Is this the Year Our Puppies Contend?

^^^^^ That ^^^^^^ is the question I keep asking, it seems for a couple of years now. Fortunately, I feel that this year very well might be THAT year. The Twolves Front office have certainly put together a team that shows plenty of promise. They've upgraded team length and shooting and look primed to come back healthy and strong.

In my own introspective assessment, I find that I tend to be way more optimistic than is practical. I am in every sense of the idea, a basketball geek. I'm not a genius; I'm not an expert; I'm a obsessive enthusiast with a laptop. With that being said, I want to give my thoughts about the strengths and weaknesses this years Timberwolves Squad.

What I see from this squad, is a plethora of players who can take over a game on the offensive side of the ball. I see a team that will be very fun to watch and players who should mesh cohesively into a high-octane attack. Below I will share some youtube videos I have gathered that show the potential that players in the Twolves rotation have.

Video #1: Ricky Being Ricky

What This Video Tells Me:

#1 Ricky's Feel For the Game:

This is what his entire game is built around. He sees the game differently. His court vision is perfectly in sync with his ball handling and his flashy maneuvering is built on slight of hand and expert timing. Countless moments in this video Ricky freezes defenders with his eyes or a wrap around dribble. Combine this with the precision accuracy of his passes and he becomes a deadly force in the pick and roll and in transition. I tried to put some time stamps down here for reference to specific plays in the video where he patiently found wide open shooters in transition, threw perfectly catchable lob passes and so on and so forth, but they were simply too many. Clearly this is kind of the point of a highlight reel, but the sheer amount of examples of this is staggering.

#2 Ricky's second gear:

Last season, and in this highlight reel, Ricky showed a burst that I was not certain he would have coming off knee surgery. With this burst Ricky showed that he can blow past defenders. Most notably in this video he blows by Kobe at 1:23.

#3 Ricky's finishing:

Last season Ricky drastically improved his ability to finish at the rim. Attacking centers like Tyson Chandler, and Roy Hibbert and finishing is no easy task and Ricky did it with tenacity. He uses the rim as protection with a reverse lay ups. It was also huge to see him utilize both hands to finish last season. His Rookie year he seemed to always revert to the little side fade away when forced left. In this video Ricky finishes lefty with confidence. Ricky also combined his craftiness to draw fouls with the ability to finish giving him many opportunities at three point plays.

#4 Ricky's Shooting:

At the end of this last season, the work Ricky spent on his jump shot really seemed to show. If Ricky can shoot like this going forward he becomes even more dangerous. Defenders will not beable to sag off and go under screens if he proves that he has the ability to make the pull up/pick and pop mid range jumper. This video (albeit a highlight video) shows Rubio getting far more elevation on his jumper, both in the sense of how high he jumps and the arc he puts on the ball.

#5 How Ricky Makes Others Way Better:

How many Greg Stiemsma sightings were there on this video? Seriously, if you are big and put yourself near the basket Ricky is going to find you. Rubio gets people easy buckets. The Ricky Rubio/Dante Cunningham Show took over some games last year because of sheer effort from Dante and sheer skill from Ricky. In short Ricky just gets people the ball where they can succeed.

What I think this means:

I would argue that Ricky Rubio is "the guy" on this team. Clearly he needs players to work with but He is what this offense is built around. The guys that the front office picked up and made and effort to keep, goes hand in had with the idea of surrounding Ricky "the top dog" Rubio with players that can make shots, move with out the ball and finish at the rim.

Video #2: Kevin Love Kills It Against Houston 1/23/2012

What This Video Tells Me:

#1: Remember This Guy?:

Kevin Love is healthy and ready to prove himself again. I think this video is a testament to the kind of impact Kevin Love can have. His skills are so unique. Rebounding at that high a level and then being a offensive threat from anywhere across half court makes him unlike just about everybody.

#2: K-Love Does Not Only Play Below the Basket:

I contest that Kevin Love, is way more athletic than he is given credit for. Kevin's dunks in this video are resounding. He pounds in down on Dalembert and Scola. Maybe those two aren't premier defenders in this league, but their certainly respectable enough that you wouldn't expect them to get hammered on so much by a guy who is thought of as being more of a grounded player. Point being; Kevin Love is an athlete. He can move. He can shoot. He can dunk a little bit and he works really hard.

#3: That Left Slot:

Kevin Loves (ha punny) shooting from that spot. Rewind back to Video #1 and think about the many times Ricky found Ridnour, Williams, Cunningham or Stiemsma for mid range jumpers around the elbow. Kevin will hit that and stretch it to the three point line.

#4: The Cool Darko Down Screen Freeing Kevin's Slot Three:

At 3:34 at the video there's the cool play where the wolves run pick and Fade with Ricky and Kevin and Darko Down screens Kevin's guy leaving Kevin wide wide open ... Cool play that's all. Pek can play Darko's role in that next year.

What I think this means:

Kevin Love is going to return this year with a vengeance. He wants to prove himself once again. He wants to be known as a superstar in the league and I think he has the stuff to do it. He has proven to be such a hard worker in the past I can only see him showing more of that this next season. I'm hard pressed to come up with what Kevin Love could do to diversify his game more than it already is on the offensive side of the ball. I am hoping beyond hope that Kevin has put the same effort he put through out his life on developing his "glass eating" proficiency and three point sniping ability to becoming a better defender. I think it's huge that in this video, in his half time interview Kevin was not seen dwelling on his offensive exploits or the lack of support he received on that side of the ball but mentioned how essential it was to up the ante on defense and that that would be the key to them winning the game.

Video #3: Kevin Martin Kills It Against Minnesota 1/23/2013

What This Video Tells Me:

#1: If Kevin Martin Has An Advantage He'll Find it:

Of course this video shows newly accuired Timberwolves Shooting Gaurd Kevin Martin tearing apart good old "Make it Wayne" Wayne Ellington, and that in itself is nothing special, but it also shows something about Kevin Martin. K-mart is an assassin on offense. He's gunna find a way to score. He blows by defenders when they try to take a peek if a screen is coming. He runs around screens and hit's catch and shoot shots. He creates for himself. He posts guys up.

#2: Kevin Martin has length and quickness

The Timberwolves' Guards have lacked length these last couple of seasons. Kevin Martin's 6'7" frame is big and allows him to shoot over most defenders even with his unorthodox release. Also, while this is certainly not a big part of Martin's game, this length will help the Twolves on the defensive end. Weather a player is particularly skilled on the defensive end of the floor is one thing, but volume covered is another. Kevin Martin's presence with his length (even taking into account his light-weight-lankiness) is such and up grade from Luke Ridnour's 6'2" scrappy-effort-defense.

What I think this means:

First of all I thought it was cool that video #2 and #3 came from the same game and now the wolves have both players. Secondly it's awesome to think of how Kevin Martin and Ricky Rubio will mesh on court. Similar to the way in which the addition of Kevin Love will turn Video #1's Cunningham mid range Js into K-Loves Slot Threes, the addition of K-mart stretches the floor even more. K-Mart also gives the wolves an offensive assassin with size. K-mart can be relied on to get a bucket or get to the line at any given moment. This shot making/bucket getting skill set will really help the wolves offense. It has also been mentioned, ad-nauseam, how Kevin Martin works within Rick Adelman's Offense, hitting shots, using screens, moving the ball, and cutting to the basket. Kevin will certainly bring a knowledge of Coach Adelman's system with him. Chase Budinger alike knows Adelman's system and will play a similar somewhat slower-footed role from the SF spot.

Video #4: Chaos Corey

What This Video Tells Me:

#1: Remember This Guy?:

A lot has been made about Corey Brewer's return to the Timberwolves. Some are bummed, thinking that he hasn't really progressed much as a player who didn't seem to pan out of the wolves in his previous stint. Much has also been made trying to alleviate such sentiments among the fan base. Point is, Ya gotta like Chaos Corey. 6'9", goofy, lanky, and pretty darn quick he's another incredibly unique player. Who should be fun to watch.

#2: Corey can get hot:

Not THAT many players have had games as good as this one for Corey Brewer in the NBA. Of course it's not to be expected, but it's still a testament to what the guy can do as a ball player. He can get hot and fill it up. His shooting as been spotting through out his career there's no denying statistical fact, but there is also no denying how good he has been from the corner. Knowing Adelman's offense (which is sometimes actually referred to as the corner offense) there are many open shots from the corner three, the shortest on the court. Brewer can hit that shot.

#3: Length and Quickness Personified:

Corey can play passing lanes like no other. Lanky and goofy and quick, he's built to make steals. This paired with Rubio's defensive tenacity and Martin's length should combine to make things difficult for teams on the perimeter.

#4: Hustle All Day Everyday

Chaos Corey keeps coming all game long. Brewers hustle is shown perfectly when he hustled back on defense against an apparent two man break away and came a way with a spectacular jumping-flailing steal. I believe that effort is contagious, and I think that Corey and Ricky will combine to will the team to exhaustive effort on the defensive end.

#5: Crowds Love Chaos Corey:

It's simply fun to hear the Denver crowd react when Corey does something crazy in this video. Not many players can spark that much excitement.

#6: Corey in the Clutch:

He buried those free throws to win the game after being iced and all. Truth is, Corey's been there. He's one a national Championship. He's been on a NBA Champion squad and these things are important.

What I Think This Means:

I think the Wolves made a underrated pick up when they signed Corey Brewer. I think it is a great fit. Much has been made about the departure of Andrei Kirilenko who played so well for the wolves last year, and right fully so, but I think Corey's production this up coming season will quell the pain of loosing AK-47. While Kirilenko is probably a better over all defender, he is slowing down and Corey is as quick as ever.

Video #5: The Peksicutioner Beating People Up & Collecting Skulls

What This Video Tells Me:

#1: Nikola Pekovic can be unstoppable:

Seriously, I think it's self explanatory, in this video Pekovic beat the crap out of everybody.

#2: The team fed the beast:

Was it just me, or did Beasley even pass to Pekovic in this game? The whole team saw that Pekovic was utterly destroying, so they got him the ball. Kevin tossed entry passes from the top of the key to the circle where Pek had his man sealed.

#3: Like Ricky, Kevin & Chaos Corey, The Peksicutioner is unlike any player in the league

No body can compete with Pekovic's strength and effort down low. Combine that with his delicate touch under the basket and a very good free throw shot for a center and you have the best offensive center in the game today. Not to mention he runs the floor. I don't anyone could have thought that Nikola Pekovic would finish as many fast breaks as he does.

What I Think This Means:

With in a couple of weeks, the Minnesota Timeberwolves will have signed the best offensive Center in the league, to pair with the best Power Forward in the League. Look out western Conference!

Video #6: We Can Beat Great Teams/Target Center Can Be Electric

What This Video Tells Me:

#1: We beat OKC! (Twice last season actually!)

There was a team that the wolves had last year that had the ability to beat great teams like OKC. This was a team with Kevin Love coming off hand surgery #1 and Ricky Rubio still getting used to playing basketball after knee surgery. But they got it done. The Wolves can only be better now, if only because they are healthier.

#2: Alexey Shved Is a Point Guard:

This highlight reel is full of Shved making ridiculous passes. Bullets inside to Pekovic or Love, wild on-the-money kick outs to Kevin for three, or long lob passes to his Russian mentor AK-47, Shved showed that he's a passing virtuoso. Everything I've heard from Flip Saunders and the Timberwolves front offices attests to the idea of using Shved more as a back up point guard than as a wing player and David Kahn originally envisioned. With the departure of Luke Ridnour this seems to be the place where Shved can find the majority of his minutes. He still however has the length to switch over to play shooting guard, standing at 6'6" and having shown off some of his high-level athleticism and (streaky) shooting ability.

#3: J.J. Barea Can Make Magical Things Happen:

This little guy is a spark plug. He's a 5'10" basketball engery bug. He scored 14 points in the fourth quarter of this game. It's absurd the things he can do. I'm very happy the wolves kept him around. There is so much value to a guy who can get a bucket. J.J. can do so much good as a high energy role player, bringing a spark playing some good point guard. I think Rubio's passing has been contagious for Barea, who has always been score first. These last couple of years Barea's production as a shot creator has significantly improved.

What I Think This All Means:

We, Timberwolves fans, have a team here and now. We have depth, offensive firepower, and players that will give defensive effort. I'd like to add that the presence of Chris Johnson, Gorgui Dieng, Dante Cunningham, and Ronnie Turiaf gives the wolves defensively skilled bigs on the bench to spell offensive-minded starters Pekovic and Love. It's also important for me to acknowledge the presence of Derrick Williams (former college all american) and Shabazz Mohammed (Former #1 player in his high school class) are on the roster. These two are a position where they don't need to be relied upon and will be able to used their high talent levels to help out as they can off the bench and grow their games. It's an exciting time as wolves fans. I think that this team can contend this year and even make a run in the playoffs. On the offensive side of the floor this team is going to be incredibly fun to watch, with many weapons at its disposal. It's defense, however, that will make or break the teams potential to contend. Thankfully in some respects, basketball is a free flowing game. The goal of the game is to get more points than your opponent, it's REALLY that simple. They don't need to be a lock down defensive team necessarily. it all comes down to if they can hunker down and make key stops. If they can, I believe the wolves high-octane offense can carry them to heights that Target Center hasn't seen since 2004, and potentially, and hopefully beyond.

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