Predicting the Minnesota Timberwolves' Rotation in 2012-13
A slew of new faces in Minnesota have cast a shadow of uncertainty over the Timberwolves' starting lineup.
With the myriad of additions to Minnesota's roster comes equal parts optimism and question marks.
The Timberwolves' starting lineup will almost certainly go through a number of cosmetic changes. However, the following is a confident prognostication of Minnesota's eventual starting five and key bench players.
Starting Point Guard: Ricky Rubio
Rubio will have an uphill climb to get back into pre-injury shape, and he may not be ready at the start of the season. However, Rubio is the unquestioned maestro of Minnesota's offense and hopes to get back to dazzling the crowd with crisp no-look passes as soon as possible.
Rubio's job at starting point guard is probably the second-most definite thing about the starting lineup. Minnesota spent a high lottery pick on the Spaniard and has been thrilled with what he's shown in his brief stint at the helm of Minnesota's offense thus far.
Starting Shooting Guard: Brandon Roy
Roy could be the biggest factor in determining just how far Minnesota makes it in the playoffs or if they make it at all.
A healthy Roy playing at the apex of his potential is a borderline top-10 player in the league. A worn-down Roy slowed by injury and a chronic degenerative knee condition may not even last the whole season and would put up average numbers at best.
Regardless of health concerns, I think Roy has the best chance to start at the off-guard position, and he will do so for the majority of the season.
Starting Small Forward: Andrei Kirilenko
This lanky Russian forward returns to the NBA and the Northwest Division after a year spent playing for CSKA Moscow over in his native country.
The starting small forward job is likely going to be the most hotly contested between the multi-faceted Kirilenko and the young up-and-comer Derrick Williams.
I believe Kirilenko will ultimately win the starting gig at small forward due to his defensive presence and his ability to disrupt the game so dramatically while on defense.
Kirilenko has the almost unparalleled potential to fill up a stat sheet both offensively and defensively.
At times, he can either lose confidence in himself or interest in the game and completely fall apart, which can be especially frustrating due to Kirilenko's tremendous talents, but he'll ultimately prove to be a very valuable pickup for Minnesota.
Starting Power Forward: Kevin Love
Who else were you expecting?
Love has as firm a grip on the starting power forward position as possible. The 2012 NBA All-Star and 2012 Olympic Gold Medalist is the cornerstone of the Minnesota team, and he is poised to have a career year.
Pekovic worked his way into the starting lineup last season due to injuries to then-starter Darko Milicic. The hulking Montenegrin played well filling in for Milicic, posting averages of 14 points and 9 rebounds.
Milicic has since been amnestied by the Timberwolves, clearing the path for Pekovic to retain the starting center position. Pekovic is still relatively young and has plenty of room to grow considering his relatively low number of NBA minutes played thus far.
The only time Pekovic should come off the bench is if and when Minnesota decides to go with a smaller lineup and plays Kirilenko or Williams at power forward and slides Love to center.
Key Bench Player: Derrick Williams
Williams may not be a terribly happy camper this year if he finds himself coming off the bench once again.
The 21-year-old product of the University of Arizona had a relatively lackluster 2011-12 campaign, shooting just 41% from the field and a dismal 27% from beyond the arc.
Minnesota's acquisition of Andrei Kirilenko and Chase Budinger should only serve to further hinder Williams' climb to the starting lineup.
The former second overall pick should improve this year, but whether he will be able to shake off the whispers of "bust" that have already cropped up will a key storyline to watch this season.
Key Bench Player: J.J. Barea
The diminutive but spunky Barea averaged respectable 11 points and 5 assists in 25 minutes per game over the course of the entire 2011-12 season. During the last 9 games of the season, when Barea started at point guard, his numbers swelled to 16 points and 9 assists per game.
Barea should continue to fill the role of instant offense off the bench but should see his assists average continue to rise as it has nearly every year of his NBA career.
Shved made a number of impressive plays while playing for Russia in the 2012 London Olympics. The million-dollar question is whether or not his game will translate to the NBA.
Shved and my projected starter at off guard, Brandon Roy, give the Timberwolves a lot of hope and a lot of trepidation at the same time, as their floors are both quite low and their ceilings quite high.
Shooting guard play will most likely be the biggest determining factor in exactly how far Minnesota goes this year.
Budinger was acquired from the Houston Rockets in exchange for the 18th pick in the 2012 NBA Draft.
Budinger adds depth to the small forward position, and could be in contention to start eventually if Kirilenko and Williams have lackluster campaigns right off the bat.
The former Arizona Wildcat also brings dangerous three-point shooting to Houston, as he shot 40% from three last season.
Budinger's length and athleticism also make him a flexible asset to have off the bench if a big or small lineup is needed.
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