TrueHoop Network 2009-2010 Season Preview: Minnesota Timberwolves

Last Year’s Record: 24-58

Crystal Ball
The consensus prediction of the TrueHoop Network bloggers … and the best hopes of Howlin’ T-Wolf.

Crowd Says: 23-59
Howlin’ T-Wolf Says: 28-54

Yes We Can!
The sun is out. The seas have parted. The basketball gods are shining upon us!

The Wolves had the best offseason of any team in the NBA in two very key areas: vast improvement in the backcourt and on the bench. Regardless of your feelings on Ricky Rubio and how the Wolves handled his situation, there is no denying that the additions of Jonny Flynn and Ramon Sessions to a backcourt which featured Sebastian Telfair playing 50 percent of the team’s minutes at point guard last season is a huge upgrade. Specifically, Flynn brings the desperately needed personality and leadership the team has lacked since K.G. left and Sessions brings an ability to get to the free throw line that no Timberwolf has been able to do since a very young Stephon Marbury (over 10+ years ago).

The Sessions signing, which was the equivalent to another first-round rookie contract ($4 million/year for four years), is nothing short of a coup. Sessions is an above average player according to John Hollinger’s Player Efficiency Rating (His PER of 17.65 is above the league average of 15 and almost double Telfair’s 10.86). Sessions was second on Hollinger’s list of best under-the-radar free agents available this offseason. Either paired in the backcourt with Jonny Flynn or running the show at point guard on his own, Sessions certainly has the potential to be the best value free-agent signing of the summer.

The second major upgrade the Wolves made this offseason was at head coach when they hired Kurt Rambis away from the Los Angeles Lakers. Coach Rambis, will instill an uptempo pace for the young Timberwolves team. Squads that want to run need to do two things well:  rebound and have a point guard who is good with the ball in his hands. The Wolves just so happen to have two of the best rebounders in the league in Kevin Love and Al Jefferson and Ramon Sessions fits like a glove without even looking at whether Jonny Flynn will do the same (signs point to yes).

Just how much will the Wolves not suck this season? Well that ultimately depends on just how effective Rambis and president of basketball operations David Kahn are at their stated goal of making the Wolves the best team in the league at player development. The answer will determine just how far their young squad can go this season and into the future. They will certainly have their work cut out for them with only 5 players returning from last years squad and a stable of young
unpolished players such as Flynn, Ellington, Hollins, and Pavlovic. For Wolves fans though, the fact that the team will have leadership in the back-court for the first time since Sam Cassell left and a front office and coaching staff with a plan means
the only place for this Wolves team to go from their current state is up.

No You Can’t
A rousing dissent from a rival blogger.

Too much will be asked of Jonny Flynn. He may surpass the low starting pointguard bar set by Sebastian Telfair, but (Brook Lopez aside) it’s rare for a pedestrian college player to become an impact NBA player as a rookie. Flynn’s undersized, wasn’t asked to play man-to-man defense at Syracuse, struggles to make jump shots, struggles to score in general, and has been given a lot more intangible credit than one would expect for a point guard on a team that chalked up 13 of its 27 wins at home against non-NCAA Tournament teams and needed overtime to win 17.8% of those 27 games.

Bret LaGree – Hoopinion (Atlanta Hawks)

All-A-Twitter
A 140-character insight into the soul of the team.

“Today is a sad day … Kevin McHale will NOT be back as head coach this season.” -@Kevin_Love

The tweet hear round the league, Love became the first NBA player to break news using his Twitter feed when he announced thatKevin McHale would not return as the Timberwolves head coach.

On the Record
Single best quote concerning the team during the last 12 months.

I have this idea in my head that I hope that a year from now we can become recognized around the league as the leaders in player development.” -David Kahn

The 2008-09 Almanac
Some key stats from last season.

Offense: 24th
Defense: 25th
Pace: 15th

Team Factor Strength(s): Defensive Rebounding (5th tied), Offensive Rebounding (10th)
Team Factor Weakness(es): Shooting (27th), Turnovers Forced (27th tied), Shooting Allowed (26th)

The Play
Down a single point with 9.2 seconds to play in a must-win game. What’s the play?

Wolves down one, 9.2 seconds to play, must-win game. What’s the play? Jonny Flynn inbounds the ball to Ramon Sessions who brings it up court. After crossing midcourt, Sessions gets a high pick on the right wing from Kevin Love. Meanwhile on the baseline Ryan Gomes sets a back pick for Al Jefferson on the far block. Jefferson flashes across the lane as Sessions sends him the ball from the wing. Once Jefferson gets it, he dribbles to his left once towards the lane, then spins quickly right and puts in a soft hook off the glass to beat the buzzer.

The People’s Choice
The fan favorite the crowd will be chanting for to see some action.

Ricky Rubio. Wolves fans may spend the next two years asking “What if…” and waiting for Ricky to come over, only to see him be traded to another team. David Kahn’s only hope is that Jonny Flynn and Ramon Sessions can quickly make them forget.

If You’re Watching the Bottom Line, You’re Watching This
The single biggest spreadsheet issue hanging over the team.

Ever since his arrival David Kahn has had seemingly one mission, other than to look like the smartest guy in the room at every turn, and that is to get as much cap space for next summer as he possibly can. Four out of the five trades he completed this summer shaved off more space for the Wolves to use next summer (or of course to be in a position to acquire a productive player at the deadline for some of their expiring contracts). The obvious question lies in whether or not the Wolves will actually be able to lure one of the better free agent players to come to Minnesota with all the money they saved up. The good news for Wolves fans: Kahn already has sold Rambis and Sessions on Minnesota and everyone knows that the real bottom line is that in the end money talks more than anything else and that’s one thing the Wolves will most definitely have on their side in the free-agent bonanza summer of 2010.