It was an eventful summer for the Minnesota Timberwolves, trading Michael Beasley, beating the Los Angeles Lakers in London and the New York Knicks in Paris will be the events that it is remembered by. But as the season starts tonight, it could all count for nothing if they only manage 15 wins.
Here are my predictions for what will unfold in the upcoming season of basketball.
Even with the limited minutes he received, and it being his sophomore year last season, Kevin Love averaged a double-double, netting a tidy average of 14ppg and pulling down 11 rebounds per game.
Indications are that this will only get better. Love now has the starting power forward role, following Al Jefferson's trade, and is also the most consistent player on the team. You might even say he's the best player, preseason certainly wouldn't disband that claim.
Expect him to make a comfortable double-double again. He may even out-rebound Dwight Howard. If the West wasn't so full of elite power forwards, he would have a realistic chance at an All-Star selection. As it is, there is little gamble in predicting Kevin Love will have a strong season.
This summer the Wolves picked up, amongst others, Wesley Johnson and Michael Beasley. Both will have frustrating games, and play with an over-eagerness to impress, but I expect both to eventually solidify their positions at 2 and 3 respectively.
Johnson is new to the league, but not new to basketball. At 23 he is an old-timer in rookie terms. He has a peachy fresh shot, and will likely score more three pointers than anyone on the team. Defensively he has a lot to learn, but reports out of the Timberwolves camp have been very encouraging. Realistically, he could be the third best rookie in the NBA behind Blake Griffin and John Wall. If he becomes the focal point of the Timberwolves attack, he could do even better.
Beasley left the reformed Miami Heat this summer with a point to prove. Criticised for not being as good as Dwyane Wade in Miami, the Timberwolves will give him the leeway to miss shots and not be berated. Fans are happy a player of his potential would leave the Heat for the Timberwolves, and he will look to repay this faith. He'll have bad games, the 3 is not his natural position and he'll be up against some of the best players in the league, but it would be wise to predict he'll still be a fan favourite in the Target Center come the end of the season.
Jonny Flynn started all but one of the 82 games last season. We know this won't be the case this year because of his injury, but there is far more competition than he will be used to in Minnesota.
In preseason Ridnour has largely started, and he has shown some fluidity in operating within Kurt Rambis' system. Sebastian Telfair has also come in, and played as expected. Surprisingly, Wayne Ellington, traditionally a shooter, has also played at point and has shown he can definitely do a job when called upon.
Hopefully this competition will push Flynn onto new levels of play, especially as he will be feeling the heat of Ricky Rubio's imminent arrival drawing closer and closer.
I'm very fond of Flynn, but if Rubio gives some indication that he will arrive in 2011-2012, I can see him potentially being traded.
I've read a whole bunch of Timberwolves previews, and the conclusion is that they could win as few as 12, or as many as 45 games. Somewhere in the middle is a safer bet, because this is a new team without a superstar figurehead, but with bundles of team work and athleticism. The West is tough, as per usual, so I don't think they have any chance of making the playoffs, but they will absolutely win more than 15 games next season.
The issue I have with the media is that it sometimes prefers sensationalististic monotony over logical risks. It's far more easier to write how the Timberwolves have lost Jefferson, gained Darko Milicic, and must accordingly be worse. However, if you compare the roster of last season with this season, there is a marked improvement. David Kahn, although journalists love to criticise him and berate his lack of direction, he has created a young, athletic team that will play exciting basketball. He's also created room to sign a superstar. Sounds good to me. Even if the Timberwolves win themselves some rings, the media will attribute it to luck. I've given up reading deeply into anything they say.