It’s been a while since the Minnesota Timberwolves made the playoffs, dating all the way back to 2004 when they lost to the Lakers in the Western Conference Finals. That season was arguably the greatest team in the history of the franchise, starring players such as Kevin Garnett, Sam Cassell, and Latrell Sprewell. The Wolves haven’t finished with a winning record since then, when they finished 44-38 under former head coach Flip Saunders. The Wolves have struggled to gain ground since the trade of superstar Kevin Garnett to the Boston Celtics, where he won a championship the very next year.
The NBA draft has not been friendly to the Timberwolves in recent history. Moreover, the picks by the Timberwolves have failed to mount to anything. Both drafted out of Syracuse, Wes Johnson and Jonny Flynn failed to be worth their value in the draft. Flynn was a huge disappointment his rookie season shooting just 41.7% on 13.5 points. Although he had a decent point average, it’s his shooting percentage that lacked professionalism. In his second season he struggled with injury problems and his field goal percentage fell to 36.5%, with PPG dropping to 5.3.
Wes Johnson was just another failed pick out of Syracuse – Johnson was traded this offseason to the Suns. Timberwolves General Manager David Khan traded away top prospects Ty Lawson and Mario Chalmers within minutes of being drafted. Lawson is now the centerpiece of a talented Denver Nuggets franchise, while Chalmers won a championship with the Miami Heat. Even forward Derrick Williams, the unanimous second overall pick in the 2011 NBA Draft, is still trying to prove himself as a future NBA star and will need to step up this coming season for Minnesota.
The past is the past and the Timberwolves needs to forget about the past and look toward to the success of the years to come. All-Star power forward Kevin Love is now the face of the franchise with Spanish point guard Ricky Rubio right behind him. Love has proven himself to be one the elite players in the league and is even in the MVP mix going into next season. Love won the Most Improved Player award back in 2011 where he made his first All-Star appearance. Love capped the 2010-11 season with the first 30-30 game since 1982, when Moses Malone did the same thing. The former UCLA Bruin had his point average last season up to 26 points and a rebound average that finished at 13.3. Love has a sudden hunger to make the playoffs ever since playing in the 2012 Olympics and bringing back the gold medal.
Ricky Rubio was better than advertised, and he was heavily advertised. Management drafted Rubio back in ’09 but Rubio devided to hold off joining the Timberwolves for a year, creating speculation Rubio could be traded to a bigger market. Rubio participated in the ’08 Beijing Olympics for Spain, going home with a silver medal in hand. At the time Rubio was only 17 years of age and he looked poised for the NBA. Rubio, known for his pin point accuracy, averaged 8.2 assists in his rookie campaign. He was in contention to be the third rookie to win the Rookie of the Year from the ’09 draft class. Rubio would eventually be removed from Rookie of the Year contention going down with an ACL tear against the Los Angeles Lakers. At the time of the injury the Timberwolves were sitting at 21-20 and were in the hunt for a playoff spot. However, immediately after he was sidelined for the remainder of the season, the Wolves imploded. They finished the rest of the year with a 5-20 record, and a season record of 26-40, making them the bottom feeders once again. Clearly Rubio was a huge loss to the Timberwolves and accounted for a big portion of their wins.
“If we stay healthy.” David Khan said via the Pioneer Press. “We learned the hard way last year what that means. Last year, we were fighting for a playoff spot, and through two-thirds of the season things were moving on a nice incline. And all of a sudden, the world came to an end in a matter of a few weeks (after rookie point guard Ricky Rubio suffered a season-ending knee injury). If we stay healthy, we should be competing for a playoff spot.”
It’s time for Minnesota Timberwolves fans to be thinking playoffs this coming season, but as we saw last year the talent was there, but the injuries took a toll. If last year couldn’t have ended any worse, Kevin Love went down late in the season with a concussion, leaving it to point guard J.J. Barea and center Nikola Pekovic to carry the team.
The Timberwolves management was busy this offseason with the key acquisitions of shooting guard Brandon Roy and Andre Kirilienko in free agency. Roy went into retirement due to the lack of cartilage between the bones of both of his knees, requiring a platelet-rich plasma procedure, the same one Kobe Bryant did to keep his knees healthy. As a Trail-Bazer he averaged 19 points while shooting 46% from the field and won himself the Rookie of the Year Award in ’07.
Andre Kirilienko is also making his return to the NBA. A former member of the Utah Jazz, Kirilenko is coming back from Moscow where he won both MVP and Defensive Player of the Year Awards. Kirilienko has shown his success in the NBA in making the NBA All Defensive 1st Team when he averaged 3.3 blocks per game back in ’05. The Timberwolves called up AK-47 (Andre Kirilienko #47) to make his return back to the NBA to force defensive pressure and be a threat under the basket. He also just lead Russia to a Bronze Medal this past summer in London.
GM David Khan made some moves with trading Wes Johnson and Wayne Ellington, along with the releasing of center Darko Milicic and forward Michael Beasley. Other free-agent pick-ups for Minnesota this past offseason included combo guard Alexey Shved, center Greg Stiemsma and forwards Chase Budinger and Dante Cunningham.
The Timberwolves should be a playoff team entering the 2012 season. Kevin Love is more determined than ever to make the postseason and management has built a core to work around him. Rubio is supposed to be back around early-to-mid December, but Russian guard Alexey Shved along with Ridinour and Barea will fill the void for the time being. Shved played with Kirilienko in the olympics for Russia and was a big help in bringing home their medal. Brandon Roy more than likely be the Wolves starting shooting guard. Roy has made the All-Star game in past years and everyone know what he’s capable of doing. As long as his knees can keep up with him on the court we should see no problem with him and his capability to score and take players off the dribble.
The Timberwolves finally have a solid wing player in Andrei Kirilenko, who will bring something the Wolves currently lack – playing consistent defense. Kevin Love has and will be the power forward. He can score anywhere with his ability to shoot 3-pointers and his effectiveness in the paint. Love even showed himself taking mid-range fade aways and making them at a reasonable percentage. The big man will be doing what he does best – rebounding the ball both offensively and defensively.
The center position will be locked down by Nikola Pekovic – granted he stays healthy. Pek made a name for himself last year when Darko Milicic struggled to be an effective starter, allowing Pekovic to make a name for himself with more minutes. By the end of the season Pekovic averaged 13.9 points and an astounding 56.4% (Highest in Timberwolves franchise history) from the field, and rack up 7.4 rebounds per game. The Wolves will need another season like this from the Montenegro native, but he needs to improve on the defensive side of the court.
With a new an improved starting lineup, the Minnesota Timberwolves’ next step is to make the postseason. The Wolves are now a team to be reckoned with and should not be underestimated. Kevin Love is looking to have his best season yet and Ricky Rubio will be back to run the offense and make big plays. Roy and Kirilienko are making their returns and hope to use their talents to the success of the franchise. On top of that Nikola Pekovic will be a huge threat under the basket. Any Timberwolves fan should be excited to watch the team this upcoming season now that they have depth in their roster and promising young talent.