Hummel’s position with Wolves? Just call him ‘Always-Ready Robbie’
MINNEAPOLIS — Effectively but slightly awkwardly, Robbie Hummel brought the ball up the BMO Harris Bradley Center floor last week, called a set, instigated the Timberwolves’ offense and watched as Andrew Wiggins knocked down a 3.
Then Hummel booked it back on defense, found 6-foot-11 Bucks big man John Henson and began fronting him in the low post.
A sharp, quick-witted utility man known more for his knowledge of the game than his ability to influence it, Hummel checked in as Minnesota’s backup center that night. He finished as its No. 2 point guard behind rookie Zach LaVine.
And in a season that’s been sideswiped by injuries, Hummel has fulfilled just about every role imaginable in between.
"I take a lot of pride in just being able to go in in any situation," Hummel said. "With injuries, especially in the NBA, being such a common occurrence, I think you have to be ready to play any position you’re called upon.
"With my height, I’m ideal to play the three or the four, but I can play the five, I can play the two, and I guess . . . the one."
At 6-foot-8 and 215 pounds, Hummel’s most natural position is as a swingman. But he’s strong and quick enough to man the power forward spot, and he’s played both parts frequently during his two years in the league.
Last season, he was then-coach Rick Adelman’s favorite option to start when wings Corey Brewer and Kevin Martin were out. But after an offseason roster shakeup that conjured a glut of small forwards and two-guards under "new" coach Flip Saunders, Hummel seemed poised to take a backseat.
But Saunders, also the club’s president of basketball operations, figured such a versatile reserve might come in handy and signed him to a one-year deal early in the offseason (before the Kevin Love trade, most notably).
Saunders ended up being right.
"There is probably not a guy in the league who is as professional as he is," Saunders said earlier this season. "When you ask him to play, he’ll give you everything. He’ll do everything you want him to do."
And Saunders has asked him to do a lot. He hasn’t had a choice.
Since mid-November, the Wolves have been out starters Ricky Rubio, Kevin Martin and Nikola Pekovic. Backup point guard Mo Williams has missed some time — he was out against Milwaukee with a sprained ankle — and Shabazz Muhammad’s now nursing an outer oblique strain.
Even Hummel has battled attrition, falling ill and missing the Wolves’ Jan. 5 game against Denver.
But he’s come back and manned every spot on the floor at one point or another, averaging 12.5 minutes per game. In the past two contests, he’s gone over 25 minutes and shot 50 percent.
It takes a vast knowledge of the playbook and scouting report to execute all five positions, Hummel says. The 2012 second-round pick from Purdue played some point guard in high school and sometimes brought the ball up the court in a point-forward role in college. The NBA shooting guard and small forward spots aren’t vastly different, but the greatest challenge is figuring out how to defend athletes of such varying size, body types and skill sets.
"I think you have to have a pretty good basketball IQ and know what’s going on, understand how to guard different positions," Hummel said. "It’s just really having an understanding of what’s going on. That definitely helps."
With Williams back healthy — 52 points worth, in fact — Hummel returned to a more normal role in Tuesday’s win at Indiana. The Valparaiso, Ind., native hit a long 2 that made it 99-94 with 1:48 left in the Wolves’ first road win since the day after Thanksgiving.
Martin and Pekovic are expected to return soon, and Rubio could be back not long after. Hummel’s owed $880,000 for this season and will become an unrestricted free agent after the season.
But whether he stays here or finds employment on another team, his adaptability just might find him a niche in the NBA.
"I call him ‘Always-Ready Robbie,’" Saunders said.
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