The Minnesota Timberwolves were my team to make the big jump last year. They finished 31-51, good enough for last in the Northwest Division and did not qualify for the playoffs for the ninth straight year. The injury bug came in early on the Wolves, making itself at home and then never left.
Kevin Love only played in 18 games, Ricky Rubio missed 25 games, Brandon Roy tried to come out of retirement and only lasted five games. I could keep going, but it'd just be depressing. The lone person to not miss a game last season was former Seattle Supersonic point guard, Luke Ridnour. Even former Sonic Mickael Gelabale started 13 games for the Wolves last year.
Hey, at least David Kahn is gone now though, right?
The Wolves are now entering their 25th season in the league and once again I am expecting them to challenge for a playoff spot in the Western Conference. There is just way too much talent on this roster to miss the playoffs for a 10th consecutive year.
Head Coach: Rick Adelman is back for his third season with the Wolves. The team has improved by nine wins in his first season (17 to 26 wins) and then improved by another five games this past season. For all the injuries last season, it's absolutely shocking that he was able to coax 31 wins out of this team.
Adelman has never missed the playoffs for three consecutive seasons in his 23-year head coaching career. He's a winner wherever he goes. He's taken the Blazers to the Finals twice and should have taken the Kings to the Finals at least once.
Last Season's Record: 31-51
Player Additions: The Wolves drafted both Shabazz Muhammad and Gorgui Dieng. Adding to their much needed depth at both the wing and frontcourt positions. During free agency the Wolves resigned current players: Nikola Pekovic and Chase Budinger, then added Ronny Turiaf, outstanding wing defender, Corey Brewer and Kevin Martin.
Best Player: I wish their best player was their most exciting player, but alas he is not. Kevin Love, however, is their best player.
Love is entering his sixth season in the NBA and has yet to play a full 82 game season. Coming into last year big things were expected from him, during the 2011-12 season he averaged 26 points and a little over 13 rebounds a game. His name was brought up in most preseason MVP talks and then he broke his hand.
Love has come into this season lighter and stronger; one would expect a 27-15 average for him (at least I do). He'll have to make sure he stays on the court for a full year. The Wolves need him.
Worst Player: Chris Johnson, a fourth string center.
Player due to breakthrough: Ricky Rubio. We waited forever for him to come over from Spain to join the Wolves, then when he gets here he blows out his ACL. Rubio comes into this season healthy and focused. He's a pass first guard who has mastered the "video game glitch pass." You know those passes in an NBA video game that some how defies all physics, time and space, those passes that happen to go through a defender? Rubio has mastered that exact pass. He gets the basketball to go places that shouldn't be physically possible, it'll trip out your mind and make you question reality.
I look for Rubio to up his scoring and assist numbers this year. He'll never be a big volume scorer in the NBA and on this team he doesn't have to be. 16 points and 11-12 assists a game should not be out of the question for him.
The Starters: Rubio will be at point and Kevin Martin at the two to give you the starting backcourt. Budinger was supposed to start at small forward, but he just had knee surgery and a timetable for his return is yet to be determined. Derrick Williams, Corey Brewer and maybe Muhammad will now compete for the starting spot until Budinger can come back. Love will start at power forward and Pekovic will once again be manning the middle.
The Bench: J.J. Barea is your backup point guard, the intriguing Alexey Shved will back up Martin, Ronny Turiaf, Dieng and Dante Cunningham should see a lot of the four and five reserve minutes, Williams could factor in there as well once the small forward issue has been resolved.
Random Seattle Connection: Turiaf used to play at Gonzaga and we all know about Jack Sikma.
Best Case Scenario for the Season: Rubio and Love stay healthy, Derrick Williams finds a position and role with the team, proving he was a solid number two overall pick and Kevin Martin learns to not be a broken toll booth on defense.
Worst Case Scenario for the Season: The injury bug sticks around for another year, Flip Saunders fires Adelman midseason and returns to the bench and the Wolves are once again missing the playoffs.
Most Likely Scenario for the Season: The Wolves go 20-14 through their first 34 games to start the season. Once the calendar flips the schedule softens up and this is where they can make their run. January only has five tough games for them and ten extremely winnable ones. They just need to go 2-3 during that tough stretch to have 32 wins heading into February. They could go 11-22 the rest of the way and reach my projected win total for them.
This is with everyone healthy. They should be lucky enough to have a season where they stay pretty healthy, see progress from Williams, Rubio steps up big and Love comes back as a monster with something to prove.