Minnesota Timberwolves: An Early 2011-2012 Season Preview

James ToljCorrespondent IIJuly 11, 2011

BOSTON, MA - JANUARY 03:  Kevin Love #42 of the Minnesota Timberwolves wipes his face in the fourth quarter against the Boston Celtics on January 3, 2011 at the TD Garden in Boston, Massachusetts. The Celtics defeated the Timberwolves 96-93. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
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The Minnesota Timberwolves should be one team that takes a giant leap forward next season. Yes, I said the Minnesota Timberwolves. Your eyes aren’t failing you. I know, it’s hard to believe, especially because the Timberwolves haven’t been relevant since Kevin Garnett was traded to Boston.

The Timberwolves had a NBA low 17 wins last season. I’m not saying they’ll attain the holy grail for the league’s worst team—the playoffs. In fact, the playoffs are more than likely out of reach, as the Western Conference is overcrowded with competition.  But I am saying the Timberwolves will improve. Don’t be surprised if they are tightrope walking the 30 victories mark next season.

They already have the winner of the NBA’s Most Improved Player Award last season and an All-Star in Kevin Love. He is no longer just a steady rebounder. He’s added a deadly three-point shot and become the team's centerpiece.

If Michael Beasley can handle his off the court issues and avoid a trade, he will be another major factor in the Timberwolves turnaround. Last season, he averaged 19.2 points per game for the Timberwolves and showed flashes of why he was the second overall pick in 2008. Beasley has increased his scoring production in each of his three seasons in the NBA.

Luke Ridnour will also be a catalyst for the Timberwolves' success. He was a concrete floor general when running the team last year, although he can be a defensive liability at times. Ridnour will take the incoming Ricky Rubio—who was once touted as an all-star talent—under his wing. Ridnour's similar pass-first style will make him the perfect mentor for Rubio.

Rubio’s play overseas has not been stellar, but he'll adjust well to the fast-paced life of the NBA.  He'll find that the game comes a little easier when dishing to players of Love and Beasley’s caliber. Rubio will make scoring less complicated for everyone on the roster, and he will have the opportunity to rack up assists with another incoming teammate.

Vital to next season’s success was the addition of Derrick Williams. His dominant performance in the NCAA Tournament showed Williams’ unlimited potential. An argument could easily be made that he was the most talented player in the draft, and deserving of the first overall pick. Williams’ scoring ability will help propel the Wolves turnaround.

The numerous forwards on the roster might turn out to be an issue, but until it becomes a problem for the team, keeping Beasley around is well worth the risk, unless the Timberwolves can get equal value and pick up someone at the shooting guard position. The prospect of bringing in a skillful veteran guard might be too great to pass up, especially if Derrick Williams develops quickly.

If Beasley actually is shipped off, the plethora of role players, including Wesley Johnson, Anthony Randolph and Martell Webster, will be ready to step up their production in his absence.

The Timberwolves will need to decide if the influx of new talent will begin to change the team's identity as well. With Rubio and Ridnour running the team, the Timberwolves are suited for a fast-break offense. Kevin Love is a great outlet passer, and if they choose to speed up the game, they have a myriad of young players who can run the floor and score. But that change might mean that the team will have to part ways with Darko Milicic at center (Brad Miller and Nikola Pekovic don't quite fit the bill either). A smaller lineup would be the only logical conclusion to a style change.

Whether the team switches up to run and gun or not, the Timberwolves will be one of the most exciting young teams to watch next season. Even if a coaching change is looming over the franchise in the near future, the combination of incoming and existing talent should boost the Timberwolves to a formidable 2011-2012 season.