We’ll probably be talking about it for the next five to seven weeks, until Kevin Love returns. The Timberwolves aren’t going to replace Love, not in a true sense. They’re going to compensate as best they can without their star player, and that will mean continued adjustments and most likely some disappointments, too.
That’s why this conversation won’t end.
The hottest topic right now is the way the team will use small forward Andrei Kirilenko at power forward, a move Rick Adelman won’t hesitate to make in Love’s absence. Kirilenko is smaller, an inch shorter than Love, and he weighs in at about 20 pounds less. That’ll mean adjustments, especially on defense, where Kirilenko will have to use his length and quickness to make up for whatever lack of size he brings. He can post up, Adelman said, but only really against small forwards, which will likely give Derrick Williams more of a chance to play in the post when on the court with Kirilenko.
But after a decade in the NBA, the Russian star is hardly worried about this temporary move. When asked about rebounding, Kirilenko suggested that everyone look at the stats. He corrected the notion that he’d averaged four or five rebounds per game in his career – he says six, a quick fact check reveals 5.63 – and said that he’s aiming to get closer to eight per game in Love’s absence.
And in terms of his size?
“I am lifting weights,” Kirilenko said. “Want me to lift more? I’ll try.”
Adelman said that the team’s offense doesn’t change when Kirilenko is playing power forward rather than Williams or Dante Cunningham. Kirilenko has been around long enough to understand how to make the transition, Adelman said, and his time playing in a bigger spot for the Russian national team also helps.
“He’s a better passer, I think, than the other guys,” Adelman said. “That helps because he’s going to have the ball in his hands for some of the things we’re trying to do. But we’re still going to run the same things. He’s a better passer, sees the plays, reads the plays a little bit better.”
It’s not Gibberish, it’s Russian: Kirilenko will likely take a louder role on the court with Love absent, even though it’s not his inclination to be a vocal floor general. On Monday, he said that sometimes he’ll catch himself accidentally speaking in Russian during practices. He notices only when players aren’t responding to his directions, and then he quickly switches back to English.
One perk, though, of this team is that some players actually understand him. Of course Alexey Shved does, but Kirilenko said that Nikola Pekovic, a native of Montenegro, also speaks a bit of Russian.
They’re going where?: As fellow FSN writer Tyler Mason pointed out this afternoon, the Timberwolves’ upcoming schedule makes them look more like an arena football team than an NBA one. On Wednesday, they play what’s technically a home game against the Pistons in Winnipeg, Manitoba, and on Friday they’re in Green Bay to face the Bucks. Friday’s game marks the end of the Timberwolves’ preseason slate, and they’ll then have nearly a week to prepare for their opening game at home on Nov. 2.
As of now, everyone but Love and Ricky Rubio is healthy for the two final games. Luke Ridnour, who’s had back problems, is practicing and should be able to go against the Pistons.