STATE OF THE FRANCHISE
The Timberwolves enter the second season of GM David Kahn's rebuilding project with just three players who were on the roster at the start of last season. Kahn took former GM Kevin McHale's team and stripped it down to almost nothing, collecting young talent and shedding salary cap room. Minnesota had the second worst record in the NBA last season (15-67) in the process. Then last offseason he even traded away Al Jefferson
, the main talent acquired in the Kevin Garnett
trade and once thought to be McHale's cornerstone building block.
Despite a lot of criticism, Kahn has correctly oriented Minnesota's roster to rebuild with young talent and cap room. However, it's questionable whether Kahn can execute his plan since the early returns on his judgment of talent are mixed at best. Even though some question why he made the pick or didn't trade it, the 2009 No. 4 draft selection of Ricky Rubio
at least has value. It can be traded. He may play for the Timberwolves in 2011-12 when his contract overseas has an out clause. Taking Jonny Flynn
over Stephen Curry
and trading away Ty Lawson
, however, don't look so hot now. And many questioned those choices at the time. Kahn again was much criticized this year when he took Wesley Johnson with the No. 4 pick in the 2010 instead of DeMarcus Cousins
Kahn says he wants his teams to be up tempo and run, but hired a head coach in Kurt Rambis who runs the slower-paced triangle offense and didn't give him the personnel (mostly a top swingman) to execute either strategy.
And neither Rambis nor Kahn seem able to identify the team's best player (Kevin Love
) by giving him extensive playing time. Much of last season Love came off the bench and wasn't the primary focus of the game plan, without a stated reason for any off-court issues.
As a result, the jury is still out if Kahn can move the franchise from it's stripped down state to a team making improvements toward the playoffs.
PLAYING TIME DISTRIBUTION
Playing time on a rebuilding team like the Timberwolves could change quickly as the team experiments to figure out what players may be worth keeping long term. The T-Wolves will begin with a front court of Kevin Love
at power forward, Darko Milicic
at center and Michael Beasley
at small forward.
will begin the season as the starting point guard with Johnny Flynn out after hip surgery. Flynn should take back the starting job when he returns, but that may not be until January.
Shooting guard will be the primary job battle in the preseason as last year's starter, Corey Brewer
, tries to hold off Wes Johnson
and Martell Webster
for the starting job. However, all three should get significant minutes at either shooting guard or small forward.
: After rotting on the Knicks' bench over the first half of last season, Milicic finally got some playing time after coming over to Minnesota, averaging 8.3 ppg, 0.8 spg and 1.4 bpg while getting 25:36 mpg. The Timberwolves were so impressed, GM David Kahn signed him to a four-year, $20 million deal during the offseason, essentially giving away Al Jefferson
as a result. Especially once you consider the players who went immediately after he was taken with the No. 2 pick in the 2003 draft (Carmelo Anthony
, Chris Bosh
and Dwyane Wade
), Milicic will likely go down as one of the biggest busts of all-time. He simply never developed an offensive game at the NBA level (his career-high in scoring is 8.0 ppg back in 2006-07). If Michael Beasley
wins the power forward job, then Milicic will have to fight Kevin Love
for minutes at center. Still, if Minnesota gives him a true opportunity, which seems possible, he could carve out some fantasy value in deeper formats.
: Pekovic played for Panathanaikos in Greece last season and was a top scorer. At 6-11, 243 he's a big body but has some finesse with his shot. He's a sleeper for deeper leagues as a result.
Kosta Koufos: He was an afterthought in the Al Jefferson
trade, but it looks like he may carve out a backup center and power forward role. However, it's unlikely he'll get enough minutes for viable fantasy value in most leagues.
: His first two NBA seasons have been so disappointing, it's easy to forget that he dominated college ball, posting numbers very similar to Kevin Durant
's. The Pat Riley salary dumps that allowed Miami to sign the "big three" moved Beasley to Minnesota, where he'll have a chance for a fresh start. A surprisingly frank David Kahn attributed some of Beasley's struggles in Miami to excessive use of marijuana; the T-Wolves GM says that's behind Beasley now, that he's matured, and he's ready to make the most of his potential – we're cautiously optimistic about that. We're less "glass half full" about the state of Minnesota's front court; Beasley will presumably split time with either Kevin Love
at the four spot or top draft pick Wes Matthews at the other forward position; either way, he's unlikely to get starter's minutes unless Kahn swings another deal. The positional uncertainty isn't a new problem for Beasley; at 6-10, 235 he lacks the bulk to deal with many NBA fours, but in his NBA career to date he hasn't shown the perimeter game necessary to play the three full-time.
: He upped his average minutes last season from his career mark of about 20 per game to 30.3. The effect was of great benefit to the guard, who more than doubled his career mark in scoring (finishing with 13.0 points per game), tripled his triples (exactly 1.0 per game), and also saw an improvement in steals (1.4 per game). None of that makes him a fantasy all-star - he was still bench-worthy by roto standards - but at 24 and at the top of the depth chart, Brewer could make some modest gains still.
Wesley Johnson: He was the fourth-overall pick in the 2010 draft after winning Big East Player of the Year honors during his junior year at Syracuse, though it was actually his first season playing with the Orange. Johnson wasn't aggressively recruited coming out of high school, and played his first two college seasons at Iowa State. He transferred to Syracuse after his sophomore year there; sat out a season, per NCAA rules; and then broke out as a junior. At 6-7, 205 (and with a 7-1 wingspan), Johnson is ideally sized for an NBA wing. He also possesses excellent athleticism, as his 1.8 blocks per game last season suggest. As far as NBA comps go, Johnson profiles a little bit like Luol Deng
– good rebounding and block numbers – but with the added advantage of three-point range. The likelihood of him ever being the number one scoring option is low – not for a good team, at least. At press time, Johnson is listed second behind Martell Webster
at small forward on the Timberwolves' depth chart. Although Webster has his strengths, there's a good chance Johnson becomes the starter at some point – if not for opening day. A hamstring injury limited Johnson to only a single Summer League game in Las Vegas, though the injury is not considered serious.
: He's generally regarded as one of the top young bigs in the league, though we can't help but wonder if he'll ever reach that potential under Minnesota's current regime. Love's minutes – and by extension, his numbers – were badly limited last season by his team's decision that he and teammate Al Jefferson
didn't have enough size to man the power forward and center spots at the same time. Jefferson is gone now, but he's been replaced by another undersized power forward in Michael Beasley
, and team management committed big dollars to centers Darko Milicic
and Nikola Pekovic
– so playing Love at the pivot seems unlikely. Even as a reserve, Love will have fantasy value; he averaged a double-double last season despite the inconsistent playing time, is one of the league's better passers out of the high post, can hit the occasional three and is very good from the free throw line (81.5 FT% in 2009-10). We'd love to see what he can do given starter's minutes on a consistent basis – we just hope David Kahn and Kurt Rambis share our curiosity.
: For the last couple years, rostering a Portland wingman has been a bit of a fantasy headache – even though players like Nicolas Batum
, Travis Outlaw
, and Webster himself all possess talents that, with a full 35 minutes per game, would very likely reward their respective owners. For a while, from November 21st to February 16th of last season, Webster had something like that chance, averaging 31.5 minutes per game amidst injuries and rotation uncertainties in the Rose City. Over that stretch, Webster averaged 2.3 threes per contest – really the only category in which he distinguished himself. That excellent mark, coupled with a decent overall line, placed Webster in the low-100s overall in terms of value. The concern with Webster in Minnesota, where he was traded on draft day, is that fourth-overall pick Wesley Johnson shares his position.
: He was one of the biggest surprises in fantasy last season, averaging 12.3 points and 7.3 rebounds in 44 appearances with the Warriors. Unfortunately most of that value came as a byproduct of playing in Warriors coach Don Nelson's high-octane offense. After signing with Minnesota, he may also struggle for playing time initially since he'll be behind the third or fourth option at both center and power forward. Still, he could be a good fit for the Timberwolves if they follow through with their plans to be an up-tempo running team.
: The No. 6 pick in the 2009 draft was thought to be Minnesota's point guard of the future, but he had a disappointing rookie campaign. He averaged just 4.4 assists per game, while making 2.9 turnovers per game. Part of the problem was Flynn seemed a poor fit for Minnesota's offense since he felt better trying to score with the ball in his hands rather than distribute the ball in head coach Kurt Rambis' version of the triangle. His role for his second season is now unclear. In late July, Flynn underwent surgery to repair a tear in the labrum of his left hip. He could miss the first two months of the season as a result, and maybe longer. He'll likely return to the starting point guard job when healthy, but nothing is guaranteed on a Minnesota roster that's constantly churning players in a rebuilding effort.
: Although Brandon Jennings
got most of the hype, Ridnour was often the most effective point guard on a surprising Bucks team in 2009-10. But Jennings is the future of the franchise, so Ridnour was not retained, instead signing with the T-Wolves, who lost Jonny Flynn
to a significant hip injury. The move won't do wonders for Ridnour's fantasy value. He'll open the season as the starter, but will most likely shift to a backup role by December. And even when he's playing, Minnesota's version of the triangle offense doesn't do wonders for point guards' statistics. (Just ask Flynn.) But Ridnour does have the ability to can an open three (.381 from downtown last season), a skill that should serve him well in this offense.
: The most outstanding player of the 2009 Final Four was supposed to give Minnesota an outside shooter, but he shot just 39.5 percent from behind the arc in his rookie season. He's buried on the depth chart at either shooting guard or small forward, but at least on the Timberwolves it's possible for him to win more minutes if he improves.
: He'll begin the season as the backup point guard to Luke Ridnour
with Johnny Flynn injured, but the T-Wolves don't seem to high on him since there was talk he would be moved after he was acquired last summer. Still, Ridnour isn't a lock to keep the starting job, so Telfair may be worth a speculative bench spot in deeper leagues.
: Minnesota acquired Heyward, the 30th overall pick in the 2010 NBA Draft, in a draft day trade with Washington. He's a tough, hard-working small forward who is a bit undersized for his position but makes up for it with his hustle. He could develop into a solid bench player for Minnesota. However, he's unlikely to get significant minutes.
– After two up-and-down campaigns in Miami, Beasley is getting a fresh start in Minnesota this year. He has been practicing at small forward and appears to be the early favorite to win that starting spot once the regular season tips off. Beasley was never able to get into much of a groove while playing in Dwyane Wade
's shadow while on the Heat, but he should have an opportunity to share the spotlight in Minnesota with Kevin Love
and finally blossom into the star player most projected when he was taken with the No. 2 overall pick in 2008.
– Sophomore Jonny Flynn
is still recovering from offseason hip surgery, opening the door for Ridnour to start the season as the Timberwolves' starting point guard. Ridnour has averaged 10.9 points and 6.2 assists as a starter throughout his career, numbers well worth a roster spot in most leagues. The 29-year-old was also able to hold comparable value when coming off the bench for the Bucks last season, so while he'll definitely see an early-season boost in value, don't write him off as just a short-term fix.
: Don't draft Flynn expecting a near full season of starting point guard numbers. While the T-Wolves haven't officially ruled him out for more than the first week of the season, it's much more likely he'll miss several months after repair a tear in the labrum of his left hip.
It's also possible that by the time he returns, he'll be coming off the bench if Luke Ridnour
handles point guard duties well in his absence.