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Wolves, Bulls might be geniuses of '08 draft

  • Article by: JIM SOUHAN
  • Star Tribune
  • January 26, 2009 - 1:13 PM

The Chicago Bulls and Minnesota Timberwolves made the two most dramatic decisions in the early rounds of the 2008 NBA draft. Sunday night, as the Wolves beat the Bulls 109-108 in overtime at Target Center, it looked like they both chose wisely.

The Bulls took Memphis point guard Derrick Rose instead of Kansas State forward Michael Beasley. Beasley offered size and gaudier statistics; the Bulls went with the dynamic point guard in the era of touch fouls. They were right.

Rose didn't dominate Sunday; he still looks like the future. He scored 18 points with seven assists and three rebounds without ever looking lost. If he can develop an outside shot, he will be the NBA's next great point guard. Beas ley has underwhelmed in terms of performance and intensity for the Heat.

The Wolves took USC shooting guard O.J. Mayo, promised to keep him, then traded him along with a bunch of basketball spam to the Grizzlies for Kevin Love, Mike Miller and another bunch of basketball spam.

Even with Miller looking like the second coming of Mike James -- either he doesn't shoot, or he makes you regret he did -- the Wolves might have made a good deal.

Love is becoming one of the best rebounders in the NBA, and now that he's figured out how to muscle to the basket instead of throwing up soft bank shots, he's scoring, too. Sunday, he played 33 minutes, scoring 19 points with 15 rebounds and an assist.

"He and Al [Jefferson] were just down there rooting around, mucking it up," Wolves coach Kevin McHale said. "Being an old root-arounder myself, I kind of liked that."

After looking lost on offense and slow all over the court early in the season, Love is starting to have an impact in games down the stretch, as well as compiling gaudy rebounding numbers. Sunday, his all-around game -- rebounding, getting tips near the basket, hitting shots, even playing defense as far out as the three-point line -- helped the Wolves come back from a 16-point first-quarter deficit.

Love played his best in the fourth quarter. Don't take my word for it -- read the play-by-play.

With the Bulls leading 85-80 in the fourth, Love hit a pretty fallaway banker. For the Wolves' next basket, Randy Foye dished to him in the lane for a layup.

With the Bulls up 93-87, Love grabbed an offensive rebound and drew a foul, hitting one of two free throws.

Next time down, Love dunked another offensive rebound. Next time down, he hit a 20-foot jumper -- just like he did so often at UCLA -- to cut the Bulls' lead to 95-92.

After a Bulls timeout, Love rebounded a Foye airball, got fouled, and hit another free throw, then hounded Tyrus Thomas into a miss. "Our young fellow, Kevin, was just outstanding out there," McHale said. "He's just a gritty, tough, hard-nosed kid. The ball goes up on the glass and he feels like he should get it, and more often than not he does."

Love scored the Wolves' first points of overtime on a tip, and gave them a lead on a layup on a pass from Miller that demonstrated how Love has accelerated his offensive game after routinely getting shots blocked early in the season.

Rose is dynamic, but his team has lost five in a row. Beasley is, to date, overrated. Mayo's game has stagnated, and he plays for a terrible team. The fourth pick in the draft, Love's old teammate Russell Westbrook, is a promising player on a horrid Oklahoma City team. As strange as this might sound, Love is the one from the top five playing well for what is, at least this month, a winning team.

"As far as progress, getting better and being productive, I think I've been doing great," Love said. "I've just got to keep it up and keep getting better."

McHale said Rose is better than he expected, because he's fast and strong and takes full advantage of the NBA's policy on calling touch fouls every time a guard such as Rose or Chris Paul drives.

Love's better than most of us expected, too. It would be easy to cite his grit, but there's more than that to his game. He can shoot, pass and defend, and he's just starting to figure out how to score in this league.

In Rose and Love, the Bulls and Wolves might wind up with the most insightful picks from the top of the 2008 draft.

Jim Souhan can be heard Sundays from 10 a.m.-noon on AM-1500 KSTP. • jsouhan@startribune.com

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