The 2012-13 season may only be two weeks underway, but basketball critics are already handing out initial grades to teams as a whole as well as specific players. After the Timberwolves' first three games against Sacramento, Toronto and Brooklyn, who are the early-year studs and duds?
I've named Lou Amundson, Greg Stiemsma and Derrick Williams as the team "disappointments" and JJ Barea, Chase Budinger, Andrei Kirilenko and Nikola Pekovic as above-average players. Keep reading to find out why, and please leave your own comments and opinions as well.
For a guy that dealt with injuries during the 2011-12 season and is coming off the bench, JJ Barea has impressed thus far.
Barea especially granted the Wolves momentum in Game 1 versus the Sacramento Kings. The 6'0" (and even that's pushing it) guard exploded off the bench for 21 points and five assists when they were most needed.
He had a slower night in Toronto with only nine points, and he suffered a minor concussion. Barea refused to sit out even one game, however, and he came back in Game 3 to add six points and dished out an impressive six assists for the evening.
The Puerto Rican's maneuvering and quick-decision-making abilities make him the perfect guy to backup Luke Ridnour while Ricky Rubio recovers from his ACL tear.
So far, center Greg Stiemsma hasn't blown the socks off anyone in the basketball world. For being such a good-sized player, the 27-year-old isn't aggressive enough beneath the basket.
After three games, Stiemsma is averaging five points and 2.7 rebounds per game. The only strong number on his stat sheet is his blocks, which also average 2.7 per contest. Defensively, he's an okay asset. However, if the Wolves can't count on him for better point totals and rebounding, he's not much help while Love is sidelined with a broken hand.
The most encouraging thing about Budinger is that he has improved with every game. The forward struggled a bit from the perimeter in Game 1, but he nailed two three-point buckets in the second and third games, living up to his long-ball reputation.
Budinger is quick and aggressive, and he's also an asset where rebounding is concerned. Over the first three games, the 24-year-old tallied 13 boards. That's a pretty solid number for a guy who spends a large portion of his minutes shooting from the outside.
Budinger shows huge promise already, and he will only get better as he adapts to his new team and system.
In his short time with the Wolves, Amundson has averaged less than one point and one rebound per game. Against the Nets, when he did accrue almost six minutes, he didn't even attempt a single shot.
The 6'9" forward doesn't get many minutes; when Love returns to the floor, Amundson will be a non-asset to the Timberwolves.
Coming out of the 2011-12 season with ankle problems, big man Nikola Pekovic was somewhat of a question mark entering this year. However, the center looks more than ready to compete.
While it would be nice to see more boards per night, Pek has already put up higher scoring totals than Minnesota fans are used to, and they've increased with each game. Check out his numbers thus far:
Vs. Sacramento: Nine points
Vs. Toronto: 15 points
Vs. Brooklyn: 21 points
If Pekovic can get a bit more aggressive beneath the basket and pick up a few more rebounds per game, he'll be an unstoppable force on offense.
Some may think I'm being too harsh, but for being a No. 2 overall draft pick and entering the NBA with the hype Derrick Williams did, he still proves to be a dud.
Williams fell far behind expectations while playing his 2011-12 rookie season in Minnesota. While fans hoped that he would kick off this year with a new momentum, it hasn't happened yet.
Thus far, the "big star" is averaging a very mediocre 8.3 points and 5.7 rebounds. If these numbers don't increase soon, Coach Adelman will no longer be able to justify keeping his first-round pick in the starting five.
This guy hasn't even played in the NBA in over a year, and he's more than impressive thus far. Andrei Kirilenko is already averaging 14.3 points, 7.7 rebounds and 4.7 assists for the Timberwolves. I can't name a more well-rounded athlete on the roster.
The veteran demonstrates a defensive prowess Minnesota has been searching for. In just three games, he tallied 17 defensive rebounds and eight blocked shots. He's absolutely the strongest addition coming out of the 2012 offseason.
One thing that will be interesting to see is how Adelman decides to reconfigure his lineup when Love returns.