Exploring the Timberwolves 2013-14 Vulnerabilities

Ricky's Summer Camp

Ricky’s Summer Camp

We’re t-minus 10 days from the beginning of Timberwolves training camp, and it’s time to begin musing about the upcoming season.

We know the big news from the offseason:

  • Flip Saunders is now running the show, with Milt Newton riding shotgun and Bobby Jackson in the mix too. David Kahn is gone.
  • Rick Adelman and Nik Pekovic are back.
  • Love and Budinger are reportedly healthy. Word on the street is that Love is in shape. If true, this is a very good thing.
  • Corey Brewer and Kevin Martin are in.
  • Luke Ridnour is gone. So is Andrei Kirilenko. (Mikhail Prokhorov apparently made AK an offer he couldn’t refuse. Can’t really blame him.)
  • J.J. Barea’s still here, and as far as I know, he’s also still divorced. Alexey Shved is still here, and as far as I know, he’s still partying. (Eds. Note:  I actually don’t know that, I just like to think he is.)
  • Shabazz Muhammad and Gorgui Dieng got drafted.
  • AJ Price might come to camp and compete for prime real estate at the end of the Wolves’ bench.
  • Ricky Rubio has been bicycling and kayaking through Europe. He took a break recently to play for Spain in Eurobasket.
  • Oh, and Derrick Williams still has a pulse. (Eds. Note: That is confirmed based on his tweets, unless someone’s ghost-tweeting from his Twitter. Whether or not he has improved his footwork to a semi-competent level remains unconfirmed.)

All in all, this year’s team has the makings of a good one….(more below the fold)

It’s simple, and it’s been covered by the many other excellent Wolves blogs and media sources. But it’s worth repeating. The Wolves are much deeper than they were last year, they’re more balanced (wings!), and they still have a great coach, a great power forward, and a great point guard. What’s more, they resigned their center, who strikes fear in all of humanity and who also happens to be very good at basketball. And their other supporting pieces mostly make sense, both from a skills and positional perspective.

So, you can quibble with some of the personnel decisions that were made during the offseason. (I’m one of the few card-carrying Shabazz Muhammad fans, but I would’ve taken C.J. McCollum at #9 too.)

So maybe it isn’t perfect, but it isn’t a complete stretch to think that this year’s group could crack the playoffs for the first time in a decade, and maybe even win 50 games in a very tough Western Conference–if things break right.

But what if they don’t?

We hardly need the painful reminder that last year’s squad was horribly plagued by injuries, family illnesses, front-office turmoil, and horrid shooting. Basically, everything that could’ve gone wrong did, from Knucklegate to Terry Porter’s stint on the sidelines to the team’s clankety-clank-clank perimeter shooting. It was flat-out bad.

Here’s the good news. This year’s team is much deeper. Many of the things that were broken last season have at least been patched up, if not completely fixed. I mean, the coach’s wife now appears well enough for him to return this season. Martin and Budinger can make the shots that Williams and Shved couldn’t. So can Kevin Love. The floor spread, especially when Rubio is at the wheel, should be splendid. And regardless whether you like the Flip Saunders hire or not, there’s little question that he’s going to be anchoring the front office for a while, so there won’t be any need to spend the last quarter of the season speculating about whom the next season’s POBO will be. It might not be the exact team you would have put together if you were running the show at 600 First Ave, but, heading into 2013-14, things look orders of magnitude better than they did at a lot of points during last season. So, color me optimistic.

Those tend to be famous last words for Wolves fans. You never know if, or when, the injury bug will bite. You don’t know if, or when, illness might strike Mrs. Adelman again. You don’t know what you don’t know (UNKNOWN UNKNOWNS!).

One can imagine a few worst-case scenarios. How vulnerable would the Wolves be this time around?

  1. Love stinks: Probably the absolute worst of the worst-case scenarios would be if Kevin Love never returns to his 2011-12 form. He might not. He might get hurt again. He might show up fat and never get skinny. If that happened, the Wolves would not only be losing their best player, but also looking at more Derrick Williams/Dante Cunningham than anyone wants to see. Without a strong season from Love, I think the Wolves lose about five more games than they would otherwise. My best guess is that this would push them from a 45-50 win team to a 40-45 win team–if everything else went right. Love is so much better than his replacements it isn’t even funny.
  2. Ricky gets hurt: We all wish Ricky were a better shooter and scorer, but we also know how much he impacts games by doing all the other Ricky things he does. His value over any replacement–be it Barea, Shved, or A.J. Price–is huge. We’d all be longing for Luke Ridnour to stabilize things, and that’s something I hope never occurs. Still, if Ricky would go down for an extended period of time, the loss wouldn’t be as catastrophic as losing Love. The Wolves have enough offensive weapons and a good enough system that as long as the other pieces are in place, we could mostly tread water–it would probably cost us two or three wins.
  3. Adelman doesn’t finish the season: Unfortunately, this might be the most likely of the three scenarios. Rick missed a chunk of time last season, and didn’t formally acknowledge that he would be returning this season until recently. He was all but invisible during the offseason while Flip reshuffled the team, and even though certain moves–such as the Kevin Martin deal–appear to have Rick’s fingerprints on them, it’s not at all unthinkable that he will not be coaching the team come March. I’m not at all clued into his wife’s health, nor is it any of my business, but it appears that Saunders is waiting in the wings to coach this team whenever Adelman retires. What effect would this have on the team? I think it would be somewhat less devastating than losing Love or Rubio, but it would still hurt, both substantively and in terms of continuity.

Let’s hope none of these scenarios becomes a reality this season.



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6 responses to “Exploring the Timberwolves 2013-14 Vulnerabilities

  1. Good stuff. I can’t wait for the season to start. I am, as usual, irrationally excited and blinded by best case scenarios.

    • @averagejer: It’s gonna be great. I’m with you–expecting the best case–but as I was counting our blessings, I had to kahnsider the kahntingencies.

      There’s lots of other stuff to think about. What if Pek gets hurt? He’s been known to do that. Does Turiaf have enough in the tank to be a serviceable short-term starter? Does Dieng? I’m not sure. That’s a major vulnerability in my mind. As Andy has said before, playing K-Love at center is something Rick should be doing more of, if for no other reason than to prep for this contingency (that hopefully will never come to pass).

      As hopeful as I am about Martin, if he gets hurt, I’m somewhat less worried. I think some patchwork combo of Brewer/Bud/Shabazz/Shved/JJ covers that spot on a situational basis–just not quite as well as having K-Mart playing steady minutes at that spot.

      • That probably good because I expect Martin to get hurt. It’s one player stereotype I can’t get past.

        I think Pek will play most games and that Ronnie and Dieng will be enough to get us by when he doesn’t. I’m pretty optimistic about that situation.

        • Concur on all fronts. I’m hoping for 65 healthy games from Martin. Forch, we’ve got reinforcements there.

          • What’s your sense of vulnerabilities? Are you worried about other positions? (I am, kind of, but didn’t write about it.)

            • I am worried about PG because I’m not sure we have another true PG on the team besides Ricky. I like the Price rumor because of this. I also don’t think we have a true on the ball wing defender and I worry about that. My sense of Corey is that he is more of a defensive havoc maker. I think there is actually a pretty wide range of possible outcomes for this coming season ranging from home court in the first round of the playoffs to missing out on the playoffs entirely.