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It’s about that time. After finishing the preseason out with two wins over the lowly Milwaukee Bucks (Seriously, they got issues), the Timberwolves are set to open up the season against the Oklahoma City Thunder at the Target Center the night after Christmas.
I have to be honest, after the strenuous lockout, I thought the Wolves were in trouble with such little time to break everything in and incorporate the new pieces. A new point guard, more lineup headaches on the frontline and a new coach all had to learn on the fly in just two weeks time. Practices had to be efficient, to say the least, and the two preseason games had to be taken advantage of. Luckily, the Wolves did just that. Although the two victories were quite sloppy, they pulled out on top, which is something new they’re trying.
It’s called winning. This team will turn heads with their outstanding athleticism and hotshot point guard. This team will also make a lot of mistakes on both sides of the ball because of their inexperience in the league and lack of chemistry due to limited practice time. But what this team does have a shot at is winning more games this season.
With that said, I’m going to make my preseason prediction: the Timberwolves will win 30-35 games and fight for and, I believe win, the 8th seed in the Western Playoffs.
Before you move on to other places on the World Wide Web, allow me to justify.
I’ll start with the first reason I mentioned earlier: the new kid on the block. Ricky Rubio is like the second coming of Jesus in terms of acquiring a basketball player that’s capable of illuminating a dark franchise, that’s seen it’s last few years in the eery abyss that is the NBA’s basement. I’m not over exaggerating either. I don’t need to belabor how bad the Timberwolves have been and how seemingly useless it has been to spend money — even your time — watching this team play. But things are turning around thanks to the Spainard’s arrival.
Rubio’s arrival dawns a new era in Wolves history. He just has that “It” factor that draws fans’ interest. It could be the reason why the Wolves have sold more season tickets since the ’03-’04 season this year. Rubio brings a whole new dynamic to the Wolves that they’ve never seen in their entire existence: the presence of a true point guard. He can dash and he can pass, and that’s all the Wolves need to don him the best point guard prospect in franchise history. But what makes it even more alluring is the fact that he’s so foreign to even the most avid basketball fan.
Many have heard his name but most haven’t seen him play . . . yet. Rubio’s mysteriousness is going to draw in mass crowds to the Target Center. And once they catch wind of his highlight-reel style of play, they’ll keep coming back. It’s economic-genius on David Kahn’s part. Thanks in part to Rubio, the Wolves are finally relevant not only in the NBA but in their hometown, where professional basketball lost its place. Sooner rather than later, it’ll be rediscovered.
The second reason I believe the Wolves will finally be successful this year is the overcrowded frontcourt. Wait, what? It might not make sense now but you’ll see it soon.
The Timberwolves covet the NBA’s best rebounder since Dennis Rodman in Kevin Love (Please just sign him to that max extension and get it over with!). Love is primed for another All-Star caliber season just based off of his preseason numbers — 21.5 ppg and 15.5 rpg; more, please — and that’s considering he’s 20-25 lbs. lighter! Dude looks freakishly skinny, if you haven’t seen him yet. With Rubio at the helm, Love’s scoring numbers a bound to thrive, especially from beyond the arc, as a result of wicked pick-and-pop plays. I’m a witness.
Alongside Love is our very own, Michael Beasley. He’s still crazy; he certainly didn’t adopt any new behaviors this offseason. But after pushing a fan in the face and getting caught with weed — yes, again — Beasley took the high road and is doing his best to avoid any further confrontation with trouble. His new mentor, Norm Nixon, has helped shape who Beasley strives to be: the greatest.
“I ask him sometimes, ‘Do you want to be a good player for just one year or do you want to go down as one of the greatest?’ ” said Nixon.
Beasley has a long ways to go, and it won’t prove to be a cakewalk. His sometimes-idiotic behaviors on the court hindered the team all last season, when they were longing for a proven offensive force that could take a game over on a whim. Instead, Beasley allowed his emotions to get the best of him too often, which, both physically and mentally, forced him out of games. But with another year under his belt and a mentor at his side, I’m looking for Beasley to, well, harness his inner-Beasley and hopefully mature a bit. He could become one of the NBA’s most potent scorers, if he really wanted to.
Now let’s not forget about Derrick Williams. The second pick in this summer’s NBA draft will likely take a seat behind Love and Beasley to start the season. And, from the sounds of it, may have practiced his way out of minutes, at least playing at the small forward spot. The debate on Williams going in to the draft was ‘What position does he play?’ He consistently answered he’s a small forward, but, according to Rick Adelman, he’s struggled to guard Beasley in practice, thus playing his way to back-up Love at the 4.
But that won’t be much of a problem anyways. Williams possesses special tools that will help him play at either position once the season starts. He can shoot better than many small forwards in the league, and his size will be overpowering to them when he posts up — Watch him on the elbow in Adelman’s system, could be special — but he has a special quickness that will blow most typical power forwards away. Where his ‘tweener’ status will hurt him most is on defense.
Now, take those three studs and throw in Anthony Randolph, Darko Milicic, Nikola Pekovic, Brad Miller and Anthony Tolliver to the mix, and Adelman has a real conundrum on his hands . . . Or does he? This is the first time I’ve seen this much diversity in Minnesota’s big men in a long time. Many teams consider themselves blessed to have prototypical players and sizes in specific positions. Well I believe the Wolves are blessed to have an array of strengths coming from different players, varying greatly in size. The lineups will need fine-tuning indeed, but once Adelman finds 2-3 lineups with a mixture of these eight guys, they’ll cycle in with fresh legs and, ultimately, help win games.
And finally, it all comes full circle. With a revamped roster, new head coach Adelman has a chance to etch his name on a one-way ticket to Cooperstown. One of the NBA’s winningest coaches already, Adelman is here in Minnesota because of the talent; it’s what I believe drew him in. And he believes he can turn this team, no, this franchise, into a proven winner.
In an interview last week, Adelman said that part of turning around this team’s losing ways is to change the culture. But when a team boasts a roster constantly plagued, year-by-year, with young, inexperienced players, the culture certainly takes a hit because wins come at a premium; they’re never guaranteed and always hard-fought. Last year was perhaps the best example. Despite having serious “potential” on the squad, the losing ways got into the heads of each and every one of them, even coach Kurt Rambis, and thus they ended with the worst record in team history.
But this year’s different. Even though the roster is still donning youngsters from head-to-toe, the presence of a proven head coach, who’s well respected around the league, will certainly turn things around and hopefully earn respect from other teams. The lag time after emotional losses will be cut in half. The ability to harness momentum moving forward to the next game will be much easier with a coach that highlights everything they did right, not wrong.
It just comes down to the fact that the Wolves finally have a teacher at the helm. Rambis was a strategist, forcing his plan-of-attack down the throats of his comrades, despite its inability to do, well, anything good. But Adelman is a player’s coach. He’s going to allow the players to do what they do best but keep it all within a system.
He’s just going to help them win, something we ought to get used to for this season. That is why I believe that this is the year the Wolves start their tread up the steep incline that is the Western Conference Playoff picture. It’s now or never for the Wolves to turn things around. With all of the factors I’ve listed above, they have the best chance they’ve had in the post-KG era, or should I say Love-era? (Sorry, that was pathetic). But this specific team is ready to take off, and take the city of Minneapolis with it. Never has the city been this amped to watch the Wolves play since ’03-’04, and hopefully they deliver with some big wins and something we haven’t witnessed in years: success.