Monday, October 25, 2010

Minnesota Timberwolves: What To Look For In 2010-11

2009-10 Regular Season: 15-67
2009-10 Playoffs: N/A
Additions: Michael Beasley, Wesley Johnson, Martell Webster, Luke Ridnour, Anthony Tolliver, Nikola Pekovic
Key Losses: Al Jefferson, Ryan Gomes, Ramon Sessions, Ryan Hollins
Projected Rotation Players: Kevin Love, Michael Beasley, Wesley Johnson, Martell Webster, Corey Brewer, Luke Ridnour, Anthony Tolliver, Darko Milicic, Sebastian Telfair, Wayne Ellington

Thanks to a pair of young and talented starting forwards, look for the 2010-11 Timberwolves to show improvement on offense and to be competitive on a nightly basis.

With that said, you probably don’t want to bank on this team actually winning too many games. However, for a team that lost by 20+ points 21 times and surrendered 129+ points five times in non-overtime games in 2009-10, simply forcing opposing starters to log fourth quarter minutes will be a step forward.

Over the summer, the Wolves dealt stud PF Al Jefferson, owner of one of the NBA’s best low post arsenals, and his eight-figure salary to the Utah Jazz, effectively handing “face of the franchise” status to Kevin Love. This was a good move given Love’s excellent rebounding and passing ability, and his exceptionally high basketball IQ- particularly if there is any lingering uncertainty surrounding Jefferson’s return to form after a torn ACL in 2009.

With Love having more room in and around the paint in which to operate, he can be a great facilitator from the “4” and could lighten the workload for the Wolves’ outmanned backcourt. The irony of this team still desperately needing a top-tier PG should not be lost on anyone.

Starting alongside Love in the frontcourt will be the #2 overall pick in the 2008 draft, Michael Beasley, who was acquired in the offseason from the Miami Heat in exchange for a pair of second-round picks. Though he’s failed to live up to the lofty expectations brought about by his IMMENSE talent and fantastic freshman season at Kansas State, Beasley is just two seasons removed from averaging 26.2 ppg, 12.4 rpg and leading the nation with 28 double-doubles. He’s averaged just 14.3- 5.9 in two seasons as a pro- not the stuff of legend, but hardly terrible. Look for him to benefit from the change of scenery and to develop into an extremely productive NBA player. I frankly wouldn’t be surprised to see him emerge as a 20-10 guy in Minnesota.

I realize I’m way more bullish on Beasley that most, but he hasn’t totally forgotten how to play the game of basketball and doesn’t turn 22 until January. As for the character issues that everyone loves to bring up? I don’t think they’re nearly as catastrophic as we’re led to believe and stem from kids being expected to be superhuman simply because they are pulling a big paycheck. Michael Beasley is not the first 20 year-old to smoke a little weed and dick around at his job! Again, he’s an all-world talent and is just 21.

It’s entirely possible that the basketball world’s given up on him too soon, right?

Bottom line: Vegas has the over-under on regular seasons wins for the Timberwolves at 23.5. This team’s definitely improved compared with last season, especially on the front line, but the Wolves have a serious lack of depth and NBA-level talent in the backcourt. While they’ll be better than they were in 2009-10, in arguably the deepest division in the NBA, it’s tough to see where a nine-win improvement is going to come from. Look for the 2010-11 T-Wolves to be an encouraging 20-22-win team, but not a whole lot more.

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