2011-2012 Timberwolves Season Preview
The Minnesota Timberwolves won only 17 games last season, yet there is a buzz around the team entering the 2011-12 season. The franchise parted ways with Kurt Rambis and brought in Rick Adelman, who has a great history of success in the NBA. Last year’s struggles brought the highest draft pick in franchise history at the number two spot, a selection which brought them Derrick Williams.
Of course, there’s another guy who fans are excited to finally see in a Timberwolves uniform. After two years of waiting, Ricky Rubio now calls the Target Center home.
The fans in Minnesota are craving a winner or, at the very least, solid basketball and the feeling that the franchise is turning the corner. Hopefully, the hype the Timberwolves were able to create in the off-season, as well as fan interest showed in their first preseason game, can continue throughout the year.
Here’s a preview of what to expect this season and what we here at HOOPSWORLD see as we look into the state of the Minnesota Timberwolves in 2011-12.
|Five Guys Think…|
All of the pieces are in place for the rebuilding process in Minnesota to really start speeding up this year. The addition of Rick Adelman is huge. He brings stability and credibility at the head coaching position that they lacked when Kurt Rambis was at the head of the bench. Adelman has a young, talented team who he could potentially mold into a playoff team down the line. As far as this year is concerned, though, they’ll continue to take their lumps and learn under fire. They’re not going to be in the playoff mix, but they should be able to move out of the Northwest Division’s cellar.
4th Place, Northwest Division
- Yannis Koutroupis
There is not a team in the NBA with more raw talent than the Timberwolves, and having Rick Adelman as their new head coach means that young talent will take a leap forward this season. It would still be nice to see another veteran or two on the squad, but as things stand the Timberwolves will be one of the better young teams in the NBA this season. Not a playoff team, especially playing in such a brutal division, but very fun to watch.
5th Place – Northwest Division
- Bill Ingram
Because the Wolves have been so bad the last several years, there seems to be this vibe that they’ll continue to be bad in perpetuity. The thing is, with a solid group of young players and a much, much improved head coach in Rick Adelman, they might be better than a lot of folks expect. I’m not saying they’re a playoff team necessarily, just better than 15-20 wins. Kevin Love is among the league’s elite rebounders, Ricky Rubio is a heck of a distributor, and there are tons of wings on this roster with the ability to score. There’s even some depth at center with Darko Milicic, Brad Miller, and Nikola Pekovic. Adelman can make a big difference with this group, maybe even bumping them up 15 wins from the previous year and getting them out of the basement in that Northwest Division.
4th Place, Northwest Division
- Joel Brigham
Don’t look now but there is genuine excitement surrounding the Minnesota Timberwolves franchise heading into 2012. Some of the excitement is being primarily driven by the arrival of much ballyhooed point guard Ricky Rubio. A strong mix of enthusiasm is also centering on small forward Michael Beasley’s continued development and the emergence of the league’s returning top rebounder Kevin Love. The hire of well-respected head coach, Rick Adelman, instantly added more credibility to the ongoing rebuilding project. Adelman is just 55 victories short of 1,000 for his career and will provide talented forward Derrick Williams, the No. 2 overall pick, plenty of opportunities to contribute as a rookie. A playoff appearance is still miles away for Minnesota, but there are plenty of reasons to be optimistic for Timberwolves fans.
5th Place, Northwest Division
- Lang Greene
The Ricky Rubio era in Minnesota is finally underway. Fortunately for Rubio, he has some talented pieces around him including Kevin Love, Michael Beasley, Derrick Williams and Wesley Johnson. The Timberwolves have been the laughing stock of the league for a few years, but they’re now stacked with young talent and appear to be heading in the right direction. It’s unlikely that they’ll compete in the Northwest Division this season, but they may be competitive down the road. New head coach Rick Adelman will do his best to develop the team’s young core and help Minnesota gradually shed their bottom feeder label.
5th Place, Northwest Division
- Alex Kennedy
|Top Of The List|
Top Offensive Player: Michael Beasley is the gunner on this Timberwolves team and will, more than likely, lead the team in scoring. Beasley is coming off a career season in which he averaged 19.2 points per game. The fourth-year player is saying all of the right things since arriving back in Minnesota and all reports indicate he is welcoming his role under new head coach Rick Adelman as the team’s primary perimeter scorer.
Top Defensive Player: It says a lot that about last year’s squad that you can make a legitimate argument that Darko Milicic was the best defender on the team, averaging 2.0 blocks per game. In the first preseason game, Milicic looked to have retained his ability to block shots, but this is one of the main reasons why the team brought in Adelman. If you can make a case for Darko as your best defender, things need to change dramatically on that end of the court.
Top Playmaker: This one is rather easy, isn’t it? It’s Ricky Rubio. Yes, we all know it was only one preseason game against the Milwaukee Bucks, but Rubio looked very much in control on the court Saturday night. He finished the game with seven assists, but easily should have had at least twelve. His new teammates are still learning to be ready for a pass at all times, surprised that they have the ball and are wide open and missed some bunny shots. As the rest of the team gets used to playing with Rubio, his assist numbers will be among the league leaders.
Top Clutch Player: Kevin Love hit a number of big shots and pulled down many key rebounds last season and also has the ability to make the correct pass to an open teammate. Adelman expects Love’s assist numbers to go up considerably this year, but his greatest value will come in his monstrous ability to grab an offensive rebound at a key time and put the ball through the hoop. Coming back to Minnesota twenty-five pounds lighter than last season says quite a lot about Love’s work ethic and his willingness to accept his role as the lead of the Timberwolves pack.
The Unheralded Player: Anthony Tolliver is a pro’s pro. While his minutes may go down with the addition of Williams and the Timberwolves wanting to give Anthony Randolph a good look this year, you will never hear a complaint from Tolliver. He is a player who will play with the cliché 110% every moment he is on the court and has the confidence in his abilities in the post—and on the wing at times—to believe he will earn his minutes the old fashioned way: he will earn them.
Best New Addition: There were some who criticized the signing of JJ Barea, but if Barea plays in the same manner as he did during Dallas’ championship run last season, those critics will be silenced quickly. Remember, Coach Adelman has a history of success in running two smaller players together in the backcourt, as he did in Sacramento with Mike Bibby and Bobby Jackson and then in Houston with Kyle Lowry and Aaron Brooks. Barea was also brought in to be a mentor on and off the court to the team and, more specifically, Ricky Rubio, as he adjusts to life in the NBA and America.
|Who We Like|
1. Rick Adelman. The new Timberwolves coach is a no-nonsense kind of guy, yet also has the patience to teach his young players. He has made it quite clear right off the bat what needs to change immediately, which is the defensive end of the court for Minnesota. He referred to their defense last year as “horrendous” and with so many young, athletic players at his disposal, if you don’t give the proper effort on the defensive end, you will end up on the bench.
2. Ricky Rubio. Early indications are showing that the wait was worth it, but how will Rubio adjust when the games count? As he continues to work on his shot, Rubio should be able to carve up defenses by getting into the lane and dishing to open teammates. It will be interesting to see what he comes up with once defenders stop leaving their assignments open to stop his penetration.
3. Kevin Love. If he wasn’t already, Love is the cornerstone of everything the Timberwolves want to do. He was an All-Star last season, is a beast on the boards and only continues to develop more post moves to go along with his fantastic outside shot. The Timberwolves brought in more players this offseason and Love is ready to fully accept a leadership role on the squad, as he continues to try to show the team he is worth a maximum level contract extension.
4. Derrick Williams. With all of the excitement over Rubio’s arrival, it seems as if some of the pressure is off Williams. With the logjam inside for Minnesota with Love, Beasley, Tolliver and Randolph, the rookie is not guaranteed anything and must show his coach that he is worthy of being the second pick in the draft.
5. Wes Johnson. Johnson has a great opportunity during the 2011-12 season to really become the player the Timberwolves need him to be: a shooting guard who can put the ball on the court and attack the rim. While his ball-handling skills were one of the biggest weaknesses in his game during his rookie season, Johnson stated he worked on that portion of his game significantly during the lockout and is ready to show his quickness running around picks, suggesting his game may begin to look like that of Rip Hamilton. If he meant the younger Hamilton, that would be a great plus for Minnesota.
The Timberwolves could score last year, but now they have added Rubio, Williams and Barea to the mix. Now Love has a few more moves in his arsenal and Beasley is ready to become a more efficient scorer. Whether or not Beasley improves greatly in his efficiency, the Timberwolves should be among the league leading teams in points per game. They will score the ball and play a high-paced, high-energy game on the offensive end of the court.
While Minnesota should be able to score a great amount of points during the 2011-12 season, any success as far as wins or losses will come on the defensive end of the court. There aren’t many players on the roster who are considered to be great individual defenders, yet with the athletic ability and length they possess at most positions, they could potentially be an adequate defensive team. That will all be determined by the young roster’s willingness to commit to the defensive side of the court, rather than become obsessed with the fun they should have on offense.
|The Coach’s Chair By Anthony Macri|
I’ll be honest. I love the vibe in this locker room. I’m not going to talk about how things were in the past, I’m going to focus on how they will be starting now. Folks are going to be held accountable defensively, and if you do that, we are going to have a ton of fun on the offensive side. I look at our personnel, and it reminds me of a team some of you may have seen in the past – the late 90s / early 2000s Sacramento Kings, with Jason Williams, Chris Webber, and Vlade Divac. We can be exciting offensively, but we need to commit to defense, men. That team turned stops into scores. We can be that way if we do the same. Rip and run has to be our theme through the year – let’s get more possessions than anyone else and let’s have fun while we do it.
- Anthony Macri
|The Burning Question|
Will the young Timberwolves develop and commit to playing the right way?
While nobody believed the Timberwolves were near ready to be a playoff team last season, they did believe they should have won more games than they did. They have nice young talent and only added more to the mix in the off-season. Adelman is working hard throughout the shortened preseason to engrain better decision making into his new team, both offensively and defensively. He is currently doing his work and will continue to teach them the right way to play basketball as a team, rather than a group of individuals, but the only way that will translate to more wins is if the players buy in and commit. Everyone is saying the right things right now, but they must go through a few more growing pains of learning how to make the right play during a difficult situation. Only time will tell if that will happen.
How do you see the Timberwolves this season, leave your comments below…