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.