Breaking Down the Minnesota Timberwolves' Starting Lineup Next Year
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At this point in the Nikola Pekovic sweepstakes, Glen Taylor and Flip Saunders should stand on top of the Foshay Tower and get his attention the old fashioned way: Taylor, the Minnesota Timberwolves owner, should blow into a giant yellow horn while Saunders, the president of basketball operations, calls out at at the top of his lungs, “Ni-ko-la! Ni-ko-la!” like in the old Ricola commercials.
It is really hard to understand why this deal is not done.
Pekovic has stated to USA Today that he wants to remain in Minnesota (via TwinCities.com), and he is the missing puzzle piece on a team that should make the playoffs this year.
Minnesota already has Ricky Rubio, a great ball distributor at point; a veteran shooting guard who is familiar with head coach Rick Adelman’s system in Kevin Martin; arguably the best power forward in the game in Kevin Love; and plenty of options at the 3, which include longtime Wolves forward Corey Brewer and two incredibly athletic young players in Derrick Williams and Shabazz Muhammad.
The Timberwolves need Pekovic in their starting lineup, and they have not low-balled him.
Maybe he is looking at different options, maybe this is an act of showmanship or maybe he’s spending so much time roaming around the world that he just hasn’t had time to pick up the phone...or is in a place with bad cell reception.
So I go back to my original theory. Taylor has to bust out the horn and Saunders has to flex those golden pipes because with Pekovic in the Wolves uniform, the starting five is just about set.
Point Guard: Ricky Rubio
Really? Who else would it be?
Rubio was probably the best kindergartener. He shared all his toys, gave half his sandwich to the kid who forgot his and offered pep talks to the kids who got scolded for misbehaving.
He is almost too good to be true, like a cartoon character come to life.
In a league where point guards get scolded for shooting too much, trying to make things happen off the dribble and not utilizing their talented teammates enough, Rubio is the ultimate altruistic player.
He lives to dish the ball and he makes it look so cool!
His job is to give his teammates a chance to succeed. He needs to get Martin the ball when he has an open shot, Pekovic the ball down low and Love whenever he is in position to score (either by the basket or on the three-point line).
Rubio also has to find out what Williams and Shabazz need from him in order to succeed and connect with newcomers like Ronny Turiaf and Brewer who should get significant minutes.
He will likely be backed up by Alexey Shved, a player who brings more scoring to the table, something Rubio has struggled with in the past, but as long as his passes are crisp and sexy, there will be no complaints about his play among Timberwolves fans.
Shooting Guard: Kevin Martin
Martin knows Adelman from his days with the Sacramento Kings and has been around long enough to know what his role is on the team. He is going to juke players with his shot fake, draw fouls and provide some outside shooting.
He knows that the offense will not revolve around him and even went as far as to say that he will no longer play on a team without a superstar. Love is that star, and Martin is simply an important part of the winning formula.
He will be expected to make outside shots and get to the stripe, but he is not going to carry the team.
Chase Budinger and Muhammad will likely back him up.
Budinger has a great outside shot and can throw down massive dunks, and Muhammad possesses an incredible amount of athleticism but has an incomplete game, and the Wolves will likely ease him into a starting spot over time.
Both players can also play the 3, meaning that Martin may play alongside them from time to time. Muhammad, specifically, must show that he is willing to pass the ball when he is defended, grab defensive boards and lock down on opponents before he will get any playing time anywhere on the team.
Safe to say, Martin should spend a lot of time on the court this season.
Small Forward: Corey Brewer
Guess who’s back? Back again. Brewer’s back. Tell a friend.
Yeah, the Timberwolves weren’t really the same without Brewer. No, he still can’t hit an outside shot or, really, dribble a basketball, but he is a good perimeter defender, something the Wolves really lacked last year, and he is a good locker room guy.
Minnesota has multiple options at the 3, but going with a sound defender like Brewer, even if he cannot shoot from the outside, is the likely choice.
It would be nice if Williams or Muhammad stepped up and took over this role so that the Timberwolves could get more scoring from this position.
Williams has a chance, but he needs to shore up his defense and prove that he can score night-in and night-out. He is looking more and more like a sixth man, somebody who can step in for Love or at the 3 and change the game by hacking and slashing through defenses.
Shabazz could have earned a starting spot in Summer League, but he did not make a strong case for himself in Las Vegas and likely will start the year on the bench. Minnesota is smart to be patient with him and, as Chris Mannix pointed out over at SI, the relative quiet of the Twin Cities could work in favor of both team and player.
Budinger is also an option here, but going with Brewer’s defense over Budinger’s shot looks like the right call, especially with Martin on the team.
Power Forward: Kevin Love
Love him or hate him, the man they call Kevin Love is back and ready to prove that a) he can stay healthy, b) he can still shoot outside shots and grab boards and c) he’s not going to complain about the organization now that David Kahn has been shown the door.
Injuries will be a major concern for Love this year. If his metacarpals get crushed again, Love will be competing with Luke Skywalker for the most devastating hand injury of all time.
Should he stay healthy, Love will be expected to be the team’s leading scorer and rebounder and will also generate scoring from the outside.
If worse comes to worst, Williams and Turiaf can play the 4, although D-Will is a little short for the position and Mr. Candy Deep...okay, I’m not going there [Stops reading Deadspin, deletes Twitter account]...Mr. Turiaf is a little big to be a power forward as well.
In all honesty, Dante Cunningham is the most viable backup. He can start in a pinch, but is more of an energy guy.
Center: Nikola Pekovic
Assuming he returns the call—and, really, how can you refuse a man with a giant horn?—Pekovic will go right from walking in place in front of a green screen to setting screens with a little extra green in his pockets as a member of the starting five.
His limited mobility, awful ball-handling and subpar defensive rebounding will go overlooked as long as he continues to score near the basket and destroy everything on his way there.
The team does have options to replace him, but none of them are really good.
Gorgui Dieng is a good defender and can shoot when he is wide open, but otherwise he offers nothing offensively, and the Wolves need some inside scoring.
Turiaf is not a great rebounder, only shoots when he is wide open and is undersized for the position. He is more likely to take a picture with “a stranger” at the Mall of America than he is to be the starting center this year.
How it all comes together
Rubio passes the ball and cheers everybody up.
Martin creates open three-point shots with his pump fake and draws fouls.
Brewer defends the perimeter and reduces his tendency to foul.
Love does most of the scoring, working both from the three-point line and inside, and scrapes glass.
Pekovic treats opponents like buildings in Rampage and stomps them into the ground, swatting helicopters and dodging projectiles along the way.
Okay, it’s not that simple. Rubio might take a shot once or twice per game. Brewer might put the ball on the floor. Martin can offer insights into Adelman’s system to the newbies. Pekovic will have to move fast occasionally. And Love might have a robot with a Punisher face give him a new hand.
The point is that the team now has three things it lacked from last season: outside shooting, perimeter defense and a touch of Love.
That is, of course, if Ni-ko-la returns Saunders’ call.
Tom Schreier covers Minnesota sports for Bleacher Report and is a contributor to Yahoo! Sports.
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