The Minnesota Timberwolves are going to have a couple mysteries that have to be solved during camp, and since Scooby and his gang were eaten by Crunch, these things will have to work themselves out. (I’m kidding about the Crunch thing, of course. Scooby and his gang actually found out that it was Rashad McCants wearing the costume trying to sneak into camp.)
The team has an established core, but also three young stars that will not start and have to find their niche on the team. Even with an experienced, and handsomely compensated, starting group, there is also some question over how high the Big 3 of Ricky Rubio, Kevin Love and Nikola Pekovic is.
Aside from the biggest mystery—is Chase Budinger going to be the only big injury this year?—which is difficult to address other than to say that Minnesota is quite unlucky, we’ll delve into every other training camp conundrum right here.
Is Derrick Williams Going to Have a Breakout Year?
Minnesota is still undecided on whether or not they are going to pick up the fourth year of his contract, and Williams himself admitted that this is a big month for him coming up. As I explained earlier, the former No. 2 overall selection out of Arizona not only has $6.3 million to gain if he plays well this season, but he can also establish himself as a bona fide NBA player.
In order to have success this year, Williams has to make quicker decisions with the ball. He is blessed with incredible natural talent but ran into trouble when he double-pumped with the ball, which led to either blocked shots or allowed a defender to contest him, or was indecisive on whether he wanted to shoot or slash—which led to travels.
Ball movement is critical in head coach Rick Adelman’s offense, and it cannot stop every time Williams gets the ball. He has the ability to carve his way through the net as well as hit an open jumper. He’s just got to make his decision a little quicker.
Can Shabazz Muhammad Get Regular Time at the 2?
Everybody knows the book on Muhammad: His father created a path for him to take to the NBA and fudged his age so he’d be a year older than his competition at UCLA. Then critics, notably Doug Gottlieb of CBSSports.com, placed a red flag on him because of his play on the defensive end of the court and because he sulked when a teammate of his hit a game-winner against Washington in a critical Pac-12 game. Then he was sent home from the NBA’s Rookie Transition Program, and Flip Saunders insinuated that he was considering sending him down to the D-League team in Des Moines.
Basically, this Bazz is incredibly gifted but needs to get everything together off the court in order to have success on it.
Sports Illustrated’s Chris Mannix suggested that to Muhammad the quiet in Minnesota might help spark the player’s potential, but things aren’t so quiet now. While Minneapolis may not be a big city like New York, Chicago or Los Angeles, it is a sports town, and with Chase Budinger out indefinitely with a knee injury, Shabazz is now the backup shooting guard to Kevin Martin.
While Martin came over to play big minutes for the Wolves, the team is now in a position where they will rely on Muhammad to contribute.
Will he take advantage of this situation and perform on the court while behaving off of it? Or will he become complacent now that he’s likely to get more playing time anyway?
How does Alexey Shved fit in?
With Rubio out, Shved stepped in and put up big numbers with his extended playing time last season. A Russian guard who was supposed to have trouble with a longer three-point shot, let alone tougher competition in America, Shved proved to be a dynamic shooter that could also handle the ball and create his own offense.
The problem is that once Rubio came back, the two players did not mesh on the court. Rubio excels with players that will receive his pass and shoot immediately. His wizardry, and I’m not kidding when I use that word, with the ball allows his teammates ample room to either take a shot or pass a defender.
Shved is a natural point guard but plays shooting guard when Rubio is on the court, which creates a problem. Shved wants to create off the dribble, and the 2 should be more of Martin’s mold—a player who wants to hoist up jumpers.
Minnesota did trade Luke Ridnour to the Milwaukee Bucks in the offseason, proving that the team is no longer hoarding point guards, but retained J.J. Barea, who brings championship experience to the club. If Barea begins the year as the backup point guard, then where does Shved come in?
Is he a situational player? Does he play in a shift, essentially, when Rubio and Martin come off the floor? And, perhaps most importantly, is he going to be a 1 or 2 primarily?
How good is Minnesota’s Big 3?
This is the big question, of course, because the league seems to be dominated by trios rather than one player now. Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen, two of whom were drafted by the Wolves [sniffles], started the trend when K.G. was traded from Minnesota to the Boston Celtics [starts bawling], and LeBron James famously left the Cleveland Cavaliers to join former Toronto Raptor Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade on the Miami Heat to beat Boston.
So, of course, everyone began to focus on who their team’s Big 3 was—completely ignoring the fact that the Los Angeles Lakers have always been about Kobe Bryant, and the Dallas Mavericks beat Miami with one superstar—Dirk Nowitzki.
Minnesota’s depth and versatility is going to be its strength this season, make no mistake about that, but it is important that Rubio, Love and Pekovic can match up against the best player on any team.
It should work out.
Rubio needs to shoot more consistently but will always be a pass-first player who makes the other guys around him better, and Pekovic needs to work on his defense around the basket but will always be known as the bulldozer that just runs over people on the way to the rim.
Love is the only established superstar on this team. He’s the best power forward in the league, a player who can score inside as well as hit a three on a regular basis. Even he needs work on his defense, however, making Rubio the only one of the three that is an elite defender.
Minnesota is going to win by running up the score. Defense is important, but it is not going to be their strong suit.
However, as long as Rubio, Love, Pekovic and the starter do their thing and Williams, Muhammad and Shved can contribute off the bench, the Wolves are in good hands.
There are a couple of mysteries heading into training camp, but it’s nothing compared to what has happened to this team in recent history.
Tom Schreier covers Minnesota sports for Bleacher Report and is a contributor to Yahoo! Sports.