Season Preview

Re-posted to match the CelticsBlog schedule

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The Wolves
Last Year's Record: 22-60
Key Losses: Marko Jaric, Antoine Walker, Greg Buckner, Michael Doleac, Kirk Snyder, Gerald Green, and Adriana Lima.
Key Additions: Mike Miller, Kevin Love, a healthy Randy Foye, Brian Cardinal, and Jason Collins. 

1. What significant moves were made during the offseason?

OJ Mayo and a stash of contracts were traded to the Griz for Kevin Love, Mike Miller, and a serviceable 2nd string center with an expiring contract.  Oh yeah, Brian Cardinal was in there too.  At the time I called this deal highway robbery and I stand by that take.  When it went down on draft night, Wolves fans were faced with two negative frames in which to place the trade into context:

a- The team just pulled another Roy/Foye trade.

b- The team that traded one of the greatest 4s of all time for Al Jefferson just picked another 4. 

However, what the Wolves actually got was a player with an NBA-ready game who put up stats as a freshman that were every bit as impressive as Michael Beasley.  They received a proven outside shooter who will be placed alongside Randy Foye and Rashad McCants, giving the Wolves three of the NBA's top-20 three point shooters. They also avoided selecting yet another 6-nothing combo guard; saving fans the agony of having to order one of these:

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For all of the poor decisions that the Wolves' front office has made in recent years, they are now building a team with a clear purpose and structure: a dominant post scorer, a solid-passing big with an advanced mid-range game, and proficient outside shooters. 

That being said, the Wolves took something of a gamble with their 2nd round picks when they drafted a Euro big (Pekovic) and traded the rights to Mario Chalmers to Miami for future considerations.  I also thought they made a mistake by passing on Chris Douglas-Roberts when he fell into and through their laps in the 2nd round.

They also made a nifty little trade that landed them Rodney Carney, Calvin Booth, a 1st round pick, and Elton Brand leaving the Western Conference for...well, chump change.

During the offseason they re-signed combo forward Ryan Gomes, undersized 4 Craig Smith, and poor-shooting 1 Sebastian Telfair to solidify their bench.

2. What are the team's biggest strengths?

Outside shooting and rebounding.  As previously mentioned, the Wolves will be able to trot out a lineup with Miller, Foye, and McCants--three players who finished last season in the top-20 of three point shooting.  Last year, the team often found itself with a backcourt triumvirate of Telfair, Jaric, and Corey Brewer.  Even with Foye or McCants on the court, opposing defenses were able to sag off of poor shooting players like Chris Richard, Antoine Walker, Michael Doleac, and Gerald Green.  This season, the Wolves should be able to place solid rotations on the court with at least 2 outside shooting threats.  This should open things up for Jefferson and Love on the inside. 

Speaking of Love, Jefferson, and outside shooting, the Wolves also have an outside shot at having two players that can give the team a double-double night in and night out.  What they lack in height can be made up in girth, as players like Jefferson, Love, Smith, and McCants are all capable of physically holding their own against taller players.


3. What are the team's biggest weaknesses?

Free throw shooting, free throw shooting, and free throw shooting.  While the Wolves should have a chance to win 3 of the 4 factors on a nightly basis (eFG%, TO,  and rebounding), they finished last year with a league-worst -6.9 FTA differential.  When you consider that they are a sub-par defensive team that was outscored by 6.8 ppg, it's pretty hard to say that there was a bigger weakness than their inability to get to the line more than the bad guys.  While the addition of Miller and Love should give the team a de-facto improvement on offensive efficiency, and even though they have one of the best young post scorers in the league, this team is still built around perimeter-based jump shooting.  Unlike division rival Portland, who is building a team around a cache of slashing wing players, the Wolves' offense is, for the most part, void of guys with the type of advanced dribble-drive games that can guarantee a large number of FTAs on a nightly basis.  One of the most promising developments of the pre-season is that the Wolves, especially Rashad McCants, have looked to draw more fouls and get into the bonus during the early part of the 4th quarter.  In their lethargic loss to Denver, they were out-FTA'd by a total of 36-21. 

4. What are the goals for this team?

a- A neutral OE/DE rating.  Last year the Wolves featured the 27th ranked offense and defense.  Overall, they had a -7.4 point gap per 100 possessions.  With the addition of Love, Miller, and a healthy Foye, they should be able to make up 5-6 points on the offensive end of the equation.  What remains to be seen is if they can make up the remainder on the defensive end. 

b- 20+ 3 pointers per game.  Last year the Wolves attempted 15.4 3 point attempts per game.  With Miller, Foye, and McCants, there is no reason on god's green earth that the Wolves should not be attempting enough 3 pointers to place them in the top 25% of the league.  18.5% of their shots came from 3 last year.  This number needs to go up, up, up.  With 3 players that can hit for 40% from beyond the line, volume is the team's friend. Although, Bassy and Brewer should be fined for each and every three they take.

c- Free throw neutrality.  As mentioned above, the Wolves were massively outgunned at the free throw line last season.  Of all the teams in the NBA that had a neutral or positive free throw differential, only the Clippers, Knicks, Grizzlies, Bobcats, and Blazers finished outside of the playoffs.  The other 10 teams all were able to extend their seasons.  Again, the Wolves FTA differential was larger than their ppg differential. If the Wolves simply make as many FTA attempts as their opponents, they will have immediately erased a 6 point deficit.

d- Injury free.  This means you Randy Foye, Rashad McCants, and Kevin Love.  Say what you will about the selection of these three players, but the Wolves have had bad luck with their recent draft picks missing significant minutes.  If the Wolves can get at least 75 games out of all 3 of these players, they should be in good shape.

5. 5 more questions

a- Will Shaddy finally "get it"?  There aren't too many Wolves fans in the "hmm" camp with Rashad McCants.  Like the tattoos say, either you love him or you hate him.  I think that Shaddy is the best guard on the Wolves roster and he is set for a breakout year.  Seriously.  If he can wrap his head around the 6th man role--a position he seems born to play--he can really be a difference maker for a team that lacks guys with his specific skill set.

b- What is the nickname for the Love/Jefferson duo?  We ran a post about this a while back.  Ebony and Ivory got some nominations but there was no clear consensus.  What say you?

c- Can Corey Brewer increase his impact minutes? It didn't happen often last year, but there were times where young Mr. Brewer impacted the game with his defense, length, hustle, speed, and transition play.  Unfortunately, the Wolves simply didn't have the luxury to put a guy who really couldn't dribble or shoot on the court for extended periods of time without them being exposed.

d- What about the draft picks?  The Wolves have 6 potential picks in the 2009 Draft (4 first and 2 second).  The Heat owe them a top-10 protected 1st; the Celtics owe them their top-3 protected 1st; the Jazz owe them their top-22 protected 1st; and the Wolves have their own top-10 pick that is owed to the Clippers (Marko Jaric trade...yes, that Marko Jaric).   Last year the Indiana Pacers captured the 11th pick in the draft with a record of 36-46.  In 2006, Atlanta won the 11th pick with a record of 30-52.  The year before that, Orlando came in with the 11th pick at 36-46.  The Wolves should be right in the range of barely keeping or barely losing their top pick.  There are two groups of Wolves fans on the question of draft picks.  Group 1 wants them to keep their own pick and have the Heat draft between 10-15.  Group 2 wants them to improve enough to lose their own pick and have the Heat draft between 10-15.  I'm a Group 2 kind of guy.  There is no way the Wolves will be able to keep all of those draft picks and I fully expect them to be movers and shakers on draft day.  They should improve as much as possible and use whatever they have left to target a single specific pick.  Remember, Pekovic is supposedly coming over in 2 years and the Wolves have said they would like to bring in a free agent.  Next year's draft has to be about quality, not quantity.  Speaking of the 2009 Draft, here is an early preview of the Hoopus Wolves Draft Board.  Ricky Rubio, Brandon Jennings, Stephen Curry, Nick Calathes, and Chase Budinger are the top-5 at the start of the year.

e- What about Witt? Does anyone out there know what style of ball Randy Wittman likes to play?  What system is he an adherent of?  Witt has a lot of pressure this year.  Last season he did a fantastic job of keeping players motivated on a losing team.  This year, he knows the front office expects a 42-40 record.  They expect clear player development and team cohesion.   As much as I'm still bitter about Dwayne Casey being fired, Witt has handled the job admirably and is a refreshingly honest voice in the Country Club.  The question now is this: Does he have the coaching chops to make this team successful?


Predicted Record: 36-46

As mentioned above, during the offseason Kevin McHale was quoted as saying he believes the Wovles have a shot at 42 wins in the 2009-10 season.  As we have mentioned before, a 20 win improvement is a historic feat and is not something Wolves fans should be expecting. The historical expected change in winning % for a .250-.300% club is 9%, or about 7-8 wins (30-52 is a .366%). (Source: Basketball on Paper by Dean Oliver; p.111.)

Throwing out the meaningless last two games of the season and breaking down the year into quarters, here is how the Wolves performed over the course of the 2007-08 season:

  1. Games 1-20: 3-17 with wins against Sacramento, New Orleans, and Phoenix.  Opponent's final win %: .605.  Wins over .500 clubs: 2
  2. Games 21-40: 3-17 with wins against Indiana, Miami, and Golden State. Opponent's final win %: .402.  Wins over .500 clubs: 1
  3. Games 41-60: 6-14 with wins against Phoenix, New Jersey, Chicago, LAC, Philly, and Utah.  Opponent's final win %: .485.  Wins over .500 clubs: 3
  4. Games 61-80: 9-11 with wins against Sacramento, LAC, Seattle, LAC, Memphis, New York, Utah, Orlando, and Memphis.  Opponent's final win %: .344.  Wins over .500 clubs: 2 (Orlando barely counts given their effort in game #79.

The disparity between pre and post 40 game records can loosely be tied to the return of a healthy Randy Foye.  Dividing the season into halves, the Wolves ended the year by playing .375 ball after opening the year with a remarkably bad .150 win percentage during their 1st 40 games.  If we extend a .375 winning percentage over an 82 game season, the Wolves, as they were constructed last year, are, theoretically, a 30 win team. 

Last year the Wolves only won 4 games before the New Year (2 of them fueled by Antoine Walker).  I feel pretty confident in saying that the Wolves will finish with more than 4 wins by January 1st, 2009.  Here is their pre New Year's schedule:

 Sat 01  vs Dallas  7:00pm  KSTC-45    
 Sun 02  @ Oklahoma City    6:00pm  FSN North    
 Wed 05  vs San Antonio  7:00pm  FSN North    
 Fri 07  @ Sacramento    9:00pm  KSTC-45    
 Sat 08  @ Portland    9:00pm  KSTC-45    
 Tue 11  @ Golden State    9:30pm  KSTC-45    
 Sat 15  vs Portland  7:00pm  KSTC-45    
 Sun 16  @ Denver    7:00pm  KSTC-45    
 Wed 19  vs Philadelphia  7:00pm  FSN North    
 Fri 21  vs Boston  7:00pm  KSTC-45    
 Sun 23  @ Detroit    5:00pm  KSTC-45    
 Wed 26  vs Phoenix  7:00pm  FSN North    
 Fri 28  @ Oklahoma City    7:00pm  FSN North    
 Sat 29  vs Denver  7:00pm      
December Opponent Time Local TV Nat TV Radio
 Mon 01  @ Charlotte    6:00pm  FSN North    
 Wed 03  @ Orlando    6:00pm  KSTC-45    
 Fri 05  @ New Jersey    6:30pm  FSN North    
 Sat 06  vs LA Clippers  7:00pm  KSTC-45    
 Tue 09  vs Utah  7:00pm  FSN North    
 Wed 10  @ Denver    8:00pm  KSTC-45    
 Fri 12  vs San Antonio  7:00pm  FSN North    
 Sun 14  @ LA Lakers    8:30pm  KSTC-45    
 Mon 15  @ Sacramento    9:00pm  KSTC-45    
 Wed 17  vs Cleveland  7:00pm  KSTC-45    
 Sat 20  vs Houston  7:00pm  KSTC-45    
 Tue 23  @ San Antonio    7:30pm  FSN North    
 Fri 26  @ New York    6:30pm  KSTC-45    
 Sat 27  vs Orlando  7:00pm  KSTC-45    
 Mon 29  vs Memphis  7:00pm  FSN North    
 Tue 30  @ Dallas    7:30pm  FSN North  

Again, if they can't walk away from that schedule with more than 4 wins, something is drastically wrong.  11-20 is well within their reach (even with last year's roster).  Assuming they can play at least as well as they did during the final 3 months of last season, anything above 4 wins during pre-New Year ball can be added to a baseline of 22 victories.

(As an interesting side note, from Feb 1st to the end of the year, the Wolves went 13-24 while Portland went 15-22.)


Wrapping this thing up, the Wolves are going to be an improved team.  Without taking into consideration Miller and Love, they are probably already a 27-30 win team based on last year's numbers.  I think that these two players will bring enough game on the offensive end to allow the Wolves to increase their offensive efficiency enough to pick up an additional 6 games. I think they will finish 3rd in the division behind Utah (60-22) and Portland (42-40).  And no, I don't think this will be Portland's year to shine.  Portland is introducing three 1st year players into the lineup and one of them just had his knee put back together.  Their best player can't make it through a season and their starting 3 is out until after the New Year.  Steve Blake is also their starting point.  Portland still has a ton of question marks and I don't think they will finish that far ahead of the Wolves.  Here's hoping for an exciting season.

See links to all the previews at CelticsBlog.com

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