I hadn't planned on talking about the Wolves until the draft lottery after the season, but their recent success has spurned me to take notice. Is it possible David Kahn knows what he is doing? Even after the Wolves' 128-124 OT loss to the Indiana Pacers, the Minnesota Timberwolves are 5-2 and now have the fifth-best preseason record in all of the NBA. So what has led to this (alleged) turnaround?
To answer this we need to look at the moves David Kahn has made in the last few months. Gone are the underwhelming talent of the likes of Brian Cardinal, Ryan Hollins, Nathan Jawai, Sasha Pavlovic, Alando Tucker and Damian Wilkens. Also traded was the black hole on offense, magician (see: disappearing act) (big?) Al Jefferson and the not-so-suited-for-the-triangle Ramon Sessions.
Into the mix are the much more athletic, and dynamic wings of Martell Webster and the recently drafted Wesley Johnson. At the point is now a veteran presence with Luke Ridnour. And to bolster the frontcourt, which was already improved with the late-season acquisition of (don't laugh) Darko Milicic, is the European beast known as Nikola Pekovic. Also brought in as a backup to K Love is the underrated Anthony Toliver. Not to mention the steal of the year in Michael Beasley.
So how do all these new pieces fit together? Well if you ask the mainstream media, they don't fit, and David Kahn is a moron, only out-dumbed by the likes of the blonde cheerleader on Glee, and possibly an avocado. But when you really look at the re-worked roster, what seems to be taking shape is an actual team, and it seems quite obvious what Kahn has been doing. So let's take a look at the projected lineups.
PG: Ridnour, Telfair (Flynn when he returns, assuming he doesn't get traded)
SG: Webster, Brewer
SF: Beasley, Johnson
PF: Love, Toliver
C: Milicic, Pekovic
So what does this roster have that the 15-win, 2009-2010 team didn't?
At first glance, depth is the most obvious advantage from this squad compared to last year's version. When you can bring the fourth overall pick off the bench and team him with a former No. 7 overall pick on the second squad, you're probably doing pretty well.
Second thing I look at is size and athleticism. Beasley, Johnson, Pekovic and Webster are all vast upgrades in this department.
Third thing I look at is three-point range. Webster, Beasley and Johnson can all drop it from three-point range like Favre can drop his pants for a photo shoot. The team is shooting nearly 41 percent from behind the arc this preseason. This can be attributed to the great shooting, and great passing of Love and Milicic.
Lastly I look at defensive ability and intensity. This is where the greatest improvement has been. Webster has been average, which is a huge upgrade over what we could offer up last year. Johnson and Brewer have the ability to shut down a large percent of NBA wing players. Beasley, when motivated, can be serviceable. And Kevin Love next to Milicic makes a lot more sense on the defensive end, than at any time when Love and Jefferson played together.
So when I look at what Khan has been able to put together, I can't help but be optimistic. He obviously is building the Wolves on athletic players, who can defend and shoot the three. Almost as if he thinks a great passing point guard might be able to maximize those skills in other players...hmmmm...Ricky Rubio (cough, cough) Ricky Rubio. Excuse me, had something in my throat there.
So what do I expect from the 2010-2011 version of the Minnesota Timberwolves? Not much. The West is still the West, and it would be a huge accomplishment to make the playoffs. But would I be surprised to see this team win 30-35 games? No, I would not. I think this is finally the year that the Wolves could make some strides towards respectability, and in maybe two or three more years, challenge in the West.