The Minnesota Timberwolves are going to compete for the playoffs this season and their deep roster is a reason why.
“Too early to say if the playoffs are the goal. Let’s see how things go in training camp and how the new pieces fit in. Then we’ll see how things evolve during the season, it’s too early to talk about playoffs.”
It’s a different Wolves team this year and the new pieces will need time to fit in. Because of the return of Rubio and All-Star forward Kevin Love and the additions of Kevin Martin and Corey Brewer, this is a deeper, more experienced team.
The difference will begin immediately — The Wolves will start the season healthy and they’re going to be desperately trying to separate themselves from the tired narrative of injuries that occurred last year.
It will have to start with consistency, specifically in the starting lineup.
The Wolves started Luke Ridnour, Derrick Williams, Andre Kirilenko, Brandon Roy and Nikola Pekovic last season, this year, I expect Pek to stand next to Rubio, Kevin Martin, Chase Budinger, and Kevin Love as the starting-five.
Zero of the projected five played in all 82-games last season. Martin came the closest playing in 77 games with the Oklahoma City Thunder, though he started none. Rubio, Love and Budinger played a combined 98 games but were never on the court at the same time. Pekovic started in all 62 of his appearances, a solid amount considering the season that quickly headed south.
Love made his first appearance in the team’s 11th game, scoring 34 in a 101-94 loss to the Denver Nuggets. Rubio’s return came 22-games into the season against the Dallas Mavericks, but Love did not play. This was soon normalcy, as the talented tandem played only three-games together. Budinger, who did play 22-minutes on opening night, was contributing minutes off the bench before going down with a knee injury five-games into the season.
Love and Budinger never played a game together on the floor.
In addition to Martin, the Wolves also signed Corey Brewer during the offseason. This is somewhat of a saving grace for Minnesota, who needs Brewer to compensate for the loss of Andrei Kirilenko defensively. Brewer played in all 82 games for the Denver Nuggets last season and Rick Adelman could likely start him over Budinger depending on the matchup, or if Budinger were to go down.
A healthy starting unit for Minnesota will keep the bench healthy, too. J.J. Barea has only played all 82-games once and this will be his 8th year in the league. Entering his 8th season, Barea returns to the role that helped win the Mavericks in the 2010-2011 season; the role Minnesota wanted for him all along.
Though not known for being durable, Barea tallied 1713 minutes last season — the most of his career. Playing for Puerto Rico over the summer participating in FIBA America’s World Cup Qualifier Barea played over 30 minutes in six of the team’s 10 games, including every minute of a semifinal victory against the Dominican Republic. Puerto Rico would lose to Mexico in the championship the following day, 91-89, in which he played 32-minutes less than 24-hours after playing the entire game the night before.
Forward Dante Cunningham also had a career high in minutes (2010) as well as games played (80) last season. Cunningham is a capable veteran who averaged 9 points and 5 rebounds last season, though it’s unsure where he’ll see his minutes playing behind Love and third-year former 2nd overall draft pick Derrick Williams. If Love isn’t able to stay healthy and Williams continues to underperform as he’s done in his first two seasons, Rick Adelman will likely count on Cunningham as he did much of last season.
Alexey Shved was a somewhat of a beneficiary to the Wolves injury woes last season, as the Russian rookie started 16 of his 77 games played. I expect Shved to take his 24 minutes per game of experience he gained last year back to where he’s the most comfortable, playing point guard.
Ridnour and Barea shared the majority of the PG responsibility, with Ridnour now with the Milwaukee Bucks and Barea back to his 6th man role behind Martin — so Shved will relieve Rubio and play PG for the second unit. Playing at EuroBasket, Shved used quick-crossovers or a screen for pick-n-roll plays and attacked the basket with purpose, penetrating and forcing the defense to collapse, creating an easy lay-in, an open look for a teammate or a trip to the line to shoot free-throws.
His aggressiveness going toward the hoop showed in his averages, as Shved averaged 16 points and 5 assists per game (both team highs) but I found that his ability to draw five fouls per game was the most impressive statistic. It will be interesting to see Shved’s development during his second season as an NBA player.
My mother used to tell me, “No matter how bad things get, always try and focus on the positive.” Injuries sustained by Love, Rubio and Budinger were the teams downfall last season, however, without them we wouldn’t know about Cunningham’s ability to contribute constantly and Shved wouldn’t have attained the same amount of experience.
If the team isn’t able to make the playoffs this season, it will be 10-years without an appearance. It’s unrealistic that the team won’t suffer injuries this season — not every player can play every game. However, if any of the Wolves go down, there’s an adept, experienced teammate to take their place.
Topics: Alexey Shved, Barea, Brewer, Corey, Corey Brewer, Cunningham, Dante Cunningham, Denver Nuggets, Derrick, Derrick Williams, J.j., J.J. Barea, Kevin, Kevin Love, Kevin Martin, Love, Minnesota Timberwolves, Oklahoma City Thunder, Ricky, Ricky Rubio, Rubio, Shved, Williams, Wolves