Now that all the pieces are in place, what can we make of this 2013-14 Minnesota Timberwolves team? Are they gearing up for...dare I say it...a playoff run?
With a couple tweaks here and there, this old hoopty should be running like a brand-new Ferrari in no time.
This group really believes it has something special here. It's not just a patchwork lineup randomly being thrown together anymore. The Twin Cities have themselves a legitimate core group of stars surrounded by fantastic role players to cheer on.
Unfortunately, with this franchise's snake-bitten history, as a writer it would be doing a disservice not to play devil's advocate. How can we be so sure that, even though this squad looks flawless on paper, it will not once again disappoint? Why will this season be any different?
Offseason changes are great and all, but changes must be made on the court to assure that this train doesn't get derailed prematurely once again.
Spread the Floor
We've heard it once, we've heard it a thousand times. Minnesota was the worst three-point-shooting team in the league last year, at an historically bad 30 percent.
In order to be successful, the T'Wolves do not have to become the 2006 Phoenix Suns. This team just needs to be respectable enough from the outside to open the floor up for their two main scoring options down low, Nikola Pekovic and Kevin Love.
Love being healthy will single-handedly provide this team a huge boost in the three-point-shooting department. However, when he is at his best, he is sliding back and forth from various spots on the floor. The addition of players like Kevin Martin and Corey Brewer as well as the re-signing of Chase Budinger will help this team enormously.
Second-year guard Alexey Shved stands to improve after slamming into the rookie wall last season, as well. Maybe even Ricky Rubio will show up with an improved jumper. All we know is that this team cannot live strictly on the pick-and-roll or the post up.
Opposing teams were able to sag off the wing guys last year since Andrei Kirilenko, Derrick Williams and Luke Ridnour are much more effective inside the three-point line. With only the improving Williams remaining, lanes will no longer be clogged, and Rubio will have much more room to operate.
That can only mean good things. More room for Rubio means more open shots for a team that now has many capable shooters.
It just has to utilize them.
Keep Everyone Fresh
Kevin Love's 39 minutes per game in the 2011-12 season most likely did not contribute to his two fluke injuries last year. The same can be said for Rubio and his torn ACL in the same season. Both are very young and capable of playing huge minutes. They should both be seeing 35-plus minutes every night as the T-Wolves' two best players, so the following mostly does not apply to them.
Last year, Nikola Pekovic and Andrei Kirilenko seemed to wear down at times. Kirilenko's 31.8 minutes per game were his highest since 2005-06, possibly contributing to his nagging injuries and decreased production late in the season.
Pekovic's physical nature ensures that he will suffer a few nicks every now and then. Minnesota can counteract this by spacing out his minutes and making sure he stays around 30 per game. Spacing the floor and getting him easier buckets will also take stress off of him.
Pek was injured in a game against the Los Angeles Lakers last year on February 28. In four of the previous six games prior to the injury, he saw 40-plus minutes of game action.
For a guy Flip Saunders just invested $60 million into, keeping him on the court must be his first priority.
Kevin Martin is another player who has had his share of injuries in the past. Last year, he missed just five games, because his minutes were limited and his role was truncated. With the Sacramento Kings, he once averaged over 10 free-throw attempts per game in 2008-09. It was too much for his slender frame to handle.
As a secondary scorer who won't be asked to do as much, Martin can focus more on spot-up shooting, like he did last season. In his lone year with the Thunder, Martin shot a career-high 42.6 percent from outside.
Surely Adelman will know how to get the most out of him, now coaching him for the third time. Attacking the rim should be something we see out of him, although sparingly.
J.J. Barea and Corey Brewer are wing players who love to attack with reckless abandon as well. This team should have the luxury of shuffling guys in and out to keep everybody healthy and productive.
The Timberwolves now have a deep roster capable of providing support all over the court. The coaching staff does not need to ride one or two guys into the ground anymore.
Establish a Legitimate Identity
The Miami Heat? They love to play tenacious defense, attack the rim and use penetration to open up outside shooters.
The Oklahoma City Thunder? They love to run, run and run some more.
The San Antonio Spurs? They will just kill you with boring fundamentals.
All great teams have calling cards. They know what they are good at, and they don't shy away from it. If you're going to lose, you might as well lose doing what you know you are best at. That way, at least you know you gave it the best chance you had.
Minnesota hasn't exactly been good enough to establish much of anything in the past handful of seasons. Injuries have also kept the team from forming any unity, but at times since Rubio arrived two seasons ago, we have seen glimpses of what this team should be.
With Kevin Love healthy in 2010-11, this team was top five in the league in rebounding. It was also top six in the NBA in free-throw attempts each of the past two seasons.
This indicates much of what we already know. Minnesota must win behind its monstrous front line of Love and Pekovic, much like the Memphis Grizzlies almost rode Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol to the NBA Finals this past year.
Minnesota will have a size advantage more often than not. Punishing teams on the glass and getting out in transition with Rubio is how this team can win.
In the half-court offense, the T'Wolves run a great pick-and-roll, and with Rubio's passing abilities coupled with the corner offense, they know exactly what type of team they should be heading into next season.
Two years ago there was too much standing around and watching Love and/or Rubio run the show. Last year, everything was a mess with constant injuries.
This is the game plan that Minnesota has to cram down its opponents' throats in order to maximize its potential.
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