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NBA Team Previews: 2008 Minnesota Timberwolves Preview

Peter Schoenke

Peter Schoenke

Peter Schoenke is the president and co-founder of RotoWire.com. He's been elected to the hall of fame for both the Fantasy Sports Trade Association and Fantasy Sports Writers Association and also won the Best Fantasy Baseball Article on the Internet in 2005 from the FSWA. He roots for for the Minnesota Twins, Vikings and T-Wolves.


MINNESOTA TIMBERWOLVES
By Peter Schoenke
RotoWire Writer



STATE OF THE FRANCHISE



The Timberwolves struggled in their first season of the post-Kevin Garnett, winning just 20 games in what was expected to be a rebuilding year.
Minnesota cleared the roster of many veterans (Antoine Walker, Ricky Davis, Marko Jaric, Mark Blount) who were not going to be around when the team next makes the playoffs and focused on young players with upside.
The T-Wolves appeared to find some building blocks in Al Jefferson, Randy Foye and Rashad McCants, but the overall talent level still needs improvement and was heavy on swingmen.


That's part of the motivation why the T-Wolves made a daring draft-day trade of the third overall pick in the draft, O.J. Mayo, for Kevin Love and Mike Miller.
Love could help in the interior and Miller could be the outside shooting threat that's been needed to clear the lane for Jefferson.


Minnesota's rotation is now much better defined with Jefferson the focus of the offense, a healthy Randy Foye leading the perimeter players and several bench players (Craig Smith, Corey Brewer) working in defense-focused roles.
Still, anything close to a winning record would be considered a success.

PLAYING TIME DISTRIBUTION


Jefferson emerged as Minnesota's top player, becoming one of only four 20-point/10-rebound players in the NBA and took almost double as many shots as any other player. The focus off the offense will be to get him the ball in the paint.


Randy Foye will split time between point guard and shooting guard after being used at point guard early in his career. He should be the secondary focus of the offense.


Mike Miller will be the third option as his outside shooting could mesh well with Jefferson's inside game.


Sebastian Telfair should get plenty of time at point guard, providing a pass-first option that will move Foye to shooting guard. Rookie Kevin Love will likely emerge among a group of candidates as the final starter. While Love will nominally start at center, he may be utilized for his passing skills initially. If Love isn't starting, Rashad McCants, Craig Smith, Ryan Gomes or Corey Brewer will get time playing time with Jefferson moving to center.


Back up point guard remains a weakness and the T-Wolves could sign someone late in training camp. Both Telfair and Foye can play the point, but there's no clear third option, and both players were injured for portions of last season.

PLAYER OUTLOOKS


Center



Al Jefferson: While Jefferson may not play center on most nights, he'll be used at center in most fantasy leagues.
Jefferson uses good low-post skills, including a sweet little jump hook and tenacity on the offensive glass (3.8 offensive rebounds per game) to score. Kevin Love was acquired in a draft-night trade, and it looks like he and Jefferson will be the two-tower tandem for Minnesota. Along with the presence of another low-post shooter, Jefferson could benefit from more consistency from Minnesota's perimeter players. Plagued by ankle injuries earlier in his career, Jefferson played all 82 games for Minnesota in 2007-08 while averaging a career-high 35.6 minutes per game. Conditioning had been a problem for Jefferson, but he's improved in that area, so expect a full season again from him this year.


Kevin Love: Love should emerge as a starter for Minnesota early in the season at center next to Al Jefferson.
The T-Wolves thought enough of his skills that they traded No. 3 overall pick O.J. Mayo for him in a draft-day deal that also returned Mike Miller.
Love may have a limited scoring game initially, as the T-Wolves have raved about his passing skills and may play farther outside of the lane than most true centers.
He could develop into a poor man's Chris Webber a big man who will score and rebound well, but whose biggest fantasy asset will be a surprisingly high assist total.


Calvin Booth: Booth will be buried on the bench as the T-Wolves look to give younger players court time. With an expiring contract, he could be packaged in a deal before trade deadline.


Mark Madsen: Madsen will return in a reserve role and won't get many minutes off the bench. He'll be relied on as a clubhouse leader as one of the few experienced veterans on the club, but he could be traded with just two years left on his contract.

Forward



Mike Miller: Miller could be the hidden value in the trade that brought Kevin Love to Minnesota from Memphis for O.J. Mayo.
Miller's outside shot could be just what the T-Wolves have been missing to clear the lane for Al Jefferson, and Jefferson's inside game could result in open looks for Miller on the perimeter. While he faces some competition for playing time at the two and three spots, expect more assists, better shooting percentages and more threes.


Craig Smith: Smith had a somewhat disappointing season after making the NBA All-Rookie second team in 2006-07. While his scoring increased (9.4 ppg from 7.4 ppg), his rebounding decreased and he failed to win significant minutes. He's developing into more of a defensive role player rather than a consistent starter. Smith shows a tenacity for rebounding larger than his 6-7 size, but he's not a shot blocker and moves to the bench against larger lineups.
As a result, his playing time seems somewhat limited, especially given the competition at forward.



Corey Brewer: Brewer showed he could be a defensive stopper in his rookie season, but he struggled with his offense, especially his shooting.
Brewer shot just 37.4 percent from the floor. He'll need to improve his shooting to get more minutes and become a fantasy factor. Even if he doesn't, he could still develop into a significant defensive role player as his good speed and length give him the potential to be a shut-down defender.


Ryan Gomes: Gomes' stock may have taken the biggest hit with Minnesota's offseason moves as Kevin Love and Mike Miller could reduce his playing time.
Gomes provided needed offense when given playing time last season, scoring 20 or more points in 10 games last year. However, at 6-7 he's likely to be on the bench against taller lineups this year with Love around to help Al Jefferson in the front court.


Jason Collins: Collins was a throw-in as part of the Kevin Lowe/Mike Miller for O.J. Mayo deal. He'll be paid $6.2 million in the final year of his contract, which could make him a trade target at the deadline.
Otherwise, he has little value to Minnesota as he won't be around when/if the team becomes a playoff contender. He's likely to miss the start of the season after surgery to repair a rupture in his right triceps tendon, and it's not hard to see him being inactive most of the season.


Chris Richard: Richard showed promise at times as a tough inside rebounder, but will be fighting for playing time amid a large group at forward and center. He did average 10.2 points, 11.5 rebounds and 28.3 minutes in six games in the NBDL, but he'll need to improve his offensive skill set to become a fantasy factor.


Brian Cardinal: He was included as a throw-in as part of the Kevin Love/Mike Miller for O.J. Mayo deal. The $13 million and two years remaining on his contract make him a likely candidate to be traded at some point in the next year. In the meantime, he's not going to be given much of a chance to play in Minnesota without major injuries since he won't be around when/if the team becomes a playoff contender.

Guard



Sebastian Telfair: The 2004 first-round pick revived his career after coming over to Minnesota in the Kevin Garnett deal. He took over the point guard role once Randy Foye went down with a knee injury and showed he could become a good distributor of the ball with 5.9 assists per game and a 3.1/1 turnover/assists ratio. It's not clear if Foye will be the starter at point guard or move to shooting guard, but Telfair should get significant minutes at point guard in either scenario. While the offense will still flow through Foye's hands much of the time, Telfair should be a cheap source of assists.


Randy Foye: Foye planned to build on a mostly-successful rookie season and take over as the starting point guard in 2007-08. But a lingering knee injury initially diagnosed as tendinitis, but later found to be a "stress reaction" delayed his season debut until January 29th, and he didn't really work his way into top form until months later. By the time he was finally healthy, Foye looked like the player Minnesota thought they were getting with the seventh-overall pick in 2006. In 10 April games, Foye averaged over 18 points, five assists, three boards and one steal. The T-Wolves are hoping that he'll pick up where he left off when the season kicks off in November.
It's not clear if he'll start at point guard or shooting guard, but the offense will likely flow through him from either spot.


Rashad McCants: After spending most of the 2006-07 season rehabbing after the dreaded microfracture knee surgery, McCants emerged in 2007-08 and gave a glimpse of the player GM Kevin McHale hoped he was getting with the 14th overall pick in 2005. Last year was easily McCants' best as a pro he played in 75 games (24 starts), racking up a scoring average of 14.9 points and 2.2 assists per game. Most of those numbers were accumulated as a bench player, and that may be McCants' role again this season. The T-Wolves are bringing back small forward Ryan Gomes and acquired sharpshooter Mike Miller from the Grizzlies in the O.J. Mayo/Kevin Love trade. It remains to be seen how starting jobs and playing time on the wing will be divided between those three, but McCants should generate numbers to merit fantasy consideration so long as he's getting 20-plus minutes a night.


Rodney Carney: Carney is a wild card for the T-Wolves this season. While he's down on the depth chart among the perimeter group in the T-Wolves' backcourt, featuring Mike Miller, Corey Brewer and Rashad McCants, Minnesota says they like the athleticism of the 2006 first-round pick and his outside shooting. He's a long shot for playing time, but he could find a way to win minutes in a rebuilding club willing to give younger players a look.


SLEEPER:


Randy Foye: Finally healthy after last year's knee injury, his numbers could make a dramatic improvement in his third year with better talent around him.
His April numbers (He 18 points, five assists, three boards and one steal a game) could be a glimpse of what's to come.


BUST:


Ryan Gomes: His playing time could take a hit with Matt Miller likely to get the bulk of time as a swingman and Kevin Lowe getting time in the front court.


Article first appeared on 9/22/08