Allen Moll is an avid NBA and College Basketball fan who watches and studies games religiously and coaches youth basketball in his native Lehigh Valley region of Pennsylvania. Allen is a regular columnist for the Hoopdoctors, Bleacherreport.com, UpperDeckblog.com, and his own blog, Hoops Haven .
The Minnesota Timberwolves will forever be linked to their former franchise player Kevin Garnett. The future Hall of Famer helped lead the former expansion team to their eight playoff appearances in team history, even taking them all the way to the Western Finals in 2004. Many experts felt that when “The Big Ticket” was traded to the Boston Celtics in the ’07 offseason, the team’s future success would go with him. Even though the the team hasn’t recovered by averaging only 23 wins the past two seasons, they did receive back one of the NBA’s emerging premier big men in Al Jefferson. Additionally because of their poor record following the trade, the team was able to acquire promising big man Kevin Love from Memphis in a draft day trade, solidifying their frontcourt for the future.
Even though the Wolves were spurned by one of their top picks this season, as Ricky Rubio ultimately chose was forced to stay in Europe for another year or two, the club undoubtedly has two of the best up and coming big men in the league. Now……………….I’m not saying that they will be the second coming of Kevin McHale and Robert Parish, or Ralph Sampson and Hakeem Olajuwon but with both players under 25 years of age and each pressing for All Star appearances this season, the sky could be the limit.
Each player took different routes to the professional ranks but both were phenomenal coming out of high school. Al Jefferson put up some of the best numbers ever at Prentiss High School where he averaged more than 42 ppg, 18 rebs, and 7 blocks in his senior season while Love finished his high school career as Oregon’s all-time leading scorer. While Jefferson went directly to the NBA, Love flourished at UCLA for a season before coming into the league as a rookie last season.
“Big Al” Jefferson started off slowly with the Boston Celtics while playing limited minutes because of numerous injuries. Once he received regular playing time in his 3rd season in Boston, he started to show his potential by averaging 16 ppg, 11.5 rebounds, and 1.5 blocks before being dealt to Minnesota for Garnett. He established himself in his first year with the Wolves by finishing among the league leaders in scoring(21.0ppg) and rebounding(11.1rebs) while playing in all 82 games. Al again started taking his game to yet another level last season by scoring over 23 ppg before injuring his knee in the 50th game of the season against New Orleans.
At 6’10 and 290 lbs, it’s hard to believe that Jefferson was undersized while playing center, but consider who his opponents(O’Neal, Ming, Oden) were every night in the West last season. This season, he is back to full strength and has slimmed down to 262 pounds in an effort to keep up with his teammates who will supposedly try to get out and run more this season. It also helps that Shaq is now in the East and Yao Ming is out for the season. The 30 pound weight loss should do wonders for Jefferson, who although isn’t overly athletic, possesses excellent footwork down low and has a very good midrange game, including excellent array of hook shots to compliment his impressive shot fakes in the post. On the defensive side of the ball, Jefferson has proved to be able to hold his own by averaging 1.5 blocks or better the past 3 seasons. Jefferson annually has ranked among the NBA leaders in offensive and overall rebounds as well as double doubles and if healthy, he should be in the running to make his first All star Game appearance out West.
Kevin Love was also impressive in his first NBA season. He showed promise before the regular season by tallying 18 points and 13 boards in his first NBA Summer League game. Love has an amazing skill set in a 6’10, 260 pound Power Forward body. He not only has decent low post moves but has excellent range extending all the way out to the 3 point line. Love is more of a shooting forward than Jefferson but both are demons on the glass with Love finishing the season 2nd in offensive rebounds in only 25 minutes per game, trailing only Dwight Howard. Since he shoots so well, the pick and roll with Ramon Sessions or Jonny Flynn, should be a re-occurring theme in the Minnesota offensive scheme. Additionally Love showed off his tremendous outlet passing skills even on the collegiate level. His one weakness so far has been on defense since he only averaged 0.6 blocks in his rookie season. He finished with averages of 11 points and 9 rebounds including 29 double doubles, the most ever by a Wolves rookie, earning him a spot on the NBA All-Rookie 2nd Team.
While it is true that the Minnesota Timberwolves are probably heading towards yet another losing season, there is some hope when looking towards the future. With Love emerging at only 21 years of age and Jefferson already coming into his own, at age 24, they could have two potential All-Stars who could be in the fold for the next decade. If they can ever get Rubio to come to America, they could have one of the best young nucleuses in the league.
Check out a video showing some of A”Big Al'” Jefferson’s best plays: