Today, we’re taking a look back at the late-October issue of Sports Illustrated, which was their 2010-11 NBA Preview issue. On the cover are scoring champion Kevin Durant, defensive swingman Thabo Sefelosha & big man Nenad Krstic. The title reads: Lakers & Heat BEWARE, THUNDER BALL: Kevin Durant & Co. are growing up Fast. No doubt the Thunder did a lot of growing up moving past the Denver Nuggets and the Memphis Grizzlies on their way to the Western Conference Finals where they were ousted on May 25th by the Mavericks in 5 games. Enough about the cover, let’s take a look inside…
The first part of the NBA Preview is a story on the OKC Thunder. Actually a pretty good read (by Lee Jenkins). Of course the picture has Jeff Green, Thabo Sefelosha, Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook & Nenad Krstic in it. It would now, have KD, Russ, James Harden, Serge Ibaka & Kendrick Perkins as they made some offseason moves.
The second section of the NBA Preview is…a real shocker!!! A story about the Miami Heat! I’m sure you haven’t seen to many of those since “The Decision”! I honestly didn’t read it, because I didn’t/don’t care!
The next section of the Preview is the outlook of all the teams and where they’ll end up when all is said and done. In the Eastern Conference, they had the Milwaukee Bucks, Detroit Pistons and the Charlotte Bobcats all making the playoffs. In their place: the Philadelphia 76ers, Indiana Pacers & the New York Knicks all made the playoffs. For the Western Conference, they had the Phoenix Suns, Houston Rockets & the Utah Jazz all making the playoffs. In their place: the New Orleans Hornets, Denver Nuggets & the Memphis Grizzlies all made the playoffs. One thing they did get right, they had the Minnesota Timberwolves finishing 15th in the West, that they did. They were, obviously the worst team in the NBA (record-wise). The Conference Finals in the East were the Heat over the Celtics and in the West it was the Lakers over the Spurs. Well, the Heat eliminated the Chicago Bulls in 5 games and are going head-to-head with the Mavs (once again: 2006!!) in the NBA Finals. In the West however, the Lakers and Spurs were both eliminated as the Dallas Mavericks moved on to the Finals. Their finals of Lakers over Heat obviously won’t happen either.
Moving on now, to what Sports Illustrated saw at the beginning of the season for the TWolves. Let’s see if they were right…
The starting lineup and key reserves were listed as follows: PG: Jonny Flynn, SG: Martell Webster, SF: Michael Beasley, PF: Kevin Love, C: Darko Milicic. Reserves: Wesley Johnson, Luke Ridnour, Corey Brewer. Well…the backcourt obviously was a little off. Both Jonny Flynn & Martell Webster had preseason surgeries to fix some injuries. For Martell it was a back injury, that allowed him to play just 46 games in the ‘10-‘11 season. For Jonny it was offseason hip surgery that allowed him to play just 53 games. The difference of course, when Martell came back he was a big contributor for the Wolves off the bench. When Jonny came back, his play was simply…horrendous!
The next part of the TWolves preseason analysis is a section on a rival scout “sizing” up the Wolves. The first statement this rival scout makes: “Kevin Love may not be their best player, but he’s certainly their most marketable.” This one just didn’t make sense. The fact is, before Jefferson was traded, Love had to come off the bench and never got the big minutes. The bigger question is…if Love wasn’t their best player going into the preseason, WHO WAS!? It certainly wasn’t Beasley: who had big struggles in Miami and had been somewhat written off, by a lot of folks. If he thought it was Darko…HA! Flynn? Ridnour? Brewer? Webster? Who was better? Anyway…moving on. He also added that Love isn’t a back-to-the-basket kind of player. That is without a doubt, TRUE! Love is definitely a jump shooter (face-up). There were very few times this season where he’d receive the ball in the post and try to back down his defender using post moves and strength. Something, that he needs to work on, along with his post D!
The next question…Who’s playing Center. This was certainly a question that was on everyone’s minds (in ‘10-‘11 and STILL IS!). Last summer the Wolves signed Darko to a 4-year $20M deal. He definitely made some leaps and bounds as a player, but he still can’t be considered “starting material” he is a backup, at best! What this rival scout thought, was that they needed a really gifted low-post scorer to play alongside Love, someone like…I don’t know…Al Jefferson? He of course was traded to Utah for a couple of 1st round draft picks and Kosta Koufos (now with Denver). For the ‘11-‘12 season, they definitely need to find an answer to this question that doesn’t end with DARKO!!
The next part was all about the Wolves offseason addition: Michael Beasley. Beasley was acquired by the Wolves in an trade with the Miami Heat: the former #2 pick: Beasley for two future 2nd round picks (yes that is what we call a STEAL). We all know Beasley was simply amazing in college and we all know that since joining the NBA he’s had more than his fair share of struggles. Since joining the Heat in the 2008 NBA Draft (#2 pick to Miami after Derrick Rose), he’s had the opportunity to play with a superstar in this League: Dwayne Wade. However, just as SI points out, that in his first two years it has looked as though he’s unable to play with anyone. However, Beasley found a bit of a niche in Minnesota this season, he improved his shooting, however his rebounding was awful (as usual) obviously not too easy with the leading rebounder grabbing 10-20rpg a night (K. Love). His defense and hist “teamwork” were notably ‘bad’ as well. His defense wasn’t great, he played a permanently at the small forward this season, which changes where he is on the court and who he’s guarding. He certainly isn’t the greatest ball handler (as he lead the Wolves in turnovers per game this season: 2.7). The biggest quote that stood out from the SI preview was (in reference to Beas) that he has so much talent, but doesn’t do much with it and Pat Riley, one of the greatest GMs, coaches & players in this League couldn’t harness it or rather, just gave up on the young man. Needless to say, if Beasley is committed to putting the work in, he could be a star in this League, if not, he’ll always be a large volume scorer, but nothing much beyond that.
The next big issue was second-year point guard: Jonny Flynn. We’ve discussed this before and it is quite obvious, Flynn was simply awful in his second year. With the offseason hip surgery and his struggles as he returned and couldn’t beat out veteran Luke Ridnour for his starting spot. In his first year, Flynn was the best at getting the ball from one end of the court to the other at high speed and pushing it to the rim. However, the biggest issue for Flynn has been the system he’s been playing. Jonny is a pick-and-roll player and in Minnesota he’s had to run the triangle offense; something he’s been unable to accomplish efficiently. The SI issue had Jonny having a great year, but that didn’t happen whatsoever. I’d say, it’s a great possibility that Flynn won’t be donning the green & blue next season.
Lastly for the Wolves preview: a little best case-worst case scenario. The following is a look at exactly what was written in the issue and we’ll see what projections actually ‘came true’.
BEST CASE: “They sort out their logjam at point guard & small forward allowing Jonny Flynn to take charge & Michael Beasley to thrive in his new environment. Even better, they don’t make any more trades.
-Well, the TWolves did sort out their logjams at the 1 & 3 spots. Mainly because of injury. Ridnour took over for the starting guard last year: Flynn after he had to have offseason hip surgery. Last year’s Wolves starting small forward was Ryan Gomes (who was traded to Portland, later waived and signed by the Clippers). Beasley stepped up as the starter as their other offseason acquisition also had an injury that required surgery (on his back: herniated disc). So actually Ridnour & Beasley both thrived (based on past statistics) in their new environments.
-Next, the Wolves did actually make a trade this season. They were the third team that was involved in the Carmelo Anthony deal that sent him from Denver to New York. The TWolves sent out their longest tenured player: Corey Brewer, to the New York Knicks and their offseason acquisition center from Utah: Kosta Koufos to the Denver Nuggets. In return they received two New York Knick players: Anthony Randolph & Eddy Curry (Curry was bought out, shortly thereafter). This was definitely a good trade. They sorted out their jam at the shooting guard, sent a third string center out and snagged a big athletic forward that’s extremely versatile, whose potential is practically limitless.
WORST CASE: “Flynn cannot get the minutes he needs to develop, neither can rookie forward Wesley Johnson & Kevin Love misses Al Jefferson in the middle. GM David Kahn picks up the phone and begins yet another makeover.
-Flynn certainly couldn’t get the minutes, his offseason hip surgery was the biggest reason and when he returned Wolves fans around the world groaned every time he checked in the game. Wesley Johnson had to move to shooting guard to get the minutes and he struggled with his position change, but he could easily improve with some serious work.
-Did Kevin Love miss Big Al in the middle? Well, let’s take a look…Love finally got the minutes he deserves and he performed incredibly: leading the Wolves in scoring and the NBA in rebounds and rebounds per game as well as making the Western Conference all-star team and winning the Most Improved Player of the Year Award. Did he miss Big Al? I think the answer is obvious…NO!
-After a 17-win season (just a 2-win improvement from ‘09-‘10), GM Kahn hasn’t yet begun yet another makeover, but I don’t think the Wolves are in the clear from that. They do have a nice core: Beasley, Love, Randolph, Rubio? (maybe someday), as well as the #2 pick in the 2011 NBA Draft.
The TWolves are an organization that has been in turmoil for far too long. However, with Love & Beasley leading the way, the Wolves could seriously contend; even in the loaded West.
If you honestly read through all this, thank you, I suppose :) As always you can always find your NBA Wolves news and information on this site all summer long. Stay tuned, thanks for reading and GO WOLVES!