Minnesota Timberwolves Season Preview: You, Love Love Love, When You Know I Can’t Rubio

Okay, so the title makes no sense unless you know of the song “Love Love Love” from Of Monsters and Men. Then, when you know the song, it still won’t make sense. But whatever, it works.

Team Capsule

The Timberwolves are blessed with a clear-cut top 10 NBA player; what they can do with him and around him, though, is still a mystery.

There’s no question Minnesota improved over the summer. Signing Andrew Kirilenko, Brandon Roy, and Alexei Shved  to overhaul a definitively bad wing rotation will make the team significantly better, even if neither proves to be better than league-average. They also traded a mid-round pick for a perfectly capable Chase Budinger to complete the makeover. Ricky Rubio, while coming off a serious knee injury, has a year under his belt in his quest to become a Pokemon master  a great point guard. Derrick Williams should play better. And Nikola Pekovic should start from the get-go and provide some serious offensive firepower beside Love.

Combine that all together, along with every white player under the snow in Minneapolis, and you have a team that should make the postseason and provide an incredibly entertaining experience night-in and night-out.

But don’t mistake that for a contender or for a team that can compete in the playoffs with the Thunder, Lakers, and Spurs. The Wolves stand clearly behind these teams and probably a few others. They still lack any sort of defensive identity. While Kirilenko and  Rubio are excellent defenders in their own rights, with Love and Pekovic in the middle they stand to be, at best, an average defensive team. But that should be enough! The Timberwolves, with Love and Pek on the boards and a slew of strong offensive players, can rank as highly as a top 5 offensive team. And with their projected rebounding edge (even when the team sucked, they still outrebounded nearly every other team), the Wolves can be a force to be reckoned with this year.

Unfortunately, though, they may not be good enough to keep Love from leaving in two years. Say it with me: KAHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHN!

Biggest Strength: Free Throw Shooting

While this may sound like a backhanded compliment, the T-Wolves actually have a legitimate strength in this department. Kevin Love and Pekovic combined for about 13 free throws per 36, an obscene number for two bigs who shoot free throws very well. The team’s other rotation players also have respectable or better free throw percentages and attempts. The Wolves can punish teams at the foul line, especially now that double teams will appear more sparingly.

Biggest Weakness: Interior Defense

While Love improved as a defender and while Pekovic is strong as an ox in the paint, neither does well with guarding the quicker bigs that currently populate the NBA or in defending the pick-and-roll. As the pick-and-roll is the dominant offensive set for most NBA teams, this poses major issues. Mainly, playing them together for heavy minutes compromises the defense. Playing Andrei Kirilenko as a part-time big should help, but it takes away their only above-average wing defender. In other words, there’s going to be compromise somewhere in the Wolves defense. If they can mix the match ups based upon their opponents, it may turn out okay. But otherwise, for teams that can exploit either hole, it could be a fatal flaw.

Players to Watch: The Newly Created Wing Rotation – Budinger, Kirilenko, Shved, and Roy

If there’s any support for the Timberwolves’ expected improvement, it’s this. The Wesley Johnson, Martell Webster, Wayne Ellington, and Michael Beasley quadrangle  approached previously unseen levels of ineptitude. It was like a mountain of turd topped with parmesan cheese wrapped in paper pulp. Even the Bobcats had better wing players (no I’m not joking).

So David Kahn Rick Adelman did the right thing and brought in some new cavalry. While none may be current superstars (RIP awesome Brandon Roy), all should provide positive or at least not-negative value. But exactly how good they become remains a mystery – the rest of the roster is ready to roll, but they won’t go far unless their wings make some headway.

2011-12 Record: 28-38

Coach: Rick Adelman (971-656 career)

Key Additions: The 4 wings mentioned as players to watch, Greg Stiemsma, Dante Cunningham

Stiemsma provides some shot-blocking that Love and Pekovic don’t, so he should fill a nice role here. Also, he’s white. Cunningham provides the mobility to defend on the perimeter from a big position that the starters and Stiemsma fail to give them.

Key Subtractions: Michael Beasley, Martell Webster, Wesley Johnson, Wayne Ellington, Darko Milicic

I almost forgot about Darko! Silly me. Getting rid of him probably comes second to overhauling their wing rotation, but his expulsion from the Wolves should also help them out. In a sense, these are key subtractions because losing every one of those players makes the team significantly better.

Team Trajectory: Rising

The Wolves are on the rise, with a playoff appearance seemingly in the cards. I’m bullish on their chances this season. Although Rubio will miss part of the year, Ridnour and Shved should be able to cover for him. And the rest of the team improved a ton. The big question surrounding the team, though, is the one I posed near the end of the Team Capsule: exactly how long will they be able to build around Kevin Love? It’s an interesting question to ask, especially when looking to be a playoff team, but it’s the new NBA.

Projected Record: 47-35

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