I’ve been putting off doing a Timberwolves post for awhile, mostly because I haven’t quite figured out how to temper my expectations this year. Am I supposed to remind myself that Ricky is out until January and will never be at 100 percent this season? Or that our starting SG has no cartilage in his knees, and his backup is an untested
KGB agent bronze medalist? That we’re reliant upon multiple All-Star players who weren’t even playing in the NBA last year?
I love the unbridled optimism of the preseason, though I try to stay away from most of the reporting. Whether Player X lost 50 pounds of baby fat or Player Y added 22 pounds of baby muscle, it’s ridiculous to even pretend to know what’s going on with any given team until they take the court together. I’m more encouraged by Kevin Love calling out some ex-teammates and claiming to respect the work ethic of the new ones. While some look at that as throwing former teammates under the bus, I think it sends a message to our current roster that if you’re slacking on this team, expect to be called on it (or at least expect to be unfollowed by him on Twitter).
In terms of personnel, I’d rank this offseason as the second-most productive in Wolves history, next to the 2003 offseason. That was also an addition-by-subtraction year, with the Wolves dumping Anthony Peeler and Joe Smith to acquire Sam and the overlooked Ervin Johnson. We also picked up Sprewell (and his bonkers contract) for the broken body of one of my favorite Wolves, Terrell Brandon. So not only did we cut minutes from unproductive players (AP and Kendall Gill combined for 4000+ minutes in ’02-’03!), we replaced them with more productive players of a known quantity, and that’s where our 2013 Wolves step in.
If that sounds familiar, it should. Much has been written about the reallocation of the unproductive minutes soaked up by “volume-scorers” like Beasley and almost-glue-guys (scotch-tape-guys?) like Wes and Martell. Unfortunately, we know a little less about the current versions of Roy, AK-47, Steimsma, and Shved than we did about the guys coming over in 2003 – but we’ll get to the new guys later.
Any discussion of this team naturally begins and ends with Kevin Love. He is the clear-cut leader of this team, and has improved in nearly every statistical category – including one of the most important (yet consistently undervalued) – rebounding. His ability to stretch the defense also creates plenty of great spacing for Adelman’s offense to operate. It’s difficult to overstate Love’s impact on this team, and I’ve always been fascinated by how the Wolves ended up with two dominant rebounders who differ so dramatically in style, but I’ll save that for a future post.
Ricky Rubio is still the straw that stirs the milkshake that others drink, and it’s not really a great sign when you get excited because your star point guard is allowed to run (not practice – just run). Ricky brings more to the table than just playmaking, with his opportunistic defense and vision. Of course, the knock on Ricky has been his shooting (35.7% last year) and he’s definitely not been able to work on that during the recovery, so his forays into the paint and general offensive havoc are going to have to help him become some kind of Bizarro Rondo.
JJ and Luke should trade time at the PG slot until Ricky’s return, and those are two other known quantities that aren’t going to generate much more interesting play. I’ve actually been quite happy with both veterans , despite JJ’s injury history last year. Of course, Luke will play less minutes at the SG slot (at least until Ricky’s return and depending on the assessment of Shved), which is fine by me. I actually really enjoy watching Adelman’s wacky multiple-ballhandler schemes – the mo’ playmakers the mo’ better.
I am really excited about Brandon Roy. Like, can’t-sleep-it’s-Christmas-Eve excited. But do you remember that as you got older your expectations on Christmas Eve became diminished? Like, after you got that new bike one year, how was Santa supposed to even top that? Well, I’m just going to hold my breath that Brandon is able to stay on the court. But I already know where I might become frustrated with him – while he was in Portland he had a reputation as a ballstopper. Fortunately, he’s more successful with his insta-offense than our last ballhog (Beas), so I expect at least a marginal improvement. I’m tempering my expectations that Roy performs above the average of a replacement player, but am not-so-secretly pumped that we have a ballhandler who can create his own shot.
While I watched quite a bit of Alexey Shved during the Olympics, it’s impossible to say if he’s going to have a good year (or career) yet. Last guy that we had with his skillset was the cringe-inducing Marko Jaric, and I certainly hope that’s the floor for Alexey (remember Marko had 3 decent years with the Clips before we bit the bullet on that trade). I think Adelman will like Shved’s versatility (assuming Shved has the hoops chops to make it worthwhile), and it will allow him to conduct strange, forbidden lineup experiments.
Our biggest surefire upgrade is at the SF, where the Wolves dumped the Johnson-Webster-Beasley trio and replaced them with Andrei Kirilenko and Chase Budinger. AK’s calling card has long been his defense, but during the Olympics, I was reminded of how great a playmaker he is as well. I can’t really remember Jerry Sloan using him in this way – he typically ended up spotting up in the corner like a spikey-haired Bruce Bowen. AK is surely a welcome antidote to the offensively-challenged wings of yore. And for the record, I’ll take 2 years of proven commodity in AK than 4 years of “potentially has more potential” in Batum.
As for Budinger, he’s been a consistent contributor for the Rockets the last three years, and had this best year last year, shooting over 40 percent from beyond the arc. This dude can really throw down some Brent-Barryesque jams too, and I expect him to be on the receiving end of quite a few lobs as the year progresses.
It’s really weird when I can get almost 1,000 words into a blog post and have yet to mention the highest draft pick in Wolves history, but I’ll fully admit that I don’t understand Derrick Williams. It’s probably a knock against my own hoops IQ, but I know that he was a very efficient scorer in college. I also know that scoring efficiency is one of those stats that just does not translate from college to the NBA. But I also know that most players make their biggest leap during their first offseason, so I’m giving him the benefit of the doubt. I’m really hoping the change in Wolves personnel helps Derrick the most, because he’s a guy that seems like he’s willing to work hard to succeed, and I hope surrounding him with some quality vets will help him focus his talents.
Rounding out our roster, I’ve decided to save the Pekst for last. And with good reason, as we’re about to dip our toes into some stats. Considering that Nikola raised his PER over 10 points from the previous season should tell you that the man knows how to work hard (and that he deserved the MIP award, but apparently Everyone Loves Ryan Anderson). The fact that Blazers’ owner Paul Allen is already rumored to offer him a huge deal at the end of the season should tell you all about the expectations on Pek’s shoulders.
And looking at a quick comparison of the rookie year of our two centers, we can see a few similarities. For starters, both guys fouled out in about 30 minutes. Both rebound at similar rates. Pekovic obviously was looking for his shot more, as evidenced by FG attempts and turnovers. But Steimsma has that ridiculous block number, which as a percentage is just a tad below Serge freakin’ Ibaka. Obviously if Steimsma wants to stay on the court he has to keep his feet on the ground a bit more, but the potential on defense is there (and we’re gonna need it, knowing Pek). It should be noted that both Pekovic and Steimsma had an identical WS/48 (Win Shares per 48 minutes) last year, an astonishing .170. And remember that Steimsma played most of his minutes as a sub for KG last year, so it’s not like he got much benefit from KG’s defensive “Nash effect” (or whatever you call it).
As for our wing production, I’m also going to point out the ridiculous stats that AK is capable of. As I said previously, I recall him being outstanding as a playmaker early in his career, then spotting up in the corners later – I hope Adelman’s strategy will be to let AK open up the throttle when he wants to, acting as a defensive disruptor, and will keep AK getting touches on most trips down the court in order to stay engaged. Kirilenko’s across-the-board numbers demonstrate that he can be a jack-of-all-trades. And, like Pek and Steimsma, AK has posted ridiculous career PER and WS/48 numbers…
Which is precisely why I’m going to stay on a roll and talk about Brandon Roy. If you’ve bothered to read this far into this post, you already know his story. The hard work, the clutch baskets, the knee problems – Brandon was the far-and-away leader of a Trail Blazers franchise that I could not help but cheer for, even as a fan of a division rival. The Blazers trio of Oden-Roy-Aldridge were supposed to be where the Thunder are now – on the verge of a championship, maybe even a dynasty.
But now as one of our own, Wolves fans must trust that some German blood-spinnin’ centrifuge technology has enabled Roy to take the court at full strength once again. We’ve seen this medical procedure work for several other NBA players, but none have had as serious of a condition as Roy.
So all in all, yeah, I’m pretty optimistic coming into this season. We don’t need to hit on some random rookie draft pick. We don’t need to hope that Player X takes a big leap, or that Player Y is willing to come off the bench, or that Player Z has his head screwed on straight. Instead, we’ve got a veteran group of guys to take some of the leadership burden off of Kevin Love’s shoulders, and we’ve got some promising young players whose best years are still ahead of them.