Minnesota Timberwolves 2013-2014 Season Preview

Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

The Wolves finally get the chance they almost had two years ago. After a decade of poor play and bad luck, are things finally going to turn in the pups favor?

March 9th, 2012. The Timberwolves sat at a surprising 21-19 and were hanging onto playoff position as they took the court against the Lakers at Target Center that night.

Things were finally coming together, as Kevin Love was playing at a near MVP level (110 points and 43 rebounds in the previous three games, all wins), Nikola Pekovic was emerging as PEKKKKKK in his second season,and Ricky Rubio was proving to be everything we hoped for in his rookie year. That trio, along with Rick Adelman, appeared poised to return the Wolves to respectability and the playoffs, and the best part was they were all young. So despite the unfortunate fact that Luke Ridnour and Wes Johnson were the starting shooting guard and small forward respectively, the fan base finally had reason to be optimistic.


Meanwhile, Canis Hoopus was chugging along. In a post-game thread on March 5th after a one point home win over the Clippers (Derrick Williams fouls CP3 on a three point attempt at the buzzer to tie; Paul makes only 2 of the free throws, prompting stop-n-pop to title the thread "CP2, Basketball Reasons"), we got this comment:

I seriously wondered

whether this blog would be less hilarious if we ever assembled a decent team. It pleases me greatly that that is not the case.

-juliancasablancas

Two nights later, the Wolves were in playoff position after beating the Blazers. Oceanary gave us "The Magic Word is Playoffs" and it was a great night. All of our competitors lost, and the Wolves were within a couple of games of 4th place in the West:

I still cannot get over how weird it feels

to be actively rooting against the teams close to us in the standings to help our playoff chances. Playoff chances. That sounds so beautiful.

-MNHawkeye

I'm still in shock

I had dreams… of an eighth seed, of success, but to actually have it… sitting there… tangible… in front of me. AMAZING. I love the wolves. I love canis. I love all you guys. WHAT A SEASON! MAY IT CONTINUE!!

-(A possibly drunk) Bob Mcflallergy

Of course, we all know what happened on the 9th (My apologies in advance):


And that was it. The Wolves went 5-21 the rest of the season, we got crabby again, Kevin Love's contract reared it's ugly head, and less than a month later SnP published "Needle and the Damage Done" following another ugly loss to the Warriors. The season was over.

So why this trip down memory lane to March, 2012? Because in a way, that night was when the clock stopped on the development of this iteration of the Timberwolves. Time went on, that season ended horrifically, we geared up for last season only to lose Kevin Love (and others) before it really got started, but the Timberwolves as defined by Love, Rubio, and Pekovic have not existed since that March.

But now here they are again. A new POBO, several new players on the roster, and 18 months later, we finally get to see what a team with this core of players can do. Are they actually good enough to compete in a brutal Western Conference? We have only the evidence of those 40 games in 2012 to suggest they are, but there are reasons for optimism. Rubio is entering his third year in the league, and as good as he looked at times that first year, he's a better player now. Pekovic is established as one of the top centers in the league. And Love looks fantastic after last season's annus horribliis.

Competition for a playoff spot will be fierce, but nothing short of that will do for a team that hasn't tasted post-season play in a decade, and with the clock ever ticking on Kevin Love's ETO. In order to get there, the spirit of those days two seasons ago must combine with what we hope is an improved roster, and, of course, good health.

Wing play in support of the core was a problem in 2012, with the deteriorating Michael Beasley and Martell Webster combining with Ridnour and Johnson to suck up most of the minutes. Wing play might continue to be a problem two seasons later, but, as befits preseason, there are reasons for optimism. Kevin Martin has the talent to provide the Wolves with the best season they've had from a wing player since...Fred Hoiberg? Wally Szczerbiak? Anyone? Martin, who at his peak was the Platonic ideal of a wing scorer, making threes and free throws in bunches, still retains the ability to score efficiently, regularly posting among the best TS percentages for perimeter players in the NBA. Having three players who have proven they can carry heavy usage and maintain efficiency like Love, Martin, and Pekovic is a pretty good place to start on offense.

The rest of the wing cadre is more questionable. Chase Budinger's injury and subsequent knee surgery has forced a change in plans and thins out the options considerably. Budinger is an athletic player with corner three chops and would have been the starting small forward. It appears that Rick Adelman is still unsure how to allocate minutes at that spot in Budinger's absence, as he initially implied Corey Brewer would start, but recently has suggested Brewer is better off the bench. Which leaves the choice of two power forwards, Derrick Williams and Dante Cunningham, trying to fake it as 3-men.

Still, Budinger will be back, and even without him, the starting lineup should score plenty of points. Which leaves open the questions of the bench and the team defense. The bench will consist of J.J. Barea, Alexey Shved, Ronny Turiaf, and whichever two of the three forwards don't start. This group might have real problems scoring points, especially on the nights when J.J. doesn't have it going. Adelman could mitigate this by organizing his rotations in such a way that at least one of Love, Martin, and Pekovic is always on the floor, but it's far from clear that he will do so. He seems to like having a starting unit and bench unit with very little overlap. I think this is a mistake, but we'll see how it plays out once the games get going for real.

At any rate, the bench quality will largely depend on J.J. Barea. He's a ball dominant player who will drive the unit either successfully through the game or off into a ditch, and we'll be powerless to do anything but watch, sometimes with our hands over our eyes. The alternative is that Derrick Williams takes a significant step forward and figures out how to contribute consistently via better three point shooting and free throw attempts, and fewer unsuccessful mud runs. From the scant evidence of preseason, it doesn't appear that much is going to change.

Defense is widely expected to be the Wolves biggest weakness this season, despite a reasonably strong effort on that end of the floor last year. The loss of Andrei Kirilenko could have a significant negative impact on the team's ability to defend, as the main rotation is now down to one truly plus defender (Rubio). However, the team concepts that worked adequately last year should still function this year. We discussed the defense at length last week: they will once again have to rely on forcing turnovers and rebounding while not fouling in order to have a league average or better defense, because they lack the personnel to deny opponents good looks for 48 minutes like the Bulls and Pacers can.

The season opens tonight at home against the Orlando Magic. Will the Wolves take advantage of better three point shooting? Can Ricky Rubio score enough to balance his other talents? Will Kevin Love and Nikola Pekovic dominate the glass like they do in our dreams? How will Kevin Martin fit in with this group after coming off the bench in Oklahoma City last season? Can the defense hold it's own enough to allow the offense to flourish? Will any of the rookies surprise us and actually play a significant role this year?

All of these questions will be answered, starting tonight. 18 months after it came crashing down on the floor at Target Center, the Timberwovles of Rubio, Love, and Pekovic get to try it again. They are healthy, they are hopefully wiser, and they are surrounded by a different, and hopefully better supporting group.

Two seasons after it should have happened, these guys finally get another shot. They need to make it count.

It's gonna happen this year. Playoff basketball. I can feel it.

Let's go Wolves.

82-0.


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