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A Double Dose of ESPN Love

Check this out, two separate ESPN articles giving some decent respect to the Wolves.

First up we have a little insight from Professor Hollinger, which is encouraging seeing as he may be one of the few ESPN writers who takes (at least a little) time to actually watch and analyze all the teams he is writing about.

10. Minnesota Timberwolves (29-37)

Sorry, Hornets fans, but that unprotected lottery pick isn't quite as juicy as you may have been led to believe. Despite their comical zest for accumulating point guards and general knack for shooting their own feet, I expect the Timberwolves to achieve a measure of respectability.

Several items point in their favor, but let's start with Darko Milicic. Minnesota employed the single most counterproductive offensive strategy in basketball last season, constantly feeding the ball in the post to Milicic even though he was their least effective offensive player on a per-possession basis. Merely redistributing these possessions to players who can either score or pass will substantially improve the Minnesota offense.

Second, they have Rick Adelman coaching, which means two things: (1) They have Adelman, and (2) they no longer have Kurt Rambis. The Wolves didn't seem terribly motivated to play hard for Rambis, and Rambis didn't seem terribly motivated to adjust his system to the Wolves. It seemed Rambis hoped to wake up one day and find Darko had become Pau Gasol.

Also, Minnesota is better talent-wise because of second overall pick Derrick Williams and the point guard combo of Ricky Rubio and J.J. Barea. I really don't know how good Rubio will be; he's one of the most unique players the league has ever seen, in both good and bad ways. He might shoot 30 percent, and he might get the first triple-double in history in which points wasn't one of the categories. But he can't be any worse than what Minnesota had last season, when Sebastian Telfair and Jonny Flynn played 1,694 combined minutes for this team. Egads.

They have several other young players, and nearly all should be better. In addition to the players above, Kevin Love, Anthony Randolph, Michael Beasley, Wesley Johnson, Martell Webster, Wayne Ellington and Nikola Pekovic are 25 or younger.

Finally, they potentially can squeeze more from the same talent just by playing small. Half the team consists of 6-foot-8 combo forwards, one of whom is currently posing as its starting shooting guard. Moving Love to center not only takes "go-to guy" Milicic off the floor, it also opens the door for Williams, Beasley, Randolph and Johnson to snag minutes as forwards. I'd argue it's better for Love too, since he can't guard the perimeter anyway.

None of this means the Wolves will suddenly be awesome, and we still see disturbing signs of mismanagement in the background. But the rule of thumb in the NBA is that, via the draft, bad teams continually receive infusions of talent until they can't possibly be bad anymore. By this point, Minnesota has had so many high draft picks that they almost have to rise in the standings.

Next we have a collective write up from Kevin Pelton and Bradford Doolittle of Basketball Prospectus about the landscape of the Western Conference.

Fighting for a playoff spot: Houston Rockets, Memphis Grizzlies, Minnesota Timberwolves

In some corners, the Grizzlies are seen as part of the second tier in the West. SCHOENE was more skeptical of their chances of maintaining the momentum of this past spring's playoff run even before they lost reserve forward Darrell Arthur for the season with a ruptured Achilles tendon. Indeed, the Grizzlies were able to knock off San Antonio and take Oklahoma City the distance without injured forward Rudy Gay, now back in the lineup. However, that required an unexpected breakout from guard Tony Allen, whose history indicates he's likely to regress this season. Memphis' lack of depth behind starting posts Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph also could spell doom.

Who might usurp the Grizzlies' spot if they do fall out of the playoffs? The Rockets have been lurking the past two seasons and again figure to finish right around .500. If Houston stays in the hunt, a trade deadline deal for a 7-footer who could fill the Rockets' gaping hole in the middle might make the difference.

SCHOENE's most surprising projection is that the Timberwolves will go all the way from the West cellar to the playoff race. Not only was Minnesota's point differential better than last season's record would indicate, the Timberwolves have improved substantially by adding point guard phenom Ricky Rubio and No. 2 overall pick Derrick Williams. The biggest upgrade might be on the sideline, where new coach Rick Adelman replaces the overmatched Kurt Rambis.

Of course, it's all relative, and I'm sure these guys' predictions are less credible than a local weather man's, but still... it is sure nice to recieve a little love.

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