=== 2013-14 Minnesota Timberwolves Preview ===
By Jason Quint, Contributing NBA Editor
(SportsNetwork.com) - Injuries are not an excuse in sports.
It seems like an annoying mantra, but blaming your team's struggles on
injuries is a cop out. Every team has to deal with players getting hurt. It's
part of the game.
Just don't tell that to Minnesota.
The Timberwolves limped through 2012-13 more than any team in the NBA. The
franchise that hadn't made the postseason since trading Kevin Garnett to
Boston in the summer of 2007 went into the year with a talented young core of
Ricky Rubio, Kevin Love and Nikola Pekovic.
The trio played just two games -- and 13 minutes -- together a season ago.
Rubio missed the early stages of the year while rehabbing from a torn ACL,
which he suffered midway through his rookie campaign in 2011-12. Love was in
and out of the lineup battling through a twice-broken hand and played just 18
games, while Pekovic missed time with a thigh injury.
"We all know what happened last year," said Love, who has a career record of
113-281 since getting picked fifth overall in 2008, on media day. "We just
want to move forward and take care of the unfinished business."
Injuries aside, Minnesota had trouble shooting and defending 3-pointers last
season. The Wolves ranked dead last in the NBA, hitting just 30.5 percent from
behind the arc, while opponents knocked down threes at a 36.9 percent clip.
Two key offseason acquisitions, Kevin Martin and Corey Brewer, will help
address those issues. Martin is a notorious marksman who has made a career of
knocking down shots. The 30-year old out of Western Carolina made 42.6 percent
of his outside shots a season ago while playing with OKC, good for 10th best
in the league and fourth among players who made at least two triples a game.
Brewer, a respectable shooter in his own right, brings good size and
athleticism to the small forward spot. His ability to defend perimeter players
will help make up for the loss of last year's best defender Andrei Kirilenko,
who signed with Brooklyn this offseason.
Minnesota also needs the 2011 No. 2 pick Derrick Williams to make strides from
last season. Unsure whether he should play the role of stretch four or
big, physical three, Williams has been wildly inconsistent in two seasons in
But at the end of the day, the Wolves will go as far as Rubio's brilliant
passes, Love's inside-outside dominance and Pekovic's assertiveness on the
block will take them.
"Right now, talking to Rick (Adelman), we feel comfortable with the roster we
have," President of Basketball Operations Flip Saunders told the Star Tribune.
"Not only is it balanced, but we feel we have talent at every position."
Expectations are high in Minnesota for the first since Garnett's departure.
Now they have to capitalize.
2012-13 Results: 31-51, 5th in Northwest, Missed playoffs.
ADDITIONS: G Lorenzo Brown, G Kevin Martin, G/F Shabazz Muhammad, F Corey
Brewer, F/C Gorgui Dieng, C Ronny Turiaf
PROJECTED STARTING FIVE:
PG- Ricky Rubio
SG- Kevin Martin
SF- Corey Brewer
PF- Kevin Love
C- Nikola Pekovic
KEY RESERVES: G J.J. Barea, G Alexey Shved, G/F Chase Budinger, G/F Shabazz
Muhammad, F Derrick Williams, F Dante Cunningham, C Ronny Turiaf
FRONTCOURT: The strength of this team, both literal and figurative, lies
on the mammoth-sized shoulders of its starting frontcourt. Love has been a
double-double machine since joining the league, posting averages of 17.3
points and 12.2 rebounds per contest in five seasons.
Pekovic, a 27-year old Yugoslavian native, was an early second-round pick of
the Wolves in 2008 before debuting with minimal results in 2010-11. Pekovic
emerged last season as one of the league's most powerful interior scorers who
routinely causes defenders fits. If his talent ever meets his physical
attributes, the rest of the league should be on alert.
BACKCOURT: Rubio began his professional career in Spain at the age of 14 and
became a YouTube sensation shortly after thanks to his dazzling passes and
ball-handling ability. Fast forward eight years, and Rubio is one of the most
electric floor generals in the NBA. Still a dynamic passer, Rubio has improved
his on-ball defense every year and has added a respectable jumper to his
Martin and Brewer will play similar roles for the starting unit. Neither will
be asked to create much with Rubio and Love on the court, although Martin is
certainly capable. Expect both to move relentlessly off the ball to find space
so that Rubio, who will make sure they get their share of open looks from
outside, get them involved.
BENCH: The loss of Chase Budinger, who inked a three-year extension with the
club this summer, is a big one. Budinger is a high-flier and prolific outside
shooter who had nearly one-quarter of his lateral meniscus removed and will
miss a large chunk of the season. His injury opens the door for rookie first-
round pick Shabazz Muhammad to play minutes immediately.
Muhammad was a highly regarded high school prospect who excelled as a scorer
in his only season at UCLA, but a series of red flags hurt his draft stock.
First, Muhammad lied about his age, making his high school accomplishments
less impressive. He was also a ball-stopper in college, collecting just 27
assists in 32 games. There is certainly room for growth, but Muhammad has to
"I'm gonna do the things everyone needs me to, when coaches tell me, whether
that's passing the ball, rebounding," claimed Muhammad. "I'm bringing
heritage to this team and that's what I'm gonna do to help us win,"
Two key members of this bench unit are guards J.J. Barea and Alexey Shved.
Barea made a name for himself helping the Dallas Mavericks beat LeBron James
and the Heat in the 2011 NBA Finals, and has brought a grit and savvy to the
Wolves. Despite being listed at a generous 6'0, Barea routinely find ways to
score on bigger opponents.
Shved brings international experience to Minnesota. Returning for his second
season, the combo guard hopes to build off a positive rookie campaign in which
he netted 8.6 points per game to go with 3.7 assists and 2.3 rebounds in 23.9
minutes of action.
Williams will also be leaned on heavily. Entering the last guaranteed season
of his rookie deal, the time is now for Williams to prove he belongs in the
Dante Cunningham and Ronny Turiaf are stable veterans who bring mid-range
shooting and toughness, respectively, to the second unit. Anything Minnesota
can get from rookie Gorgui Dieng will just be a bonus.
COACHING: Rick Adelman has accumulated a 1,002-707 record in 22 years as an
NBA head coach. He's missed the postseason just six times. The future hall-of-
famer returns to Minnesota for a third season, hoping this year's club can
break Adelman's strings of four straight years without a playoff birth.
"Things have happened over the two years that were out of everybody's control
and I wanted to finish it," said Adelman. "We had more pieces, we've changed a
lot of people, so I think the organization is going in the right direction."
Adelman is known as one of the game's best teachers, making him a crucial
ingredient for this young Wolves team.
OUTLOOK: If Love or Rubio go down for an extended period of time, it will
certainly be an uphill climb to the postseason. But the optimism surrounding
the Wolves is real. This team has a balanced starting unit, versatile reserves
and a coach who knows what it takes to win in this league.
10/15 13:02:52 ET