Six Things To Follow This Season

I was asked recently what I’m most excited for this season, and it gave me pause. Was I most excited for Lob City? To cheer violently against the Heat until I lose a tonsil? To see a Timberwolves team that isn’t morbidly depressing?

I came up with my answer an hour later, when I was no longer with the questioner (naturally). See, I became interested in sports because I am an avid reader. I love stories and story lines. I love the development. I love the drama. I love the conclusion, sad or happy. I love seeing everything tie together. In 2008, NBA fans got to see three future Hall of Famers win their first championship together, the ultimate happy ending. Recently, the Brandon Roy saga has given us the opposite. (Seriously, read this article and watch this video knowing what we know now, and if you can honestly tell me you don’t get a little choked up, I can only conclude you are made of stone.)

Anyway. What I decided I’m most excited for is the story lines. Here are six from the Timberwolves that I am most interested in following this year. Give me yours in the comments or on Twitter.

#6. Kevin Love’s Contract Extension (And Other Kevin Love Related Things)- This is low on the list for several reasons. For starters, Love becomes a restricted free agent in 2012, not a full blown HOLY GOD WE ARE GOING TO LOSE HIM, WE HAVE TO TRADE HIM NOW free agent, so trade rumors will likely be minimal to non-existant. Second, Love seems stable as a player/human being, and less likely than some to be distracted by free agency discussions. Third, Love has expressed an interest in re-signing with Minnesota, and doesn’t seem to be an imminent threat to leave.

It will be interesting, however, to see how Love performs to prove to the Timberwolves (and the rest of the league, for that matter) that he deserves a max contract extension. It will also be interesting to see if the Timberwolves will hand him one. (My two cents: I agree with Jonah, pay the man immediately. How many marquee All Star talents like Love actually want to play in Minnesota?)

More relevant to this current season: Kevin Love has clearly lost weight, and from his performance so far, most of that weight has turned into muscle. This is excellent news. Not only will Minnesota be putting the best rebounder in the NBA back on the floor, but he will be more athletic than ever, and less fatigue/injury prone during a tiring compressed schedule.

#5. Inside Out: Stretching the Floor- Apparently Anthony Tolliver developed a three point shot over the summer? Good to see him continuing to improve. This makes Minnesota’s bigs a fascinating group of shooters. Love started hitting threes consistently last season. Beasley loves to shoot from downtown. Derrick Williams demonstrated his range during preseason. Now Tolliver has added himself to the list. As long as this doesn’t become a complete substitute for post play (and as long as Darko doesn’t try to get in on the act), this could a really fun new part of the offense. If opposing bigs have to defend to the three point line, Rubio could very well have more room to work in the lane.

So, to be clear, the Timberwolves have post players who shoot threes, and a point guard with excellent court vision who can only make layups. I have no idea if it will work, but I’ll be shocked if it isn’t WILDLY entertaining.

#4. The Shortened Season: Minnesota the Mysterious- So on the one hand you have Minnesota, a young, inexperienced team full of new faces who just finished a VERY short training camp and are now faced with expectations they have never experienced and a difficult schedule, all while learning a completely new offensive and defensive system from a brand new coach. Sounds like a recipe for disaster, no?

On the other hand, you have Minnesota, a team with young talent dripping off the edges who go roughly 11 deep, between their starters and first players off the bench (Love, Darko, Rubio, Beasley, Williams, Wes, Randolph, Barea, Tolliver, Ridnour, and Malcolm Lee), making them one of the best-equipped teams in the entire league for the grueling schedule they are facing. Veteran-laden teams like San Antonio, Los Angeles, and Boston very well might struggle with a team as young and deep as Minnesota, and the Wolves face those three a combined eight times this season.

On the third hand, the Timberwolves early schedule, when they will presumably still be settling together as a team, is seriously brutal. Oklahoma City, Miami, Dallas, San Antonio, and Memphis all visit Minneapolis in the first ten days of the season, and while none of these teams are a total lock to beat Minnesota, it would be hard to pick the Wolves in any of those games.

I won’t include a fourth hand for anatomical reasons, but you get the idea. It’s entirely possible that the Wolves could win 5+ games this year solely because of their depth. But it’s equally possible that they will lose 10+ games because they weren’t given a full training camp.

#3. New Faces- Five completely new players for the Timberwolves: Ricky Rubio, Malcolm Lee, Brad Miller, Bonzi Wells, and Derrick Williams.

A quick breakdown of each:

-Ricky Rubio: His arrival was important enough to be a story line of its own. See #2.

-Derrick Williams: There’s a lot to like about Derrick Williams. He’s athletic. He works hard. He can handle the ball. He has the size of a four, but shoots with range. There are valid concerns about his ability to defend against small fowards, which is why he probably won’t start in Monday’s opener against Oklahoma City. Still, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him crack the starting lineup before long if Adelman decides to play a small ball lineup with Love at center.

-Malcolm Lee: ESPN’s resident Timberwolves fan Zach Harper has been working the hype machine for Lee when he isn’t outside Ricky Rubio’s window with a radio. Great NBA body, athleticism, solid defender. It will be interesting to see how much time Lee gets this season, as the Wolves are devoid of a true shooting guard.

-Brad Miller: Expect Brad Miller to throw up a solid 15/10 this season…in hunting numbers. You know, in a shots per deer ratio…or something…*crickets*. Fine. I’ve never hunted. I have no idea what are good/bad/legal statistics whatsoever. As a basketball player? Miller is here as a locker room presence. Hopefully he helps.

-Bonzi Wells: Unlike Miller, he’s certainly not here to be a locker room presence (at least, we should probably hope he isn’t), so the Timberwolves must think he will be getting some playing time? Or something? Hard to tell. Whatever. Let’s pass by him and get to…

#2. Ricky Rubio: The Arrival- Since arriving in July to a welcoming crowd at the airport (made up of mostly Target Center employees), Rubio has been picked apart by a legion of statisticians looking to denounce him and a legion of fans looking to defend him. All the noise has honestly gotten tiresome and grating. Seeing him play real basketball games and prove himself either worthy or unworthy of the hype will be like putting on a comfy pair of sweatpants after a long day spent wearing uncomfortable jeans. (Ahhhhhhhh…much better.)

#1. Rick Adelman: Miracle Worker?- At this point, we know everything that Rick Adelman could potentially do. He could potentially make this team into a fast-moving offensive juggernaut. He could teach them a defensive system that will take them from last in the entire league to top 10. He could lead them to the playoffs. He could turn Michael Beasley into a superstar. He could transform Anthony Randolph into an athletic, defensive monster. He could convince Ricky Rubio to shave his head and get W-H-I-T E-B-O-Y tatted on his knuckles.

Of course, it’s also possible that none of this happens, and that the New Orleans Hornets, now proud owners of Minnesota’s #1 draft pick this year (Hornet-geddon?) will get a top 5 pick in the draft.

Whatever Adelman does, this entire season honestly feels like a rebirth for Minnesota. It could be rocky at first. But who knows? It might be amazing. The story lines, either way, will be immensely entertaining and undeniably compelling.

We have all missed you desperately, NBA. Welcome back.