Olympics: Future NBA T-Wolves shine for Russia
LONDON—Supporters of the US Olympic Dream Team should forgive the NBA’s Minnesota Timberwolves and their supporters for being excited about Russia’s 95-75 rout of Britain on Sunday in their Olympic opener.
The Russians’ romp included standout performances by guard Alexey Shved, who has signed a deal for next season with the T-wolves, and center Andrei Kirilenko, reportedly bound for Minnesota after playing in Russia last season.
“If I’m the Minnesota Timberwolves, I’ve got a big fat smile on my face,” Russian coach David Blatt said.
Kirilenko scored 35 points to lead Russia’s Group B round-robin triumph while Shved added 16 points and 13 assists. His assists total was three more than Britain’s team total and two more than the rest of his teammates combined.
“We will see what Alexey does in the rest of the tournament,” Blatt said. “I think that will show if he is ready for the next level. And that was a good start.
“He has that quality of speed and ‘break down the defender’ ability that defines NBA guards.”
That’s good news for the Timberwolves, who are coming off a 26-40 season in which they were last in the NBA’s Northwest division.
Minnesota also lost Spanish superstar point guard Ricky Rubio to a torn left knee ligament that also kept him out of the Olympics.
Adding Kirilenko could help Shved adjust to life in the NBA, which Kirilenko left behind due to the NBA lockout last year when owners and players argued over money and risked missing an entire season before reducing its length.
“I’ve always found he plays his best for us,” Blatt said of Kirilenko. “When he gets in this environment, his game goes up another level.”
British coach Chris Finch liked what he saw of Shved as well, even if it was watching him shred the British defence with precision passing and 6-of-11 shooting, including 2-of-4 from 3-point range.
“He will do very well,” Finch said. “When you give Shved that freedom (in the NBA) he can work plays for anybody around him.”
British captain Luol Deng, an NBA standout for the Chicago Bulls, scored 26 points and former NBA big man Pops Mensah-Bonsu contributed 22 points and nine rebounds for the Olympic hosts.
But the British only managed to make 25 of 75 shots (33 percent), including a woeful 4-of-26 from 3-point range, while the Russians connected on 37-of-59 from the field (63 percent).