ProBasketballTalk 2013-14 Preview: Minnesota Timberwolves

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Last season: The Timberwolves never had much of a chance to finish better than their 31-51 record, thanks to a rash of injuries to the team’s top players. Kevin Love, Ricky Rubio, Chase Budinger and Nikola Pekovic all missed substantial time due to injury, rendering the season an unforced failure in the process.

Signature highlight from last season: Rough year in Minnesota, so how about we spread the wealth a little? Here are the top 10 plays as determined by the NBA, and notice there’s a lot of Ricky Rubio, a little Derrick Williams, and not much else — indicative of the kind of season it was.

Key player changes: The biggest improvement in Minnesota will come from its healthy star players, but there were a few free agent additions that the team hopes will complement the talent it already has in place on the roster.

  • IN: Corey Brewer, coming off of a huge season in Denver, was signed as a free agent to complete his second tour of duty with the Timberwolves. Minnesota also decided that Kevin Martin was worth four years and more than $27 million, and they signed veteran Ronny Turiaf to a small two-year deal to add another big man to the frontcourt rotation. Shabazz Muhammad is a rookie who was selected with the 14th overall pick in this summer’s draft.
  • OUT: Andrei Kirilenko signed with the Nets in free agency. Greg Stiemsma was signed by the Pelicans in free agency. Luke Ridnour was traded to the Bucks.

Keys to the Timberwolves’ season:

1) Stay Healthy: The Timberwolves have done an excellent job of assembling talent through the draft, signing existing quality players to long-term deals, and adding role players in free agency. Now, if they can only stay healthy.

Give us anywhere close to 82 games from the combination of Ricky Rubio, Kevin Love, Nikola Pekovic and the rest of the team’s role players, and along with a tenured and proven head coach in Rick Adelman guiding the ship, it’s tough to envision Minnesota finishing out of the postseason once again. The talent is there; it simply needs to materialize on the court for more than twenty-something games in a single season.

2) Don’t slip defensively: As troubled as the Timberwolves were a season ago with their high volume of injuries, they managed to finish 14th in defensive efficiency. The offense was brutal, of course, but that’s to be expected when your star players are sidelined. Defense is about individual effort and team scheme more than anything else, and if Minnesota can replicate last year’s defensive output with this year’s talent, substantial improvement should not only be expected, it should be evident very early in the season.

3) Can the offense catch up? Theoretically, having a full complement of talented players would fix any team’s offensive woes. In Minnesota’s case, that would mean a necessary improvement in a category where the team ranked near the bottom of the league (25th) last season.

Three-point shooting has become a critical component of successful NBA teams in recent years, and the Timberwolves ranked dead last in that category by shooting 30.5 percent from beyond the arc as a team last season. The presence of Love and the return of Brewer should help in that area, and it better if Minnesota wants to increase its offensive efficiency — a statistic that (normally, unless you’re the Bulls) directly translates into wins and losses.

Why you should watch: It’s easy to follow the favorites, but it’s more fun to join the journey of a good team on the rise. Rubio and Love are two of the more fun players in the game to watch, and they’re going to be in the mix for a playoff spot all season long.

Prediction: Minnesota has too much going for them (when healthy) not to make the playoffs. The mere presence of Love and Rubio, along with the additions of Martin and Brewer should be enough to show dramatic improvement offensively. That should in turn result in enough wins — in the 45-48 range — to secure the Timberwolves a postseason spot.

Markelle Fultz calls new free-throw routine ‘trial and error’

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The confidence of Markelle Fultz continues to be a question, not just for Philadelphia 76ers fans but for NBA heads around the league wondering just when the former No. 1 overall pick will get back to his old college self.

Fultz continues to struggle in the oddest ways. The sophomore guard was seen double clutching a free throw attempt recently, which apparently led to another new routine at the charity stripe.

In his latest change is one where Fultz does a little juggle of the ball back and forth before quickly moving into a shooting motion. It took many by surprise on social media, and reporters naturally asked Fultz about it.

For his part, Fultz said that he’s not going to change the routine because it appears to be working for him.

Via Twitter:

Hey, whatever gives this kid confidence at this time is something that works.

Stephen Curry on Warriors’ potential to fall apart: ‘That’s not going to happen’

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Draymond Green will be away from the Golden State Warriors for a little while as he deals with what the team is calling an injured toe. Meanwhile, the dust has appeared to settle after his disagreement with Kevin Durant rose to a crescendo early this week, resulting in a one-game suspension for Green and questions about whether Durant might leave this offseason in free agency.

Reports have been flying out of Golden State ever since, and now the leader of the team, Stephen Curry, has finally made his voice known.

Speaking to reporters late this week, Curry said that he was proud of how the team handled their disagreement internally, and that it would not be the thing that tore them apart.

Via the San Francisco Chronicle:

“I’m not going to let that fall apart from an incident like that. I can talk about all the different conversations that have happened — whether I’ve been included or not — but again, it’s about how we as a team move forward.”

“Obviously, from a personal standpoint, there are things that need to be worked through like any relationship in life. At the end of the day, they both understand that neither one of them is going to be the reason that we don’t win a championship this year. I can roll with that.”

Those are certainly all the things you want to see from the franchise cornerstone following a dust up like this. Whether it’s actually true is another thing altogether, but we won’t be able to make any judgment on that until Green returns to the floor.

Championship teams have teammates that hate each other. Scottie Pippen even mentioned as much earlier this week. And the Warriors are so talented that I don’t believe it alters their championship hopes one bit if Green and Durant continue to simmer on this the rest of the year.

Kevin Durant is still on the Warriors.

The Warriors are still the favorites to win the NBA championship in June.

For now.

Former Wizard Jared Dudley: ‘I’m seeing a team that has been together too long’

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The Washington Wizards are a mess to start the season. They are 5-10, have the second-worst defense in the NBA, the 20th ranked offense, and get outscored by an average of 5.6 points per 100 possessions. Which is to say, that record is a pretty accurate reflection of who they are right now, but it doesn’t do justice to how bad the locker room chemistry is.

Add former Wizard Jared Dudley to the chorus of voices saying it’s time for a change. After Dudley’s Nets beat the Wizards, Dudley said this to Ben Standig of NBC Sports Washington:

“I’m seeing a team that has been together too long,” Dudley told NBC Sports Washington…. “They haven’t made progress, so it’s time to change things over there.”

“I think (they have) good players, but sometimes, good players need different situations. For them, I think that it’s tough the way the league is changing. They play two bigs,” Dudley said about the combination of power forward Markieff Morris and center Dwight Howard. “In this day in age, Otto [Porter] needs to play more four because he’s tall enough, more spacing.”

“I think they’ve had enough time, but they really haven’t (broken) through,” Dudley said. “I can see by the All-Star break or summer time one of these pieces moving. It’s going to be good for them. If it’s John, or Otto or Brad, one of them three, I think their next move is going to be good for both teams.”

A lot of people agree with Dudley, the Wizards should trade one of their big three. However, actually doing that would be challenging (and that’s assuming GM Ernie Grunfeld wants to make a trade).

Washington reportedly has teams calling about Bradley BealMinnesota was on that list when they were shopping Jimmy Butler — but the Wizards know he’s their best player and are not interested in moving him.

What the Wizards would prefer to do is move John Wall or Otto Porter. Good luck with that. Wall is nearly impossible to trade because his designated veteran max extension kicks in NEXT season, meaning after this season he has four more years at an average of $42 million a season on his deal. Just to make it even more difficult, if Wall is traded at the deadline there is a 15 percent trade kicker (which would lead to a big bonus this season and a little more money down the line.

Otto Porter has two years left on his contract after this one at $27.3 million and $28.5 million (the second year is a player option, but he will pick it up). This season Porter has been a pretty average player — 10.4 points a game, shoots 35 percent from three, PER of 13.8 (slightly below the league average) — on a max contract. That’s the kinds of deals teams do not want to take on, the Wizards would need to throw a lot of sweeteners to even get another team to consider a trade.

Washington, once again, came into the season talking big — Eastern Conference Finals — and with a confidence not warranted by past results. Reality has shown them something different. Dudley is right, it’s time for a change, it was last summer (if not before that), but actually doing something may prove to be too much until next July.

It was an ugly end of the game by Kevin Durant, Klay Thompson, Warriors

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With 1:10 left in the game Saturday night, the Golden State Warriors were down just one point, 109-108, to the Dallas Mavericks following a Luka Doncic floater. Warriors fans — and the Warriors themselves — had to feel confident, this is the kind of game they close out and win. The Warriors have done it for years. Sure Stephen Curry and Draymond Green were out, but is where the Warriors other big stars hit big shots.

Not on Saturday night:

Kevin Durant missed a running hook shot from 7 feet.

• Durant missed an 11-foot fadeaway jumper.

Klay Thompson missed a clean-look 16-foot baseline jumper.

• Down 3 with :04 seconds left, Durant intentionally misses a free throw, Jonas Jerebko gets the offensive rebound, then goes up with an 11-foot two-pointer that does the team no good.

It wasn’t just the final minute. In the fourth quarter, Durant was 1-of-7 shooting, missed his last four shots, and was a -7. Thompson was 3-of-8 in the fourth and also a -7.

With Curry and Green out — something to expect for a few more games — Durant and Thompson combined to shoot 41.7 percent overall (20-of-48) overall and 2-of-15 (13.3 percent) from three. The Warriors can’t win that way, and didn’t.

Don’t read “the Warriors are in trouble” into that — it’s just one game. In November. We all should expect the Warriors to be healthy when it matters most next April and reform Voltron to wipe out the rest of the NBA.

However, in the short term, the Warriors need their stars to step up. This is not as deep a team as Golden State has rolled out during this run, it relies more on its star power, and Saturday night that let them down.