Rookie Lee finding niche as he sees more minutes

CHARLOTTE, N.C. – It is happening slowly, in steps, a process only accelerated when J.J. Barea is hurt.

Like now.

Timberwolves coach Rick Adelman, out of necessity, has been working rookie Malcolm Lee into his rotation as a backup guard. It hasn’t been an easy acclimation for Lee, and his knee injury and subsequent surgery didn’t help. But he is beginning to get comfortable with the pace of an NBA game.

“I think he can help us,” Adelman said. “He’s very quick. He’s a good defender. If we can just get him on the floor where he can just get us into stuff and be aggressive, I think we’ll be OK.”

With Barea hurt, Lee played significant minutes Sunday against Denver and Tuesday in Memphis. In a victory over the Nuggets he played 14 minutes, had three assists, two turnovers and a plus-minus rating of plus-13, third-best on the team. In Memphis, going against one of the better defensive backcourts in the Western Conference, Lee had two assists and two turnovers and was a minus-1.

But he has showed flashes of what he can do on defense. On one Memphis possession he prevented guard Jeremy Pargo to penetrate, then blocked his shot, coming away with the ball.

Later he was able to keep speedy Mike Conley in front of him, eventually taking the ball from him. Yes, the offensive part of his game — running an NBA offense from the point — will take time

But Lee — who is not a true point guard — does not look overwhelmed.

“He has worked hard,” starting point guard Luke Ridnour said. “Any time you haven’t played much and then you get this far into the season and start playing, you have to ease your way in. He has done a great job.”

At a sturdy 6-5, Lee has the tools. But learning on the fly is never easy.

“It’s starting to get better now,” Lee said. “I’m familiar with our stuff, our sets, game plans.”

Ultimately the Wolves see Lee, who was a plus-1 with four points in five minutes Wednesday at Charlotte, as a strong defender who will get much of his scoring in the paint.

“He gives us good size and athletic ability at the guard position,” said Shawn Respert, the Wolves’ player development coach. “Eventually you’ll see him penetrate, get into the seams. That’s something we sometimes struggle with.”

Toe isn’t a go

Michael Beasley, who has been slowed by a very sore, sprained big toe, was unable to play Wednesday.

“It flared up at halftime [Tuesday] night,” Adelman said. “That’s why he didn’t play in the second half.”

Beasley has been trying to play despite the pain. He even took to wearing a pair of Kevin Love’s shoes, which were bigger and had more room. But Tuesday marked the fourth game in the past nine he has missed.

Voice of experience

Charlotte coach Paul Silas has been a big fan of Love’s from the start. That’s primarily because Love, like Silas did as a player, pursues every rebound.

Silas was asked about the monster month of March that Love is having.

Silas isn’t surprised.

“Because he’s experienced,” said Silas, who admires the way Love comes back from every off-season better. “That’s what he did. He’s a tough guy. He lost a lot of weight. He has done everything he needs to do to be as great as he is.”

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