Initial Post-Draft Depth Chart for Minnesota Timberwolves
Basketball is not played on computer screens, and injuries, unforeseen holes and terrible crunch-time play has kept Minnesota in the lottery despite their seemingly strong rosters. But being in the lottery isn't all bad, because, well, you get a lottery pick.
Even then, no one wants to finish in the bottom half of the lottery, which is exactly where Minnesota has been for the last two seasons. Not only have the Wolves missed the playoffs, but they haven't had a top pick to show for it.
The 2014 NBA draft, however, was kind to every lottery team thanks to its superb depth. As a result, the Wolves were able to grab Zach LaVine at No. 13, even though he would have been a top-10 pick almost any other year.
They also added Glenn Robinson III at No. 40, even though he would be a first-round lock in most draft classes.
Now, with Kevin Love entering the final year of his contract, the Wolves have their best-looking depth chart yet. It may be too late, since Love has made it clear that he wants out of Minnesota, but at the same time, it might not be. Flip Saunders does not need to trade Love, and there is still a chance that he plays for the T-Wolves for some or all of the 2014-15 season.
Assuming Love—and everyone else—is not moved, here's a look at yet another promising but question-mark-filled Timberwolves depth chart.
Starter: Ricky Rubio
While Rubio is unarguably one of the worst shooting point guards in the NBA, it doesn't have to hurt the team all that much. Not only do they have plenty of shooting elsewhere, but Rubio defends, rebounds and distributes at a higher level than most point guards around the league.
Even an incremental shooting improvement—which is not at all far-fetched for a 23-year-old—will make Rubio one of the top 15 point guards in the NBA.
Backup: J.J. Barea
This is a spot Minnesota may need to upgrade. No one expected Barea to come off the bench and force turnovers or run the offense as well as Rubio last season, but he was at least supposed to provide a shooting upgrade.
Unfortunately, he shot worse than Rubio from thee and from the free-throw line and was barely better from the field.
If Barea can't hit his shot, he really has nothing left to contribute to an NBA roster.
Starter: Kevin Martin
LaVine's selection is a strong indicator that Martin is not the long-term plan. That doesn't change the fact that he's still the clear-cut starter.
Martin is a good three-point shooter and a great free-throw shooter, and he's pretty good at getting himself in position to take both kinds of shots. Being an efficient scorer and a floor stretcher is a necessity for anyone who is going to be paired with Rubio, so until LaVine develops or a trade is made, Martin is the guy.
Backup: Zach LaVine
LaVine may only be 19, but his time as an NBA reserve may be short-lived. Everyone is in love with his potential, but he is closer to an NBA starter than people realize. When you are a 6'6" guy who can knock down open shots, handle the ball, beat defenders off the dribble and finish over anyone and anything at the rim, you can make a pretty instant impact in the NBA.
He won't start on opening day, and probably won't start all season (barring injury or a trade). But just because LaVine's full potential won't be reached for years does not mean he isn't NBA-ready.
Look for LaVine to get some additional minutes backing up Rubio as well.
Third String: Shabazz Muhammad
In what was part of a league-wide trend during Thursday's draft, the Timberwolves added a player at the same position as they did in last year's first round.
It'd be unfair to blame Muhammad for his uninspiring rookie season, both because he barely got a chance to play and because almost everyone else from his draft class was equally as uninspiring. He'll again see extremely limited minutes with LaVine in the fold.
Fourth String: Alexey Shved
NBA guards are supposed to be able to shoot. Something is wrong when three guys in the same backcourt shoot as poorly as Rubio, Barea and Shved did last year.
Let's hope it's not something in the air in Minneapolis, and if it is that LaVine doesn't catch it.
Starter: Corey Brewer
Brewer was Minnesota's opening day starter due to Chase Budinger being injured last season. By the time Budinger got healthy, Brewer had nailed down the job.
He'll return as the starter this year and continue to provide the Wolves with solid two-way play. He may take too many threes, but he's an efficient scorer inside the arc. His turnover-forcing ability fuels Minnesota's fast break, as does his unparalleled knack for leaking out.
Backup: Chase Budinger
Budinger will likely move on this depth chart this season, although it could be up or down. While he is a better outside shooter and athlete than Brewer, he is a worse outside shooter and athlete than Robinson III.
If he can regain his early-career momentum, he could certainly unseat Brewer as the starting small forward. But if he fails to make strides, as he has since he got to Minnesota, expect Robinson III to gobble up his minutes as the season progresses.
Third String: Glenn Robinson III
Robinson is not your typical No. 40 pick, because no one will be surprised if he has a solid NBA career. That's how deep this year's draft was; his fall from potential mid-20s to No. 40 had less to do with a flaw of his and more to do with a draft board overcrowded with athletic wings.
It's still hard to imagine him getting significant run out of the gate, but he brings a sweet outside shot and dynamite athleticism to a team that needs both. He'll be in the rotation by season's end.
Starter: Kevin Love
Here's the thing: If Love does not get traded, Minnesota should make the playoffs next year. I know it's been said before, and it would probably not change Love's mind about re-signing, but it is worth noting how good the Wolves could be while Love is still in the fold.
They were No. 9 in the NBA in offensive rating and No. 12 in defensive rating last season, and the additions of LaVine and Robinson could push that offensive figure to near-elite status. With improved outside shooting and athleticism and even mediocre late-game execution, this team would win around 50 games.
Oh, Love's the starting 4, by the way.
Backup: Luc Mbah a Moute
If the Wolves do trade Love, they better get a decent power forward back, because Mbah a Moute has already gone way over his quota for NBA starts over his six-year career.
How an undersized 4 who doesn't really compensate with rebounding or shooting and is averaging 6.3 points and 4.9 rebounds over his career has managed to start 240 games is...not surprising at all considering he spent that time with the Milwaukee Bucks.
But if Love is moved and Mbah a Moute does start, you can expect Minnesota to go from 50-win team to 50-loss team in a hurry.
Starter: Nikola Pekovic
The interesting wrinkle to the Love trade saga is that a Pekovic trade may in fact be the smarter route. Gorgui Dieng is the better defensive center and Pekovic is somewhat redundant as an offensive big next to Love, and moving him could get the team multiple rotation guys, including an upgrade at small forward.
That isn't to say Pekovic causes problems; he's a lethal post scorer and will be a nice piece to have around when Love is inevitably the one who leaves or is moved.
Backup: Gorgui Dieng
The good news: Dieng played very well down the stretch last season and proved to be one of the top 10 players in last year's draft, making him an excellent value at No. 21.
The bad news: Dieng will turn 25 in January of this season, meaning his ceiling is extremely limited.
The good news again: Combining the good news and bad news above still makes him one of the best picks of last year's terrible draft, and he's still an above-average backup center entering 2014-15.
Third String: Ronny Turiaf
While he played well last season, Minnesota hopes he barely sees the court this year. This is because he is clearly the No. 3 center, and it will stay that way unless there's an injury, which is actually extremely likely given Pekovic's history.
Stats courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com.