Jim Souhan analyzes the local sports scene and advises you to never take his betting advice. He likes old guitars and old music, never eats press box hot dogs, and can be heard on 1500ESPN at 2:05 p.m. weekdays, and Sundays from 10 a.m.-noon.
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Wrote about Andrew Wiggins in my column, so I'll use this space to offer instant and egiously presumptuous takeaways from the Wolves' 105-101 loss to Memphis on Wednesday night.
1. Thaddeus Young looks very comfortable being the best player on this team. He can shoot, he can get to the hoop, he can pass, and he plays hard. ``And he's only 25,'' coach Flip Saunders said. ``People don't realize how young he is. There were times out there where our average age was 23.''
2. Young and Mo Williams were ideal pickups for this roster. Williams' flagrant foul late in the game was damaging, but overall he played an exellent game, looking capable of either playing for or alongside Ricky Rubio.
3. Flip was right - this team has depth. The Wolves bench was impressive, outscoring Memphis 46-10.
4. Shabazz Muhammad really does look like a different human. Much leaner than last year after his intense offseason workouts, Muhammad played hard on both ends, scoring 13 points in 23 minutes and grabbing seven rebounds. I was not in favor of the Wolves drafting him, and I didn't like the way he played last year. Wednesday, he was an asset.
5. I did like the pick of Gorgui Dieng late in the first round last year, and he made a big impact on Wednesday, with eight points, four rebounds and a strong defensive presence in 19 minutes. He injured his right hand in the first half but returned with the hand wrapped, just another indication of his competitiveness. ``I was afraid he was going to be out a lot longer than 20 minutes,'' Saunders said.
6. Chase Budinger still looks lost. He went 0-for-4 from the field with no assists. I thought he would fit well into former coach Rick Adelman's system, but injuries kept that from happening, and he still doesn't look right.
7. Corey Brewer was a mess. He kept blowing defensive assignments, then having to explain himself to the bench. He went 2-for-7 from the field and had two turnovers.
8. As he did in the preseason, Anthony Bennett showed signs of getting it, producing nine points and three rebounds in 14 minutes. He attacked the rim aggressively and even hit a long jumper.
9. Zach LaVine did not play, and will probably be saved for garbage time early in the season.
10. Saunders seems energized, and seems to like his team. Through 48 minutes of the season, I can see why. They play hard and unselfishly and they put on a good show against a good team on Wednesday.
I'll be on WJON at 7:15. Instead of my usual 12;15 appearance, I'll be on 1500ESPN at 9:45 or so tomorrow. Thanks for reading and/or listening.
MEMPHIS -- So, before shootaround, Flip Saunders sees me with other reporters, and genuflects. He asks whether his boss and Star Tribune owner Glen Taylor has loosened the paper’s purse strings to send me to Memphis for the Wolves’ opener tonight.
Saunders seemed wired and enthusiastic on Wednesday morning. He also offered large doses of realism when it comes to expectations for his team this year.
Unprompted, he brought up the team’s decision to waive veteran guard J.J. Barea, and segued into an explanation of where his young team is.
``We made a decision on J.J., and there are some people, even on our staff, saying, `Hey, J.J. is going to help us win two or three more games,’ ‘’ Saunders said. ``I had to say, `Listen, when we made the decision to trade Love, that was the direction we chose. If we’re going to try to shortchange that, we’re going to hurt ourselves in the long run. This season is about going through the process. It’s about developing and blending the players together. It’s about finding out what we have in our young guys, what they have to work on in the next year to be where we need to be.
``We’re going to go through some nights where we’re going to play really well, and we’re going to have nights where I’m pulling my hair out.
``I don’t think that we can lose sight of the direction. It’s not just about wins and losses. I know that’s what fans want to hear about, and so do I. Right now, wins are reinforcement for what you’re doing, with young players. I’m being a realist.’’
Asked about Andrew Wiggins’ debut, Saunders used his popcorn analogy _ ``Some players are better when the lights are on and the popcorn is ready.’’ I reminded him that I first heard him use that a long time ago about another talented rookie – Stephon Marbury.
``And he was a popcorn player,’’ Saunders said.
The difference between Marbury and Wiggins is that Marbury wanted the ball in his hands on every possession. Wiggins, despite his gifts, can be passive offensively.
``He’s got a lot of potential,’’ Saunders said. `` The one thing that’s impressed me is he’s a team player. Almost, sometimes, to a fault. We’re trying to get him to be a little more assertive offensively, and to assert himself in the half court. We all know he’s going to be a very good defender, so he’s got the opportunity to be a two-way type player. In this league, if your team wants to be good, you have to have two-way players. And if you want to win a championship, your best player has to be a two-way player.’’
That’s the interesting thing about this team. Saunders is looking to build a champion, but this season is going to represent a traveling classroom. This team might lose 55 games and feel good about its future, if Wiggins develops properly.
I”ll be on 1500ESPN AT 12:15 from Memphis. Jerry Zgoda and I will be covering the opener tonight for the Star Tribune and startribune.com.
Doug Mientkiewicz wanted to add one thing to our conversation that was the basis of today's column: ``My biggest regret in baseball is that we didn't win a World Series when I was with the Twins. We thought we would.''
On to today's Local Power Ranking of the seven local revenue sports, which have shifted since the last time I did them:
1. Gopher men's hockey
This team is skilled enough to win the national title. Is it tough enough?
2. Minnesota Wild
I'm quite impressed with the way Mike Yeo has melded incoming stars, holdover veterans and promising youngsters. He's gone from hot seat to coach of the year candidate in my book. Ryan Suter has played brilliantly ever since his first two, quite nervous, weeks in a Wild uni.
3. Minnesota Vikings
Didn't like seeing a team in a passing league lose its only dynamic receiver and best cornerback, but Rick Spielman has a chance to make his plan work. If he can complement Greg Jennings with another quality receiver or two (I vote for Cal's Keenan Allen and one more free-agent pickup), the offense could be better, and if he can use the draft to land a couple of defensive starters, the defense could be more talented.
His plan will only be as good as his execution.
4. Gopher basketball
I'm rooting for Minnesota facing VCU in the first round. Tubby vs. Shaka Smart. Tubby vs. the man who should replace him. Bring it on, please.
5. Minnesota Twins
I'm encouraged by a handful of individuals in spring camp, but not by the pitching staff, and the pitching staff will determine this team's fate.
6. Minnesota Timberwolves
I love the way Ricky Rubio has played, knowing the season is lost and his teammates aren't good enough.
7. Gopher football
Jerry Kill is 4-12 in the Big Ten. Facts are so annoying.
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