MINNEAPOLIS — Things have changed a little around the Pepsi
Center since Timberwolves forward Corey Brewer last suited up for a game there.
The coach that helped him grow into the firestarter he is
today is analyzing NBA goings-on for ESPN. The general manager that brought him
to the mountains now works in Canada. The swingman he helped spell during the
Nuggets’ club-record campaign last year is starting for Golden State against
Oklahoma City on Thursday night.
This isn’t the Denver Brewer left behind as an unrestricted
free agent this offseason. That team rode the leadership of coach George Karl
to a 57-25 overall record, a 38-3 home mark, a 15-game win streak and the
Western Conference’s No. 3 seed.
But after the Nuggets bowed out in the first round for the
seventh time in eight seasons under Karl, the 2013-14 NBA coach of the year was
let go. Executive of the year Masai Ujiri bolted for Toronto’s general manager
job, and starting small forward Andre Iguodala signed with the Warriors —
reportedly for less money than Denver had offered him.
Brewer left, too, seeking a fresh start with the team that
drafted him in Minnesota. He’s put forth that and more — 14.9 points per game,
including 27 in the Timberwolves’ win against Cleveland on Wednesday — while
adjusting comfortably into a starting role.
“We had a good thing going (in Denver),” Brewer
said, “but I guess they wanted to change it up. It worked out for the best
for me, I guess you could say.”
That’s been the case so far.
Brewer became the de facto No. 1 three when Chase Budinger
went down with a preseason meniscus injury. Minnesota signed him for his stopping
ability, which Karl cultivated for two years and used as his first option off
the Nuggets’ bench.
Those were important days for Brewer, who during his first
Timberwolves stint never lived up to expectations that come with a No. 7
“George loved me,” Brewer said. “When you
have a coach that’s behind you and just lets you go out there and do you, you
find out what you can do and what you can’t do. It started working out for
Minnesota is reaping the benefits.
Not only has Brewer limited the likes of Kevin Durant and
Carmelo Anthony with his pesky wing defense; he’s also proven invaluable as a
transition scorer, often snagging Kevin Love outlet passes and flying in for
transition buckets. The connection between those two has the Timberwolves
ranked second in the NBA with 18.8 fast-break points per game.
“He’s kind of made for the outlet pass,” said
Love, who’s averaging 5.1 assists per game. “I love having him on the
team. He’s a guy that helps me look good.”
Brewer has even exceeded coach Rick Adelman’s expectations
thus far, starting with a 5-for-5 3-point outing Wednesday.
“Corey’s just pretty amazing and never seems to get
tired,” Adelman said after his team’s short practice Thursday. “He
just keeps playing.
“When he shoots the ball that well like he did last
night, it makes the game a lot easier. He had that ability in Denver, and he
shot the ball pretty good there, he ran the floor really good. But he’s better,
I think, than we had anticipated.”
Brewer, for his part, said there’s not much emotion attached
to his first return to the Mile High City.
“I really don’t care about going back there, to be
honest,” Brewer said. “I loved Denver. Denver fans are great. The
whole organization was good for me. They were good to me. But right now, man,
we trying to get to the playoffs. So for us, we’ve got to get a win.”
It’s not a given, even early in the year against a team that
underwent what seems like a lot of turnover. The Nuggets’ core, save for
Iguodala, returns mostly intact, and they seem to have found a groove in
victories over Utah and the Lakers after a 1-3 start.
Coach Brian Shaw’s philosophies have had time to marinate.
The roster new general manager Tim Connelly built is starting to gel.
And there’s always the altitude. Just ask Brewer.
“It’s a real thing,” he said. “Fourth
quarter, you know you’re in Denver.”
Budinger back soon: The Timberwolves announced Thursday that
Budinger has been cleared to return to Minneapolis and continue working to
return from his second meniscus surgery in the past calendar year.
During preseason practice, the small forward reinjured the
same meniscus he tore last season and had it removed Sept. 30. He’d been rehabbing in Florida.
Now, Budinger can return to the Twin Cities and begin
running on a treadmill and shoot set shots, according to president of
basketball operations Flip Saunders’ Twitter account. “Making
progress,” Saunders put at the end of his tweet.
Coming into the year, Budinger was expected to contend with
Brewer for Minnesota’s starting small forward spot. The 6-foot-7, 209-pound
Arizona product averaged 9.4 points per game and shot 32.1 percent from 3-point
range in the 23 games he was able to play last season.
Martin back in lineup: Robbie Hummel knew his first dip into
an NBA starting lineup was going to be a short one.
Kevin Martin, whom Hummel replaced on the Timberwolves’
first unit Wednesday,
was back at practice Thursday and is a full-go for Friday’s 7 p.m. tilt with
the Nuggets. Martin watched his team’s 124-95 victory over Cleveland at home
while battling flu symptoms.
Hummel had a hunch his 10-point showing wasn’t quite enough
to usurp the NBA’s No. 6 scorer at the moment.
“I think he’ll probably get his job back
tomorrow,” Hummel said with a grin. “I was just trying to go out
there — I’m obviously not gonna replace him — and just kind of fill the void
and, I guess, not make too many mistakes in his absence.”
He didn’t, playing more than 28 minutes, hitting a pair of
3s and avoiding both foul trouble and turnovers. Martin liked what he saw,
especially knowing that Hummel battled through two torn ACLs and a meniscus
tear just to get to an NBA training camp.
“The journey he took to get here and to get an
opportunity like that,” Martin said, “I was just a proud big brother
of Robbie’s last night.”
Hummel did earn himself a shot at increased playing time
with Minnesota’ second unit, coach Rick Adelman said. He’d played more than
6:55 in just one of the Timberwolves’ first eight contests before Wednesday.
“He’s played well since the first day of camp, but to
start the season, I was trying different people,” Adelman said. “He’s
gonna get an opportunity to see how consistent he can be, but I never
Getting Shved going: Adelman moved Brewer to the two and
started Hummel at small forward Wednesday, in part because Minnesota doesn’t
have a true shooting guard behind Martin at the moment. The preseason hope was
second-year pro Alexey Shved could help fill that role, but so far, that’s been
a mostly-failed experiment.
A point guard who’s more naturally comfortable with the ball
in his hands, Shved has played less than 10 minutes per game and is shooting
20.8 percent from the floor. He’s spent most of his time at the two alongside
backup point man J.J. Barea.
The best way for him to improve is by experience, Adelman
“We just have to keep putting him out there,” the
coach said. “Guys have to find their way through it. There’s not a lot of
answers that you can do; you try to give them the ball, give them spots. I
think he’s getting less minutes than last year, and that’s hard.”
With a slew of injuries derailing the Timberwolves’ 2012-13
campaign, Shved tallied 23.9 minutes and 8.6 points per game. But he seemed to
wear as the season went on, and he hasn’t looked any more energized or
comfortable so far this year.
Until he does, Shved — who’s due to make $3 million this
year — won’t figure much into Minnesota’s regular rotation.
“He’s always had the ball in his hands, and that’s how
he’s played,” Adelman said. “With our group, it’s not always gonna be
the case. He’s got to learn how to move without the ball.”