The Utah Jazz have a critical home and home pair of games with those “pesky” Minnesota Timberwolves starting Friday evening at EnergySolutions Arena, and continuing the following Monday in Minny, that may largely determine the postseason fate of the franchise this season. I consulted the radio voice of the Timberwolves, Alan Horton, on some of the things to watch for and what’s up in his neck of the woods to the far north concerning Minnesota’s fun, young NBA franchise.
Alan Horton is in his sixth season as the radio play-by-play voice of the Minnesota Timberwolves. He calls every game on the team’s radio home, 830 WCCO, and all across the 28-station Timberwolves Radio Network. Alan is also the voice of the WNBA’s Minnesota Lynx, calling their games for the last 5 seasons. Before moving to Minneapolis in 2007, he spent a year in Seattle as the Executive Producer of the Seattle SuperSonics Radio Network and the voice of the Seattle Storm.
A native of Massachusetts, Horton spent 10 years in Southern California as a sports broadcaster on both radio and television. In addition to his time with the Storm, his play-by-play experience includes the San Diego Padres, San Diego State University football, men’s and women’s basketball and baseball, as well as high school football and basketball. Alan is an excellent and interactive follow on Twitter, @WolvesRadio.
All stats in the following exchange are current as of 4/9/13, heading into the Timberwolves’ game at Golden State.
Clint Peterson: Rick Adelman just reached a milestone with head coaching win number 1,000. Is Adelman the right coach to take this Timberwolves team to the next level?
Alan Horton: Since their run to the Western Conference Finals in 2004, the Timberwolves have had seven head coaches (Flip Saunders, Kevin McHale, Dwane Casey, Randy Wittman, Kevin McHale (again), Kurt Rambis and Rick Adelman). With Adelman’s arrival in 2011, he brought immediate credibility to a position, and an organization, that was in desperate need of leadership. His record speaks for itself, his teams have reached the postseason in 16 of his 22 years, he’s been to two NBA Finals and he recently became the eighth coach in NBA history to reach 1,000 career wins. He has changed the culture here in Minnesota. And even though the Wolves’ record during his tenure has been a disappointment, no one is placing blame on him. Injuries have been the reason. 180 man-games lost last season, 321 and counting this season. Ricky Rubio has been out 50 games over the last two years while Kevin Love has missed 69, and will be out the remainder of the season. Difficult to win games when your two superstars are on the bench in suits. #InRickWeTrust has been a popular hashtag [on Twitter]. As long as Rick Adelman wants to keep coaching, he’ll be here in Minnesota.
CP: The Timberwolves have been one of the NBA’s best teams at forcing turnovers over the last couple of months. Who is responsible for this dramatic leap in forcing transition opportunities, and does the team take advantage of them?
AH: Since February 1st the Timberwolves are #1 in forcing turnovers (17/g), #3 in steals (9/g) and #3 in points-off-turnovers (17/g). Ricky Rubio has been the catalyst. As impressive as he has been distributing the ball at the offensive end, he’s been even more impressive on defense. Ricky is now percentage points ahead of the Chris Paul for the league-lead in steals (2.4/g). His long arms, anticipation and innate ability to read what offense are trying to do led him to being more effective defensively than offensively in his rookie year. As for taking advantage of all those turnovers, now that Andrei Kirilenko, Nikola Pekovic and Chase Budinger have returned to the lineup, the Wolves are finally starting to put things together. They’re 6-4 over their last ten games (entering Tuesday night) after a 7-28 mark in their previous 35 games.
CP: Without looking, I’d bet Minnesota is among the NBA’s leaders in games lost to injury this season. Who has taken advantage of extra playing time the most?
AH: Derrick Williams. The former #2 overall pick has struggled to adapt to the NBA game in his first two seasons. But with Kevin Love’s absence, D-Will has taken advantage. He has scored 20+ points seven times in the last 27 games after reaching that mark just five times in his first 111 NBA games. And its not just the volume of points, but where they are coming from. He is scoring in the paint, drawing contact and getting to the free throw line. You can see his confidence start to grow. And that is important because it is unclear what his future holds. He is a man without a position. The coaching staff has been reluctant to play him at the small forward, so that means limited minutes behind Kevin Love at power forward next season.
CP: Nikola Pekovic is one of my favorite players to watch — such a brute, yet seemingly light on his feet. He was the very first immovable object Enes Kanter ran into playing basketball, it’s a shame Kanter is out with a dislocated shoulder. How big a factor has Pek been to success recently in light of his Player of the Week honors, and what did he do to gain that recognition?
AH: He’s the Montenegrin Monster! Over the last eight games Pek is averaging 22 points, 10 rebounds and shooting a hefty 59% from the field. He’s grabbed an offensive rebound in 72 straight games (second longest active streak in the NBA behind Kevin Love’s 75). With Pek posting solid numbers inside (he sticks to his strengths, never venturing far away from the rim even though he has a decent mid-range shot) defenses have been forced to collapse around him freeing things up on the perimeter. As a result, the Timberwolves offense is as productive right now as it has been at any point this season. And remember, Pek has really only played a year and a half of NBA basketball (he was barely used his rookie year and didn’t become a starter until a month into the season last year), so he’s just scratching the surface of what he can do. Which is why someone is going to offer the restricted free-agent big bucks this summer.
CP: The Timberwolves’ biggest free agents this summer are a restricted Pekovic and former Jazzman Andrei Kirilenko with a player option. Are they coming back for next season, and how important to success will their roles be for a playoff run in 2014 if they do?
AH: Can the core group of Ricky Rubio, Kevin Love, Andrei Kirilenko and Nikola Pekovic lead the Timberwolves to the postseason? That was the question heading into this season. And unfortunately we still don’t have an answer. That group has played a grand total of 12 minutes together. A microscopic sample size on which some very important off-season decisions will be based. Pek will be offered a big contract by some team, and the Wolves will have to decide if they want to or can afford to match it. Kevin Love is already locked up to a max-level deal and Ricky Rubio will be due one in a couple of years. Can the Wolves afford to have most of their salary cap tied up by those three players? Can that core not only get you to the playoffs, but win (multiple) playoff series?
I know Jazz fans have a particular interest in AK. Every time I tweet an AK stat, there are always RT’s and comments from the Jazz faithful. Andrei has kept his cards close to his vest in regards to his player option for next season, but I would be very surprised if he was not in a Timberwolves uniform next year. I think he’s enjoyed playing in Minnesota. Rick Adelman’s system is a perfect fit for his style of play. I think he has taken pride in mentoring fellow Russian Alexey Shved. And most of all, I think he feels that there is unfinished business with this team. He has talked many times about the potential of this group when they are all healthy.
How about a question for you? What’s been the biggest reason for the Jazz turnaround since they lost 12 of 15?
CP: The Jazz offense, always rather predictable, was suffering more so due to scouting and the absence of Mo Williams, who had kept defenses honest. Coupled with a Randy Foye shooting slump and the reintegration of Mo, who is still wearing a splint on the repaired thumb, the Jazz simply lacked the offensive talent to beat many NBA defenses with Al Jefferson the only consistent, predictable threat.
Ty Corbin made tweaks to switch up the offense more, such as running pick-and-rolls with Gordon Hayward as the ball-handler, and Mo Williams finally adjusting to his return at the same time as the team readjusted to him, while Foye broke out of his prolonged slump in a big way tying the franchise record for made threes in a game recently against the Brooklyn Nets making eight of nine.
I really appreciate you taking the time to chat, Alan, here and as always on Twitter. We in Jazzland realize the T-Wolves would like nothing more than to end their season on a high note and play spoiler to a division foe. These should be interesting games with everything both sides can muster left on the floor. Best of luck, my friend!