NBA Preview 2012-13: 8 Questions for the Minnesota Timberwolves
In the first half of the season, the Timberwolves looked like a team that was on the brink of contending for a playoff spot in the rugged Western Conference, led by their face of the franchise, Kevin Love, and emerging talent Ricky Rubio.
After a 21-20 record in the first 41 games, it seemed the Timberwolves would end their eight-year playoff drought—until Rubio sustained a torn ACL on March 9.
From that point on, the Timberwolves played like the team everybody had known and loved throughout the 2000s, with a 5-20 mark down the stretch.
After another losing season, general manager David Kahn had to do something to please his superstar and made plenty of moves.
In the end, the Wolves exiled players who were not living up to their potential (Michael Beasley, Wes Johnson, Darko Milicic) and replaced them with pieces that could lead to better days (Brandon Roy, Nikola Pekovic, Alexey Shved).
It figures to be another exciting season for the Timberwolves, and there are plenty of questions to be answered as they enter the 2012-13 season. Here are the eight biggest facing the team.
1) Can the Timberwolves Survive November and December?
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While the Timberwolves showed promise last season, a lot of that promise had to do with Kevin Love and Ricky Rubio.
As discussed in the intro, Minnesota went from contender to doormat overnight after Rubio's ACL injury against the Los Angeles Lakers.
However, the Timberwolves didn't expect Rubio to be back on the court until mid-December at the earliest, so they made moves to cover themselves in signing international free agent Alexey Shved and former NBA All-Star Brandon Roy for depth.
The real complication of November and December is the recent injury of Kevin Love. Love suffered a broken hand doing knuckle pushups with his trainer on October 17. The good news is that it happened early enough that Love will miss only the first month of the season in a worst-case scenario.
Still, these injuries will force some of the newcomers and young players (we're looking at you, Derrick Williams) to rise to a challenge.
If the Timberwolves can survive the first 20 games of the season with a .500 record, the additions of Love and Rubio should be enough to have them competing for a playoff spot by the end of the year.
2) Will Brandon Roy Contribute for the Timberwolves?
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For years, Timberwolves fans have lamented the draft night trade that sent Brandon Roy to the Portland Trail Blazers for Randy Foye.
It's always been wondered about what could have been if the Timberwolves had kept Roy after selecting him sixth overall in the 2006 NBA Draft, but they need not wonder anymore after Roy signed a two-year contract with the team last summer.
There's just one problem here. This is not the Roy that has been lighting up opponents on an all-star basis the past couple of seasons, but one that is coming out of retirement with arthritic knees that have gone through a blood-spinning procedure similar to the one Kobe Bryant had last offseason.
The Roy signing is one by Vice President of Basketball Operations David Khan that has a large amount of risk, but could also give the Timberwolves what they need if Roy can stay healthy.
Even if his days of playing over 40 minutes a game are over, if Roy can knock down an open jump shot on the other end of a Ricky Rubio dish, the Timberwolves will get a legitimate number two scoring option to Kevin Love with the added bonus of veteran leadership.
3) Can Nikola Pekovic Continue to Improve?
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One of the biggest surprises of the 2011-12 season for the Timberwolves was the emergence of center Nikola Pekovic.
Once an afterthought when the Timberwolves took him with the 31st overall pick in the 2008 NBA Draft, Pekovic emerged as one of the best centers in the league with 13.9 points per game and 7.4 rebounds per game.
With the Timberwolves seemingly searching for a center during their entire existence, Pekovic could be the answer to their center woes. If "The Big Peker" can do that, the Timberwolves could have one of the best frontcourts in the NBA.
4) How Effective Will Ricky Rubio Be When He Returns?
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Yes, the Timberwolves will get Ricky Rubio back around mid-December. However, Rubio's return doesn't guarantee that he'll be the exact same player before the injury.
While athletes in other sports (namely Adrian Peterson, who is leading the NFL in rushing) have defied logic in their recovery from a torn ACL, Rubio may be a different case as he has recently just started to take jump shots.
When Rubio was on the court, the Timberwolves were a more dynamic team that could unleash a highlight at any moment. If Rubio can return to that form sooner rather than later, the Timberwolves will be in much better shape.
5) Will Derrick Williams Have a Breakout Season?
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Second overall picks usually make a sudden impact in the NBA (unless your name is Darko Milicic), but Derrick Williams rookie season was somewhat of a disappointment.
There were a lot of rotating factors in Williams' rookie campaign where he didn't have as much practice time as other rookies have had, played behind Kevin Love, and apparently had an issue breathing which lead to nasal reconstruction surgery.
As year two begins for the Arizona product, Williams needs to have a breakout season to prove he can be a piece for the Timberwolves going forward.
6) Will Kirilenko and Shved Have an Impact?
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Another addition that David Kahn made over the offseason were the signings of Russian players Andrei Kirilenko and Alexey Shved.
In the summer Olympics, both Kirilenko and Shved were key cogs in the Russian's run to the bronze medal game. Both players showed that they can knock down an open shot, and both players can run an uptempo system similar to the one that head coach Rick Adelman wants to run.
The Timberwolves are hoping that AK-47 can have an impact similar to the one that he had with the Utah Jazz when he averaged 12.4 points per game and 5.1 rebounds per game over ten seasons.
After playing a season in Russia during the NBA lockout in which he earned Most Valuable Player honors, Kirilenko, along with Shved, could be a sneaky addition for the Timberwolves.
7) Is David Khan on the Hot Seat?
Photo courtesy of Associated Press
Last season's success for the Timberwolves may be pinned on their current general manager David Khan. Ironically, most of the players that have been making an impact have been products of the man whom not only did Khan fire from the head coaching position, but has served as the franchise's scapegoat.
Kevin McHale made a lot of bad moves as Vice President of Basketball Operations, but a majority of his final moves have ended up panning out.
Kevin Love was originally drafted by the Memphis Grizzlies, but McHale traded for him despite being blasted by the public for giving up O.J. Mayo.
McHale was also in charge when the Timberwolves drafted Nikola Pekovic in the second round of the 2008 NBA Draft.
Meanwhile, Khan has produced such gems as drafting Jonny Flynn and Wes Johnson while signing Darko Milicic to a lucrative free-agent contract several seasons ago.
Remember that Khan also hired Kurt Rambis to be the leader of a Timberwolves renaissance, only to fire him two seasons later for Rick Adelman.
Khan's plan will need to pan out in 2012 if Khan wants to keep his job and see things through.
8) Are the Minnesota Timberwolves a Playoff Team?
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As mentioned before, the Timberwolves have not made the NBA playoffs since the 2003-04 season. With Kevin Love beginning to drop hints that he may pull a Dwight Howard if the Timberwolves don't get things together, it will be important to end that drought as soon as possible.
The Timberwolves have the collection of talent to compete for a playoff spot, but it's all about putting everything together.
If Brandon Roy's knees go bad, Andrei Kirilenko proves to be mediocre, or Ricky Rubio just isn't the same post-ACL surgery, the Timberwolves could be in trouble.
However, if the Timberwolves can survive the first couple months of the season and hit their stride with both Love and Rubio in the fold, this can be a dangerous team that can exceed expectations in the Western Conference.