Waiting for Ricky — Minnesota Timberwolves Season Preview

Starting Five:  PG Luke Ridnour, SG Brandon Roy, SF Andrei Kirilenko, PF Kevin Love, C Nikola Pekovic

Key Bench Players:  PG Ricky Rubio (out until December-January), F Derrick Williams, SF Chase Budinger, G J.J. Barea, G Alexey Shved, C Greg Stiemsma, PF Louis Amundson

Notable Offseason Additions: SG Brandon Roy, SF Andrei Kirilenko, SF Chase Budinger, G Alexey Shved, C Greg Stiemsma

Offseason Losses:  SF Michael Beasley, C Brad Miller, SG Wayne Ellington, F Anthony Randolph

The Minnesota T’Wolves were one of the biggest surprises in the NBA last year.  A team most considered to be bound for the Lottery were actually a .500 team thanks largely to a new coach and the emergence of two players, Kevin Love and Ricky Rubio.

A 6-foot-10-inch power forward brute, Love blossomed in his fourth season as a legitimate MVP candidate, a consistent 26 point/13 rebound low-post beast who had added a lethal step-back 3 to his offensive repertoire.  Love also spent the Lockout playing beach volleyball and eating a “Zen diet,” which helped him lost 25 pounds, enabling a previously plodding forward to move around on the court with much more ease and addressing what had been one of his major weaknesses: conditioning. 

While Love’s trimmed-down physique was a revelation, the T’Wolves became must-see TV thanks to a rookie, wunderkind Spanish point guard Ricky Rubio.  Rubio had been touted since age 15 as a Spanish Pistol Pete, a tall guard with floppy hair and an absolute wizard with the ball.  Most American fans saw him for the first time in the 2008 Olympics, when, as a baby-faced 17-year old, he more than held his own in the Gold Medal Game in the 2008 Olympics. 

Drafted in 5th overall in 2009, Minnesota fans had to wait two long years as Rubio played out his contract in Spain.  Rubio’s first two games were ho-hum, but he was frontpage news by the third game of the season with his 12-point, 12-assist, 6-rebound effort against the Miami Heat in a narrow 103-101 loss.  In January, Rubio averaged 12-points, 9-assists, 5-rebounds, and over 2-steals per game, and pleasing fans across the country with the complete package of passes: no look, through the legs, line drives through the defense.  In February, Rubio’s numbers dropped slightly, to 10-points, 8 assists, 4 rebounds, and over 2-steals per game, but the Wolves kept fighting and were winning as much as they were losing, with the other players embracing Rubio’s willingness to share the ball and hit the open man.  Minnesota was Must See TV for any hoop head.

On March 7th Minnesota were 21-19, in the playoff hunt and looked like a young team finding its footing and poised to have a strong finish to the season.  Then, late in 4th quarter, Rubio’s knee buckled and he went down in a heap, taking the T’Wolves playoff chances with him.  It was a torn ACL for Rubio, and he is scheduled to return sometime in December or January.  The Wolves went 5-20 the rest of the way, and to add insult to injury, owed their first-round pick (10th overall) to the New Orleans Hornets.

The T’Wolves biggest area of weakness last year was the perimeter, with Minnesota getting almost no production out of the shooting guard and small forward position.  GM David Kahn addressed that this offseason, acquiring Chase Budinger from Houston for a first-round pick, signing former Blazer Brandon Roy and former Utah Jazz swingman Andrei Kirilenko, as well as Russian guard Alexey Shved.
Former Blazer guard Brandon Roy briefly retired from the professional basketball due to a nagging knee injury, and will attempt a comeback this year.  Early reports are Roy looks good, but how much he will be able to play over the grind of an 82-game season remains to be seen.  When healthy, Roy is a very capable guard, with the size and ability to play either back court position.  Kirilenko played last season in Russia, and looked like his old self in the Olympics.  Shved is a tall, shoot-first guard who can moonlight at point guard if necessary.
For improvement from within, Minnesotans are hoping former 2nd overall pick Derrick Williams emerges this year.  Williams struggled shooting the ball last year, and he needs to develop a reliable jumper to be able to stick in the rotation.  While Williams was a let-down, former second round pick Nikola Pekovic emerged as a legitimate NBA big, averaging 14-points and 8-rebounds.

Best Case Scenario:  Rubio comes back around Christmas time and looks like his old self, helping the team recover from a slow start and sparking the offense.  Roy is able to stay relatively healthy and provides needed scoring from the perimeter, while the two Russians (Kirilenko and Shved) solidify the perimeter rotation.  Williams develops his jumper and Pekovic continues to improve throughout the season as well.  Minnesota goes on a big run in the second-half of the season, finishing as a playoff team that nobody wants to face in the first round.
Absolute Apocalypse Scenario:  Rubio suffers a setback returning from injury and gets back later than expected.  Upon his return, his failure to develop his jumper while rehabbing his knee limits his effectiveness.  Roy battles knee problems and hardly plays, while Pekovic regresses and Williams continues to brick jumpers.  The Wolves finish in the Lottery and GM David Kahn is canned.

Expected Finish: 3rd in Northwest Division, 9th in Western Conference

Southeast Division
Atlanta Hawks

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *