved’s talent reserve.
As an off guard, Shved struggles. When he plays the point, he’s more comfortable but often becomes too confident and ends up taking ill-advised shots or turning the ball over.
If Shved can harness that spirit, Saunders thinks he might still be valuable.
"He’s either going to make a play for a teammate or for himself, and he’s going to do it very aggressively," Saunders said. "He puts so much pressure on a defense because of the things that he can do."
He’s also a menace at the other end of the floor, Saunders said, where reckless abandon can be more useful than on offense. During a practice-closing scrimmage Monday, Shved led both sides in rebounding, according to Saunders.
He also seemed more upbeat than the gloomy, cheerless Alexey that averaged four points and 10 1/2 minutes in 63 games last season. The promise of another opportunity, for the moment, appears to negate the prospects of being let go.
"Every time, every year, you growing older," said Shved, who signed with Minnesota as a rookie free agent in 2012. "When you’re a rookie, you think you know everything. No, you don’t know. Every time, you start learning something new.
"So for me, it’s the third year, and this is a new year for me."
Budinger to practice with Wolves: Oft-injured swingman Chase Budinger is scheduled to arrive in the Twin Cities on Tuesday and begin practicing with Minnesota’s summer-league contingent, Saunders said.
It’s unclear whether or not Budinger will play at all in Las Vegas, but he will travel there with the team when it leaves Friday. Budinger missed the first 36 contests of the 2013-14 season after his second knee surgery in the same calendar year, struggled to round back into form then sat out the final six games after spraining his ankle April 5 at Orlando.