Blazersedge staff writer Chris Lucia will be writing team-by-team previews over the next month as we count down to the start of the 2013-14 season. All team previews can be found right here.
2012-2013 record: 31-51, No. 5 in Northwest Division, No. 11 in Western Conference
Roster additions: Corey Brewer, Gorgui Dieng (Rookie, No. 21 overall), Kevin Martin, Shabazz Muhammad (Rookie, No. 14 overall), Ronny Turiaf
Roster subtractions: Mickael Gelabale, Andrei Kirilenko, Malcom Lee, Luke Ridnour, Brandon Roy, Greg Stiemsma
The Minnesota Timberwolves appear poised to finally take the next step forward and challenge for a playoff spot now that forward Kevin Love and point guard Ricky Rubio are fully healthy and center Nikola Pekovic is signed to a long-term deal. The only problem? They're going to have a hard time stopping opponents from scoring at the rim on a nightly basis.
Love is an offensive beast, crafty enough to score inside and able to drag larger defenders out of the post and hit from outside consistently for his size. He attacks the glass as well as anyone, gobbling up almost a quarter of the available rebounds. Just don't expect him to be a defensive force, as that's not really his strong suit.
Starting opposite Love in the post is Pekovic, another offensive threat who has a hard time defending consistently. From inside, he is strong and skilled enough to score on a consistent basis. He could rebound better for his size, but Love probably takes a lot of his rebounding opportunities. Defensively, you'd expect him to be a huge factor because of his size, but he doesn't even average a block a game. Even if you project his per-36 minute stats he wouldn't garner a full block.
Point guard Ricky Rubio, on the other hand, is a skilled perimeter defender who racks up over two steals per contest. Offensively, he's a creative passer, averaging over seven assists a game. His jumper and outside shot are pretty broken, though, and he doesn't finish well at the hoop, either. If he could space the floor better this year, the Timberwolves would have a much easier route to the playoffs. Starting shooting guard Kevin Martin was brought in for that purpose.
Martin connected on over 42 percent of his three-point attempts last season, making him far and away the best outside shooter on the team. His main deficiency, though? Of course, it's his defense. Are you starting to see a trend here?
Wing Corey Brewer was brought in to quell some of the Wolves' issues defensively, but his reputation as a stopper on the wing is a bit overstated. He forces a turnover here and there, but he won't be on an NBA All-Defensive team anytime soon if his career trends play out again this year. With the ball in his hands, things could get ugly. He's terrible from outside and converts at an average level only at the rim. Coach Rick Adelman would be wise having him as the fifth option of the starters.
The Timberwolves' bench is okay, but there are some glaring question marks. Is swingman Derrick Williams ready to find himself as a player? So far, he hasn't lived up to his hype after being picked No. 2 overall a few years ago and doesn't seem to have a position of his own. At backup power forward, he often conceded minutes to Dante Cunningham last year, who scores more efficiently and rebounds just as well. At small forward, he might give up too much quickness on defense and will compete with Chase Budinger when he's back from injury, not to mention rookie Shabazz Muhammad, taken No. 14 overall last summer. If Williams doesn't find a place to fit into Adelman's scheme, he'll be in a different uniform very soon.
J.J. Barea is a capable, experienced backup point guard, but he is a huge drop off from Rubio defensively and he's below average from deep. Budinger's not bad off the bench, but could work on his efficiency, as he doesn't hit shots with a ton of consistency from game-to-game. Second-year guard Alexey Shved showed some potential in 22 minutes a game last year, but he'll have to step up his shooting percentages to see that much court time behind Martin. Muhammad's a pure scorer on the wing, and his 37.7 three-point percentage he brings from his one season at UCLA will be a welcome sight off the bench if he can translate that to the pro game.
Centers Ronny Turiaf and rookie Gorgui Dieng round out the rest of the bench, but Turiaf is on his seventh team in nine seasons and is not much more than a journeyman who can put in a mediocre 15 minutes a game, at best. Dieng was a solid shot-blocker and rebounder in his three years at Louisville, but at 23 years old, many think he's reached his ceiling as a player and wonder if his skills in college will convert to the NBA. All things considered, the backup center spot behind Pekovic is Dieng's for the taking if he can step up and outplay Turiaf, who probably won't set the bar very high.
The success of the Wolves hinges on their ability to play team defense in order to hide weak defenders like Love and Martin. This is the year for Pekovic to turn the corner on that side of the ball if he wants to earn the $12 million paycheck Minnesota is forking over to him this season. Rubio and Brewer will be working overtime on defense just to stay afloat, and their ability to force turnovers should help keep them in games. Even so, the Timberwolves look to give up a lot of points to teams with any kind of dynamic game plan, as they just don't have the depth to stop anyone for a full 48 minutes.
Minnesota will have to rely its starters to play heavy minutes and Love, Martin and Pekovic will have to put the ball in the hoop consistently if they don't want to get blown out on a nightly basis. The outside shooting was ugly last year and it may again be an issue if Rubio and Brewer can't find their three-point shot, which is not likely if history is any indication. Love should again have video game numbers scoring and rebounding, but if he gets hurt again and/or his teammates don't step up, they'll be looking in on the playoffs from the outside for a league-worst tenth straight season.
-- Chris Lucia | Twitter