Timberwolves Preseason Storylines


It’s just a few days until the 2014 Timberwolves preaseason kicks off with “Dunks After Dark” and there are several storylines to follow. Unless you found yourself lost in Siberia the last few months you know the Kevin Love is gone, Andrew Wiggins, Anthony Bennett,  Zach LaVine and Thad Young were added. The total shakeup of the roster has created potential for a more intriguing preseason than any recent year.

Raising the Kids

Jun 26, 2014; Brooklyn, NY, USA; Zach LaVine (UCLA) shakes hands with NBA commissioner Adam Silver after being selected as the number thirteen overall pick to the Minnesota Timberwolves in the 2014 NBA Draft at the Barclays Center. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

Development of young players may be the top storyline of the 2014 Timberwolves preseason. Andrew Wiggins was the jewel in the Kevin Love trade and his success of failure will define how the trade is viewed. There is almost unreasonably high expectations on Wiggins, some going as far as stating that he’s the best prospect since LeBron James. While i’m not going to go that far out on a limb, it is very reasonable to expect great things from a first overall pick.

Wiggins may have the athletic ability (and the genes to prove it) to be a great NBA player, but there is a valid question about his offensive game. If he can’t develop his offense he could basically turn out to be a more athletic Corey Brewer. Not that we will know in the preseason or even by the end of the year but we could get a glimpse of what Wiggins will be as a mature NBA player. I think it would make us all feel better if we see flashes of an offensive game.

Zach LaVine on the other hand, is sort of a player without a position. Will he be a SG or PG? Might he be a hybrid? LaVine was not noted for his ballhandling  or court vision at UCLA but for his athletic explosiveness. He has the length to play either position and to develop into a good two way player. I have him pegged as a SG but he will no doubt see some time at PG as well. He will need to be more consistent with the jumper from the outside and increase is basketball IQ.

Love, for his own part, was a major part of the chemistry issues with his crybaby antics.

Anthony Bennett is perhaps the most interesting of the young players. He was Cleveland’s surprise first overall pick in the 2013 NBA Draft and soon proved those who doubted the pick right. He went into training camp overweight, out of shape and some of that was reported to be due to a sleep disorder that has since been corrected.

Bennett quickly became what many would say is the worst first overall pick in the NBA. I think it’s going overboard to say that for a player just one season into his career but there is certainly cause for concern. Fast forward to Summer League 2014 and Bennett shows up lighter, quicker, more confident and overall looked better. Let’s cross our fingers that this wasn’t a bait and switch job.

Chemistry: it matters.

The last couple of seasons have been particularly painful to watch from a basketball point of view but they’ve been at least as bad chemistry wise. We had Darko Milicic (now turned kick boxer of all things) who may be the least interested player in NBA history.

Kevin Love and J.J. Barea butted heads many times over the past two years and at least one time had to be seperated from each other during an arguement. Barea turned to ball chucking and seemingly self annointed himself as “instant offense” off the bench. Barea was brutal all season and only aggrivated Love more.

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Love, for his own part, was a major part of the chemistry issues for the Wolves with his crybaby antics. He gained a reputation for whining, complaining and being  passive aggressive. He called out players (see Cunningham and Barea) and made an “Anchorman” like attempt at leadership that failed miserably.

I think that Flip Saunders is looking for a way to get rid of Barea so that he doesn’t poison a young roster. His options are to trade him, which to this point there are no takers or to buy him out. The buyout is the most likely to happen. I think it is absolutely imperative that Barea is gone, it’s just not a good fit with a young roster when a veteran player id cancer instead of leader.

The real question going into the preseason is who will be the leader of this young team? It might be that Thad Young, Kevin Martin, Mo Williams and Ronny Turiaf are the ones the Wolves will depend on for their experience. There is no clear answer, but one important thing to find out is who will lead the Wolves.

The Mash Unit

Maybe the biggest problem the Wolves have had in recent years is being healthy enough to maximize talent. Just last season Kevin Martin missed 14 games, Nikola Pekovic 28, Chase Buddinger 41, and Ronny Turiaf about 50 games. It is hard for a team to win when two of your best players and two key role players miss that many games.

The Pekovic injuries are the worst because when healthy he is one of the top centers in the league but it appears that this will be a pattern for him. Luckily the Wolves drafted Gorgui Dieng who has potential to be better than Pekovic.

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  • The Wolves bench is always an issue and when missing Buddinger and Turiaf, it is only that much worse. When a bad bench loses its best contributors it trickles into playing the starters too many minutes and spelling them with pretty shakey players. If the Wolves come out of preseason without any major injuries it will be a success.

    Other odds and ends

    There are many other things to watch in the preseason but I think we’d all like to see Ricky Rubio come out shooting well (relatively) right away. Thaddeus Young put up nice numbers with the 76ers in his career but we will see if it is being the best thing going on a bad team or if he is just a pretty good player.

    It will be interesting to see what Mo Williams still has left. He played backup to Damian Lillard last season and has bounced around the league as journeyman type PG. I think at this point he can still be a solid backup to Rubio, but time will tell, he is coming off one of his worst seasons.