Throughout September and October, we’ll be examining all 30 teams in the NBA and previewing the 2013-14 season through the lens of each particular organization. I’ll be going through each team’s roster and expected outcome for the upcoming campaign in reverse order of predicted finish, starting with the worst team in the NBA. At the bottom of each preview there will be a table with each division that will link to already-completed previews.
The 2013-14 Minnesota Timberwolves are a perfect example of addition by…doing nothing. Well, nothing except assuming that a historical rash of injuries won’t strike twice.
Sure, the roster may have actually been downgraded ever so slightly, but the team will undoubtedly finish better than last year’s 31-51 mark, simply by virtue of having Kevin Love for more than 18 sore-handed contests, and a fully-healed Ricky Rubio along with the re-signed Nikola Pekovic.
Losing defensive linchpin and do-it-all forward Andrei Kirilenko to shady, under-the-table deal Brooklyn on the mini mid-level exception (just over $3 million after opting out of an option worth more than three times that in Minnesota in search of long-term security) hurts a great deal, and his steadying impact in 2012-13 cannot be understated.
But new/old general manager Flip Saunders immediately searched to fill his minutes (and cap space), re-signing another injury victim from a year ago in Chase Budinger to a three-year, $15 million contract, along with former Timberwolf Corey Brewer to a deal worth three years and just over $14 million. Minnesota also locked down their starting shooting guard spot for the first time in…probably ever…by inking Kevin Martin to a four-year pact worth better than $27.7 million.
They certainly overpaid, in years especially, for Martin. The Brewer signing was also a slight overpay, but Budinger reportedly had offers for more money and/or years on the table (from Milwaukee, and maybe more teams, such as New Orleans). He elected to come back to Minnesota and play under coach Rick Adelman, and alongside a point guard that can get him the ball on the wing and at the rim in Rubio.
Last year’s squad was better, all things considered. Even while adding a guard that will score 17+ points per game in Adelman’s offense, the defense was downgraded considerably. Factoring in Budinger’s most recent knee surgery, which may keep him out until after Christmas, the wing will once again be an issue for Adelman’s crew.
A starting lineup including Rubio, Martin, Love, and Pekovic is very good. It remains to be seen if Brewer or Derrick Williams will run with the starters at the small forward spot, but the other will see significant minutes off the bench. The second unit will also feature J.J. Barea, Alexey Shved, Dante Cunningham, and Ronny Turiaf while rookies Gorgui Dieng and Shabazz Muhammed will likely be left out of the rotation, barring further injuries.
Assuming Shved’s game continues to develop, the second unit is solid. Barea is the only consistent (and sometimes efficient) scoring option, but it’s an energetic unit with good post defense. Still, Kirilenko’s absence will hurt this team considerably on that end of the floor.
This squad could easily find itself among the top-ten in the NBA in offense, if not better. In order to make any kind of postseason noise or finish anywhere higher than the 7th or 8th seed in the West, however, the defense will need to hover in the middle of the pack. A 12-15th ranked defense paired with a top 7-10 offense should be enough to claim the sixth seed in the stacked Western Conference.
Best Case Scenario
This wasn’t mentioned above, but let’s not forget just how good Kevin Love is. Two years ago, he was one of the top six or seven players in the NBA, and he looks to be poised to return to form after 2012-13 was a complete throwaway. Rubio has never played a full season at the NBA level, and he was one of the best players in the league this past March and April, without Love on the floor.
Look for Love to post raw per game numbers somewhere in the 22-12-3 range. His scoring will likely be lower than it was in his breakout 2011-12 campaign, but expect his assists to see a slight uptick with added scoring options and further installment of Adelman’s famed corner offense. He will be asked to facilitate more often from the high post, and the high-low game between he and hulking center Nikola Pekovic should be a thing of beauty.
Best case for this squad involves some semblance of health, and Budinger returning to full-strength by mid-December. The full potential of this squad lies somewhere in the 50-53 win range, but the cold, hard reality of a lack of defense and degree of difficulty in the West will likely cause this dream to die as the season wears on.
Worst Case Scenario
It hurts to think about this, because this is an organization that has not seen the playoffs since 2003-04, when Kevin Garnett, Sam Cassell, and Latrell Sprewell led a mostly-poor supporting cast to the Western Conference Finals. Barring catastrophic injury (…yeah, I know…), this team shouldn’t have all that low of a floor.
Still, the defense could be legitimately awful. The depth is okay, but won’t match up with that of true contenders in the vein of the Pacers or Clippers. Worst case could certainly be as low as 40-43 wins and a narrow miss when it comes to the playoffs.
Most Likely Outcome
Love is still far too often overlooked. As a living, breathing superstar, he has the ability of leading this roster to a number of wins simply by gracing them with his presence. Rubio could blossom into a clear-cut star this year, and if Pekovic and Martin play like we expect them to, it’s a pretty solid top four.
Somewhere around 46-49 wins seems about right for this squad. Obviously, health remains the biggest question mark, followed by their collective likely-matador defense. Regardless, the folks in the Twin Cities should finally have a team that they can expect to be in the hunt come spring time. And given the Wolves’ recent history, that is certainly something to be thankful for.
|New York Knicks (12)||Atlanta Hawks (13)|
|Toronto Raptors (22)||Cleveland Cavaliers (17)||Washington Wizards (19)|
|Boston Celtics (24)||Detroit Pistons (18)||Charlotte Bobcats (26)|
|Milwaukee Bucks (20)||Orlando Magic (27)|
|Minnesota Timberwolves (11)|
|Denver Nuggets (15)||Los Angeles Lakers (23)|
|Portland Trail Blazers (16)||Sacramento Kings (25)||New Orleans Pelicans (14)|
|Dallas Mavericks (21)|