Early projections for the Wolves

Zach Harper —  August 21, 2012 — 5 Comments

Since there is nothing happening in the NBA world for about another month (when training camps will open their doors), a lot of people are now projecting how the NBA standings will finish up for the 2012-13 season.

Personally, I’m not huge into preseason predictions because so many things can change throughout any moment of the year. This is something we saw on March 9th when Rubio went down for a surging Timberwolves team. But with that said, there is a valuable tool in seeing these predictions: you get to see how others view the prospects of your team.

There are three different projections (all from ESPN.com) that I’d like to look at. 

1. Bradford Doolittle projecting the West standings.

I’m trying to stay realistic about the Wolves’ chances. I think with a healthy Rubio and a semi-healthy Brandon Roy, this looks like a playoff team. Defending could be a bit rough this season, but the offense and rebounding advantages the Wolves have with their rotation should allow them to win more games than they lose. However, with Rubio probably not coming back until around Christmas at the earliest, it’s hard for me to be sold on this team being a playoff contender this season. I’m not saying it can’t happen, but I’m just being cautious because of his recovery.

Bradford Doolittle from NBA Insider on ESPN does not agree with me. Here is how he explains his process:

Using NBAPET, my system for projecting, evaluating and tracking the league, I’ve entered all transactions through the weekend and created a wins forecast for every team.

I’ve also compared the wins forecast to last season’s total of Pythagorean wins per 82 games for each team, which is the record each team should have had based on its point differential. This gives us an idea of how teams have moved up and down the NBA ladder since the Heat wrapped up the championship a couple of months ago.

Obviously, this isn’t an exact science for projecting win totals because things can change so quickly with transactions and injuries in the regular season, but I do like the method he uses. He’s looking for checks and balances with this system, and it provides a fantastic broad stroke for seeing how this team could improve.

The improvement he projects is the second best improvement in the league, behind the Brooklyn Nets:

4. Minnesota Timberwolves: 51.0 wins, 16.3 games better
Only Brooklyn projects to make a bigger jump than the young, talented and suddenly deep Timberwolves. For all the abuse that general manager David Kahn has taken in the past, he had as good an offseason as any executive in the league. Minnesota has 12 legitimate NBA talents on its roster, giving Rick Adelman the versatility to play any style that suits him at any given time. And, yes, this projection takes into account the fact that Ricky Rubio will miss anywhere from 30-40 games while recovering from his knee injury.

The fact that he’s taking into account Rubio missing possibly half the season kind of astounds me here. Not only does this put the Wolves in the playoffs in his system, but it’s putting them into the 50-win club for the first time in nine years and also getting homecourt advantage in the first round.

I’m not nearly as optimistic as Doolittle is, but I think it clearly shows the Wolves’ level of talent and depth on the roster has greatly improved since last season. A lot would have to go right for the Wolves to meet this projection, in my opinion, but a big improvement isn’t out of the question.

2. Summer Forecast prediction by a polling of 100 basketball pundits.

100 basketball writers and contributors for ESPN.com and various ESPN-related outlets (myself included) projected the record for the Wolves this year. It was simply a matter of giving a win total number that you think will most likely happen, and you could create your own criteria for why it may or may not happen.

The Wolves ended up with a projection of a 41-41 record and the ninth spot in the Western Conference. This seems much more realistic to me (especially considering that I picked them for 40 wins in this process). My biggest concern is obviously the injury rehab for Rubio, but I’m also a little concerned about the depth in the frontcourt. I think the Wolves really need to add another big man in some way, just in case Pekovic isn’t fully recovered from offseason surgery on his ankle.

With that said, we’re still seeing projected improvement for this team, which should be encouraging.

3. John Hollinger and Chad Ford’s Future Rankings.

Hollinger and Ford got together to rank the futures of the NBA teams over the next four years. They have a set criteria of ranking current players (worth half of the overall ranking), management (16.7%), salary cap flexibility (16.7%), market appeal (8.3%) and future draft potential (8.3%). Here’s the projection for the Wolves:

18. Minnesota Timberwolves | Future Power Rating: 565

PLAYERS MANAGEMENT MONEY MARKET DRAFT
360 (10th) 47 (25th) 93 (17th) 16 (30th) 49 (14th)
While the Wolves are putting some nice pieces around Kevin Love, the key factor in Minnesota’s future remains what happens when he can opt out in three years. And remember, that means the clock starts at least a year earlier — that’s when Chris Paul and Deron Williams were dealt when their respective teams realized they were leaving anyway.

Minnesota made a mistake not signing Love for the full five-year extension, needlessly exposing itself to flight risk. Exacerbating this problem is that we rated the Twin Cities dead last among the league’s 30 markets; while locals love it, NBA players aren’t as fond of the frigid winters.

The Love decision, and a series of draft foul-ups (most notably Jonny Flynn and Wes Johnson) are the reason we still have Minnesota’s management — led by GM David Kahn and owner Glen Taylor — ranked only 25th, even though the rest of the program seems to be in fairly good shape. Supplemented by pre-Kahn draftees Love and Nikola Pekovic, and with additions such asRicky Rubio and Derrick Williams, the T-Wolves have a strong foundation of young talent around Love.

Minnesota’s cap situation is pretty solid too, even with a few questionable contracts mixed in: The Wolves will have enough room under the tax to pay Pekovic next summer, and then can get well under the cap and perhaps pursue another running mate for Love in the summer of 2014. All of that is encouraging, but we’d be a lot more encouraged if we knew Love couldn’t fly the coop.

(Previous rank: 20) 

Management and market appeal are the two biggest drawbacks for the Wolves’ organization, which isn’t something you can really argue with. While the Wolves have improved the roster, you have to wonder how much of it was Kahn and how much of it was Adelman’s camp. While Kahn will certainly get the credit/blame if the Wolves are good/bad, the majority of these moves have Adelman’s fingerprints all over them.

As for the market, I don’t think there is much to complain about what they say. People here love Minneapolis, but that doesn’t mean it’s ideal for young millionaires to come spend their winters here. The winters are brutal. However, I think one thing Hollinger and Ford don’t take into account here is the idea that guys like Ricky Rubio and Kevin Love can draw in players wanting to play here.

I’ve heard from various scouts that there are really good players who would love to play with Rubio if their current situation doesn’t work out. These aren’t All-NBA First Team guys but a couple of them have made All-Star games before. If this becomes a winning culture under Rubio and Love, then guys will be dying to get on the court with a point guard that can set them up for easy baskets. A lot of things going the Wolves’ way on the court could help the team attract players off the court.

I’d have Minneapolis low on the market rankings, but I’d have it ahead of Sacramento (if they stay there), Milwaukee, Salt Lake City, and probably Charlotte off the top of my head. Maybe even throw in Cleveland too.

Other than that, the Wolves get high marks in players, cap flexibility (sort of), and drafting.

Things are looking up for the Wolves, but it still seems like their injured players are getting the benefit of the doubt. This is what happens when a Hall of Fame coach gets paired with a phenom at the point and a superstar power forward who explodes out of nowhere.

Should be a fun season.

Zach Harper

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5 responses to Early projections for the Wolves

  1. What about Detroit and Toronto?

  2. I don’t get the whole winter argument. Half the season they’re playing away games and the other half they play 3 maybe 4 games a week how often are they even home during the season ? If they played and lived here most of there time spent at home would be from may-oct a very good time to be in Minnesota.

  3. pagingstanleyroberts August 22, 2012 at 12:46 am

    Stats projections are on a curve a lot; Basketball Prospectus significantly overestimated the Rambis Wolves. With that said, they have a good point. Efficient productivity with role players was what kept the post-Yao Rockets hovering near .500, and those teams didn’t have anyone nearly as good as Love. It’s a cumulative effect that’s also based on giving up fewer open looks, taking fewer bad shots, taking and making more free throws, reducing or eliminating the turnover gap, going from an average rebounding team to a good/great one, and having fewer obstacles more prominent for a new coach in a compressed season. Also, coaches matter. I’d favor the Mavs and Wolves because Carlisle and Adelman are at least a level above the other coaches of fringe playoff teams.

  4. Mark, many players have families as well as whole entourages of friends and in the case of being a wolves player, those people would be in Minnesota during the winter. Wouldn’t they rather be in a warm and sunny place? That’s where the argument works.

  5. they will be 7th ir 6th if no one gets hurt and rubio recovers fully.

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