40 games into the 2011-2012 NBA season and the Minnesota Timberwolves were actually competing for a Western Conference playoff spot. An injury to Ricky Rubio derailed the T-Wolves surprising start to the season but proved that there is reason for optimism in Minnesota and that the team doesn’t need to make any drastic moves this off-season. Still, a few upgrades could help them get back into post-season next year.
Minnesota Timberwolves (26-40 last year)
2011-12 Season Summary:
For the eighth straight season, the Minnesota Timberwolves missed out on the post-season. Had it not been for a season-ending injury to rookie phenom Ricky Rubio, the T-Wolves were on pace to be in thick of the playoff race. With the Spanish Sensation running the show, Minnesota was 21-20. After his injury, the team ended up losing fifteen of their final twenty games.
Needless to say Rubio lived up to the hype and was in Rookie of the Year conversations prior to his injury. Second overall pick Derrick Williams finished with mixed reviews as head coach Rick Adelman struggled to find a consistent role for the combo forward due to a plethora of bodies at forward.
Kevin Love cashed in on a max contract extension and then proved to be worth the money by continuing his march towards being one of the most least talked about stars in the league. Love finished fourth in the NBA in scoring (26 ppg) and second in rebounding (13.3 rpg) before a concussion cut his season short.
Nikola Pekovic also made a major leap in the middle more than doubling his scoring and rebounding numbers from his rookie campaign. He too was plagued by injuries throughout the year but suddenly Minnesota has an intriguing frontcourt of the future with Pekovic and Love.
The rest of roster was underwhelming to say the least. Luke Ridnour, marquee free agent signing J.J. Barea, and Michael Beasley all played well at times but proved to be major liabilities on the defensive end. Wesley Johnson and Anthony Randolph remain underwhelming, underachieving talents while guys like Wayne Ellington, Darko Millicic, Anthony Tolliver, and Martell Webster plugged in at their respective spots but don’t appear to be vital pieces for the future.
Still, optimism surrounds the Timberwolves’ franchise for the first time in a while. Some of general manager David Kahn’s often criticized moves are finally starting to pay dividends while other are still very much deserving of ridicule. If 2011-2012 is any indication of the future, a full season with a healthy core of Rubio, Love, Pekovic, and a talented Williams (if Adelman can figure out the proper way to utilize him) should have Minnesota knocking on the playoff door next year.
2012-13 Projected Depth Chart:
C: Nikola Pekovic/Darko Milicic
PF: Kevin Love/Derrick Williams/*Anthony Randolph
SF: Wesley Johnson/*Michael Beasley/#Martell Webster
SG: Luke Ridnour/Wayne Ellington/Malcolm Lee
PG: Ricky Rubio/J.J. Barea
NBA Free Agents:
*F-Michael Beasley (RFA)
*PF-Anthony Randolph (RFA)
#SF-Martell Webster (TO)
PF-Anthony Tolliver (UFA)
2012-13 Team Salary: approximately $59.4 million
1. Shooting Guard:
Wesley Johnson simply has not panned out and has nothing to show why he should be a starter in the league. Minnesota has tried to plug guys like Martell Webster, Wayne Ellington, and Luke Ridnour at the two but they haven’t exactly worked out either. The T-Wolves will likely target a shooting guard with the 18th pick in the 2012 NBA Draft, but if they can’t find someone they like there, should look elsewhere for an upgrade.
2. Extend Pekovic:
Nikola Pekovic came from practically out of nowhere to become one of the league’s most improved players and emerge as a legitimate NBA center; something the team sorely needed to allow Kevin Love to spend more time playing his natural power forward position. Pekovic is entering the final year of his contract and seeing how Kahn didn’t hesitate to re-sign Darko Milicic a couple of off-seasons ago, he should try to lock up Pekovic to an extension before he hits the open market next summer. (Let’s just hope it’s a reasonable deal and not some 4-year, $55 million monstrosity.)
3. What to do with Restricted FA’s:
Kahn has a tough decision on what to do with restricted free agents Michael Beasley and Anthony Randolph. Beas has a qualifying offer worth almost $8.2 million while the enigmatic Randolph’s QO is for about four million dollars. Neither guy is deserving of a long-term extension but I don’t think Kahn will just let them walk without trying to get something in return for their services. Ultimately, Minnesota has the right to match any contract they sign this off-season so it will be interesting to see what ends up happening.
David Kay is a senior feature NBA Draft, NBA, and college basketball writer for the Sports Bank. He also heads up the NBA and college basketball material at Walter Football.com and is a former contributor at The Washington Times Communities. David has appeared on numerous national radio programs spanning from Cleveland to New Orleans to Honolulu. He also had the most accurate 2011 NBA Mock Draft on the web.