Enemy Lines: A rival scout sizes up the Timberwolves
2012-13 Record: 31-51
Coach: Rick Adelman (third season with Timberwolves)
The Timberwolves' core should excite the organization. But everything starts with health, which they haven't had in recent seasons. They need all these guys playing together, and not just for a month or two, but for one year, two years, three years. The players need to be growing together.
Good luck on the injury front has to start with Kevin Love, who played only 18 games last season because of hand and knee injuries. You start with the fact that his rebounding not only is on an elite level but it's almost historic. It's effort, but it's also technique and instinct. He has a knack. Dennis Rodman had it. Charles Barkley had it. It just seems like they're always on the side that the ball bounces.
Skills-wise, Love is underrated. He shoots well, and he can pass. My understanding is that the Wolves want to maximize his ability as facilitator this season rather than simply use him as a scorer. When you put the ball in his hands, you feel like he'll make good decisions.
One of the things they're trying to do to lessen the wear and tear on his body is to get him in better shape. That will also help him defensively because he's not the quickest guy, though he's deceptively athletic. But anything he can do to improve his lateral quickness so that he defends better will help. He has to commit to being more of an asset on defense. Opponents have taken advantage of that part of his game at times.
There are not a lot of true low-post scorers in the NBA -- it's almost a dying art -- but Nikola Pekovic is every bit one. He is a mountain of a man. You can throw the ball to him in the post and either force opponents to double-team him or create a disadvantage if they try to cover him one-on-one. And it's not like he's just big. He has touch, good hands and good footwork.
Pekovic complements Love well because low-post scoring is not Love's strength. When you have them together, that's a pretty good combination: One guy is better at handling the ball and shooting on the perimeter, and the other is a big, bruising low-post scorer who isn't as mobile or skilled but who is difficult to defend.
The last guy I saw with Ricky Rubio's passing ability and court vision was probably Jason Kidd. A point guard such as Denver's Ty Lawson will find teammates because he breaks down a defense with his quickness and maybe help comes, but Rubio's passing ability is just on another level. Rubio's ability is so off the charts that even if he only became a passable shooter, he could be an All-Star. Because of his instincts and quick hands, Rubio could end up being a very good defender.
Rubio is still in the infancy of his career. He's had almost a year removed because of the ACL injury, and he's played fewer than 100 games in two NBA seasons. When he returned from knee surgery last December, he was very tentative for about a month. You could tell he didn't necessarily trust his body and he really struggled with his shot even more than usual. As he gained more trust in the recovery and the season went on, he got better and better in all facets of his game.
The signing of Kevin Martin absolutely was underrated, especially at the price point [four years for $27.8 million]. They had no wing play last year -- none. They were giving replacement-level players major minutes. They would normally play point guards Rubio and Luke Ridnour together. It was a huge defensive liability because of their size disadvantage.
Martin played under Rick Adelman in Sacramento and Houston, so both parties know what they're getting. Not only does Martin score, but he scores efficiently. He doesn't need a high volume of shots -- and you don't want him taking a high volume when you've got Love and Pekovic to take care of. He may not be a great defender, but at least now they have someone who provides some length and resistance against bigger 2 guards.
They really like Chase Budinger. He can shoot, and this team definitely needs perimeter shooting to open things up for Love, Rubio and Pekovic. But even when Budinger is healthy [he is recovering from late-September knee surgery], I think he will be in a timeshare on the wing with Corey Brewer, who was unbelievably good for Denver a year ago. Brewer is an energy guy who can finish in transition and make an open three-pointer. At 6-9, he's a long and disruptive defender; he always seems to be around the ball. His energy is contagious. I don't think you can say that about a lot of guys in Minnesota, and that's why he could be such a good fit.
Living up to being the No. 2 pick in the 2011 draft is kind of irrelevant for Derrick Williams at this point. It's about trying to be the best Derrick Williams he can be. One of his big challenges is that he hasn't found a positional home. He's an in-between guy -- he's not necessarily a power forward or a small forward. You could do a lot worse as far as backup forwards go, but where he was drafted is always going to follow him.
As a 23-year-old rookie last season, Alexey Shved was probably more developed than a lot of players only a year or two out of college. But with all of the Timberwolves' injuries, he was forced into some major responsibilities because they needed someone who could give them minutes and step up and score. That was a lot on his plate as a rookie. They also relied a lot on veteran J.J. Barea for scoring off the bench from the backcourt.
Coach Rick Adelman's teams have always played hard for him and enjoyed playing for him. Offensively, he puts players in positions to succeed and he runs a system that is very difficult to guard and gets open shots. He is the consummate professional.