FanPost

Is a Love, Rubio, Pekovic Core Good Enough?

Mark J. Rebilas-US PRESSWIRE

This off-season, the Timberwolves are in a position to secure a core of Kevin Love, Ricky Rubio, and Nikola Pekovic for at least the next couple of seasons. The question is: how good can we expect the Wolves to be if the bulk of our salary cap is locked up in these three players? Are they good enough to allow the Wolves to compete with the best teams in the West? My belief is that this core is good enough and that becoming a top-4 seed in the West in contingent on the Wolves managing the rest of their roster (slots 4 through 15) better than they have been.

There is obviously no perfect statistic to measure player performance, but there are some readily available statistics, including win shares, wins produced, and RAPM. For purposes of this post, I use win shares, primarily because Basketball Reference makes them so easy to access. I believe this method undervalues Rubio, who looks like he's developing into a plus/minus star on defense.

The table below shows the total win shares for the three "best" (i.e., highest total win shares) players on the Wolves and four other Western Conference teams against which they would compete for a top-4 spot in the playoffs.

Team

Total Win Shares

Actual Wins

Top 3

Rest of Team

Total

Wolves

17.0

18.4

35.4

31

Spurs

25.9

31.9

57.8

58

Nuggets

22.4

32.5

54.9

57

Clippers

30.8

28.3

59.1

56

Grizzlies

29.3

24.6

53.9

56

First, notice that the Wolves underperformed relative to their total win shares, winning 31 games when win shares predicts 35.4 wins. (Wins produced tells a similar story, predicting 34.2 wins for the Wolves.) The table shows that the Wolves fell short not only at the top of the roster, but throughout the roster. Their top 3 (which was Pek, Kirilenko, and Ridnour) fell 5.4 to 13.8 wins short of the other teams in the table. The rest of the roster fell 6.2 to 14.1 wins short.

How can we expect the Wolves' top 3 to look if Love and Rubio are healthy? The table below provides my estimate. I assume that Love returns to his form from 2011-12 and misses seven games. Rubio continues to improve (again, I think this WS/48 value understates his value based on what I've seen from his IPV and RAPM stats at the end of this year). I assume that Pekovic improves a bit relative to the most recent season and returns to his 2011-12 value, which I believe is reasonable because I think Kevin Love's absence somewhat reduced Pek's ability to be effective down low.

Player

WS/48

G

MPG

Win Shares

Love

0.220

75

35

12.0

Rubio

0.100

80

35

5.8

Pekovic

0.170

65

32

7.4

Total

25.2

My contention is that Love, Rubio, and Pekovic could form the core of a team that is as good as Memphis has been this year. By this estimate of 25.2 win shares, the core would fall just 4.1 wins short of what Memphis got from Marc Gasol, Mike Conley, and Zach Randolph. Rubio obtaining a WS/48 of 0.168 would make the two cores equivalent.

Now onto the rest of the roster. This year, Memphis obtained 24.6 win shares from players outside of its top 3. The WS/48 value for all of those players combined (i.e., 48 x total win shares / total minutes played) was 0.101. In short, they got average NBA play from the rest of their roster. For the Wolves in 2012-13, the WS/48 outside of the top 3 was 0.067. The year before that, it was 0.048.

I believe we can expect Budinger and Kirilenko (if they return) to provide productive minutes outside of the top 3. We need a lot of improvement from the rest of the roster spots. Derrick Williams, Dante Cunningham, Luke Ridnour, J.J. Barea, and Alexey Shved all have aspects of their games that draw supporters and detractors. However, none of them achieved an average WS/48 of 0.100 or better.

By my estimates, Budinger, Kirilenko, Cunningham, and Ridnour would contribute approximately 16 additional win shares (this assumes that Kirilenko only plays 65 games at 35 minutes per game). That gets the Wolves into the 41-45 win shares range, depending on Rubio's performance. For the Wolves to break into the next tier of teams, they need to get more productive minutes outside of the core players.

In conclusion, I think the core of Love, Rubio, and Pekovic is certainly good enough for the Wolves to become a perennial fringe playoff team. With some continued improvement from Rubio, it would be good enough to allow the Wolves to compete for a top-4 playoff seed. However, this can't happen until the Wolves improve their management of the rest of the roster. In short, I believe we need more good players. We do not need to replace our best players.

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