FanHouse Preview: Timberwolves
For the Timberwolves, this year is likely going to go down as the year Ricky Rubio didn't come to Minnesota. The only way that's not going to be the case is if first-year coach Kurt Rambis can get his young and unproven team to overachieve and contend for a playoff spot in the Western Conference.
Like we said, this will end up being remembered as the year Rubio didn't come to Minnesota.
Not that Rubio would have – or could have – made too much of a difference with this group. But his mere presence in the Twin Cities would have sprinkled in a much-needed dose of optimism for the 2009-10 season.
What the Timberwolves would like to recapture is their January from a year ago, when they went 10-5 and then-coach Kevin McHale was honored by being named Coach of the Month.
Step 1 would be for Al Jefferson to get back to being the player he was during that time. But that might be wishful thinking considering it was only February when Jefferson tore his ACL.
Jefferson, who had been averaging 23 points and 11 rebounds at the time of his injury, has worked his way back. But it seems unrealistic to think the Timberwolves are going to get the same player back right away, particularly since Jefferson's minutes and progress will be monitored closely.
Plus, while Jefferson's individual game took noticeable strides last season, there are still some holes in his game, and they're going to take some time to correct. Not only does Jefferson struggle to pass out of the low post, he often can be turned over with some aggressive double-teaming. Jefferson has taken steps in this area, but even last year he had fewer assists (79) than turnovers (92). That did mark the best assist-to-turnover ratio of Jefferson's career, but he's got a long way to go when it comes to efficiency.
And any less reliance on Jefferson means more responsibility for the rest of the T-Wolves, and that's where the real trouble comes in. Minnesota is young, very young. And among its veterans, there isn't an impact player of the bunch.
Rookie point guard Jonny Flynn and second-year power forward Kevin Love might very well be nice pieces down the line. But for now, it's tough to see Flynn making a monster contribution and some of Love's effectiveness goes hand in hand with what Jefferson does.
What will hold back the Timberwolves more than anything are their veterans. Damien Wilkins, Sasha Pavlovic, Ryan Gomes and Antonio Daniels are simple role players who have been given the unfair responsibility of trying to be more than that.
It's very possible the Timberwolves could improve on their 24-win season from a year ago. But not by very much. They're still a few years away from being a good team. Maybe they'll be one by the time Rubio comes around.
Last Season By the Numbers
Record: 24-58 (4-15 under Randy Wittman, 20-43 under Kevin McHale). Finished 4th in Northwest Division, tied for 11th in Western Conference.
Offense: 106.1 points per 100 possessions, 24th in NBA. 28th in shooting, 18th in turnover rate, 12th in offensive rebounding, 24th in free throw rate.
Defense: 111.4 points per 100 possessions, 25th in NBA. 27th in shooting defense, 27th in opponent turnover rate, 5th in defensive rebounding, 24th in opponent free throw rate.
Top Performers: Al Jefferson was the top per-game scorer and rebounder at 23.1 points and 11 rebounds per game. Sebastian Telfair, Mike Miller and Randy Foye each averaged at least four assists per game. Jefferson led the team in PER at 23.1. Rookie Kevin Love finished second with 18.3.
All statistics via Basketball-Reference.com.
Player to Watch
FanHouse's Matt Moore and Tom Ziller preview one player to watch from each team. Here's a snippet of Ziller's post on Wolves forward Corey Brewer.
Where Brewer will make his name, though, is defense -- hence the Marion/Prince comps. Brewer has shown more promise here, as the team has been better defensively with Brewer on the floor. Honestly, there's only so much he can do so long as the Jefferson/Kevin Love duo fails to defend the paint sensibly. But the defensive improvement in the backcourt ... can help, and it's not insane to think this team could end up in the middle of the pack on defense. That requires big things from Brewer, especially in the passing lanes. If Rambis imports his flood defense from the Lakers -- a defense led by another Brewer hologram, Trevor Ariza -- our protagonist could very well boost his steal rate and by extension improve the team's transition game, which of course helps his own offense.
See Ziller's full post on Brewer.
IN: Jonny Flynn (draft), Ramon Sessions (free agency), Ryan Hollins (free agency), Antonio Daniels (trade), Wayne Ellington (draft), Oleksiy Pecherov (trade), Damien Wilkins (trade), Sasha Pavlovic (free agency).
OUT: Mike Miller (trade), Randy Foye (trade), Craig Smith (trade), Mark Madsen (trade), Sebastian Telfair (trade), Bobby Brown (trade), Shelden Williams (free agency).