The Minnesota Timberwolves would have been a playoff team this year. I really believe that. In fact, they could have gone on a playoff run.
Kevin Love is the best power forward in the game. Ricky Rubio is establishing himself as not only a sublime passer, but also an outstanding team leader. Derrick Williams has found his game. You need a crane to move Nikola Pekovic. Alexey Shved was a pleasant surprise.
And think if Minnesota had had Brandon Roy and Chase Budinger hoisting up threes.
It would have been sweet!
But, of course, the team suffered devastating injury after devastating injury, and we’re only left to wonder what could have been.
Key Stats: 5 Games Played, 31.4 3-Point Percentage (45.9 Percent in Career)
This one is painful.
The Timberwolves never should have traded away Brandon Roy in the first place (he was drafted sixth overall by Minnesota in 2006), and when he finally returned to the Twin Cities, his knees were in no condition to play basketball.
He would have played the 3, shooting the lights out on a team that really needed that service.
Key Stats: 24.9 Minutes per Game, 46.1 Field-Goal Percentage, 8.5 Points per Game
Cunningham stayed healthy all season, playing in 74 games. It is difficult to use stats to show what he provided to the team because he mostly was an energy guy off the bench.
As soon as he got on the court, there was usually a momentum swing, but he was often forced to play more minutes than he should have because of all the injuries.
Key Stats: 16 Games Played, 30.8 3-Point Percentage (35.9 Percent in Career)
Budinger is another guy that could have provided some outside shooting for the Wolves.
At 24, he is younger than Roy and has less trouble with injury. It’s hard to know exactly what he would have provided for the team, but he has played in the last few games for the team, and, as long as he demands a reasonable price, Minnesota will probably bring him back next year.
Key Stats: 23.2 Minutes per Game, 10.9 Points per Game
Barea was a nice little player to have on the bench. And I’m not kidding when I say little: He’s a church mouse among the NBA giants.
Still, the 6’0”, 175-pound point guard has been a durable and reliable backup coming off the bench. He rarely turns the ball over and has the flop down pat.
Key Stats: 30.8 Minutes per Game, 11.7 Points per Game
Like Cunningham, it’s hard to quantify what Ridnour brings to the team using stats. At 32, he’s one of the oldest—and, ironically, most durable—players in the locker room and was a leader on and off the court.
A stoic player on a roster full of personalities, he was a stabilizing force that could come in, knock down a couple shots and keep everyone’s nerves at bay.
Key Stats: 0 Starts in 11 Games Played in December (6.7 PPG), 17 Starts in 17 Games in March (15.5 PPG)
Williams, 21, did not suffer through injuries like the rest of his teammates, but had a Jekyll-and-Hyde type of season. In the beginning of the year, he looked like a first-round bust. By the end, he showed signs of superstardom.
Minnesota would have been much better had he played like he is now for the entire season.
Key Stats: 2.3 Defensive-Win Shares, 5.5 Win Shares (per Basketball-Reference.com)
What I’m trying to show you with these advanced stats is that Kirilenko was very valuable on defense and a big reason why the team won on the nights they did.
He offered more than that, though. He shot 30 percent from three, scored over 10 points per night and was relatively durable, by Timberwolves standards at least (57 games played).
Like Ridnour, Kirilenko is also 32 years old and was a locker-room plus as well.
Key Stats: 42.0 Field-Goal Percentage, 35.5 3-Point Percentage, 11.4 Points per Game in December
Alexey Viktorovich Shved had a breakout December when he started eight games and established himself as the starting shooting guard. At 6’6”, he’s got height, and if he could add weight to his 190-pound frame, he could become a better defender next year.
There are some improvements that need to be made in his game, including a more consistent shot from three, but Shved squelched any question whether his game would transfer from Europe over the course of the season.
Injury has derailed him a bit at various times during the campaign, but he has still managed to play in 70 games this year.
Key Stats: 59 Games Played, 31.7 Minutes Played, .166 Win Shares per 48 Minutes (per basketball-reference.com)
The Godfather, a giant teddy bear or Kano from Mortal Kombat: Regardless of what you think Pekovic is in real life, all you need to know is that when he’s on the basketball court, the Timberwolves win games.
He led the team in win shares per 48 minutes, meaning that he was a big reason why the team won on any given night. The man cannot be moved, scores inside frequently and is only going to get better as he enters his prime years.
The only unfortunate thing about his 2012-13 campaign is that injury kept him from helping the team win more games.
Key Stats: 50 Games Played, 92 Minutes Played in December, 561 Minutes Played in March
When Rubio came back, he was not playing at 100 percent, and people wondered if he had lost a step and was no longer an offense force.
When Rubio was shooting 25 percent from the field, people questioned if he could ever be an effective offensive player.
When Rubio told Shved to change his face and be happy, people wondered if they could ever be angry again.
What we’ve learned is never to underestimate Rubio. He’s a great defender, an improving shooter and an outstanding leader.
Oh yeah, and he is the only player that makes passing look awesome.
His presence was dearly, dearly missed at the beginning of the season.
Key Stats: 18 Games Played, 34.3 Minutes per Game, 18.3 Points per Game
We never got to see Love break his hand the first time. He says he injured it doing knuckle pushups, but when he broke his hand again after only playing 18 games this year, everyone got a little squeamish.
Not only did it look incredibly painful, but everyone also knew the Wolves had lost a great player—and probably any chance of making a playoff run.
Say what you want about Love opening up to Yahoo!’s Adrian Wojnarowski about the state of the team, and speculate all you want about him leaving Minnesota when his contract is up. What we know for sure is that the Wolves are a better team with him than when he was sitting behind the bench with a bowtie around his neck.
Call me crazy, but I think the Wolves would have been the No. 3 team in the Northwest Division if they had been healthy this year.
Oklahoma City has two of the best players in the league in Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook and a great supporting staff around them, and Denver is the most underrated team in the league and has gotten it done by committee ever since Carmelo Anthony left the Rockies.
So, yeah, the Wolves aren’t better than those two teams.
But they have to be better than a Utah Jazz club that isn’t sure which big men they should keep around and are a little undermanned in other departments.
And despite Damian Lillard’s breakout rookie campaign and LaMarcus Aldridge’s always-superb play out in Portland, there really isn’t much there to convince me that the Blazers are better than a healthy Timberwolves team.
That means that the Wolves should fall somewhere between Utah and Denver’s records.
Final Record, If Healthy: 50-32
Here’s how my Western Conference would look if the Wolves had stayed healthy all year long:
- Oklahoma City Thunder
- San Antonio Spurs
- Denver Nuggets
- Los Angeles Clippers
- Memphis Grizzlies
- Minnesota Timberwolves
- Golden State Warriors
- Houston Rockets
Using those standings, Minnesota would get Denver in the first round and probably would not win that series. Denver is a NBA-championship caliber team; Minnesota is not.
Even if Golden State had passed them up for the No. 6 seed, the Wolves would have gotten San Antonio in the first round and, (ironically) unless the old Spurs suffered injury in the playoffs, their experience would give them a huge leg up on Minnesota.
Final Placement, If Healthy: Lost in Round 1