GDHQNBA15_2pg-Minnesota Timberwolves

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WESTERN CONFERENCE NORTHWEST DIVISION Minnesota For the Minnesota Timberwolves, the 2013-14 NBA season was dominated by one storyline: would Minnesota trade superstar power forward Kevin Love? If so, what would they get in return for him? As it turns out, Minnesota kept Love for the duration of the season, but it was a disappointing season overall. Despite out-scoring their opponents by an average of 2.7 points per game, the Timberwolves finished with a 40-42 record, nine games behind the No. 8 seeded Dallas Mavericks. In the ensuing offseason, Minnesota made its move, trading Love to the Cleveland Cavaliers in exchange for top overall draft picks Andrew Wiggins and Anthony Bennett, then acquiring Thaddeus Young from Philadelphia in exchange for role players Alexey Shved and Luc Richard Mbah a Moute. It’s clear Minnesota’s strategy was to get a potential superstar (Wiggins) and a possible stud down the road (Bennett) in exchange for their current one, but how long will it be before Wiggins and Bennett fulfills that potential, if ever? Defense On defense, Minnesota’s roster featured a strange mix of plus defenders and defensive liabilities last season. Point guard Ricky Rubio and small forward Corey Brewer were both pests on the perimeter, grabbing steals early and often and creating fastbreak opportunities. However, they played alongside shooting guard Kevin Martin, a player with a slight build who has never been known as a tough defender. In the post, Nikola Pekovic did a good job of using his nearly 300-pound frame to keep opponents away from the basket, but he was paired with Love, whose defense has been oft-criticized by a variety of sources. It’s worth noting that certain advanced metrics, such as ESPN’s Real Plus-Minus, consider Love a good defender. However, while Love does fine in one-on-one situations, his help defense and rotations leave a lot to be desired. In fact, Minnesota ranked 29th in the League in points allowed in the paint last season. Part of the problem is the lack of a rimprotecting presence. Backup center Gorgui Dieng is much better at patrolling the rim than either Pekovic or Love, but he’s a major liability on offense and shouldn’t be relied on to play extended minutes. Besides Dieng, the Timberwolves simply don’t have a rim protector on the roster. If there’s a silver lining to the Love trade, it’s that Minnesota acquired a couple players who profile as good defenders. Young may have been Philadelphia’s only decent defender last year and should represent an upgrade over Love at the power forward position. Meanwhile, Wiggins’ defense was widely praised at Kansas and he projects to be a plus defender in the NBA as well. It’s not difficult to see the Timberwolves being a tall, lanky, and pesky defense in a couple years. As of right now, Minnesota’s defense will probably be closer to average. Pekovic remains a big body on the inside who is tough to beat in the post, Rubio remains as a constant threat to pick pockets, and players like Young and Brewer are capable defenders as well. However, the team still lacks a top shot-blocking presence and young rosters like Minnesota’s often have trouble with team defense early on. This team shouldn’t be too bad defensively but there will probably be some ugly moments throughout the season. Offense If there’s an argument to be made for Love as a genuine NBA superstar despite his lackluster defense, it’s that he may have singlehandedly made the Timberwolves a good offensive team last season. Minnesota finished ninth in the league with an offensive rating of 108.9 despite having some serious offensive limitations. The biggest limitation comes in the form of Rubio, a uniquely talented player who simply cannot shoot the ball at an acceptable level in the NBA. Rubio is a prodigious passer and a solid defender, but is a rare example of a starting point guard who defenses will leave open on purpose. Rubio shot 38.1 percent from the floor last season, which is a poor percentage for any player but a career high for Rubio. For his career, Rubio has shot 32.3 percent from three-point range but has only Ricky Rubio Jordan Johnson/NBAE/Getty Images


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