Minnesota Timberwolves (26-39) vs. Denver Nuggets (37-28) at Target Center
The end of the 2011-12 season has been very frustrating for the Timberwolves. Yet, there are a lot of positives to take from this season.
We discovered that Ricky Rubio is as good as advertised and is already an elite defender. We discovered that Nikola Pekovic is one of the best scoring centers in the NBA. We discovered that Kevin Love is a legit top-10 player.
When healthy, this team is already a playoff contender. If a couple of pieces can be added in the offseason, this team could win a playoff series and grow into a title contender. Unlike previous years, where rebuilding efforts seemed perpetual and every, "United We Run," type slogan was turned into a catchphrase, this time it seems real.
There is reason for optimism in Minnesota, even if that optimism was tampered a bit after Rubio went down with his knee injury.
Not only is Kenneth Faried one of the top-3 rookies in the 2011 class, he also does a perfect impression of a human crane.
Let's face it. Tonight's matchup means very little for the Minnesota Timberwolves. It would be great for the Wolves to get their first April home win in three years, and to send the fans off with a nice ending. With Kevin Love deciding to sit, however, there's very little of interest on-the-court tonight for the Wolves.
The Nuggets, on the other hand, are a game ahead of Dallas for the 6th seed in the West. They can clinch that seed with a win and avoid playing the Oklahoma City Thunder in the 1st round (they'd play the Lakers instead).
C: Anthony Randolph vs. Kosta Koufos
PF: Derrick Williams vs. Kenneth Faried
SF: Wesley Johnson vs. Danilo Gallinari
SG: Martell Webster vs. Arron Afflalo
PG: J.J. Barea vs. Ty Lawson
Wilson Chandler and Rudy Fernandez will be out for the Nuggets. Love, Darko Milicic, Luke Ridnour and Ricky Rubio are definitely out for the Wolves, and Malcolm Lee is questionable with an illness.
Not to step on bsg's toes with the report card style here, but for my final preview, I wanted to give a quick overall grade for each player this season and a prognostication of what I think should happen this offseason.
Reason: Only reason I'm not giving him an F is because he still sits behind the Wolves' bench during games. Not sure why, but I like that about him. Other than that, he's been worthless this year.
What Should Happen: Amnesty. A plane ticket back to Serbia and, hopefully, a wonderful end to his career in the Euroleague.
Reason: The ultimate, "Play Well When It Doesn't Matter", guy. Anthony Randolph has shown some flashes, but never in key moments. When the margin is less than 5 points, Randolph shoots a woeful 41%. When the margin is 10 points or higher, he shoots 49%. That's not a coincidence.
What Should Happen: Don't resign him. He's been through three good coaches and has done the same thing at every stop. Let another team try to fix him.
Reason: The backpacks. Definitely his best play of the season.
What Should Happen: Well, he's retiring, so not much drama there. Hopefully, his hunting show doesn't get canceled.
Reason: Statistically, he had a major drop off from last year, especially in terms of shooting % (.450 to .393). But he's still a good player to have in the locker room and he does provide a lot of hustle and energy.
What Should Happen: If he wants more than $2 million a year, tell him, "thanks for your time." If he wants less, bring him back.
Reason: Easily a top-3 most improved player candidate (sorry, but I think Ersan Ilyasova should win it). He's turned into one of the better scoring centers in the league. He still can't play a lick of defense, but that can be helped with time.
What Should Happen: Start talking about an extension right now.
Reason: He's easily a top-10 player and maybe a top-5 player. Other than the fact that he stopped trying on defense around St. Patrick's Day and he complains to the refs too much, there's nothing to dislike about K-Love.
What Should Happen: Invent time travel, go back and sign Love to a 5-year deal.
Reason: Williams shot 41% from the field this year. Take away layups and dunks and that percentage goes to 27%. As a means of comparison, Love is at 37%, Tyson Chandler is at 35%, Blake Griffin is at 35% and Ricky Rubio is at 32% without layups or dunks. In other words, Williams stinks from the perimeter and has trouble scoring at all when its not right at the basket.
Considering that he doesn't rebound well, defend well or really contribute at all in other ways, that's not an encouraging sign. He disappears far too easily in games and did not take advantage of playing time when Love went down. It is too early to call him a bust just yet, but its coming.
What Should Happen: Trade him for a wing player. There has to be a front office guy out there somewhere who thinks Williams still has value. Find that guy and make a deal happen.
Reason: I think we all know who J.J. Barea was talking about.
What Should Happen: Let him sign with the Lakers for the MLE. He can be their problem now.
Reason: Just read this
What Should Happen: Cut him. Trade him if possible. Tell him games are played at the Xcel Energy Center next year. Give him a job as DJ Mad Johnsigan. Just don't let him play another minute for the Wolves.
Reason: He was okay at times. He probably lost at least 3 games by himself. His hair was way too Coolio-like.
What Should Happen: I'm not against bringing him back. I'm not convinced that Kahn can find someone better for cheaper.
Reason: An irrational love of Wayne Ellington.
What Should Happen: 5-year extension for the max.
Reason: Still one of the most underrated players for the Wolves. He had a very solid year, but because he wasn't Ricky Rubio, that often went overlooked. His injury was as big as anyone's down the stretch.
What Should Happen: Nothing. Keep him around.
Reason: He had to do a lot that he's not used to doing. He played too many minutes and he played too much point guard. If he had been able to play off-guard with Rubio all year, he'd be looked at a lot more favorably. Barea should never play 48 minutes per game, but because there are no better options, that's what he's done.
What Should Happen: If you can find a good deal, trade him. If not, that three-guard rotation with Rubio and Ridnour worked pretty well earlier in the year.
Reason: Showed flashes on defense. Can't dribble very well. If he can improve his handles and shot this summer, ala Avery Bradley, he could be a part of the rotation. The Wolves are looking to lead the league in player development.
What Should Happen: He gets paid very little. Play him in Summer League and maybe give him some more trips to Sioux Falls.
Grade: I was going to say A+, but then I remembered there is an A++.
Reason: Unicorns, puppy breath, cinnamon and all that is right with the world.
What Should Happen: A 24-hour network devoted to Ricky Rubio.
Reason: When he had healthy players, the Wolves were a playoff team. When he didn't have players, he did the best he could with very little.
What Should Happen: A dunk tank. Kahn sitting on the platform. Adelman with a baseball in his hand. You can figure out the rest.