Biggest Needs for Minnesota Timberwolves During 2014 Offseason
How many lottery-bound team have as much talent as the Minnesota Timberwolves?
In fact, few playoff teams can match the firepower on Minnesota's roster.
They have what should be an MVP candidate in Kevin Love. Only LeBron James and Kevin Durant have been able to match Love's production this season. The power forward ranks third in the league in total win shares at 13.9 and player efficiency rating (PER) at 27.0.
They have one of the finest in Ricky Rubio, who ranks in the top five in assists and leads the league in total steals. They have a nightly 20-point, 10-rebound threat in center Nikola Pekovic.
Heck, they even have the hottest rookie in the NBA at the moment in Gorgui Dieng.
But none of those factors have come together in the right proportion to lead Minnesota to the playoffs. While the Wolves might finish above .500, they have already guaranteed their NBA-record 10th consecutive trip to the lottery.
Clearly, the Wolves have some work to do over the summer. But this team has a set of questions unlike any other lottery-bound club.
All statistics are courtesy of Basketball-Reference.
Let's leave aside for the moment the simple fact that the Wolves would be in the playoffs right now if they were fortunate enough to have been placed in the Eastern Conference.
Sure, the state of Minnesota is just a shade West of Eastern Conference states like Wisconsin (Milwaukee Bucks) and Illinois (Chicago Bulls), but, as this map demonstrates, there are two Western Conference teams East of Minneapolis (including a Memphis Grizzlies team with a record far superior to the Wolves').
The simple fact is that the Wolves should be competing for a playoff spot this season, even in the West. For much of the season, they were ranked in the top 10 in the league in both offensive and defensive efficiency (they are currently 12th on defense).
Thanks to that skill on both ends of the floor, Minnesota has accumulated an expected win-loss record of 48-34...which would have them tied with Memphis and Phoenix for the final playoff spot in the West.
Furthermore, the Wolves rank a shocking ninth in Basketball-Reference's simple rating system, a metric that measures a team's success based on margin of victory and strength of schedule. Not eighth in the conference...ninth in the league.
But the Wolves had been crushed by a toxic mix of injuries and poor play in close games. Even if you believe Minnesota is at fault for much of their poor fourth-quarter play, there is simply no way that the team could overcome this stretch of poor luck.
The Wolves need to purchase a truckload of four-leaf clovers and rabbit's feet over the summer. Thankfully, that won't count toward the salary cap.
A Change at Head Coach
There have been rumors that 67-year-old head coach Rick Adelman could retire at the end of the season.
He has accomplished a great deal in his 23-year career, reaching two NBA Finals with the Portland Trail Blazers and coaching the Sacramento Kings to an overtime loss to the Los Angeles Lakers in the Western Conference Finals.
But Adelman has alienated many Minnesota fans for his steadfast refusal to play their young lottery picks, like Derrick Williams (since traded), Shabazz Muhammad and, until recently, Gorgui Dieng. And the coach must take blame for his team's wretched performance in close games this season.
So who would replace Adelman? ESPN's Marc Stein mentions a former Wolves player in current Iowa State coach Fred Hoiberg:
Widely regarded as the most NBA-ready college coach in the game, Hoiberg was a Wolves executive for four years before leaving the pros to coach the Cyclones. It should be noted that Saunders is close with Michigan State's Tom Izzo, as well, but the rumbles out of Sota are getting louder that the Wolves are going to court Hoiberg hard if they, as expected, have an opening.
But Hoiberg was just given a raise by his university, and he recently expressed his desire to stay in Ames for life, per the Ames Tribune's Travis Hines:
I’ve got something special in Ames. My kids get to see their grandparents every day if they want to, and that’s stuff you can’t replace. To look up in the crowd (during games) and there’s my parents, my in-laws, my brother, my sister-in-law, my other brother drives over from Omaha a lot, just to have that family support, you can’t replace that.
I’m very happy here. My kids love it. I’d love to spend the rest of my career here.
Can the Wolves tempt "The Mayor" away from his current job?
Make no mistake: The Wolves have one of the league's elite frontcourts. Power forward Kevin Love and center Nikola Pekovic work well together—Minnesota outscores opponents by 8.2 points per 100 possessions when those two are both on the court, per NBA.com.
But the Wolves also have a serious problem allowing too many easy buckets. Minnesota gets turnovers (sixth in opponent turnover rate) and doesn't foul (first in opponent free throws per field-goal attempt), but they are held back from being an elite defense by allowing the opposition to shoot 50.7 percent of two-point attempts, 27th in the league.
And many of those shots are coming on uncontested drives to the rim, according to SB Nation's Satchel Price:
No team is worse at guarding near the rim than Minnesota this season -- the team allows opponents to shoot 63.5 percent inside five feet.
Poor transition defense contributes to that number, but neither Pekovic or Love is known as a quality rim protector. At the end of close games, it's hard to finish strong when teams can score at will near the basket.
Clearly the team needs a big man who can protect the rim. Fortunately, they might already just such a player on the roster.
More Gorgui Dieng
The Timberwolves also had difficulties protecting the rim in 2012-13. As a result, they targeted Gorgui Dieng, the defensive linchpin of Louisville's 2013 national championship team, with the No. 21 pick in the draft.
But he immediately fell victim to Adelman's noted distaste for young players. Check out his minutes over the first four months of the season:
- November: 10 games, 59 total minutes
- December: 7 games, 35 total minutes
- January: 10 games, 61 total minutes
- February: 10 games, 94 total minutes
Fortunately for Wolves fans, Adelman's hand was forced when Pekovic was felled by an injury in March. He played Dieng 290 total minutes, and the center responded by averaging 8.6 points and 8.3 rebounds en route to winning the Western Conference Rookie of the Month award.
Not only does Dieng have the tools, he has the perfect attitude for a defensive big man, a player who cares more about wins than stats.
We lost tonight, but I think I gave everything I had when I was on the floor. I always say stats don’t mean anything. Personal stats, I don’t care anything about. I’m more like a team guy and I want to win.
If the Wolves are going to be a top-10 defense next year, they will need to feature Dieng on defense.
Besides rim protection, the one other clear weakness for Minnesota this season has been the team-wide inability to hit the three.
Other than Love (37.6 3P%) and shooting guard Kevin Martin (38.7 3P%), the Wolves haven't had a consistent three-point threat that could shoot better than the league average.
Of course, the focal point for many complaints about the Wolves' shooting woes is usually Ricky Rubio. The point guard has once again put together a poor campaign from the field, with a 38.1 overall field-goal percentage and a 33.1 three-point percentage.
But Rubio's defense and passing make him a useful player even if he never learns to shoot. The same cannot be said for guards like J.J. Barea (31.6 3P%) and Alexey Shved (29.4 3P%).
While the Timberwolves can hope for a return from the injured Chase Budinger, they would do well to look for a three-point shooter in the 2014 draft who can take the minutes that were wasted by Barea and Shved.