Top Wolves Questions Heading Into Training Camp, Part II

Can Brandon Roy take over as the Wolves’ closer?

With training camp just around the corner, there are a bunch of top-level questions that remain unanswered as October 2nd approaches. There’s been a ton turnover on the roster, and many players’ roles are anything but clear. Long story short, the team’s success this season will likely hinge on the answers.

In part 2 of a two-part series, I look at the ten questions I think are most important heading into the 2012-13 season. The countdown, from #5 – #1, is below the fold.

5. Will Derrick Williams find a role that suits him?

Williams was the biggest enigma on last year’s team. He’s reportedly coming back 15 pounds lighter and on a mission to prove he can play small forward. Still, there are a lot of questions about what position he should play (or whether position even matters), whether he can play alongside Kevin Love, whether he can extend his range to the NBA three or if he should instead abandon floating around the perimeter and focus on attacking the hoop and drawing fouls. I, for one, think Williams will eventually become a solid (but not great) three point shooter–“viable” would be a fair way of putting it. The big thing for Williams, in almost all aspects of his game, is confidence. His confidence was shattered last year, and when he lost his confidence, it didn’t seem like Adelman and company did much to help him get it back. He’s got a ton of natural talent that the Wolves can ill afford to waste. If he gets his confidence back–and that’s a big if–he’ll not only make the rotation but make a difference in the win-loss column. A major investment of effort should be in nurturing Williams’ confidence to move things in that direction, but right now he looks like a big question mark.

4. Who will take the last shot?

I say the answer is Brandon Roy–but only if he’s healthy. Roy is a great leader, can create his own shot off the dribble, and thrives in crunch time. Rick Adelman is on-record as saying he hopes Roy will be able to fill this role. The elephant in the room, of course, is Kevin Love. Love is the team’s best player and is no stranger to hitting big shots. Will Love’s ego be bruised if last-second shots are drawn up for Roy instead of him? Probably. But I think K-Love should have to keep earning it, and that any competition for the closer role is healthy competition. And only time will tell if Roy is healthy enough to make it a competition.

3. How healthy are Brandon Roy’s knees?

Many fans and writers have largely written Brandon Roy off already. Not only do they think that there’s little chance he’ll be able to contribute quality minutes because of his bad knees, but with rare exceptions it seems many have forgotten what a force Roy was just two seasons ago. Roy’s ascent as a player had him somewhere near a top-10 guy in the league who was undisputedly the best player on two 50+ win teams that included LaMarcus Aldridge.  The truth is, no one knows what the Wolves will get from Roy, but the reports are so far, so good, and  the fact of the matter is that others who’ve had the same treatments in Germany that Roy has been raving about have also been raving about them. The odds are stacked against Roy for sure, but I’m just excited as can be that he’s on *our* squad *and* that we have a decent backup plan in case he can’t go. Eric Freeman and the late Tim Allen have had nice pieces  that give a fair perspective to Roy’s attempted comeback.

2. How healthy is Ricky Rubio’s knee?

It goes without saying  just how important Rubio’s recovery is to the Wolves’ prospects this season, but it still can’t be emphasized enough: he’s the key. He proved an elite passer and defender last year, and is one of those rarest of players who makes an impact on games even when he isn’t scoring–which wasn’t that uncommon last season, as Rubio struggled mightily with his shot after starting out the season hot.  The Wolves were 18-13 in games Ricky started and 8-27 in games he didn’t. This year’s supporting cast looks far better than last year’s, but Ricky’s ability to play big minutes in a lot of games will make or break the Wolves’ playoff chances. The team expects him to be ready for the beginning of the season in December, and it’s important they both build chemistry without him and don’t rush him back too soon. As disappointing as it’ll be to await Rubio’s return, it’ll open up some breathing room for the death matches at the guard positions to play out, and that will provide some interesting fodder for speculation about what Adelman’s rotations will look like after Ricky gets back.

1. Can Kevin Love be the cornerstone of a top-level playoff team?

That depends on what you mean by “cornerstone.” Kevin Love can probably be the “best all-around player,” by some statistical measures, on a title contender. He ranks nearly atop the entire league in some of them.  This question is hard, though, because four seasons into his career, Love’s best team – last season’s – had a winning percentage of .394.  Two moments of promise (January 2009, early 2012) were derailed by knee injuries to Love’s only other clearly-above-average teammates, Al Jefferson and Ricky Rubio respectively.

To answer the question, though, I think there are two things to say.

First. A good team cannot rely on Kevin Love to generate most of its scoring opportunities. He doesn’t command double teams and doesn’t create his own shot. What he does better than many (all?) shot-creators is create extra possessions and thus extra shot opportunities for himself and teammates. He also knocks down open jumpers, draws bonus fouls at what seemingly has to be an all-time great level, and make 80-90 percent of his free throws. But in talking about the best of the best–the Lakers, Thunder, Heat and Spurs–I don’t think a team can compete on that level if it’s a Kevin Love who’s being asked to shoulder the burden on offense and is consistently fed the ball to make plays. He can score 25 per game on a bad team, and maybe 22 on a good team. But that 22 needs to come off of three-pointers, junk foul shots and the occasional post up against smaller defenders.

Second. Love is more than worth the max salary that he will earn in 2012. In that respect, he’s a true cornerstone. There’s enough cap room under the current CBA for a few Kevin Love’s. It’s David Kahn’s job to go get them. Maybe he already did when he acquired Rubio. Maybe Brandon Roy can be 80% of his old self. Maybe Andrei Kirilenko will look like his Olympic Bronze Medal-winning self when playing for a DAVID BLATT-style coach in Rick Adelman.  But as far as K-Love being the cornerstone goes, the list of “clearly a max contract player” guys in the entire NBA is short and he is one of them. In that respect he’s a cornerstone, no matter what team he’s playing for.

Go Wolves!

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8 Comments

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8 responses to “Top Wolves Questions Heading Into Training Camp, Part II

  1. Two things:

    1) Derrick Williams. I don’t know that he’ll become a “viable” NBA three-point shooter. He leaps SO FAR FORWARD on those perimeter jumpers… I just don’t see a consistent stroke from that type of range. The big guys who have it (Dirk, Frye, Peja, etc) usually *barely* jump and have more of a high-release set shot. Derrick hangs way too much and has way too much going on in it. He had a fluky-high 3PT% in college with the shorter distance and smaller SAMPLE SIZE. I like his prospects as a player who can get buckets around the bucket.

    2) Roy v. Love. I think this is less about the *last shot* than it is about who consistently takes more shots when each is in the game at the same time. Roy will undoubtedly command the rock when he’s in the game — it’s just how he plays — and that will mean lower usage for Love and probably fewer points per game. That’s the reality Love will need to come to grips with, provided Roy’s knees can keep him on the floor.

    • Fair points, especially on Roy vs. Love. On Williams, I don’t think he’ll ever be on the level of the Dirks, Pejas, et al, but I think he’ll be better than he was last year and a guy who won’t make you cringe when he shoots an open shot from distance.

  2. Eric in Madison

    Good questions. Especially Derrick Williams. He (and they) needs to find a role in which he can be a positive contributor. In a way, the moves this off-season constructed a team that can theoretically win without Williams. They covered his positions: AK, Cunningham, Budinger. One can imagine a rotation that barely or even doesn’t include him.

    However, they need good players. Getting nothing out of a 3rd straight top draft pick is not conducive to long term success.

    The questions about who is the “closer” and what Kevin Love’s role is…eh. I don’t know that I buy that stuff. Love does “create” a ton of scoring opportunities in a number of ways.

    • Eric, I couldn’t agree more with your take on the personnel acquisitions and Williams. It really leaves Williams in a tough spot, as he’ll likely press given the stiff competition at any place he could conceivably play, and he doesn’t play well when he presses. He needs the game to slow down, and even though I’m glad we’ll likely be better overall and they aren’t all in on a 2nd year guy who may not be able to do what a playoff team needs, I think it’s more likely than not that he’ll end up a squandered pick (for us), get traded, and have a nice career on another team. Buy high, sell low. That’s a “Kahn-do” attitude that Glen Taylor, Adelman, and others internally have to be extremely concerned with (possibly part of the reason for pre-emptively trading our 1st rounder for Budinger this year). .

      • Eric in Madison

        Yeah, he really is in a tough spot. Ultimately, his biggest problem is he plays the same damn position as the team’s best player. Given the way the roster is constructed, with basic health, there just isn’t much there for him.

        Love is going to play 36+, healthy Pekovic and AK are going to play 30. That just doesn’t leave a ton of minutes no matter how you slice it; Adelman will play Budinger at the 3 along with AK, Love might slide to the 5 for a bit (Andy’s preferred option), but there just aren’t going to be a ton of backup 4 minutes available.

        It is looking like a sell low outcome eventually, which is quite dispiriting. Of course, if the season is going well, it doesn’t hurt quite as much. But still. I clamored for them to trade the pick on draft night in part because this scenario was pretty obviously looming (and in part because I frankly didn’t want another damn rookie with Rubio coming and Wes Johnson still around).

        Ultimately, I get why they didn’t do it (I remember making a similar comment at the time), but they could have drafted Jonas Valanciunas if they couldn’t find a trade. I understand why they didn’t, but this was a foreseeable problem.

        • I admit that I bought into the “Williams is the 2nd best player (BPA)” and so you draft him and worry about position later. Now, there are serious questions about whether he actually was the 2nd best player – I say give him some more time and possibly a change of scenery before we completely rule out the possibility, though guys like Manimal and even Kawhi Leonard make the possibility seem remote – and we absolutely have to worry about position because he’s proven he can’t play the three, and despite all the other areas I think he can improve (and probably will, at some point). he isn’t taking Love’s job. So we’re again left holding the bag, wondering how low we can afford to sell and when to cut bait, when a guy like Jonas maybe would’ve been the right fit. Another epic fail, even if I still really wanna like Williams. I hope he somehow proves us wrong, but the odds look longer by the month.

          • Eric in Madison

            Yep. One of the tangential issues raised here is that professional sports tends to be fairly risk averse. That is slowly changing as a new style of management permeates, but it still exists, in large part because it’s such a public enterprise.

            Consider the NFL. I pay as little attention as possible to the NFL, but even I know things like teams punt way too often. It’s classic risk aversion. In the NBA, it often manifests in things like the Williams draft pick. Now I agree that there is still every chance that he has a good career, and still might wind up one of the top players in his draft class. But because he was so widely viewed as the 2nd best player, not taking him would have been very difficult from a risk standpoint for the individuals involved.

            • It seems like as much risk aversion as there is in drafting players, there’s even more in selling low on draft picks, since it’s akin to admitting failure. This is one quality I admire about Kahn: he ends up cutting bait to try to correct his own mistakes on guys like Flynn and Wes Johnson. Now, I wish those mistakes could be averted in the first place, but they happened and then the mess had to be cleaned up. One thing I disliked about McHale was that he seemed loyal/stubborn to a fault when dealing with guys he’d drafted. He was far to slow to give up on McCants, Foye, et al, in my opinion. Kahn feels pressure in a whole bunch of ways McHale never seemed to until the very end, so who’s to say Kahn wouldn’t behave the same way if he’d had McHale’s kind of job security for a longer period of time.