5 Questions Facing the Minnesota Timberwolves for the 2011-12 NBA Season
With Minnesota's season opener taking place tonight against Oklahoma City, excitement is rising among the fans.
The Timberwolves came away with consecutive wins over Milwaukee in their two preseason games (they played the second game without J.J. Barea or Ricky Rubio). Although one can say, "It was just the preseason," everyone knows that this year's post-lockout, 66-game season is anything but ordinary.
As the young ball club prepares to face a championship-caliber team in the Thunder, here are five questions facing Minnesota heading into the 2011-2012 season.
1. Is the Team Too Young?
With the exception of two team members—Luke Ridnour and Brad Miller—every player on the Timberwolves roster is 26 years old or younger. Three of them have not yet reached the age of college graduates.
Is this team too young to find any real success in the league? Some would say so. However, let's take a look at two of the youngest names in the lineup:
Ricky Rubio (born 10/21/1990)
Although Rubio found himself picked up by Minnesota in the 2009 NBA draft, he remained in Spain for two additional seasons. Admittedly frustrating for fans waiting to see the talked-about point guard in action, those two years provided Rubio with further experience in the arena of professional basketball.
Derrick Williams (born 5/25/1991)
Williams may not even be old enough to drink, but this young forward out of Arizona seems to have what it takes to make the leap—both physically and mentally—from college ball to the NBA. The Timberwolves drafted Williams No. 2 overall in last year's draft, and confidence and abilities on the hardwood were reflected in last week's preseason games.
Despite not shining statistically, Ridnour and Miller each bring a veteran leadership to the team that balances out the roster and provides stability for those players who possess the talent but not yet the experience.
2. Is Adelman Up to the Challenge?
Adelman stands as one of only five head coaches in league history to win 60 or more games with two different teams. He also holds a career 79-78 (.503) mark in the postseason, including a 9-10 (.474) record with the Rockets. Adelman’s teams have qualified for the playoffs 16 times in his 18 seasons.
Why would a coach of Adelman's stature and experience take on a project like Minnesota, who has tallied less than 40 wins in two seasons?
My guess is this—he sees potential. Although I'm sure he's a patient coach (to a certain extent) who doesn't promise the playoffs overnight, I also don't peg Adelman as one who would adopt a lost cause.
Adelman's accepting of the head coaching position delivers one more ray of hope to Minnesota fans.
3. Who Will Start at Point Guard?
I don't have a good answer for this question.
I'm not sure anyone does—including, at this point, the coach.
It's probably safe to say that Luke Ridnour will serve as a reliable off-the-bench option, but most are interested to see who will start between the anticipated Ricky Rubio and the newly-acquired J.J. Barea.
My gut tells me that, based on more experience—including winning last year's NBA championship with the Mavericks—Barea will find himself listed as the initial starter. However, only time will tell.
4. Will Darko Find His Niche at Center?
Once again, the name "Darko Milicic" represents a giant question mark in the minds of fans. The eighth-year center out of Serbia was drafted No. 2 overall by Detroit in the 2003 NBA draft, and since then he has found himself on the rosters for Detroit, Orlando, Memphis, New York and now Minnesota.
The big man plays with a quiet intensity under the basket, but his lack of consistency and alleged struggles with depression and insecurity in the States led to his being labeled as yet another "bust" in the NBA.
Milicic has slowly improved during his debut in Minnesota, and fans occasionally saw the athlete's spark returning. If he can resurrect the center worthy of a Round 1 draft pick, Milicic could be the player Minnesota needs at center.
The question is, however, how long Adelman and the Timberwolves franchise is willing to wait.
5. Is Minnesota Capable of Playing All 4 Quarters?
Anybody who has followed the Timberwolves over the past two or three seasons knows Minnesota is not exactly known for finishing games.
We've all watched games where the team comes out and plays with tenacity, energy and consistency during the first two quarters.
After halftime, though, the team struggles to gel. Be it because of coaching, physical condition, age or a combination of factors, these guys don't often bring their game in the third quarter. Adelman realizes teams that play this way won't win games, and one of his biggest goals is putting together a reliable framework of players that will compete every minute of every game.
"The starting lineup is not my biggest concern," Adelman said. "It's the lineup that finishes the game that's going to win the game at both ends of the court. That's what we're trying to figure out."
I'm a Believer
We've all heard the excuse—you know the one I'm talking about—"This is a rebuilding time for Minnesota."
That may be true—nobody expects the Wolves to win the NBA championships this year. Nobody expects them to win in the next five years. However, we do expect to see progress.
The Target Center struggled to fill seats last season after winning only 14 games the year before. However, tonight's game against the OKC Thunder nearly sold out. Why? Fans see potential in this team.
A coach like Adelman, who believes in his team, instills faith in the fans as well. We see a successful coach in Adelman, an All-Star forward in Kevin Love, a young fan favorite in Ricky Rubio, a top draft pick in Derrick Williams and an NBA champion in J.J. Barea.
If there's one thing this team can promise, it's intrigue and possibility.
And I, for one, cannot wait for tipoff tonight.