The Minnesota Timberwolves don’t have a stacked team like the Miami Heat or Los Angeles Lakers. They don’t have multiple superstars, or even just a superstar tandem yet. What the Timberwolves do have, though, is a very great dynamic with a clear hierarchy of talented players.
The Timberwolves did something this offseason that we haven’t seen them do in a while: Put together a high-potential team that actually stands a chance of meshing and becoming something great.
This team has been years in the making. Their first step was getting over the loss of Kevin Garnett with the acquisition of Kevin Love. After that, they finally had a player to build around. They accomplished that by drafting Nikola Pekovic in 2008 and Ricky Rubio in 2009.
The rest of the team has been coming together for the last few years. J.J. Barea, and Derrick Williams came last year, and Andrei Kirilenko and Brandon Roy highlighted the changes made just this offseason.
With the roster finally in place, it's time to rank each player by the contribution they will bring to the team this season.
Lou Amundson is a solid defender and a good rebounder. Nothing flashy about his style, but every team needs a player like him. Although we likely won’t see much from him during this next season, he was a very solid addition to the team—if for no other reason than being an upgrade from Darko Milicic.
Malcolm Lee is entering his second season in the NBA. As a rookie in Minnesota, Lee only spent an average of 12.8 minutes per game (MPG) on the court, and averaged just 3.3 points per game (PPG) as a result.
In addition, he was forced to play in the NBA D-League for the beginning of the season last year.
We will likely see more from Lee this year because his defense is great and he has good court awareness. He’s going to be playing backup to Brandon Roy and Alexy Shved, but his size (6’5”) and defensive capabilities are going to make him a great asset for the team.
In just three years in the NBA, Dante Cunningham has already bounced around four different teams. The Wolves acquired him from the Memphis Grizzlies this offseason in an effort to solidify the frontcourt.
Cunningham brings a lot to the table for the T-Wolves. His defensive presence is going to be a welcome addition to the team, as both starting big men Kevin Love and Nikola Pekovic aren’t known especially for their defense prowess.
His minutes depend solely on whether or not Derrick Williams will be directly backing up Kevin Love. If he gets the chance to be the No. 2 power forward, we should see big productivity from him, at least as far as defense and getting rebounds are concerned.
Good news, people. Darko Milicic is gone. With him went all of the laziness, bad vibes and general sense of anguish amongst the Timberwolves backup bigs.
His replacement, Greg Stiemsma, is prepared to take on a big role for the Timberwolves.
Last season with the Celtics, Stiemsma played behind Brandon Bass and Kevin Garnett, and only managed to play 13.9 MPG during the regular season—his rookie season. He put up just 2.9 PPG, but grabbed 3.2 rebounds per game (RPG).
As a backup for the Timberwolves, Stiemsma is going to keep the rebounds coming for a rebound-heavy team. A very fundamental player, Stiemsma was a great addition to the team for the Wolves. He's likely to get more minutes than he did in Boston and his contribution to the team will be undeniable.
One of my favorite additions to the team this offseason, Chase Budinger was the perfect player to fill out the bench. Last season with the Houston Rockets, Budinger shot a very impressive 40.2 3-point percentage. He only played 22.4 MPG, but he averaged 9.6 PPG.
For this season with the T-Wolves, he brings athleticism (he was in the 2012 NBA Slam Dunk Contest), a great shot from the three-point range and familiarity with head coach Rick Adelman’s schemes.
He'll likely be behind Andrei Kirilenko on the depth chart. This means that the bench now has a talented and proven scorer, and a potentially great sixth man.
Derrick Williams took a ton of flak for his rookie campaign with the Wolves. He was slammed for his inconsistency, and for the fact that he really seemed to struggle fitting in at the small forward position.
In all honesty, it really would have been considered a good enough rookie season had he not been the No. 2 overall pick in the 2011 NBA draft.
In his first season as a pro, he played 21.5 MPG, averaged 8.8 PPG and grabbed 4.7 RPG. Not too shabby at all. He proved that he can drive with the ball and he can shoot from distance—his game is formidable, to say the least.
Personally, I’m a big fan of the guy. I have been since the game against the Los Angeles Clippers in February when Williams went off and put up 27 points to pull his team to victory.
I’m seeing big things for Williams in the future; I really can’t emphasize enough how good this guy is going to be for Minnesota.
Besides Brandon Roy, Shved is the only true shooting guard on the Timberwolves roster. His role with the Wolves is going to be a big one because Brandon Roy is still coming off his knee surgery.
Coming off an incredible season in Russia in which he shot 60 percent from three-point land and averaged 14.3 PPG, Alexey Shved was brought in to bring the same sort of offensive firepower to the Wolves.
Still unproven in the NBA, Shved isn’t quite ready for an elite season. We should see solid offensive production from him though, which is going to help the team tremendously.
Andrei Kirilenko was one of the big-name additions the T-Wolves made this offseason. His defensive-minded style of play and his stat-stuffing tendencies make him the perfect player to take on the veteran leadership role for the Wolves.
Kirilenko spent last season in Russia where he averaged 14.1 PPG to go along with 8.5 RPG.
For the Timberwolves, Kirilenko is just going to be an all-around player. He’s not going to lead the team in any one stat, but you can bet that he’s going to help pave the way for the Wolves to be a successful playoff team.
A great pickup for the Wolves, the addition of Kirilenko will mean a much more balanced defensive team.
Both of these guys deserve to be in this spot. It doesn’t matter which one gets the starting nod while Rubio recovers from his torn ACL; both of them will be forced to make a substantial difference for the team this season.
If it was up to me, Luke Ridnour would have the starting job until Rubio returns. Last season with the Wolves, he averaged 12.1 PPG, and 4.8 assists per game (APG). Technically, he’s a combo-guard, so he can play either guard spot well.
Whether he starts or not, when Rubio returns, he’ll likely slide over to back up Brandon Roy at shooting guard.
I was very impressed by J.J. Barea when he played with the Mavericks two seasons ago when they made their Finals run.
He showed a lot of potential then, and he continued showing it when he played with the T-Wolves last season. That said, I don’t think he should get the nod over Ridnour.
Personally, I’m under the impression that he’s a bit too similar to Nate Robinson. He’s a very talented athlete, but perhaps too much of a gunslinger. He does produce results though, that much is undeniable.
As far as being the general of the court goes, I’m just not convinced that he is controlled enough to do it as effectively as Ridnour.
Still, he makes for very solid element of the team. When Rubio does come back, I fully expect Barea to be a fantastic backup for him.
Nikola Pekovic is perhaps the most underrated center in the NBA. Last season, he played just 26.9 MPG, but put up 13.9 PPG and grabbed 7.4 RPG.
His offensive production is a huge part of the success that Kevin Love has had had over the years, and the two of them make a lethal offensive combination.
His rebounds don’t tell the whole story, as part of his job is just boxing the opposing big men out, leaving Kevin Love and teammates to grab easy boards.
Pekovic has earned his right to be one the players that Minnesota has chosen to build around. While his contributions may not be flashy or obvious, they pack a punch.
The T-Wolves are very lucky to have Pekovic on board. His minutes should increase this season, as well as his offensive production. I’d be very surprised if he doesn’t start making a big name for himself in the NBA.
Brandon Roy was the biggest addition to the team this offseason. As far as how much he will be able to contribute to the team, that could really go one of two ways.
The first scenario is that his degenerative knees doesnt’t react to the platelet-rich plasma procedure the way that he hoped they would, and he is once again forced to watch from the sidelines.
The second and much more optimistic scenario would be that his knees take to the surgery—the same way that Kobe Bryant’s knees took to the exact same procedure just a few years ago.
If that happens, then Brandon Roy’s impact on the Wolves could be monumental; before his knee problems, he was one of the brightest shooting guards in the league.
If he is able to come back full-strength, he's going to be a huge contributor in making the team one of the most explosive offenses in the NBA. It all hinges on his knees. Keep your fingers crossed.
There’s not much that can be said about Ricky Rubio that hasn’t already been said. He was one of the best rookies in the NBA last season and was well on his way to take the Timberwolves to the playoffs before he tore his ACL.
His expected return date is sometime in December. Unless something goes terribly wrong with his recovery, we should see him back on the court by then.
When he does come back, the difference in the T-wolves offense will be extremely noticeable. Rubio has one of the best pass-first point guard capabilities in the league, and it showed last year.
His contribution will be massive—when the T-Wolves do make it to the playoffs, it will be largely due to him.
Kevin Love is one of the most dominant big men in the NBA today. He is easily the best power forward in the league, and has all but patented the double-double.
All of the success that the Timberwolves have enjoyed over the last four years, and will enjoy for the foreseeable future, lies heavily on Love’s shoulders.
This season could be his breakout year—in terms of winning, that is. He finally has the team around him that is primed to win; the foundation for the team has been laid with the arrival or Rubio and Pekovic. His job is keep putting up the double-doubles.