In Part 1 of our Wolves preview, Andy G delved into several issues that will have key implications for the team’s success this season. I come back with my takes on these topics, as well as a few other things he didn’t look at closely.
Find out what below the fold.
Issue 1: What happens without Love and Rubio?
First off, this is a rough situation. It looked like AdelKahn had many of the right pieces lined up, and the guys who get paid to write about basketball were projecting the Wolves to win up to 58 games this season. That seems like centuries ago–Rubio’s recovery notwithstanding, KnuckleGate and K-Love’s absence changes everything, mostly for the worse.
Rubio is easier to address. Andy G hit the key point in his preview post: look for Ridnour to fill in. You know the rest. He will be solid. But not spectacular. Mediocre. He won’t hurt you, but he won’t really help you that much either. He’ll make a shot once in a while. That’s awesome. He’ll make those shots off the dribble when the ball’s in his hands, or off a kick out from a teammate when it isn’t.
This is key.
Last year when Rubio went down, we were looking at Ridnour/Webster/Wes at the 1/2/3 positions, with some Barea sprinkled in. With this group, Luke was the only guy who could dribble and make plays. JJ can dribble but can’t be trusted. He’s too unreliable. He isn’t bad, but he just isn’t a reliable starting point guard whose hands you want the ball in for very long. Neither Martell nor Wes could dribble and merit no further discussion. We’ve moved on.
In Martell’s and Wes’ place this season are Brandon Roy, Alexey Shved, and Andrei Kirilenko. Let’s leave AK aside for a bit and focus on Roy and Alexey. These guys can dribble. These guys are better when they initiate the offense. These guys can put pressure on the defense and set up teammates or get and make their own shot. They’re the bizarro Martell and Wes.
I have a ton of respect for Luke Ridnour, but I think the Wolves are a funner and likely a better team if you hand Roy or Shved (with the second unit) the ball and tell him to make plays. Roy has had a nice preseason, but looks hamstrung standing on the wing waiting for a pass from the top of the key so he can start working an iso with the shot clock already winding down. He’s more effective when he starts with the ball, putting the defense on its heels from the get-go of each possession. It’s exhausting and difficult to contend with a dynamic combo like that, and there aren’t many: Wade, Westbrook, Harden, LeBron (from the 3 or the 4), Pierce (from the 3), Kobe (sort of – his role in the Lakers’ offense has always been as a lead, and has some similarities but is different from the aforementioned combos), and Roy have been the best over the last half-decade.
So why isn’t Adelman playing Roy to his strength and giving him the ball to initiate the offense? Unlike Rubio, Ridnour can make corner threes. Both are better off, and the offense is more dynamic, if Roy’s essentially given the point on offense and Ridnour taken off the ball, and each could guard his own positiion on D to avoid mismatches.
Same with Shved. He’s versatile and can play the 2, and he can play the 1, but what this means is that he’s really a combo. And not a Randy Foye kind of combo who’s not really a combo but an undersized 2 – he’s a legit, 6’5’’ baller who runs the pick ‘n roll like a dream.
Is Shved turnover prone? Of course. At least somewhat. Is Barea? Who do you want making things happen? I’ll take Shved eight days a week. One of the most disappointing things about the preseason seems to be that with Rubio and Love out, Adelman isn’t putting key guys whom he needs to step up and provide production – namely, Roy and Shved – in a position where they naturally thrive. Keep an eye on whether Adelman adjusts if the backcourt struggles early on.
Kevin Love. That’s a more difficult injury to deal with. The Wolves just don’t have the kind of depth at the 4 that they do in the backcourt, which I never would’ve expected to write at this time last season. Derrick Williams has created more questions than answers about whether he can fill in, even temporarily, for Love as a starter. Meanwhile, fans clamor for Dante Cunningham and Lou Amundson is in the spotlight, parlaying his newfound status as Wolves role player discussions about forming a Bieber-esque boy band with K-Love tickling the ivories (maybe after his hand heals – in the meantime, Royce White may be able to stand in for K-Love since he doesn’t appear ready to be a factor for a bad Houston team.)
To the extent Andy G’s predicted record until Love and Rubio return is bullish, I’m less bullish than he. I expect us to be pretty bad. We’ll struggle to rebound and score. Pekovic will have a ton of burden placed on him. So will Roy. Will they respond? Will the efforts of others be able to compensate for the gaping hole at the 4? I’m not suggesting disaster, but Andy’s “worst case” prediction of 7-10 after 17 games is more like my baseline expectation, with a lower chance they’ll be a game or two better or worse.
Alas, things will get much, much better – and fast – when our two best players come back in January.
Issue #2: Who will be traded?
Derrick Williams, probably. He’s a fish out of water in Minnesota, and it’s a shame, because you can see he isn’t hopeless like Wes Johnson or Darko were – he always looks like he’s on the cusp of turning the corner and translating his physical talent and ability into productive play. But he rarely does, and his confidence is as low as I’ve ever seen it. It’s a far cry from the rave reviews that came flooding out of training camp about how Williams was a new player, both physically and mentally. Thrill may be a few pounds lighter, but it doesn’t matter unless he’s able to stop over thinking every single action he takes while on the floor. Dude needs a few hours of therapy with John Wooden’s ghost if he’s gonna become a productive starter in this league.
Andy G suggested Barea is a clear candidate to go. I agree. Not much to say about this. If the right deal comes, you take it. JJ never meshed well with teammates or fit into Adelman’s offense. If you can offload JJ’s Kahntract, bring back an ASSET, and free up minutes for Shved, that’s a win-win-win.
Issue #3: Will the Wolves Make the Playoffs?
Yes. Despite the Gloomy Gus prediction about the season’s start, the finish could be epic. And that means momentum. And momentum makes for a dangerous playoff team, even if it isn’t a highly seeded one. Much more on this to come in our forthcoming NBA preview post.
Andy offered up some provocative food for thought here: Adelman winning Coach of the Year, Shved making an All-Rookie Team, and late-season matchups against Utah being both interesting and even having playoff implications.
A lot to digest there: I’m agnostic on Adelman, in agreement on Shved, and amused by Utah. Good stuff, that.
*Brandon Roy will win Comeback Player of the Year. (Wait, is that even an award in the NBA? Oh well, if it isn’t he’ll be the honarary recipient.) Given that he’s a feel-good story and that he’ll have to take on an expanded role due to circumstance, Comeback Player of the Year is a foregone conclusion for Roy. Unless, you know, his leg simply falls off on one of his reckless drives into the paint, and has to be reattached at halftime in the locker room. That would change everything, and not for the better.)
*Fans will miss Mike Beasley. Okay, maybe only a little bit, and maybe only occasionally. But Beasley could play the 4 – hell, that was his position – and right now, he’s objectively better than anything we have to throw out there. If I were in the front office I’d have gambled on Williams over Beasley too, but it was clear all last season that Mike was better than Derrick at the end of the day. Adelman apparently couldn’t stand Beasley and doesn’t think much more of Williams, so maybe they should’ve stuck with the guy he could at least tolerate if not respect – ANTHONY RANDOLPH! (Just half-kidding. Grains of salt shall be taken aplenty!)
*Fans walk away relieved at signing Kirlienko, not Batum. Batum was a big thing for Kahn and co. I get a headache when I think about what they were prepared to give up for this guy. And I like him. But I like Kirilenko too. Like Batum, he plays excellent D and plays the 3. No, he doesn’t shoot it like Nic, but he’s got a toughness and swagger that I want in a playoff series. Batum doesn’t have that. Kirilenko had it on full display in the Olympics last summer, and apparently last season too, when he was playing overseas, given that he won the league’s MVP. He has intangible qualities that none of the Wolves’ other marquee players – Love, Rubio, even Pekovic – have. Part of it is toughness, and part is unselfishness. Even with the awkward NUMB#RS stuff around Love, I don’t think any of these guys are selfish, but I do think none have shown the kind of grit and self-sacrifice that means doing things to help teammates that involves an opportunity cost that isn’t helpful to your own numbers. Kirilenko does this innately. I wouldn’t be a fan of his on a team where he was supposed to be, say, the #2 guy, but he’s a huge force multiplier on a young team like ours where he’s a #4 guy who’s likely to make his teammate better and tougher.