Why the Minnesota Timberwolves Can Be Legitimate Contenders in 2013-14
Greg Smith-USA TODAY Sports
There's a sour taste in the mouths of Timberwolves fans that has been accumulating for about 10 years now. Playoff basketball is the only thing that can satisfy this fan base now.
We've all seen how No. 8 seeds fare in the playoffs, though. What glory is there in being essentially chum to the sharks and getting dismantled in four or five games in round one?
None whatsoever. Wallowing away in mediocrity is the worst place to be in the NBA. If you were running a team today, would you rather control a borderline playoff team like the Atlanta Hawks or Dallas Mavericks, or would you rather run squads loaded with young talent such as the New Orleans Pelicans or Orlando Magic?
After a stellar offseason, this Minnesota Timberwolves bunch is set up to make a big run this coming year. No one saw teams like Memphis, Indiana or Golden State being as good or going as far in the playoffs last season as they did. As analysts and fans, we can only predict so much on paper.
Minnesota can compete with anyone in this league right now. Last season's results may make that seem laughable, but there are many reasons why this team is ready to be a serious threat in the NBA.
Praise the basketball gods, this team is finally healthy!
*Knocks on wood repeatedly.*
Yes, every team in the NBA has injuries, but you'd be hard-pressed to find one plagued by the injury bug quite like Minnesota has been the past few years.
Last year was a total lost season for Brandon Roy, Kevin Love and Chase Budinger. All three were intended to be indispensable parts of the rotation and managed to suit up for a combined 46 games. Ricky Rubio didn't return from the torn ACL that ended his rookie season until right before Christmas. Nikola Pekovic and Andrei Kirilenko each missed big chunks of time with nagging injuries due to their exerting styles of play.
Enough rehashing. Love, Rubio and Pekovic are all 100 percent healthy at the same time for seemingly their first time together. Budinger will be fully recovered from his knee injury last season. Newcomers Kevin Martin and Corey Brewer are pumped up and ready to go.
It was sad to watch injuries derail such an obviously talented team. It was their main Achilles' heel and for the time being, is a thing of the past. It's a long time coming for Wolves fans to finally see a finished product at the Target Center instead of always wondering "what if."
There Are No Holes on the Roster
Take a quick look at the roster Flip Saunders has put together here and try to point out a glaring weakness. Go ahead, I'll wait.
If everyone collectively puts in the effort, and there's no reason to think that they won't, the team defense should be average at worst. Under Rick Adelman's corner offense, this team will score a ton of points. Teams will unquestionably be run off the Target Center floor like we've never seen before, and it will be a joy to watch.
Injury-prone guys like Kirilenko and Roy are now gone. Outside shooting woes have been erased with the addition of Martin and the return to health of Love and Budinger.
This is no longer just a random concoction of assorted talent thrown together. Flip Saunders has very quickly put together a functional squad from top to bottom.
He has a superstar in place as well as a perfect running mate at point guard and a stalwart at center. He has put athletic wings and high-upside young talent at every position. Saunders even rounded out the roster with a veteran guy like Ronny Turiaf to instill a better mindset into the bunch.
It will be surprising if this team doesn't mesh together. There are no more bad eggs like Michael Beasley or Ricky Davis in town anymore to spoil the pot. Any concerns about Shabazz Muhammad should be alleviated in due time since he is in a positive winning environment and is sure to spend a lot of time maturing next to Turiaf on the bench this season.
It's been a very long time since a T-Wolves team has gone into a season without a glaring weakness.
They Have a Winning Mentality
The core players like Love, Pekovic, Rubio and Derrick Williams have yet to see the playoffs, but the rest of the roster is sprinkled with pretty extensive postseason experience including J.J. Barea and Corey Brewer of the 2011 NBA champion Dallas Mavericks.
For the most part, Minnesota has been staying out of the headlines this offseason besides Muhammad's gaffe at the rookie transition program.
Rubio has shown off an improved knack for scoring the ball at the EuroBasket 2013 tournament, including a perfect 7-of-7 shooting performance. D-Will is in visibly better shape as he continues to make progress in his development as a small forward. Love is in the best shape of his career, and Martin claims he can score 18 points per game in his sleep.
These are all things that should bring smiles to the faces of T-Wolves fans. The players are not worrying about rehabbing injuries but instead about getting as good as they possibly can. Particularly in Love's case, after he appeared to gain back a few pounds last season, it is thrilling to hear that he has his body at an unprecedented level of fitness.
Playoffs are no longer a pipe dream, or even a wish. Playoffs are absolutely expected out of this team, and even if they snag the eighth seed, they do not plan to go down without a few loud howls.
Top to bottom, this is easily the best team Minnesota has had since Garnett left. It is their first true season as a cohesive unit, but with players like Love and Rubio running the show, the upside is tremendous.
There are no offensive black holes on the team and no head cases that threaten to derail the train. They have superb talent at every position capable of doing any number of things on the court.
No one can be exactly sure what to expect before the season starts, but we can be sure this team is going to be competitive. They will threaten to be much more "contender" than "pretender" in 2013-14.
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