Are the Minnesota Timberwolves the “next” Oklahoma City Thunder?

The Minnesota Timberwolves have been one of the worst teams in basketball over the past few seasons. Ever since they traded the franchises best player, Kevin Garnett, in 2007, the Timberwolves have struggled. Since 2007, the Timberwolves have gone through three head coaches (Dwayne Casey, Kevin McHale, and Kurt Rambis) and have a record of 78-250. They have not been very aggressive in free agency and have made a number of “bad” trades. This year seems to have a different feel to it, not because it’s a 66-game season, but because there is a different vibe in downtown Minneapolis. It’s a happier, more excited feeling as oppose to the sad, gloomy feeling that has been the last few seasons. For the first time in five years, the Timberwolves look to become relevant in the Western Conference again.

There are numerous reasons to feel optimistic if you are a Timberwolves fan.

1. Talented roster – The Timberwolves have Kevin Love, Michael Beasley, Derrick Williams, Wes Johnson, Ricky Rubio, Anthony Randolph, and recently added J.J. Barea. Every player, besides Barea, was a lottery pick, but most have yet to find themselves in the NBA. Beasley has been inconsistent offensively and plays no defense, Johnson can’t create a shot for himself but has all the athleticism in the world, Randolph has yet to be given consistent minutes but maybe he has found a home in Minnesota(?), and Williams and Rubio haven’t played in an NBA game but figure to get significant minutes and become building blocks for the future. Barea is the only player on the team that has won an NBA championship. He helped the Dallas Mavericks beat the Miami Heat in the finals last season.

2. Roster depth – With the addition of Barea at point guard that gives the Timberwolves three point guards (Rubio and Luke Rindour are the other two). Shooting guard Martell Webster will be out a few weeks recovering from back surgery that he had back in September. The Timberwolves have Johnson, Wayne Ellington and un-signed rookie Malcolm Lee. The small forward position features Beasley, Williams, and Lazar Hayward. Love anchors the power forward spot, backed up by Randolph and Anthony Tolliver. The center spot features Darko Milicic, Brad Miller and Nikola Pekovic. With 16 players currently on their roster, the Timberwolves will, more than likely, need to cut someone. That someone might end up being Hayward, Lee or Ellington. Ridnour’s spot might also be in jeopardy, but if Rubio or Barea were to get hurt, Ridnour could back them up. It’s nice to have depth at every position.

3. Young-budding stars – If Rubio, Williams, Johnson, and Beasley reach their potential this season, I think we could see the Timberwolves in the playoffs. One thing that helps them more than anything is the fact that this is a shortened season. Love is their best player, but they are looking for the pieces around him to step up and deliver. Of course, there is going to be bumps along the way, but consistency is the main thing. This team needs to bring defensive intensity every night. The offense will come around. I have a feeling that a lot of people are sleeping on Rubio, whether it’d be fans or players. Williams will be R.O.Y., Johnson will be able to create for himself a little bit more this season, and Beasley’s defense will lead to more wins. It’s all about commitment.

4. New head coach – The addition of Rick Adelman could not have come at a better time for the struggling franchise. Yes, their offense is nice, but their defense is terrible. Adelman addressed that right away during media day on Friday. His Houston Rockets scored 121 points the last game of the season against the Timberwolves. He looks to shore up their defense. Eliminating easy baskets and forcing teams to go to the second or third option on offense is what will win basketball games. They will have no trouble scoring, but if they pick up their defense, they can make a run at the playoffs.

5. Comparison to OKC Thunder – Even the Thunder will admit that they got lucky when Kevin Durant fell to them when they had the #2 in the 2007 draft. Even after the addition of Russell Westbrook, it took the Thunder until the 2009-’10 season to make the playoffs. But now they are reaping the rewards that come with drafting smart and building around their young nucleus (Durant and Westbrook). Serge Ibaka, Kendrick Perkins, and Thabo Sefolosha give the Thunder a defensive presence while James Harden and Eric Maynor provide offense off the bench. Nick Collison is the glue-guy. The Timberwolves have done the same sort of thing; they just don’t have anyone like Durant, a leader. Love figures to be that guy, coming off a spectacular season in which he averaged 20 ppg and 15 rpg. Love needs help though. That’s why I expect Beasley to step in and become that second leader. Adelman will make sure the rest of the team know their role and that they fulfill that role. If they don’t, then they won’t see much floor time.


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