It’s hard not to be optimistic as a die-hard sports fan at the start of a new season…except when your team is coming off a tumultuous 15-67 season. When arguably your best player and supposed main building block is traded away on top of that, it can be hard to see the light at the end of the tunnel. Still, the Minnesota Timberwolves appear to be in line for a marked improvement this season, although it will take a near miracle to return to the postseason for the first time in the post-Kevin Garnett era.
Head coach Kurt Rambis has had a year to implement his triangle offense and does not have to work around a plodding center (Al Jefferson) who was ill-equipped to lead a team that wants to push the ball up the court. With Jefferson out of the picture, power forward Kevin Love will finally get a chance to play the bulk of the minutes in the post, alongside reinvigorated center Darko Milicic, a late addition from the New York Knicks last year. Miami Heat flame-out Michael Beasley is slated to be the starter at small forward, with Corey Brewer and first-round draft pick Wesley Johnson teaming with Luke Ridnour in the back court.
Where does this leave the Wolves? Probably in the neigborhood of 25-30 wins in the very competitive Western Conference. The acquisitions of Beasley, Ridnour and currently injured Martell Webster show the Wolves are focused on trying to squeeze as many wins as possible out of this year’s squad, unlike last year’s strict emphasis on simply improving the talent on their roster. Team president David Kahn’s decision to draft the 23-year old Johnson rather than take a rawer talent like DeMarcus Cousins only reinforced that view.
Probable starting lineup:
Point guard: Luke Ridnour
Ridnour is a pass first, shoot second point man, averaging 5.1 assists a year ago. Acquired from Milwaukee during the off-season, Ridnour is the oldest player on the Wolves at 29.
Shooting guard: Corey Brewer
Brewer improved his offensive game last year, more than doubling his career scoring average to 13.0 point per game, but the best part of his game is his defense. Matching up with other teams top shooters, the Wolves will need him to get even better to aid their leaky defense.
Small forward: Michael Beasley
Beasley never met his potential as the second overall draft pick by Miami and was dealt by the Heat this summer to free roster space for the signings of Lebron James and Chris Bosh. Minnesota hopes he can at least demonstrate flashes of his immense talent this year. If he does, the Wolves roster strength deepens rapidly.
Power forward: Kevin Love
Love has been a prime example of how rebounds can be a misleading stat when used to evaluate defensive performance, as he has struggled mightily with consistency. He will get a chance to play 35-40 minutes this year with Jefferson gone, meaning he will be needed more often in the post, a part of his game that is still unrefined.
Center: Darko Milicic
The late-season success of Milicic is the path the Timberwolves hope Beasley will follow: former number two overall pick, overshadowed by more talented players chosen after them, stuck on the bench for playoff teams, yet succeeding when given a second chance. Milicic decided against retirement after being promised the starting role in the post this offseason. Given Minnesota’s franchise-long revolving door at the position, they willingly obliged, locking him up to a lucrative five-year deal.
Key Reserves: Johnny Flynn, Martell Webster, Kosta Koufos, Wesley Johnson and Nik Pekovic
A lack of depth, specifically high-end talent depth, figures to be the Achilles heel of this year’s team. They continue to put some decent pieces together, but they lack a go-to scorer and reliable teammate for him to dish the ball off to. Filled with a roster of number three and four scorers, Minnesota is still on the outside looking in in the Western Conference.
Predicted finish: 28-54, 12th in Western Conference
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Written by TS