Minnesota Timberwolves: 5 Players Who Must Step Up in 2013-14
5 Players Who Must Step Up in 2013-14
The Minnesota Timberwolves will enter the 2013-14 season with the most talented roster they’ve had in a long time, and with it comes a set of expectations. Kevin Love, the best player on the team, is known to have been frustrated with management at times, and ownership is worried he’ll eventually leave in free agency if they don’t make the playoffs soon. With the Los Angeles Lakers declining and the Denver Nuggets depleted after Andre Iguodala’s departure and Danilo Gallinari’s injury, this year might be the Wolves’ best chance of making it to the postseason for the first time since their 2004 Conference Finals loss to the Lakers after Kevin Garnett's MVP season.
Last year’s team was absolutely hammered by injuries, with Ricky Rubio, Kevin Love and Nikola Pekovic missing a whopping 109 games combined. Without Love, their best scorer, and with Rubio still working to get back to full strength, the T-Wolves had the league’s sixth-worst offense. Spacing was a major part of the issue, with Minnesota finishing the year as the worst three-point shooting team in the NBA, making a paltry 30.5 percent of their attempts from beyond the arc. The arrival of sharpshooter Kevin Martin should help improve that mark, but the Wolves have already had a bit of bad luck with Chase Budinger needing knee surgery. The team is still a little light on three-point shooters, but they should do better than last year’s awful performance in that category.
The 2012-13 Wolves played above-average defense (13th in the league), but they lost Andrei Kirilenko, the best defender on last year’s team. This year’s team will have to rely on its offense to win games, but they should have the personnel to scrape together an acceptable defensive performance.
With the Timberwolves fighting for a playoff berth that would be their first in a decade, here are five players who need to step up and to take the team to the next level.
Rubio’s a phenomenal passer and playmaker, and his ability to run an offense and push the tempo should help Rick Adelman’s up-tempo offense run smoothly. He’ll also have plenty of opportunities to work in pick-and-rolls and pick-and-pops with Pek and Love. However, on a team that may still struggle with spacing issues at times, his lack of scoring ability could hurt the offense in halfcourt situations. He’s shot just 35.9 percent from the field in his NBA career, and is also well below average as a three-point shooter. His shot release is slow and mechanical, and he seems to lack confidence in going up strong at the rim, where he hit just 41 percent of his attempts last year. He’s healthier this year, so that should help him score more effectively, but he needs to find a way to make defenses respect him as a scoring threat, so as to open up more opportunities to put his tremendous passing ability to use.
Shved was a very inefficient scorer as a first-year pro, but he has the potential to be effective on offense (his performance at EuroBasket was very promising), especially now that there will be less burden on him to create his own shot. He shot an acceptable level at the rim last year when the paint was packed with defenders, and he’s good at hitting the corner three, a must in an Adelman-coached offense. His passing and creativity should allow him to take advantage of the Wolves’ (hopefully) improved offensive spacing.
This is a true make-or-break season for the former second overall draft pick. Derrick Williams is a bit of a tweener without a true position, and he’s stuck behind Love on the depth chart. So far in his career, his team has performed significantly better with him off the court than when he’s on it. If he wants to secure his place in the future of this franchise, he needs to establish himself as a credible outside shooter. He’s shot quite a few threes thus far, but hits them at a poor rate (30.5 percent for his career). He’ll never be a high-impact defensive player, so he needs to find a way to contribute to Minnesota’s offense consistently.
Corey Brewer will be asked to bring some of the defensive versatility that Kirilenko brought to the team last season. Brewer will likely spend more time on shooting guards and small forwards (Kirlienko typically took small forwards and power forwards), and his ability to produce turnovers and get out in transition could help fuel some dangerous Timberwolves fast breaks. If, through better shot selection, he can improve his outside shooting to a league average rate, he could be a key glue guy for the Wolves.
Martin will be asked to help solve the Timberwolves’ shooting and spacing woes and he’s very capable of filling that role, while also racking up tons of free throw attempts. He hit an outstanding 42.6 percent of his threes last year while working more as a spot-up shooter (he’d been a featured scorer earlier in his career), but there are some concerns with his game. Last season, he got less minutes than expected on the Oklahoma City Thunder (where he was brought in to replace James Harden), largely because he plays absolutely atrocious defense. The presence of Brewer could help the Wolves hide Martin on the weaker of the opponent’s two perimeter players, but his defense will be an issue they’ll have to contend with all year.