Column: It's never too early to talk about the Timberwolves
With summer just around the corner, things are beginning to heat up in the NBA playoffs, at least in the Eastern Conference. While it surely looks like the ageless San Antonio Spurs will face the up and coming Oklahoma City Thunder in the Western Conference Finals, things are not so clear out east. As the Chris Bosh-less Miami Heat try to survive the Indiana Pacers, the aging Big Three plus Rondo in Boston, look to sneak by the opportunistic Philadelphia 76ers. For many NBA fans, the beginning of summer means just this, playoff basketball and the hopes of watching their favorite team advance to the NBA Finals. For Minnesota Timberwolves fans such as myself, early summer means something else. It marks the time to start drooling over all of the projected NBA Lottery picks that could wind up in a Timberwolves jersey on draft night, while daydreaming of what life, as a Wolves fan, was like the last time the team was relevant.
In 2012, for the first time in years, two things are different. The Wolves will not have a lottery pick this season (thank you Kevin McHale; Google “Timberwolves Sam Cassell trade” and click the first link if you are unaware of why we have no lottery pick this year) and the team is once again relevant or at least on their way to relevancy. As any fan knows, the Wolves have many decisions to make regarding their roster, this offseason. And thanks to the Utah Jazz, who snuck into the Western Conference playoffs, as the eighth seed, and were quickly swept away by the San Antonio Spurs, the Wolves have one more decision to make. Because the Jazz made the playoffs, Minnesota owns Utah’s 2012 first round draft pick, which is No. 18 overall. With the team’s vast improvement, up until the point when Ricky Rubio went down for the year, the smart move for the Wolves may be to try and move this pick for a veteran, who can come in and contribute right away. In my estimation, nobody on the roster outside of Kevin Love, Nikola Pekovic, and Rubio are guaranteed to be back next year. And for that matter, Pekovic is no guarantee to return either, although I feel Minnesota should keep him. The Wolves biggest weakness is at the SG position, where former No. 4 overall pick, Wesley Johnson, has been nothing short of a train wreck in two seasons with the team. Behind Johnson, Martell Webster showed flashes after returning to full health, but is much better suited at the SF. Luke Ridnour was serviceable at times, but can’t guard his own shadow and he’s a natural PG. And Wayne Ellington’s ceiling is to be a career backup. That’s it. That is all the Wolves have at the SG spot. So, while the roster is sure to experience a bit of a shake up, the biggest move must come in the form of a SG who can score or at the very least, consistently make shots from deep, because with Ricky Rubio on the court, more often than not, you’re going to be catching the ball, wide open, already in position to score. 2011-12 three-point percentages from Wolves SG’s are as follows; Wes Johnson (.314), Ridnour (.322), Webster (.339), Ellington (.324). The only Wolves to play considerable minutes and shoot worse from deep were forwards, Anthony Tolliver and Derrick Williams.
The 2012 list of free agent SG’s won’t blow you away, but Minnesota will have options this offseason. If, however, they plan to fill the void through the NBA draft, here’s a sneak peak of who may be available for the Wolves with the No. 18 pick.
SG - Terrence Ross: 6’6” 190lbs (Washington): Ross is an athletic player, who can defend and shoot the ball. He has deep range as well as the ability to get to the basket. After a hot and cold sophomore season, Ross caught fire in the NIT Tournament, averaging 25ppg for the Huskies, while knocking down .405 of his three-point attempts.
SG – Jeremy Lamb: 6’5” 185lbs (Connecticut): Lamb should be off the board by the time the Wolves pick, but some around the league see him as a potential slider on draft night. He’s not the greatest shooter, but has a solid mid-range game and moves with ease. He’s sneakily athletic and has a freakishly long wingspan. Like Ross, Lamb is also a good defender.
SG – Dion Waiters: 6’4” 215lbs (Syracuse): Oh no…just what the Wolves need is another first rounder from Syracuse (see Jonny Flynn and Wes Johnson)!! While Waiters is a great athlete who attacks the rim relentlessly, he does happen to lack two things the Wolves are looking for; a consistent jump shot and ideal size for the position.
Whatever direction David Kahn and the Timberwolves decide to go this offseason, it can’t get too much worse at the SG position than in 2011-12. Minnesota needs help in more than a few areas, but a consistent two-guard, along with a return to health of point-guard Ricky Rubio, would make this team a legit playoff contender in the Western Conference in 2012-13. The 2012 NBA Draft is Thursday, June 28th.
Plattner is a Minnesota-based columnist. Read his work every week in the Times-Record.