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.
Just walked the front nine at Augusta National during practice rounds in preparation for The Masters.
I'm always struck by how pristine this place is. It is startling even when you expect it. Practice rounds were cancelled on Monday after a severe thunderstorm. It's still overcast, but dry, today.
First thought during the practice rounds: ``Huh. Mike Weir actually won this tournament once.''
I've already picked out my favorite grouping for Thursday: Jordan Spieth, Patrick Reed and Rory McIlroy will tee off at 9:52 Central time. Spieth is one of the best players in the game. McIlroy could this year become the best player in the game, and if he wins this week, he will have three-quarters of the career slam at the age of 24. Reed thinks he's one of the best players in the game.
You know what? He might be right. He's won three times on tour since joining the tour in 2011. He beat a great field at the WGC-Cadillac Championship earlier this year. I like that he's brash enough to call himself a top-5 player. Confidence is a great tool in golf.
I'll be filing posts and columns and tweeting from The Masters all week for the Star Tribune and startribune.com.
The Wolves blew it with their handlnig of the Dante Cunningham stuation.
Cunningham is alleged to have committed one of the most heinous crimes in our society. Yet the Wolves rushed him to Orlando, played him extensively, and then coach Rick Adelman acted like it was no big deal.
It's a big deal. While the NBA collective bargaining agreement states that a player shouldn't be suspended until he is given due process in our legal system, that doesn't mean the Wolves had to rush him to Orlando or play him like nothing had happened. Domestic assault isn't just a serious charge; it is a disgusting charge.
If I were the Wolves, I'd rather bench or suspend Cunningham than play him. I'd rather fight a grievance than let one mediocre player taint my organization's image.
I'll be on 1500ESPN at 12:15 or so. I'll be calling in all week at the time, and will co-host Sunday Sports Talk from 10-noon on Sunday from Augusta.
Today's local power rankings look far different than my last attempt to rank local revenue-generating sports teams:
1. Minnesota Vikings
Great week for the local NFL franchise, and its legacy. Adrian Peterson wins the MVP Award, then admits he played at the end of the season despite a sports hernia.
When I was talking to him Saturday night, I asked when he'd work out again. He said ``In four weeks.'' When I asked whether that was doctor's orders, he said, ``You got that right.'' Of course, I thought we were talking about his knee. Wish I had asked whether it was his ``abdomen,'' as the Vikings listed the injury.
Cris Carter made the Hall. Matt Birk won a ring.
2. Gopher hockey
Fun team to watch. Why No. 2? Because the Gophers need to win the WCHA to fulfill their potential, and until they move into first in the conference, they don't move into first here.
3. The Wild
Disappointing start, but the team's at .500 while sorting out a lot of new combinations in a season without a true training camp.
4. MInnesota Twins
Fans are going to get sick of me saying `Wait until next year,'' but...wait until next year.
5. Gopher basketball
They're at .500 in the Big Ten, which would be fine for a team lacking such high expectations. But it's to the point now where this team isn't even fun to watch. They can't get a clean look in the half-court offense, and they refuse to run, so they're stuck with their lousy half-court offense.
Next time they play a quality opponent that slows down the pace, count how many baskets they score that aren't a result of a covered three-point shot or an offensive rebound. You won't need both hands.
It's sad, seeing what has become of such a promising roster. Wait til next year. Again.
7. Gopher football
I think the idea that the Gophers can't win because there isn't enough talent in the state is bogus. If the Gophers consistently landed a good percentage of the best players in Minnesota, the Dakotas and Western Wisconsin, and occasionally landed an out-of-area gem like Maroney, they'd have more than enough talent to compete.
-Sunday Sports Talk will run from 10 to 12:30 this week on 1500ESPN.
My Twitter handle is @Souhanstrib.
For a variety of reasons - a slow summer, local teams stinking it up, my Olympic excursion - I took a break from the all-important Local Power Rankings. Now, with the NFL returning to action, they're back.
If only Ricky Rubio were healthy, this could team might be the fastest-rising team in the NBA. As it is, the offseason roster improvements, along with Rubio's expected return from knee surgery, will make this easily the best and most fun-to-watch team in town. It's not really close.
What will be most interesting, to me, is to see how Kevin Love, who performed so well at the Olympics, plays this season. He's been able to improve in some way every year of his pro career, and he had to pick up some nuances, or confidence, playing with the world's best.
2. Gopher hockey
This should be a powerhouse team, which means I"ll be fascinated to see how Don Lucia handles the pressure of coaching a team with high expectations.
3. Gopher basketball
Tubby Smith should have his best team. I'm praying that none of his best players get hurt, partly because I'd love to have a fun winter in the Barn watching a good team, and partly because I don't want Smith to be able to cite any easy excuses. Other than his players having to walk outside in the cold to go to practice.
They'll be much better, but how much better? I say they're a playoff team, but as my hockey-minded buddies point out, the LA Kings barely made the playoffs last year, and they won the whole thing. Are the Wild better today than the Kings were last spring?
Maybe I'm crazy, but I see some hope for this franchise. I like Diamond. I like Deduno. I'm tremendously impressed by Cole De Vries' ability to get people out with average-at-best stuff. I think the Twins will re-sign Scott Baker, and Kyle Gibson could give them 100 good innings next year. Liam Hendricks has been awful, but there has to be something there - you can't dominate in the minors as much as he has without being able to eventually function in the majors.
Yes, they lack an ace, but this team went to the ALCS with a rotation of Brad Radke, Eric Milton, Joe Mays and Rick Reed. They don't need Hall of Famers, they need functional big-league starters.
The Twins need to sign one innings-eater and hope Baker can become a staff leader.
A lot has to go right for the Twins to contend next year, but are they really that far away?
You can make the case that this is an improving team with a bright future. You can't make the case that this is a good team now.
7. Gopher football
UNLV stinks, and the Gophers almost found a way to lose to the Rebels. They are lucky to be playing New Hampshire this week.
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