Are New-Look Minnesota Timberwolves a Legit Threat or Another NBA Bubble Team?
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The team has spent most of the last decade barking up the trees of NBA juggernauts. But it appears that the Wolves have rediscovered their roar.
Minnesota has added a solid core around young stars Kevin Love and Ricky Rubio and will be competitive for the whole year—not just the first half of the season, which was the case in 2011-12.
In the first week of March, the Wolves won three straight to move to 21-19. Rubio tore his ACL in the final minute of the squad's next game against the Los Angeles Lakers, and Minnesota began its free fall to end up at 26-40.
Love has established himself as arguably the best power forward in the league, and Minnesota added more weapons in the offseason and will realistically compete for the playoffs for the first time since the Kevin Garnett era.
The latest addition, on July 27, was defensive stud Andrei Kirilenko. The Russian star garnered Euroleague MVP honors with CSKA Moscow in 2011-12. He will likely start at small forward, solidifying the position after the team missed out on Nicolas Batum, who re-signed with the Portland Trail Blazers.
The Kirilenko addition came after the Wolves acquired Chase Budinger from the Houston Rockets. Budinger will improve the team's depth as an athletic, three-point-shooting wing off the bench.
How will the Minnesota Timberwolves fare this season?
Two positions that Minnesota already has covered heading into the 2012-13 season are point guard and power forward. Rubio and veteran Luke Ridnour will once again share the floor-general duties.
Ridnour turned a lot of heads last season when he averaged 12.1 points and 4.8 assists per contest. Don't be surprised if the Timberwolves begin the season with Ridnour at the starting shooting-guard position.
The franchise's star, Love, is currently doing his part to help Team USA win the gold medal in London, and he will continue to be a dominant force during the NBA season. Expect him to put up amazing numbers once again; he averaged 26.0 points and 13.3 rebounds per game in 2011-12.
Backing up Love at power forward is last year's second overall pick, Derrick Williams, who is a freak athlete and has tremendous potential. Minnesota hopes that Williams will make major strides this year with a full offseason training regimen, which he didn't have as a rookie due to the NBA lockout.
The Wolves also have a solid young center in Nikola Pekovic, who averaged 13.9 points per game in his second season, in 2011-12. Pekovic is entering his third NBA season.
But it could be the team's most surprising offseason acquisition that determines whether or not the Wolves become a legitimate threat in the West. That player is shooting guard Brandon Roy, who is returning to the NBA just one year after announcing his retirement due to nagging knee injuries.
It's foolish to think that Roy will immediately pick up where he left off as one of the best shooting guards in the game, which he was during his healthy years. But the former All-Star is a smart-enough player to make a significant impact on a team even if he has lost a step or two.
Assistant coach Bill Bayno said that the addition will be beneficial for both the team and for Roy to get back into the spotlight (via Jordan Schultz of the The Huffington Post):
[Roy] wants to start, and our biggest weakness last year was that our wings could not make plays with the ball, and we didn't shoot the ball well. I don't know who's going to beat Brandon out in that starting spot.
Roy signed with Minnesota because it gives him the best chance to play extended minutes and to prove that he could still be a reliable contributor to a contending squad.
Roy is the Wolves best option at shooting guard, and if he can stay on the floor for 25 minutes a night and give the team 12-15 points per game, then the up-and-coming Timberwolves are a dangerous squad.
With a healthy backcourt including Rubio and Roy combined with the powerful frontcourt of Love and Pekovic, the Timberwolves can score from the perimeter or in the paint. Lockdown defender Kirilenko is the final piece to the starting lineup, which could compete with almost any team in the league.
Toss in J.J. Barea, Ridnour, Budinger and Williams off the bench, and you have a team that could go nine deep. If the Timberwolves follow this blueprint, then this young, talented squad will crash the Western Conference playoff party.
Even without Roy, the Timberwolves probably have enough to at least compete for one of the final spots in the playoff picture. But they would eventually be exposed by their lack of depth at shooting guard, and they would struggle to put up a fight against any good team in a seven-game series.
Good thing Roy will be playing with a chip on his shoulder. He has a burning motivation to prove the naysayers wrong, and the Timberwolves desperately need a shot creator on the perimeter.
If Roy produces similar numbers to the ones previously mentioned, then Minnesota isn't going to be just a fringe playoff team; they will become a first-round nightmare for any opponent.
And in the NBA, that is the definition of a threat.
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