Culture of Hoops

2013-14 NBA Season Preview: Minnesota Timberwolves

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Most Important Player: Provided he keeps his fists holstered and refrains from fancy pushups, it’s Kevin Love. One of the ten best players in the league when healthy, Love dominates games by gobbling rebounds and raining jumpers, an offensive force capable of carrying a team most of the way there. His defense needs work, but the man’s not marble.

X-Factor: The only other candidate for MIP, Ricky Rubio brings superior court vision, artful assists and childlike glee to the court, a personality capable of uniting a team and inspiring higher play. If he can get the gang on the same page, the Minnesota Timberwolves could be a high-flying bunch of pups—cutting lanes, crashing boards and clearing out space for long-range bombs.

Rotations: Were basketball played on one side of the court, offense the only concern, the starting lineup would be dynamite. Unfortunately, the league still requires a defensive element and the presumable first wave of Love, Rubio, Nikola Pekovic, Chase Budinger and Kevin Martin only counts one plus defender in their ranks, the lionhearted center Pekovic (one and a half counting Rubio’s steal rate). Martin is a lights-out shooter and Budinger could be, so they’ll run the scoreboard, but they’ll likely give up the same to their opponents. Coach Rick Adelman has two lopsided stoppers on the bench, Corey Brewer and Dante Cunningham, and he’ll have to stagger them in, depending on who’s heating up and who’s falling apart. J.J. Barea always brings energy, as will Alexey Shved, but unless Derrick Williams finally levels up or Shabazz Muhammad finds some sense, the Wolves won’t have a strong enough rotation to fight the big dogs.

What Needs to Go Right: Everyone stays healthy, Love stays happy, Rubio hypnotizes the team and one of the young guns takes a step up to be a legitimate two-way threat. There’s a lot of talent here, but not enough actualized to get too optimistic. At best, they’ll compete for a low seed in the playoffs.

It’s Really Bad If: Love hurts himself or revives trade talks, forcing his way out and breaking up a potential contender, or Rubio doesn’t develop into the charismatic team leader he could be. They won’t bottom all the way out, but they could fall in the no man’s land between the playoffs and a lottery pick.

Bold Prediction: After battling through the back half of the season into a lower playoff seed, the Wolves get bounced in the first round and Love demands roster upgrades the following summer.


J.J. Barea
Strengths: Sparkplug off the bench.
Weaknesses: Incarnation of a gnat.
Season Prediction: Like every season, J.J. Barea takes the national spotlight for four or five games, alternately for wild comebacks and near-brawls.

Chase Budinger
Strengths: Another strong shooter.
Weaknesses: And another defensive liability.
Season Prediction: With a long bench competing for minutes, Budinger won’t become a star, but he could be a solid role player.

Dante Cunningham
Strengths: Hustles after every ball.
Weaknesses: Streaky shooting.
Season Prediction: While not enough to earn significant minutes or turn too many heads outside of Minneapolis, Cunningham fits in as a solid energy guy.

Gorgui Dieng
Strengths: Rugged rebounder and defender.
Weaknesses: Limited offensively.
Season Prediction: With a solid, experienced pair of centers ahead of him in the rotation, the rookie will spend a lot of time riding the pine.

Chris Johnson
Strengths: A wide wingspan that loves an alley-oop.
Weaknesses: Little experience and limited post moves.
Season Prediction: He hits his ceiling as a poor man’s JaVale McGee.

Kevin Love
Strengths: Strong presence on the boards, long-range ace and dynamic passer.
Weaknesses: Though better, his D needs work.
Season Prediction: Staying injury free for the first time since his rookie season, Love drums up legitimate MVP talk and winds up fourth or fifth in the final tally.

Kevin Martin
Strengths: He’s not afraid to shoot.
Weaknesses: Defense is lacking.
Season Prediction: While his three-point percentage will drift down from last season’s 42.6, he’ll get plenty of open looks and pad out the box score.

Shabazz Muhammad
Strengths: Wildly athletic with huge upside.
Weaknesses: Young, stupid and way too proud.
Season Prediction: Maybe it’s the UCLA fan in me talking, but Muhammad goes one step too far and is publicly shamed by Adelman, setting him on the path to redemption as a solid bench contributor.

Nikola Pekovic
Strengths: Defensive stopper and bruiser in the paint.
Weaknesses: Unpolished and injury prone.
Season Prediction: Without the offensive load from Love’s absence last season, Pekovic focuses on the defensive end and becomes one of the premier centers in the NBA.

Ricky Rubio
Strengths: Creative and consummate teammate, arguably the finest assist-disher in the league.
Weaknesses: A shaky-at-best jump shot.
Season Prediction: Emboldened by Love’s growth and an offensive-minded supporting cast, Rubio blossoms into a top-five point guard.

Alexey Shved
Strengths: Talented young playmaker.
Weaknesses: Prone to bad decisions.
Season Prediction: There’s not a lot of wing minutes going around, but if Shved learns a bit from Rubio and gains Adelman’s trust, he fits in nicely as Ricky’s replacement.

Ronny Turiaf
Strengths: Energy off the bench.
Weaknesses: Unable to be productive for anything more than short stints at a time.
Season Prediction: As has been the case for most of his career, Turiaf will be relied on to protect the rim for 10-12 minutes a game.

Derrick Williams
Strengths: Still a lot of potential …
Weaknesses: … that’s only been reached in spurts.
Season Prediction: Unless Williams lives up to the hype of a No. 2 pick, he’ll go the way of former teammate and fellow deuce Michael Beasley and bounce on bad contracts through the league.

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