As he stands right now, is Alexey Shved ready to assume a starting role for the Minnesota Timberwolves?
Of course, while the bothersome injury bug seems intent on wiping out the best players on roster, the case is made that his services are needed on the front line.
I’m talking big picture, though. With the exception of Andrei Kirilenko, the entire starting lineup has been decimated by injury within the first three weeks of the season. Assuming that when all the injured players come back, they come back healthy and ready to play (by “they”, I mean Brandon Roy), will it still make sense for Shved to start?
Shved didn’t enter his rookie season with the spotlight shining brightly on him. Actually quite the contrary, out of the 11 rookie international players, Shved may have been the most underrated acquisition—especially considering how well he has performed through the first nine games of the season.
In those first nine games, Shved has made it clear that he doesn’t have any plans of being a bench player for much longer. He’s averaging 10.4 points per game, 4.2 assists and 3.1 rebounds. He’s also doing all of that coming off the bench, playing an average of just 23.2 minutes per game.
Most recently, Shved put up 22 points and seven assists against the Golden State Warriors. That’s a far cry from his first game in the NBA (zero points and just one rebound) versus the Sacramento Kings.
For comparison purposes, Dwayne Wade is averaging just .06 points per minute more than Shved so far this year.
Actually, though, I’m more drawn to Richard Hamilton as a player with whom to compare Shved. They both move well with or without the ball, have excellent court vision and make plays moving towards the basket. They are also surprisingly physical on defense.
Stats-wise, Hamilton and Shved had very similar stats in their rookie seasons. Compared to Shved’s 10.4 PPG on 38 percent shooting, Hamilton put up nine PPG on 42 percent shooting in his rookie season.
Shved is quickly learning to match the speed of the NBA, but he still has a ways to go. While in the Euroleague last season, he shot 49.3 percent from three-point range. He hasn’t been anywhere near that proficient yet for the Timberwolves, which can be seen as a big sign that he still hasn’t shown us everything he’s capable of.
I mentioned above that most of the starting lineup had been decimated by the injury bug, but I didn’t nearly do all the injuries justice. Just at the guard position alone, the Wolves have lost Ricky Rubio, Brandon Roy, J.J. Barea and Chase Budinger.
With Will Conroy waived in order for the Wolves to sign forward Josh Howard, Luke Ridnour is the only healthy “true” point guard on the team—and even he has been known to play combo-guard. To his credit, he has averaged a healthy 11.4 points and 4.4 assists in the first nine games of the season.
Second-year guard Malcolm Lee has taken the role of starting at shooting guard for the last few games with Roy and Budinger injured, but he has impressed nobody with the 3.9 points that he’s averaged so far this season.
That leaves Shved as the lone guard coming off the bench. Given how quickly he has adapted to the speed of the game and his surprising defensive savvy. (the T-Wolves are currently ranked fourth in the league in overall defense, and Shved is a big reason for the improvement.) He’s made it clear that he is going to be a legit force in the NBA.
The end result of naming Shved a starter would be to complete a roster that would be lethal on both ends of the court. Shved in any projected starting lineup would add another passing and scoring threat to an already incredibly well-rounded team.
Big men Nikola Pekovic and Kevin Love already make one of the best duos in the league. The combo of Rubio and Shved could be just as good, if not better.
But is Alexey Shved ready for a starting role? And just as important, are his averages of 10.4 points and 4.2 assists good enough to make him an important element of the team?
The answers to those questions boil down to how efficient he can be. As I said before, his 3-point shooting was at 49.3 percent when he played with CSKA Moscow last season. So far this season, it’s been at 24 percent.
Granted, it’s completely expected that it would take a while for him to become acclimated to the NBA, but he’ll need to raise his field goal percentage if he plans to take the starting job away from a healthy Brandon Roy.
Despite his shooting issues, Shved has been one of the few happy surprises for the Timberwolves this season. Even if it takes him another month or two to truly get his shot together, the Wolves would be wise to expand his role.
His strength on both sides of the ball is competitive with even a healthy Brandon Roy—and absolutely superior to that of Malcolm Lee.
Alexey Shved is going to get the starting gig, he’s earned it. He’s already one of the best rookies in the league, and he’s still getting better.
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