Russian Alexey Shved is learning the ways of the West and NBA.
You get the sense Alexey Shved has a lot to say.
It's just that, for now, language gets in the way. Shved has come from Russia to play basketball for the Timberwolves. He is a relative stranger in a strange land, struggling to master English, which has not dimmed his enthusiasm for his new home.
"It is totally different country," he said. "I like U.S., the people. Here everybody is like, 'Hey, hello!' ''
Shved, his teeth in braces, smiled. He smiles a lot, perhaps at least a little in frustration. During an interview, when he struggles to get a point across, he will stop and grin.
By all accounts, his ability to communicate is growing by leaps and bounds, on and off the court. But still, at times, it's hard. Just ask teammate Andrei Kirilenko, a fellow Russian who experienced a similar transition when he left his home country to play for Utah in 2001. It's as if he's become Shved's personal Wikipedia.
"He's got so many questions," Kirilenko said. "Some of them even I don't have answer. I'm like, 'Come on, Alexey, it will be OK.'"
So, for at least a while, Shved will have to let his play do the talking, although the transition on the court also comes with challenges.
Wolves coach Rick Adelman initially wanted Shved to split time between off guard and point guard -- where Shved played for Russia in the Olympics. But, ultimately, Adelman decided to let Shved concentrate on the off-guard position first.
There is no question his play has been uneven. After a 2-for-11 shooting performance in Chicago the other night, Shved is shooting 11-for-31 overall (35.5 percent), 4-for-16 from three-point range. It is clear he's still not sure, in Adelman's offense, when he should shoot and when he should pass.
Shved clearly has a playmaker's mentality, even at the off-guard spot, which the coach views as a positive. How many times a year ago did Adelman bemoan the lack of playmakers on the perimeter from someone other than the point guard?
Shved figures to get significant minutes behind Brandon Roy at shooting guard. Even after Shved's tough night shooting in Chicago, Adelman talked instead about the rookie's ability to move the ball, saying he might be the best player on the team at getting into the middle of the court and making plays for other people.
Still, this is a work in progress. Shved knows his defense has to improve, and his body offers a challenge in that regard.
The 6-6 Shved is so skinny -- and you thought Ricky Rubio was skinny? --it looks like a good, hard pick could break him in two.
"For sure I need to up my kilos," Shved said, smiling again, and flexing his left arm. "I need some pounds. I will work on that."
He is still adapting to the speed and physical nature of the game, and opponents are going to try to muscle him up.
"That's something he has to expect," Kevin Love said. "Whether it's rookies down to 10-year vets wanting to test Ricky last year, with Alexey it's the same thing."
But the little Shved has seen of NBA action so far has thrilled him.
"Here, if you're open, you go," he said. "If you have an open shot, you take it. If you miss a shot, it's not so bad. In Europe, if you miss a shot early, coach will sub for you. You can make a mistake here. That is very important for a player."
Love watched Shved in the Olympics. He knows Shved can hit the open shot and can get very, very hot in stretches. And he has a shooter's mentality.
"If he misses two shots in a row he believes the third one he's going to make it," Love said. "As far as ball-handling, he's a guy who needs to add a little strength to his frame. He's like Ricky in the sense he loves to stay in the gym. I think he's only going to get better.''
Kirilenko says the most difficult transition for Shved is off the court. And so he has tried to help the rookie, joking that his first bit of advice to the kid was how to handle a traffic stop should one occur.
"In Russia, if the police stop you, you can give him five dollars and say, 'I'm sorry' and keep going," Kirilenko joked. "Here you cannot do that. So, the little things, it's different."
Just about everything is different, and every day is a step. Shved just passed his driver's test and he's looking forward to exploring the cities. But for now, he lives downtown and his life is all about basketball.
"Here we play a little bit faster than in Europe," he said. "This has been really new to me. But I feel good right now. I can do the same as other players."
Staff writer Jerry Zgoda contributed to this report.
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