NBA 2014-15 Power Rankings Preview: #23 Minnesota Timberwolves
This NBA offseason has been very eventful and we’re only a few short weeks away from the start of team training camps. To help bridge that gap for hoops junkies, we here at numberFire will be rolling out our projections for next season in the form of team previews, starting at 30 and going all the way to number one. We continue today with the 23rd-ranked Minnesota Timberwolves!
It’s the beginning of a new era in Minneapolis. With Kevin Love now in Cleveland, the healing and rebuilding will take some time, but the Wolves now have a roster full of valuable pieces. While they will have to find new chemistry among their wealth of assets, the biggest question this season will be whether or not Ricky Rubio can take that next step to stardom without Love, the main benefactor of his assists. According to our metrics, their playoff chances are low, but they have enough young talent to rebuild this team however they want.
Projected Record: 37-45
Western Conference Rank: 12th
NBA Rank: 23rd
Playoff Chances: 25.89%
Championship Chances: 0.05%
Even with the loss of Love, our metrics only project a loss of three wins from the Wolves 40-42 season in 2013-2014. This could be because of the immense depth Minnesota has amassed after the trade with Cleveland. The emergence of Gorgui Dieng gives Minnesota a potential star in the making at the four or the five, and with added big men like Thaddeus Young and Anthony Bennett, the Wolves are set up well to make up for most of the production lost in the Kevin Love trade. It will obviously be by committee unless they make a trade during the season, but the biggest issue probably won’t be production from the four and five positions, it will be finding playing time for all of the talent on this roster.
Losing Kevin Love and his 17.7 nERD from last season is going to be a tough pill to swallow for the Wolves and their fans, but Minnesota did almost as good as they could under the circumstances. Bringing in Andrew Wiggins as the main asset in the trade is crucial, and it gives the Wolves a potential franchise player for a current franchise player. Bennett by all accounts could be set for a breakout season, while Young either gives them a starting caliber four man, or a valuable trade asset in February. If Wiggins ends up being the star that people seem to think he will become, this trade will end up being great for both teams since Love was probably going to leave anyways after this upcoming season.
Three Burning Questions
Do the Wolves See Ricky Rubio in their future?
Ricky Rubio recently turned down a four-year contract extension reportedly worth nearly $11 million per season, and it seems as if he and the Wolves are still far apart in contract extension talks. He and his agent are asking for a max deal, something that Flip Saunders and the Wolves seem very reluctant to give him. Outside of the debate on whether or not he and his potential are worth the contract, the Wolves would be basically saying goodbye to Wiggins after his rookie deal if they sign Rubio to the max. If Wiggins turns into a max caliber player, Rubio’s max contract would still be on the books by the time Wiggins is ready to ink a max extension. According to the CBA, a team cannot have two players on its roster that it extended itself. The deadline to sign Rubio to an extension is just over five weeks away.
What will Andrew Wiggins' role be?
If Wiggins immediately starts dominating the preseason, he will likely earn a starting spot at the small forward spot for the Wolves. Kevin Martin will likely hold down the other wing spot, and the rest will be history. Wiggins grades out as a solid defender, but if he struggles early on to establish his offense, the Wolves are in a much tougher position considering their offensive production without Love is still very much in question.
This team is loaded with talent at the wing position as well. Corey Brewer is still a very good defender and average offensive player at the small forward, they still have Chase Budinger, and both of those guys might be forgotten by season’s end if Shabazz Muhammad takes a big leap forward this season. Muhammad is often forgotten about in Minnesota, and it will probably continue if Wiggins breaks out. Muhammad reportedly lost 15 pounds this summer, however, and averaged 16 points per game for the Wolves in the summer league. While he will be given every chance to win the starting job in Minnesota, Wiggins will have to earn his minutes on this deep team.
Is this Anthony Bennett’s breakout season?
If there weren’t already enough guys falling through the cracks in Minnesota hoops talk, Bennett might be in for a huge season if he can carve out the playing time. It really all depends on whether or not the Wolves stay competitive this season, but according to our metrics, the chances of the Wolves making the playoffs are not good. If Minnesota loses early on in the season, it will make the decision to make some trades and play the young guys very easy for Saunders.
Bennett will likely be the biggest benefactor of such a move. Last season, Bennett didn’t get the playing time to shine with the Cavs, but he did play well late in the season, and his summer league play showed that the big man still has a lot going for him. He's still young, but he will have to play at least 18-20 minutes per game for this team early on in the season to make an impact. If he can get more playing time than that, it may be a very good year for Bennett in both fantasy and real hoops.
Fantasy Hoops Stock Watch
C Gorgui Dieng (Yahoo O-Rank: 135)
If the Wolves go into full rebuild mode, or if Nikola Pekovic gets hurt again, Dieng might be set up for a huge breakout season. Dieng is already going to get solid minutes off the bench, or in the starting lineup, and when he got minutes late last season, he produced. In the final 18 games of 2013, Dieng averaged over 30 minutes per game, scoring 12 points, 10.8 rebounds, 1.5 blocks and just over a steal per game. It will take a trade or injury for Dieng to meet or exceed those figures in his second season, but last season among players who appeared in at least 50 games and still had less than 1,000 minutes played he ranked 8th in win shares.
SF Shabazz Muhammad (Yahoo O-Rank: 423)
Muhammad might be a sleeper this season, especially if Wiggins struggles early in the season. In an interview with 105 The Ticket in Minneapolis, Saunders said he isn’t committing to starting Wiggins on day one, which can only be translated as saying, “We have a lot of depth, and this guy Muhammad we have might be pretty good right now.” It might not be until later in the season like Dieng, but if the Wolves can somehow open up some minutes at small forward by trading Budinger or Brewer, Muhammad might be a breakout candidate in 2014-2015. Either way he should be in for a bump in playing time from his 7.8 minutes per game last season, which could translate into some fantasy value in deeper leagues.