Minnesota Timberwolves: 10 Realistic Expectations for the 2012-13 NBA Season
Expectations for the Minnesota Timberwolves have radically changed since the early success of last season, when the Timberwolves exceeded all expectations.
Big changes have been made to the roster this offseason. Good changes, changes that are going to impact the team going into next season.
For one, the team is remarkably young. The average age of the starting roster is just 26 years old. Andrei Kirilenko is the oldest member at 31, and the youngest is stud point guard Ricky Rubio, who is entering his second season in the NBA (and his eighth season playing professional basketball) at just 21
For two, take a look at the starting lineup. Going down the list, we have Nikola Pekovic, Kevin Love, Andrei Kirilenko, Brandon Roy, and of course Ricky Rubio.
Try naming the weak link on that list—there really isn’t one. Granted, the Wolves aren’t the Miami Heat or the Los Angeles Lakers, but they very deliberately have created a highly efficient, finely balanced roster.
So how good can they really be? I’m going to go through the list of realistic expectations/goals that the Timberwolves have going into the 2012-13 season.
10. Luke Ridnour and J.J. Barea Will Lead the Team to a Sub-.500 Record
A .500 record really isn’t a bad record, especially when you consider that the Wolves went 5-20 after Ricky Rubio tore his ACL last season.
Luke Ridnour and J.J. Barea will split time as point guard for the team. Either one of those guys would do for the job, just not at the level that Rubio can.
Last season, Ridnour played 33 minutes per game. He actually did quite well in that time, averaging 12.1 points per game and almost five assists per game (courtesy of ESPN.com).
In comparison, Barea played only 25.2 MPG. He also put up solid stats, with 11.3 PPG and 5.7 APG.
I’m interested in finding out who Head Coach Rick Adelman decides to start, as either one of those guys could handle the responsibility.
9. Andrei Kirilenko and Alexey Schved Will Help Make the Team Playoff Worthy
Andrei Kirilenko was one of the big name additions to the team this offseason, and Alexey Shved was one of the more underrated additions.
They both started for Russia in the 2012 Olympics, and they both had extremely solid numbers.
Kirilenko did fantastic, averaging 17.5 PPG and 7.5 rebounds per game; he also was an anchor on defense for the team, as he will be for the T-Wolves.
Shved also performed very well, although perhaps not to the extent that people had expected. Through the eight games that he started, he averaged 25.1 MPG. He put up 11.4 PPG and finished the Olympics with a total of 47 assists.
Both of these players are going to fulfill roles that the Wolves didn’t have last year.
Kirilenko was always one of the better defenders in his time with the NBA. His role with the Wolves will be a big one, as he will be the most experienced starting player.
The biggest holdup that people have with Alexey Shved is that he doesn’t have any NBA experience, and he may not be able to keep up with the speed. While that could be true, it does not take away from the fact that he shot a remarkable 49.3 three point percentage last season with CSKA Moscow.
At the very least, Shved will make a great spot-up shooter for the Wolves, but his upside is tremendous. His actual position is that of a combo-guard, so he is very capable of putting the ball on the floor and making plays.
8. Brandon Roy Will Play a Key Role in the Playoffs
Brandon Roy was an elite shooting guard in his time with the Portland Trailblazers. His stats are a testament to this, as he averaged both 19 PPG and 4.7 APG over his career with the Trailblazers.
It will likely take him a little while to return to his former glory due to his rehabilitating knees and Adelman will likely limit his minutes.
The fact still remains that Roy is a tremendous athlete. Barring any setbacks with his knees, we’re going to be seeing a lot of him by the time the playoffs come around.
He’s going to make a huge contribution to the flow of the offense for the Wolves, as Kevin Love suddenly isn't the only huge offensive threat on the team.
7. Ricky Rubio Will Establish Himself as the Next Elite Point Guard
Ricky Rubio was the biggest factor in the success that the Timberwolves had with him on the court last season.
Kevin Love is still the best player on the team, but Rubio led the team to a 21-20 record. After he left with a torn ACL, the Wolves only won five more games.
His stats speak for themselves; he averaged 8.2 APG and 10.6 PPG. His control of the game was undeniable, and his defense was borderline elite—he finished with an average of 2.2 steals per game.
He still has areas of his game that he needed to work on last season. His field goal percentage was only 36 percent, which is not an absolutely terrible number, but definitely not elite.
He also needs to better his efficiency, as he averaged 3.2 turnovers per game.
His time spent with a torn ACL gave him the time to review his game and learn to make adjustments. If he manages to work out his shot and prevents turning the ball over, he could very easily be one of the best point guards in the NBA.
6. The Team Will Become Dominant When Ricky Rubio Returns
I mentioned before that the Ridnour/Barea tandem would lead the T-Wolves to a sub-.500 record. When Rubio returns, the entire team is going to benefit greatly.
The Timberwolves only won five games in the absence of Rubio. It took Rubio starting just 31 games to make the team a playoff contender last season, and when he returns we’re going to see more of the same.
His court vision and basketball IQ make him one of the most lethal passers in the NBA—plus, his defense is already one of the best in the league.
The entire floor opens up when Rubio enters the court, every scorer on the team benefits greatly from Rubio’s presence.
Expect to see the team start winning a lot more games when Rubio returns.
5. The Timberwolves Will Be Dominant on the Boards
Last season the Timberwolves finished fifth in the NBA with 43.7 rebounds per game.
Obviously, Kevin Love had a huge impact on that number, as he finished the season with an average of 13.3 RPG for second in the league.
Those numbers are going to dramatically rise this season; as the pieces have been put in place for that to happen.
The forward position is held down extremely well between Kirilenko and Kevin Love. Last season the small forward position was somewhat a mess, as there wasn’t a dedicated starter. Combined with that mess, none of the small forwards were great at rebounding.
Kirilenko is taking over that position this year and we should see a big improvement as a result. He averaged 7.5 RPG in the Olympics.
Darko Milicic and his measly 3.3 RPG is gone, in his place we have the very talented rebounder Greg Stiemsma. Brandon Roy is also a better rebounder than Wes Johnson, so we’ll see an increase there as well.
With the changes made over the offseason, the T-Wolves are going to be an even better rebounding team than they were last season.
4. Timberwolves Defense Will Be Improved
The Timberwolves defense simply wasn’t good last season. They were ranked 25th in the league, allowing an average of 100.1 PPG to opposing teams.
Bad defense is simply not conducive to winning a championship, much less making the playoffs.
David Kahn and Rick Adelman made the steps necessary to improving that problem though, and they did that largely with the addition of a single player—Andrei Kirilenko.
Kirilenko has always been known for his defense. His length and quickness have made him a terror for opposing offenses since he began playing in the NBA. His veteran leadership is going to have an effect on the rest of the team, we should see a big difference just based on him.
Kevin Love and Nikola Pekovic aren’t especially known for their defense, but they hold down the paint fairly well. We already know that Ricky Rubio is an excellent defender, and Brandon Roy proved in Portland that he is very capable on defense.
Overall, the starting lineup isn’t going to be a liability on defense. Better than that, they should easily attain a better than 25th-place defense this season.
3. Derrick Williams Will Evolve into a Power Forward and Lead Bench Scorer
Right now, Derrick Williams is kind of a wild card for the Timberwolves going into the preseason. He played decent last season, but lacked consistency and didn’t do well at the small forward position.
He did impress some with his flashes of offensive potential though, and his defense is quite good as well.
Over the offseason, he lost weight and worked on expanding his game to make himself a more flexible player.
His offense already has the potential to be great—we know that for a fact. It wouldn’t be too unrealistic to see him explode onto the scene as a sixth man.
The biggest factor in his overall contribution to the team may be his position. He struggled as a small forward last season because he is a natural power forward.
As far as the roster goes, the small forward position is stacked. Kirilenko is an obvious choice to start, and Chase Budinger is a very capable backup. Some have suggested that Budinger could just slide down to shooting guard, and while that’s possible, the shooting guard spot is just as stacked as the small forward.
Kevin Love doesn’t currently have a great backup, so Derrick Williams would be the obvious choice to fill that spot.
2. Kevin Love and Nikola Pekovic Will Prove to Be a Dominant Pair
The Wolves ranked fifth in rebounding last season. Most of that success rode heavily on the shoulders of the big men, Kevin Love and Nikola Pekovic.
Kevin Love ended up ranking second in the NBA with a 13.3 RPG, and Pekovic earned a solid 7.4 RPG.
Pekovic was highly underrated last season. Nobody mentions his name with the greats, but nobody can deny how vital he is to the team, as he finished second in scoring on the team with an average of 13.9 PPG.
Kevin Love is obviously one of the best in the NBA. He’s already established himself as the best power forward in the NBA, and he’s only been in the league for four years.
Individually, the big men of the Timberwolves are just going to keep getting better. This season though, we should see them start to show their dominance as a pair.
1. The Minnesota Timberwolves Will Make the Playoffs.
It’s been a long time coming. Since Kevin Love came to the Timberwolves, it's just been a matter of time until the inevitable playoff run.
Last season, the team was on track to make it to the playoffs. They had brought in the core players they wanted to build around, and the team was looking more and more like an actual contender.
Ricky Rubio’s terrible knee injury derailed that hope, but the team is coming back even stronger this season.
This season, the Wolves will make the playoffs. It may be as the eighth seed, or even as the division leader (look out, Thunder).
They have the head coach, the star player(s), and the role players. They have a team that has already proven to be a leader in rebounding, and their offensive firepower is unquestioned. They beat some of the best teams last season, and they’ll have even more opportunity to do that this year.
It’s time to see what the Timberwolves are capable of. It may not be this year, but the Wolves are fast-approaching their time as a championship contender.