Kevin Love's Injury Opens Now or Never Audition for T-Wolves' Derrick Williams

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Kevin Love's Injury Opens Now or Never Audition for T-Wolves' Derrick Williams
Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Whether you like it or not, Kevin Love breaking his hand resulted in second-year forward Derrick Williams being thrust into a do-or-die position.

It’s simple, really. Either Williams does his best Kevin Love impersonation and manages to keep his act together long enough to give Love an adequate amount of time to recover, or Williams decides to maintain his inconsistent rep and earns the job of guarding the Gatorade cooler.

This is actually perhaps the most interesting situation that the Wolves have faced all offseason. Everybody knew that the Wolves were heavy on forwards, and would end up with one extra. What we haven’t figured out was who the odd man out would be.

The preseason battle hasn’t shown an obvious winner, but it hasn’t revealed any obvious losers either. Kevin Love’s injury just the became the newest obstacle in the race for playing time.

Initially, it was thought to be relatively straightforward. Kevin Love and Dante Cunningham man the 4, Andrei Kirilenko and Derrick Williams take care of the 3, and Lou Amundson rounds out the bench.

Now the roster is being looked at in a new light as every forward on roster hasn’t backed down so far in the preseason.

Chase Budinger is offering a ton of competition at the 3. At 42 percent three-point shooting during the preseason so far, Budinger offers the best shooting from beyond the arc on the team.

Budinger could just slide down to the shooting guard spot, but that means that Alexey Shved would be stuck on the bench. Shved has shown major promise with both his scoring and passing abilities so far for the team.  

Will D-Will succeed at power forward?

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At power forward, Dante Cunningham has done exactly what he was brought in to do—block shots, grab rebounds and demoralize the opposing defense with glass shattering dunks. There’s absolutely no reason that Cunningham won’t make the ideal backup for Kevin Love.

Derrick Williams was drafted No. 2 overall in the 2011 NBA Draft by the Timberwolves, who saw him as an answer to their scoring woes.

He wasn’t last season. He showed potential, but potential doesn’t win games. We saw some upside to him, but mostly his rookie campaign indicated that he has a lot to improve moving forward.

In his rookie season, Williams played an average of 21.5 minutes per game (MPG) and scored 8.8 points per game (PPG). (Courtesy of NBA.com)

His field goal percentage wasn’t atrocious, as he shot 41 percent from the field overall—but he only shot 27 percent from behind the three.

His real weakness came when he played small forward. He wasn’t effective at that position, and it showed.

It was anticipated that Williams would be turned into a small forward, since that’s what he’s been working towards. Over the summer he took strides toward becoming a more flexible player, losing weight and conditioning himself to play small forward.

He’s not a bad player, but he won’t have the luxury of the “rookie mistake” safety net this season. It doesn’t help that he’s coming into the 2012 preseason with stiff competition from Budinger and Cunningham for the backup small forward spot.

Christian Petersen/Getty Images

That’s why Kevin Love’s injury is so important to the development and success of Derrick Williams. On a team loaded with talent, the injury has finally given D-Will the chance to establish himself.

If he plays well, then there’s no reason that he won’t get a good amount of playing time next season even after Love returns.

If he shows that he can consistently provide points, rebound the ball well and make plays for the rest of the team, then it makes the decision to give Williams big minutes and turn Budinger into a specialty player that much easier.  

On the flip side though, there’s really no margin for error for Williams in the next six to eight weeks. If he fails to assert himself as the player that he’s shown the potential to be, he won’t get another opportunity to earn any sort of respect in Minnesota.

He’s already disappointed a ton of fans in his first season. He isn’t a bad player by any means, so this is an opportunity that he simply has to take advantage of. Everybody knows that he’s capable of being a valuable asset to the team, its high time we see what D-Will can do. 

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