Here we all are looking at one of the glass half whatever moments. Depending on what you’ve read, heard and seen on the Internet and beyond this past week, the Timberwolves are either facing utter disaster or a simple setback as a result of Kevin Love’s injury. But no matter which –ist you claim yourself to be there’s no debating the impact of losing an All-Star for potentially 5-8 weeks. Love’s loss will be felt, yet how much is still to be determined. With all hope his teammates will prevent us all from measuring the glass any more than we half to.
When Kevin Love broke the third and fourth finger on his right hand, he took two very important things to the doctor with him- points and rebounds. While the Wolves will certainly miss Love’s points, they will mourn over his rebounding. Love’s 14.4 RPG average over the past two years is a number no other Wolf comes close to matching which means they are looking at a large void to fill. That’s 14 rebounds that could have inspired fast breaks, created second chance opportunities and even decided the final possesion of a game. It will be up to Love’s teammates to show they can demonstrate an aggressiveness that at least somewhat resembles what Love brought to the boards each game.
Pekovic is certainly the most likely candidate to make up for Love’s loss, but even he will have to make some strides. While Pekovic has always been a solid offensive rebounder, 3.9 ORB in 2011-12, he has always fallen short of that mark on the defensive end, averaging only 3.5. Pekovic will need to find ways to secure more missed shots, and perhaps with his improved agility and newly toned frame, this may be a foreseeable change in the Godfather’s game. Unfortunately, fans are far less likely to witness any real leaps in Williams, Cunningham and Amundson’s numbers. With more playing time they will surely see their numbers increase, but to a significant degree is probably wishful thinking.
Williams is an incredibly underwhelming rebounder (1.2 ORB, 3.5 DRB), failing to be in the right place at the right time defensively just as much as offensively. He will need to be much more mobile and scrappy than he has been in the past in order for him to not lose more playing time to Cunningham and Amundson. The hustle for which Cunningham and Amundson have fostered a reputation and shown this preseason should earn them minutes if Williams proves to be as lackadaisical as he was his rookie season, and more often than not this preseason as well. Both Cunningham and Amundson should be safer options to have on the court- if for nothing more than the energy they bring each play. I fully expect Cunningham to secure the starting spot by mid-November, mainly because he provides more consistency as a rebounder and help-defender and will prevent games from getting out of hand.
Besides solving their rebounding woes, the Wolves will also have to figure out how to operate an efficient offense without a player who commands double teams. This problem will rest in the hands of the Wolves playmakers. With Rubio, this fear would be non-existent, as his vision and quickness automatically allow for better spacing and extracting the most talent out of each individual on the floor. While the Wolves have seemed to show flashes of the “sharing is caring” mentality this preseason, it’s unclear if this will carry over once the actual season kicks off.
Kirilenko’s passing will help take some of the burden off of point guards Barea and Ridnour, but it will still be largely up to them to find open shooters, especially on the wings. Without Love drawing attention, they will have to be more creative and find ways to spread the floor better overall. Ridnour will do a solid job of getting points from knockdown shooters like Budinger (and Shved to a lesser degree). However, Barea will need to buy into the pass-first system quickly. During last Friday’s game against the Bulls, Barea showed once again that he will not hesitate to dribble for 15 seconds at the top of the key, wasting valuable shot clock seconds. For this reason it might be interesting to occasionally have Shved man the point for the bench unit, as he has already shown the same kind of flair Rubio demonstrated, especially in tight-game situations.
This team has shooters, something that was sorely lacking last season but it’s up to the playmakers to find them in their sweet spots. Roy, Budinger, Shved, and Kirilenko all will provide the offensive boost missing from Love on any given night, which is why Love’s points may not be such an apparent loss. Although if Barea, Ridnour and Shved are able to only create iso plays for themselves and teammates, and in turn fail to distribute the ball wisely, these Wolves will lose games against beatable opponents.
Luckily for the Wolves, the first month of their schedule is not nearly as difficult as one could imagine. If Love were to return on November 23rd (5 week mark) they will have already played the Kings, Raptors, Nets, Magic, Pacers, Bulls, Dallas, Charlotte, Golden State and Denver, facing only 3 real playoff shoe-ins in Denver, Nets and Bulls. If Love stays out another week, they are still looking at only facing one more contender in a matchup against the Clippers. If these Wolves can find a way to build chemistry quickly, they could very feasibly earn a .500 or better record while Love is out.
When considering how long it will take this team to become cohesive and complimentary, it’s only right to thank the basketball gods that Rick Adelman is their coach. There are a lot of great things to say about the man who only wears black (seriously watch any interview and he will be wearing a black polo). Adelman is only 29 wins away from becoming the 8th coach in history to reach 1,000 in his career per Basketball Prospectus 2012-13, largely the result of his brilliant use of lineups. Before losing multiple key pieces to injury last year, specifically, Pekovic, Love and Rubio this team was projected for a playoff berth. This fact also means that players like Beasley, Randolph, Johnson and Darko were so well managed by Adelman (or properly ignored) to have actually been part of a postseason run. This year should be a gourmet meal compared to the TV dinner Adelman had to work with last season. With much more depth in this year’s roster, Adelman should excel in his use of multiple rotations through creative and strategic maneuvering. Whether Kirilenko, Cunningham or Williams mans the 4 spot most, there should be confidence in Adelman’s ability to direct and lead them. Presuming guys can live up to their natural talents and learned skills, Adelman will make magic out of what he has.
Hopefully we all come out of this situation, Wolves and fans included, curious rather than cautious and confident rather than cynical. Love’s absence last year would have left this team as broken as his fat fingers, but this year is different. There is a reason to believe that the glass will still have something left to drink when he and our spicy Spaniard return. How thirsty we will be is still to be seen, but I, for one, still raise a toast this exciting new team.