When it comes to the Minnesota Timberwolves' roster, the stability is key. In short, the team should avoid dramatic changes in the offseason.
This sounds preposterous considering that the team is unlikely to make the playoffs this year, but look closely and you will realize that the team’s constantly changing roster has been the root of Minnesota’s most prominent problem this near—injuries.
When you shed Jonny Flynn, Wesley Johnson, Michael Beasley and Co., you’ve got to find bodies to replace them. Often these are older players that are more likely to be injured.
Furthermore, while veteran players bring leadership to the locker room, the only genuine way to build chemistry is keeping a core group of men together year in and year out.
The Wolves are a playoff team as constructed when healthy. That is not to say, however, that some changes will be made, but they should be kept to a minimum.
In order to address the team’s roster needs after the trade deadline, I will first look at the guards and then address the forward situation.
The Timberwolves are set at the guard positions.
Point guard Ricky Rubio needs to improve his offense—he shoots about 35 percent from the field and 12 percent from three—but his ability to pass that ball to just about any location on the court makes the entire team better. According to basketball-reference.com, Rubio assists on 38 percent of the field goals made and only uses 19 percent of the plays while he’s on the court—the kind of selfless play expected from his position.
He has also been vital in the development of embattled No. 2 draft pick Derrick Williams. According to NBA.com, the former Arizona Wildcat scores three more points, on average, when Rubio is on the court. He also makes five percent more of his free throws and attempts more shots when the two are paired.
Just watch a game and you’re bound to see Rubio hit Williams when he has an open shot or lob up a pass for an alley-oop when the second-year player has slipped behind his defender.
Malcolm Lee is a serviceable backup for Rubio. When the Spaniard was out, Lee held his own without trying to steal the show…before suffering an injury of his own.
Alexey Shved can handle mop-up duties as well. He has many qualities that make him a capable point man, including his ability to create off the dribble and find the open man. In fact, ESPN.com lists him as a point guard.
Shved is better served as the 2, however.
He is not going to take Rubio’s spot as the starting point guard and has a better shot from long range. The Russian is shooting 30 percent from three and has an effective field-goal percentage of 47.7, which adjusts for the fact that an outside shot is worth more than one from inside the three-point line (per basketball-reference).
Shved is going to need to work on his defense, however, and adding more weight to his 6’6”, 180-pound frame will go a long way in improving that aspect of his game.
Minnesota should use either J.J. Barea or Luke Ridnour to back up Shved.
Both are veteran pick-and-roll players that add some age to a young roster. Management is going to have to pick its poison with these guys. Ridnour, 32, is four years Barea’s senior, and there is some question as to how many good years the peripatetic player has left in him.
He has has a great mid-range game but struggles to finish at the rim. On the other hand, Barea is quick and can get to the basket but is awfully small (a 6’0” listing is generous) and is not a great shooter.
Ridnour has two years left on his contract. Barea has three. While the Puerto Rican may be more valuable, he may also be more difficult to trade. The team should explore the market on both players, but having two serviceable backup guards is never a bad thing—especially given this team’s history with injuries.
This gets a little trickier.
In an ideal world, Derrick Williams would take ownership of the shooting forward position. At 6’8”, he is short for a 4, and Love has already nailed down that role. If he really wants that spot, Williams should spend the offseason cutting anything he can from his 241-pound frame. That might prove difficult, however, given his body type.
Don’t give up on Williams just yet. He has scored double digits in six of his last eight games and is starting to look like the player he was in Arizona.
With that said, I would have liked to seen Minnesota go after J.J. Redick at the trade deadline. The Wolves could have put together a package similar to what Milwaukee offered Orlando for the 28-year-old bomber. He was dealt along with Gustavo Ayon and Ish Smith for Beno Udrih, Doron Lamb and Tobias Harris.
Redick would have provided a long-range threat for a team that lacks both a pure shooter and a backup 3.
Fortunately, Andrei Kirilenko has proven to be a serviceable shooting forward. He is shooting 30 percent from three and over 50 percent from the field. Even though he is 32 and was in Europe last year, he has proven to be durable—at least relative to the rest of the team. He has asked for a lighter workload, though, and because he is on the wrong side of 30, it is difficult to think that he is in the team’s long-term plans.
Certainly, the team would like to see the younger Williams become an elite player and make AK-47 expendable.
At power forward, Love is the unanimous starter. A double-double machine that is a threat from inside and beyond the arc, the questions surrounding the former UCLA forward revolve around his commitment to his team and whether he can stay healthy.
It is hard to believe that a man who played only 18 games this year could have an eventful season, but let’s not forget that he broke his hand doing knuckle push-ups (for reasons that are still unclear…like, really, why was he doing knuckle push ups? Is he going to punch somebody?). Then he re-injured his hand after he eschewed surgery following the first break.
On top of that, he told Yahoo! Sports that he was upset about the way the team was managed, possibly isolating teammates like Andrei Kirilenko and Shved that have come in and had outstanding seasons and further providing credence to the contingency of fans that believe he will be in Los Angeles when his contract is up in 2015.
Despite all that, Minnesota has missed him this year and need to keep him around if it wants to make the playoffs in the future.
The team also needs to lock up Nikola Pekovic long term. He’s such a force inside that he doesn’t pitch a tent—he builds a fortress. A crane would have trouble moving him. He probably eats cinder blocks for breakfast.
My point is that it’s hard to move this man.
He’s a physical player who catches like a wide receiver and moves like a lineman. According to NBA.com, he makes 60 percent of his shots from the restricted area. He has had trouble finishing near the rim at time. If he could work that kink out, he could easily improve that statistic.
In addition to the 6’9” Kirilenko, the Timberwolves have Dante Cunningham and Chris Johnson to back up both of these players and easily could find a similar replacement in free agency if need be.
Consistency is key here.
The Wolves are a playoff team when healthy and do not need to shake things up just for the sake of doing so. Every player on this team will benefit from seeing familiar faces in the locker room next season.
If Williams plays anywhere near his potential, a starting love of Rubio, Shved, D-Will, Love and Pekovic, and serviceable backups in Kirilenko and Ridnour/Barea, is enough to get this team into the playoffs for the first time since the Kevin Garnett era.
Tom Schreier covers the Timberwolves for Bleacher Report and writes a weekly column for TheFanManifesto.com.
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