Ricky Rubio, Kevin Love and Nikola Pekovic will be expected to constitute a Big Three of sorts, but it is truly the depth of this team that sets it apart. Minnesota is at least two or three deep at each position, with multiple options for shooting guard and small forward—the positions that Rubio, Love and Pekovic do not play.
The Western Conference is typically the more difficult of the two and Minnesota will not only have to match up against the Oklahoma City Thunder in the Northwest Division, but also Dwight Howard and the Houston Rockets, the aging San Antonio Spurs and Chris Paul and Blake Griffin of the Los Angeles Clippers. The Memphis Grizzlies, a deep team like the Wolves, and a revamped Golden State Warriors team also pose a threat in the West.
It should be a fun season—something the Wolves haven’t heard in quite some time.
Timberwolves 2012-13 Results
- 31-51 record (.378)
- 5th in Northwest Division
- 12th in Western Conference
- Did not qualify for playoffs
Key Stats: The Good and Bad
For the 2012-13 Timberwolves, there were not a lot of what people would call “good” stats.
They were supposed to be a high-powered offense, but finished No. 20 in the league with 95.7 points per game. The 98.1 points they gave up was middle-of-the-pack as well as their rebounding stats.
This is just the nature of having just about everyone on the team get injured.
The two glaringly bad statistics were the team’s 30.5 shooting percentage from the three, which was lowest in the league by a mile and the perimeter defense, which allowed opponents to shoot 46.8 percent against them.
There’s an old adage in basketball that says you live and die by the three. Well, the Wolves died by it.
Minnesota addressed this in the offseason by bringing in Kevin Martin, who can knock down outside shots, and Corey Brewer, who is known for perimeter defense.
Biggest Storyline Entering Camp
The biggest storyline heading into camp, without a doubt, is the health of the team. Luke Ridnour and Derrick Williams were the only players that did not miss significant time with ailments last year, and Ridnour was dealt to Milwaukee in a three-way trade in which Minnesota acquired Kevin Martin.
Literally everyone else missed time with injury. Love’s hand—which broke twice—will be monitored closely as will Rubio’s back. Even the mighty Pekovic got a little banged up last year.
Injuries also limited Chase Budinger, a swingman that provides depth at two vital positions, and the dynamic Alexey Shved who will back up Rubio and can play the 2.
Thankfully, the Wolves have a lot of depth this season, but nothing can truly save them if things get as bad as they did last year. They rivaled the 2011 Twins as the most injured Minnesota team in recent history.
If this team stays healthy, it can make a Cinderella playoff run. If it doesn’t, they will finish the year with 50 losses again.
Key Additions and Losses
Key Additions: Nikola Pekovic (Five-year, $60 million extension), Kevin Martin (Four years, $28 million), Corey Brewer (Three years, $15 million), Shabazz Muhammad (Rookie)
Key Losses: Luke Ridnour (Traded to Milwaukee), Andrei Kirilenko (Signed with Brooklyn)
Biggest Addition: Kevin Martin
Martin knows coach Rick Adelman from his time in Sacramento and Houston. He was brought over not only to be a perimeter threat, but also as a veteran leader. At age 30, Martin has been around the league long enough to act as a mentor and a strong locker-room presence on an otherwise youthful team.
Biggest Loss: Luke Ridnour
Ridnour not only was a veteran presence, but he stayed healthy all season long. There are many Wolves fans that felt the team should have kept him and dumped the smaller J.J. Barea.
That is neither here nor there now, but the lack of Ridnour’s presence will be felt on this team.
*Depth Chart includes players with non-guaranteed contracts or training camp invites.
Training Camp Battle to Watch: Derrick Williams vs. Shabazz Muhammad
Wolves fans have turned on both of these guys.
Williams got heat last year because he is the highest draft pick in team history (No. 2 overall, 2011) and didn’t capitalize on his extended playing time until late in the season.
Muhammad could have potentially been a Top 10 pick, with experts suggesting that he could be an impact player in a NBA rotation this year, but he became better known for sulking when his teammate hit a game-winning shot. He has a reputation for only playing on the offensive end of the court and has a weird Todd Marinovich-like background where his father mapped out a path to the NBA for him at a young age and fudged his age so he was a year older than his competition at UCLA.
Many have pilloried him, calling him a potential bust, not because he lacks talent, but because of his off-court issues.
Corey Brewer will likely begin the year as the starter due to his perimeter defense and ability to score in transition, but this is the most open spot on the roster. Muhammad plays the 2 and 3, Williams the 3 and 4. Martin is the starting shooting guard and Budinger is likely his backup. Love is obviously the power forward and Williams is probably better suited for the 3 anyways.
Williams and Muhammad are both fighting to prove that they are NBA caliber players. They could take the court together, but they will likely be battling it out for time at the 3 in the beginning of the season.
Battling for a Roster Spot: Robbie Hummel
Hummel was considered an NBA prospect when he joined the Purdue Boilermakers back in 2007, but multiple injuries kept him from being the player he was projected to be.
Minnesota took a chance on him with the No. 58 overall selection in 2012.
His 14 points and 6.8 rebounds in 127 games during his four-year collegiate career at Purdue was impressive, but he also sustained multiple knee injuries which ultimately fettered his ability on the court and allowed him to slip in the draft.
He did not make the team last year, instead he opted to play with Obradoiro CAB in the Spanish League, where he averaged 10.1 points and 7.2 rebounds in 30 games.
The 6’8”, 215-pound forward played on Minnesota’s Summer League team the past two years and was invited to camp.
While he doesn’t appear to address an immediate need on the team right now, he’s definitely a guy worth pulling for in the preseason.
Biggest X-Factor: Kevin Love
This has already been mentioned before, but Love has to stay healthy for this team to win.
Not only is he the team’s only bona fide superstar—even if Rubio and Pekovic are on their way—he’s also the best power forward in the league.
Having said that, he also broke his hand doing knuckle push-ups in the offseason last year and then injured it again during the season.
If Love’s hand breaks again or prevents him from being the player he once was—whether it reduces his accuracy from beyond the arc, prevents him from grabbing rebounds like he used to or he has trouble receiving passes in the post—Minnesota is in trouble.
Best-case scenario: Love stays healthy, helps Minnesota get its first playoff berth since Garnett left, enjoys the run and ends the season saying he’s talking to Flip Saunders about signing long-term.
Worst-case scenario: Love breaks his hand again, is out for the year, and the team struggles to replace his production in his absence.
Timberwolves Best-Case Scenario in 2013-14
Minnesota shocks the world and overtakes an Oklahoma City Thunder team that dearly misses James Harden and a man they call Kevin Martin (addition by subtraction, baby!).
It seems insane to see the Wolves making such a leap this year, but it could happen. Rubio, Love and Pekovic have to be a legitimate Big Three, Martin and Budinger have to make it rain from the outside and Brewer has to guard the perimeter.
It would also help if Williams and Muhammad contribute big-time as well, reducing the wear and tear on Martin and Love while possibly getting starts at the 3.
If Minnesota wins their division, they would get home-court advantage in the first round and probably advance to the second round—something that the Garnett-era Wolves struggled to do.
This year’s Wolves could be reminiscent of the 2003-04 team that went to the Western Conference Finals and lost to the former Minneapolis Lakers. They have to be healthy and, frankly, a little lucky to make that happen though.
Timberwolves Worst-Case Scenario in 2013-14
Everybody gets injured, I mean everybody, like Crunch goes splat after a dunk. Rubio, Love and Pekovic are all in ties and the team invites fans wearing just a jersey without an undershirt to the game (NOTE: Please, don’t ever do that! Especially if you are a hirsute individual.) to sit on the bench just to make it look less empty.
There’s also a scenario where the team is awful and the Wolves turn into the Don Nelson, pre-Stephen Curry Warriors, but that’s unlikely. Pekovic and Love will need to learn to guard the paint and Martin needs to step into a couple 2s, but I don’t foresee the offense, if healthy, having trouble scoring and the defense should be adequate enough to keep them in the game.
Everyone in Minnesota would be overjoyed to see the Wolves win the division and make a playoff run in Year 1 of the Saunders era, especially given that the Twins lost 90 games and the Vikings are 0-3, but that seems a bit ambitious. The Wolves probably need one season of just making the playoffs to bridge the gap between moribund and championship-bound.
Minnesota might give Oklahoma City a little bit of a scare, but expect the Thunder to pull it out this year and the Wolves to fall in the No. 6-8 seed category, depending on how they finish.
If a healthy team battling it out until the end, fueled by the desire to get Adelman his first championship, they can snag a six-seed and prey on the weakest division winner.
Prediction: 50-32, No. 6 seed in the West, win the first round.
That’s optimistic, of course, but this team gives basketball fans in Minnesota a reason to be optimistic for the first time in a long time.
Revel in it, Wolves fans, the winds of change are coming to the Target Center and it begins this season!
Tom Schreier covers Minnesota sports for Bleacher Report and is a contributor to Yahoo! Sports.