NBA Roundtable

2012 Team Preview: Minnesota Timberwolves

In Season Previews on October 22, 2012 at 6:45 am

Minnesota Timberwolves

Starters

  • PG – Ricky Rubio
  • SG – Brandon Roy
  • SF – Andrei Kirilenko
  • PF – Kevin Love
  • C  – Nikola Pekovic

A solid starting lineup. A high level PF in Kevin Love. A slightly above average PG in Ricky Rubio. Two middle of the pack starters in Kirilenko and Pekovic. An unknown in Brandon Roy.

Kevin Love is the franchise player for the Wolves. An exceptional rebounder (league leading rebounding PF). A highly skilled and intelligent offensive player. Solid post-scorer. Excellent jump-shooter with range all the way out to the three point line. Good shot-creator with that step back jumper off the dribble. 20-25ppg threat. Good passer from the low post and high post (potential to become elite passer). A very efficient offensive player. More ideally suited to being a second option than a first option scoring wise.

Defensively, a poor player. Love’s relative lack of quickness/mobility for the PF position limits him both as a team defender and when playing against quick or perimeter orientated PFs in man-to-man defense. Physically, a very strong player who plays tough post defense against guys his own size. Improving positional sense defensively and makes less mistakes than he used to.

Ricky Rubio is the other star name in the Wolves starting lineup. Still a young developing player. Nowhere near the finished product yet. Already a quality starting PG though. A good defensive player who plays excellent team defense and forces turnovers at a high clip. An excellent defensive rebounder. A very good floor general, passer and playmaker. Plays with great creativity, flair and vision. Non-scoring contributions are already excellent and arguably second only to Rajon Rondo at the PG position. As for his scoring ability, well Ricky Rubio’s is still a work in progress. Often an inefficient scoring threat and he is streak shooter. Much improved shooting stroke/mechanics from where he was a few years ago in Europe. Has shown good capacity to improve and should improve considerably in the future as a scorer/shooter.

Nikola Pekovic is probably the third most valuable starter here. A very good interior scorer. A shot-creator in the low post. A power based center who bullies opposing players with his imposing physique. One of the strongest (physically) players in the NBA. Great toughness. Very good hands (catching passes). Excellent offensive rebounder. An excellent finisher around the rim. Very efficient scorer.

According to reports, Pekovic also possesses a quality jump-shot with good range (15-17 feet) on it. We haven’t seen much of that in games yet but Rick Adelman is working with him to use it more this season. If accurate, that would be a great asset to Minnesota’s offense especially when working the high-low game with Kevin Love. Pekovic has also continued to improve his passing which again will make him more of a threat in Adelman’s offense since he loves passing big men. Plus, Pekovic has continued to lose weight, trimming down from 12 percent to 8 percent body fat. He says he feels better running the floor and has improved stamina.

As for the defensive side of the game, Pekovic is a capable interior defender but struggles with quickness/mobility away from the basket. Uses his physical strength well defensively as a post defender. His team defense is lacking. His defensive rebounding needs improvement also.

Andrei Kirilenko is a very talented basketball. I still consider him one of the top ten power forwards in the league but I am less high on Kirilenko as a small forward. I believe that he loses a lot of the matchup advantages his speed and guard-like skills create at the power forward position when defended by smaller quicker perimeter defenders. So Ak-47 goes from a very good offensive threat at PF (a 15-17ppg threat, 4-5apg threat, very efficient, jump-shooting and cutting, ball-handling ability, can take his man off the dribble, great quickness in transition) to a below average offensive player at the SF position (weak shooter, good handle/passer, limited shot-creator, good cutter).

As a defender, Kirilenko is a very effective team defender at both positions and does an excellent job getting deflections and forcing turnovers. One of the best and most active team defenders (at either forward position) in the league. As a man-to-man defender, a solid perimeter defender who lacks the quickness to defend elite offensive threats (SF) at a high level + a solid defensive PF who lacks the size/bulk to defend more physically powerful interior players. Either way, a capable man-to-man defender and a high level team defender.

The final starting position is up for grabs with Brandon Roy and Alexey Shved the main contenders for the job. Roy has received quite a few plaudits for his play in training camp so far so I am going to pencil him in here. I’m unsure what level Roy will be able to play at this year after his recent knee operation (the same thing Kobe Bryant did last year) but hopefully Roy can get back to being a quality rotation player once again. A very skilled offensive player with high level ball-handling ability, excellent passing skills, very good jump-shooting who has both a midrange game and a perimeter game. Once was a capable shot-creator. Very good in the pick and roll. Roy was once a good defender/rebounder but was an outright liability after his most recent injury. No idea what to expect from Roy as a shot-creator or defender/rebounder following this operation. Fingers crossed though. He was a great player before the injuries cut his career apart.

Bench

  • PG – Luke Ridnour, JJ Barea
  • SG – Alexey Shved, Malcolm Lee
  • SF – Chase Budinger
  • PF – Derrick Williams, Lou Amundson
  • C  – Greg Stiemsma, Chris Johnson

A pretty good bench here. A very strong backup lead guard in Luke Ridnour. A high level backup PF in Derrick Williams. Above average backup SF in Budinger. Shved was a successful player in Europe and figures to be a quality backup two guard. Stiemsma was up and down last year as a rookie. A little unclear how dependable he is just yet but Stiemsma certainly showed some quality last season. An excellent third string PG in Barea (good primary backup PG). Capable third stringers in Malcolm Lee and Lou Amundson. Good depth.

The Timberwolves have lost themselves a lot of games over the past few years with weak supporting casts. It looks like they’ve really addressed that this summer and given their core some real help this year.

All eyes will be on Derrick Williams this season after a so-so rookie campaign. Struggled mightily as a small forward last year. Played some decent basketball as a power forward but never truly found his rhythm/place on the court. A very skilled power forward with shooting range out to three point land and good shot-creation skills. Has the athleticism to play at small forward. Capable post-up threat in the low post, elbows and mid-post against small forwards but less capable against bigger power forwards in the post. More of a face up and/or perimeter big man threat against fours. A dodgy defender at both spots but only a rookie so that is to be expected. A below average but serviceable rebounder as a PF. Should be a good rebounder at SF once he improves his defensive positioning/understanding.

Luke Ridnour is a skilled backup PG. Very good shooter. Good ball-handler, floor general, decision maker and overall passer. A good setup guard and serviceable playmaker. A dodgy defender.

JJ Barea is a dribble-penetration orientated PG. A solid jump-shot with good range on it. A good playmaker off the pick and roll or other forms of dribble penetration.  A weak defender/rebounder. Limited by his lack of size. Maxes out his potential.

Chase Budinger is an offensively orientated backup SF. A very good perimeter shooter, good cutter, intelligent offensive player. A good rebounder. An improving but still a little below par defensive player. Not much of a shot-creator or passer yet. A complementary offensive threat.

Greg Stiemsma was a mixed bag his rookie year in Boston. Struggled mightily to start the campaign, then found a comfort level only to have the end of season blighted by foot injuries which murdered his mobility. A very good shot-blocker. A decent but below average rebounder. A solid offensive player who showed a bit of a midrange jumper and some passing skills. An okay finisher around the basket. Not a shot-creator. A weak man-to-man defender due to poor positioning/fundamentals. Team defense was mixed but looked like he could be a good team defender/anchor when healthy and playing well. Lots of question marks. Showed some promise though.

Alexey Shved is an accomplished combo guard in Europe/Russia. A very good ball-handler and passer/playmaker who is capable of playing both guard positions because of his strength in this area. Has good size and solid strength at 6 foot 6. Looks to have some efficiency problems as a scorer (shot-selection + turnover problems) but can create some of his own offense. Should be a good defensive SG once he adapts to NBA game.

Lou Amundson is a good third string PF. A very limited offensive player but an active defender/rebounder. Plays with great energy and hustle. Nice guy to have as a fifth or sixth big in the depth chart. Someone the coach can throw out onto the floor to try and spark the team when things aren’t going well. A worker.

Malcolm Lee is a good defensive SG. 6-5 with good athleticism. Developing perimeter jump-shot. Role player potential.

Injuries

Two big injuries to start of the year

  • Ricky Rubio = expected back in late December
  • Kevin Love = expected to miss 4-8 weeks

Hopefully, these injuries won’t knock the Wolves out of the playoff mix.

  • Sliding Andrei Kirilenko to the PF position while Love is out injured would probably be Minnesota’s best move. Slide Budinger into the starting lineup. Play with more speed and pace. Use Derrick Williams at both forward positions off the bench. Keep him used to that 6th man super-sub scoring role.
  • While Rubio is out, Ridnour and Barea just slide up the depth chart. Ridnour is a serviceable starter and Barea a good backup PG.

Overall

A playoff quality team but probably a one and done team. Not enough top tier quality alongside Kevin Love just yet but the Wolves have some real prospects in Ricky Rubio, Derrick Williams and to a lesser degree Nikola Pekovic who could answer that call given time. This season looks (at least) a year too soon for them to do so though.

Making the playoffs is a big step in the right direction for this Minnesota team.

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