There have been times when people have felt that the Minnesota Timberwolves (15-17) were about to break through and get to the next level. Last year, in which the Wolves finished last in the Northwest Division and last in the Western Conference, was not one of those years. This season, you should expect more of the same from this franchise in distress.
Let’s start with the best—power forward Kevin Love (.450 FG%, .330 3PT%, .815 FT%, 11.0 RPG, 2.3 APG, 14.0 PPG). Love, in his third year, is a smart player with well-developed skills. He’s a topnotch outlet passer and extraordinary rebounder. Although his low post work is weak, he’s quite effective in the high post. One major area he needs to improve is on defense. He’s the best shooter on this team.
Center Darko Milicic (.490 FG%, .000 3PT%, .536 FT%, 4.7 RPG, 1.5 APG, 6.7 PPG) came from New York to Minnesota partway through last season. There are some defensive skills here but Milicic is an extremely poor shot and lethargic rebounder. Although he’s listed as the number one center, he’s an off the bench guy at best.
Backup center Nikola Pekovic comes from Europe to the Wolves. This is his first NBA season and there’s hope that he can be a primary player. In Europe, the six-foot-eleven Pekovic was considered to be one of their finest talents. He’s noted for his offensive skills, including his ability to be a sound interior scorer. His rebounding and shot blocking are average to below average. If he can prove to be a better than expected defender, Pekovic will be pure gold.
Wesley Johnson, a rookie from Syracuse, will get the nod at small forward. He comes to the NBA with a good three-point shot and some decent defensive abilities. Although he’s not a great athlete, Johnson should be able to contribute immediately. At this point, he’s better than anyone else the Wolves have on wing. That’s not saying a lot but it is the truth.
Point guard Luke Ridnour (.478 FG%, .381 3PT%, .907 FT%, 1.8 RPG, 4.0 APG, 10.4 PPG) comes to Minnesota from Milwaukee. Now in his eighth year, Ridnour is an expert at the pick-and-roll. He can take the ball to the rim, draw the foul and hit his frees. Last season at Milwaukee was his best ever. Fans in Minnesota should not expect a repeat from Ridnour. Still, he’s a better-than-average defender who offers quickness on the perimeter.
Corey Brewer (.431 FG%, .346 3PT%, .648 FT%, 3.4 RPG, 2.4 APG, 13.0 PPG), at shooting guard, has a fine shot from the outside. He’s got good quickness, runs the court well and is a solid finisher. But he’s inconsistent from the field and a very bad foul shooter. He does not dribble well either, and Brewer is poor at creating plays and opportunities for other players.
With a Pace Factor of 98.5, which was third in the league, one thing you can say about the Timberwolves is that they were not sluggish. But their Offensive Efficiency was at 98.9 (29th). The one player who stood out was Love, who had a PER of 20.72. One major problem for the team was Jonny Flynn who had the worst Pure Point Rating of any point guard in the NBA—0.19. Flynn comes off the bench this season. The team wasn’t much better on defense, earning a mark of 109.3 (28th). In terms of opponent’s shots blocked, the Wolves were last in the league, tipping and turning away just 4.40%.
There is some good news—this year the Wolves probably won’t be the worst team in the conference. They will still finish last in the Northwest but their Western Conference rank looks to be in the 13th to 15th range. It is very difficult for a franchise to improve when it is poorly managed and that is the primary problem in Minnesota. Neither new GM David Kahn nor new coach Kurt Rambis (39-80) have been impressive. There’s a decent bench on this but there’s no foundation of premium starting players that will allow the Wolves to win consistently. Love is a fine player. All they need is three or four guys of his caliber. The best news—23 to 26 wins in 2010-2011. That’s about ten more than last season.
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