Right before any regular season begins, you start having ideas pop into your ahead about what a team or player could be with a brand new slate. Everybody has put on muscle or shed fat. They’ve worked on their game and added new components. They’ve played against inspiring competition in the offseason and seen trainers looking to retool these incredible athletes.
Then we see a glimpse of what could be in the preseason, mostly against lineups we won’t see much and schemes so basic we won’t see them in the regular season. That gives us a bit more information to make our preseason predictions and boldly claim what no fan has claimed before. Just to have a little fun with the upcoming season, I thought it would be enjoyable to give some Hot Sports Takes that center around the Wolves and offer up predictions for the coming year. I stole this idea from my CBSSports.com cohort Royce Young that gave Daily Thunder reads 35 statements made with extreme confidence.
I’ve come up with 42 Hot Wolves Takes that can be our measuring guide for what may happen in 2013-14. Why 42 of them? Royce chose 35 because Kevin Durant’s number is 35, so I’m rolling with Kevin Love’s number. When the season is over, we’ll revisit and see how many of these hit and how many of them fell off like Troy Hudson. Let’s have some fun:
1. Kevin Love will win the rebounding title.
In the 2010-11 season, Love broke out with a monster year of 15.2 rebounds per game. He led the league by over one rebound per game with Dwight Howard finishing second at 14.2. In the 2011-12 season, Love had a bigger responsibility with offense and it possibly took away some of his effectiveness on the offensive boards. Or maybe he just didn’t put forth the same effort or teams game planned better for him on the boards. Last season we had a very small sample size, but Love was rebounding 14 times per game. It would have shattered Dwight Howard’s 12.4 that led the league. I think we’re back to seeing the best rebounder claim his title.
2. Ricky Rubio will finish top 3 in the NBA in assists per game, lead NBA in total assists.
Despite coming back from an ACL tear halfway through the second month of the season, it didn’t take all that long for Rubio to return to form. He finished 10th in the NBA in assists per game at 7.3, nearly four assists off Rajon Rondo’s league-leading 11.1 per game. Rondo won’t be around for a good chunk of this season and outside of him there aren’t a ton of guys that rack up assists in this era of making the extra perimeter pass. Rubio operating with healthy offensive weapons should be able to climb the ranks and because of injuries around the league, I think he has a great chance at having a healthy year and the healthiest assist total.
3. Kevin Martin will see his free throw rate rise back above .450.
We’ve seen a sharp decline in how often Kevin Martin gets to the free throw line. There are a multitude of factors. A big one is the change in the rip rule that he used to be so good at getting calls when he utilized. That no longer results in free throws for the shooter, and it’s been in sharp decline since that moment. The other reasons are primarily the role he’s in, injuries, and the teammates he’s playing alongside. He’s played more with ball dominant guys (Tyreke Evans, Kyle Lowry, Goran Dragic, Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook) since he was a free throw machine and number one option in Sacramento. That change in role has made him less of a creator and more of a watcher. This offensive system and role should help change that for him though and see a rise from the sub-.350 free throw rates we’ve seen the last two seasons.
4. Kevin Martin will average 20 points per game.
I feel very confident that Martin will be the second option in this offense for the Wolves after Love and that means he’s going to get a lot of scoring chances. Three seasons ago, he averaged 25.9 points per game as the top option in Rick Adelman’s system. With a point guard that finds him quickly for open looks and a system that suits his style, I think we’ll see him climb back to the 20 per game mark. We just have to hope he does it with more than 62 games played.
5. The Wolves will have fewer than 175 games missed due to injury.
Speaking of injuries, the Wolves have over 350 games missed due to injury last season. 350! That’s almost 1,000 if my math is correct. I think we’re going to see that number fall below 175 this year and be cut by more than half. Chase Budinger will be a decent chunk of that total too. I have nothing to base that on other than crossed fingers.
6. Wolves will finish top 5 in the NBA in free throw attempts.
This one isn’t so bold. They were sixth last year and add both of the Kevins to this roster. With the pace and their ability to find the whistles of the refs when they go for contact inside, this Hot Wolves Take is as close to a lock as you can get.
7. Wolves will finish bottom 10 in free throw percentage.
The Wolves were also 21st in FT percentage last season and for some reason I just don’t trust them at the line right now. It’s weird because Love and Martin should fix a big chunk of that. For whatever reason, it feels like the Wolves are going to miss 1 of 2 every time they get to the stripe. I know that’s irrational but I think they’ll fail to take full advantage of their residency at the line.
8. Ricky Rubio will once again finish second in the NBA in steals per game.
Rubio was a Chris Paul steal on the final night of the season last year from leading the league in steals per game. I don’t know if this means anything but people tend to like to lead the league in categories. I think Rubio will do that once again, but this time he’ll lose out to Eric Bledsoe as the top steals-getter.
9. Shabazz Muhammad will play fewer than 400 minutes.
I don’t think this means he’s bad or that Rick Adelman hates rookies. I just think they’ll bring him along slowly, use the D-League, and develop him for down the road.
10. Gorgui Dieng will work his way into the regular rotation by season’s end.
What Gorgui provides, this team needs. He protects the rim and I think he’ll have a very good rebounding rate. He’s going to be awkward on offense more often than not, but I think he can carve out 12 minutes per game in some fashion.
11. The Wolves’ “We’re ready” coin will be a motivational tool by Flip Saunders that actually works.
Are these cheesy? Absolutely. But this kind of stuff tends to work when trying to get an organization on the same page. People like having that symbol to look toward, even if the outsiders find it to be dumb.
12. The Wolves will finish in the top half of the league in 3-point percentage. Kick rocks, Infinite Sorrow.
I harped on this all last season when the Wolves were missing a ton of 3-pointers at an alarming and historic rate. I’m not worried about that anymore. The addition of Martin and the reintroduction to Love should spread the floor quite a bit, providing the defense more area to cover and therefore more space for the shooters. The rhythm of the offense should be so much better than we saw last season and shooting is certainly a rhythm type of deal. Last year league average was 35.9% from 3-point range. I think they’re breaking 35% this year, which should handle this Hot Wolves Take nicely.
13. Minnesota will finish with a top 8 offense.
I’ve gone over what it would take in order to put the Wolves into an elite offense or top 5 offense in the league. I won’t rehash it too much. Last season we thought this team would score and struggle to defend. The opposite turned out to be true due to injuries. This year, I think we’ll actually see those concerns come to fruition.
14. Some of you will be really happy with my side gig as a columnist for 1500 ESPN; some of you will still hate my stuff but hate read me. It’s a win-win.
Yes, that’s a shameless plug. My first column went up late Tuesday night and some of you may have seen it already. I’m pretty excited about the opportunity to contribute to the direction they’re headed as a radio station and a website. I’ll be doing two analysis columns a week, much like some of the stuff I do here. They may even be foolish enough to put me on the radio from time to time, which means we’re probably two years from my 1-4pm daily radio show in which I talk about 5% Wolves basketball and 95% movies I’ve been watching lately.
15. Kevin Love makes the 2014 All-Star Game as a reserve.
The last two seasons he’s been healthy, Kevin Love has made the All-Star Game. Even in a loaded Western Conference, I think he can beat out the guys from the LaMarcus Aldridge, Zach Randolph, Dirk Nowitzki contingent that don’t make it in. I’m assuming Blake Griffin is voted as a starter.
16. J.J. Barea will become more of a fan favorite.
I know he’s been a divisive player on this team and many people have been irritated at his game. I’ve grown to appreciate Barea just because he has a very specific role and sometimes that role calls for play that could easily fall off a cliff and piss off the people watching the Wolves. This year, he should end up having to be more of a playmaker, which we saw in the early part of last season. I think he’ll lead the second unit nicely.
17. The Wolves defense will be somewhere between 17th best and 21st best defense.
Toward the end of this range seems like the danger zone for the Wolves making the playoffs. There is a very real danger of the Wolves falling past this 21st rank for defensive efficiency but I’m a little more optimistic about how the bookends of this defense (Rubio and Pek) will affect them. I also think the bench unit will be solid defensively to keep the Wolves from falling apart in bad moments. If they can make this range, they’ll have a great chance of advancing to the postseason.
18. There will be a 40% 3-point shooter on this team and one with significant attempts.
I’m pegging Kevin Martin with this honor because he’s done it three times in his career. It’s going to be weird to have a good outside shooting team. (This is going to blow up in my face, isn’t it?)
19. Chase Budinger won’t play before January 15th.
This might even be optimistic. I just don’t feel great about this recurring knee issue for him. Let’s move on before I get sad.
20. You guys are going to love Ronny Turiaf.
I’m telling you, this guy is someone you will LOVE. He annoyed the hell out of Wolves fans last year when he had a double-digit scoring game as a member of the Clippers when he was celebrating like crazy. I’ll explain this more in a post tomorrow, but here’s a sneak preview of why you’ll dig his presence on this team.
21. Halfway in and I predict I will regret deciding Kevin Love’s number over someone like Kevin Martin or Nikola Pekovic or Alexey Shved.
Is it too late for a number change on Kevin Love? Kevin, are you reading this? If so, can you just switch to #20 next season so next year’s Hot Wolves Takes post is much shorter. It would help us all out. Less nonsense for me to write, less nonsense for the reader to read. It’s really a win-win for years to come. Oh that reminds me…
22. Some (lazy) columnist will be struggling for a hook and start talking about Kevin Love trade destinations for the Wolves’ power forward.
It’s going to come. They will talk about getting Kevin Love out of town to avoid him leaving. I’ll be snarky and a prick when I respond to it. And we’ll move on until next season. I don’t see Flip Saunders trading Love at all, let alone this season. Just let it roll off your backs, and no the Bulls package is not something I’m all that interested in.
23. Kevin Love will average less than 25 points per game.
I don’t see a huge scoring year from Love. Now, 23 points per game is still something he can hit and be quite effective, but I think he’ll be under the 25 points per game he nearly reached in 2011-12 (24.0).
24. Nikola Pekovic will not come close to averaging a double-double.
This one is bold, I know, but his 16.3 points and 8.8 rebounds per game last season are pretty good considering he was often the only big hitting the boards out there. Teams swarmed him on boxouts and it hurt his overall average. Love being around should open up his offensive rebounding totals/averages, but I’d be shocked if he has a big impact on the defensive glass.
25. Pekovic will have a better season than he did last year.
Yes, the averages will suffer but Pek’s impact will improve from what we saw last season. I really believe his defense is incredibly underrated. He doesn’t block shots. He doesn’t get a lot of steals. But he is becoming a positioning wizard. He’s getting really good at finding the angles to cut off and letting his mass do the rest. His defense should be better this season and that will mean more than his scoring and rebounding. At least, that’s the hope.
26. Derrick Williams is going to have one of the top 10 dunks of the season.
Something like this is going to happen. I promise you.
27. Derrick Williams is not going to have that dunk for the Wolves.
Sadly, I don’t think it’s necessarily going to happen as a member of the Wolves. If he plays well within his role, I think the Wolves will be able to move him for wing depth. They’re going to approach the luxury tax and with Ricky’s extension before next November, they’ll certainly be in that danger zone. I have nothing to base this off of other than the idea that it just feels like he’s gone soon.
28. Kevin Martin’s defense is going to be brutal.
We’ll have a lot of these looks like when Lindsey Hunter experienced Michael Beasley.
29. Alexey Shved’s defense is going to be brutal.
Get ready for this one too. I’m a little more positive about Shved this season after his preseason. I liked the way he played, even though he doesn’t attack the basket as much as I’d like. He should have a pretty good impact on defense as long as he doesn’t continually get down on himself like we saw last season. However, he’ll be one of the saloon doors defensively on the perimeter and it could be brutal.
30. When he comes back, Chase Budinger’s defense is going to be brutal.
I’m not going to post another .gif here but when Bud came back from his knee injury, he had some trouble sticking with guys in isolation situations. He also didn’t close out on shooters all that well. It’s nothing he was great at before, but it was hard for him to move around while trying to get that leg strong. When he comes back, I’d be shocked if he’s playing heavy minutes before April mostly because of the defense.
31. Dante Cunningham will defend small forwards pretty often and he’ll excel at it.
It’s going to be weird for Adelman to give up the wing position to Cunningham, but he may not have a choice some nights. DC is one of the best defensive players on the team, arguably a top 3 defender on this Wolves roster. There are going to be times that Adelman needs a bulldog on defense that wants to rip the face off of the scoring small forward. I think we’ll see Cunningham get the call and do well.
32. The offense will suffer when Dante has to play a lot of small forward.
In those instances, the offense is going to suffer. In theory, Love can move to the outside to stretch the floor and DC moves more inside, but I don’t feel confident they’ll figure out the rhythm in these situations.
33. We will see five home games at Target Center come down to a buzzer-beater shot.
I think we’ll see some really great games this season that will come down to the wire. Such is the life of a good offensive team that can’t stop the other team consistently. Because of that, we’re going to see some pretty great games. We just have to hope the Wolves win at least three of those. And Love will hit a game-winner in one of these five games.
34. Corey Brewer will be terrible shooting anything but the left corner three.
It’s just something we have to accept. The 3-point stroke seems to be magnetically drawn from the left corner. With everything else, a hurricane comes into the building and blows the shot way off target.
35. The Wolves’ “Big Three” of Rubio, Pek, and Love will play at least 1,600 combined minutes together.
There were 26 three-man combinations last season that played at least 1,600 minutes together. Kevin Love, Ricky Rubio and Nikola Pekovic missed making that list by almost 1,600 minutes. They’ll break 1,600 minutes together next season.
36. Nikola Pekovic will get another arm tattoo.
I’m guessing it will be of himself getting a tattoo of a pack of bears getting tattoos of Pek on his arm.
37. Ricky Rubio will shoot between 38-39% from the field.
The question is will that be good enough to make him a threat as a scorer. And will it be a boost because of an improved jumper or improved finishing around the hoop?
38. Kevin love and Kevin Martin will combine for 14 free throw attempts per game.
Love should be able to handle about eight attempts per game. In his prime, Martin was able to get in the 8-10 range on free throw attempts per game, but I don’t see him approaching that. Six per game would be more than adequate for someone who manages to draw horrendous foul calls at all times. It’s only annoying when it happens against your team, right?
39. This season is going to be really enjoyable, even though frustrating at plenty of times.
I’ve said it before on here. Are the Wolves going to challenge for a title in the next couple years? No, I don’t think they’ve managed to build that. But I think we’re going to see a really fun team that’s in a lot of exciting games.
40. Ricky Rubio will make All-Defensive Second team.
Rondo’s absence from a good chunk of this season will give Rubio the opportunity to get noticed for his incredible defense. He may not gamble as much this season as he has in the past, and that could mean a much bigger impact. Rubio is a legitimate defender in this league and one of the best at the point guard position.
41. Kevin Love will make the All-NBA Third team.
Second team would be ideal but he’ll have to earn back some of the credit he lost by being absent for much of last season. This is a huge year for Kevin Love and he’s coming back in incredible shape, much like when he came back from an offseason of great work in 2011. Love will re-establish himself as the best power forward in this league and that’s going to lead to…
42. The Minnesota Timberwolves will make the playoffs as the 8th seed.
Why the hell not? Is this a homer pick? It might be. It’s rare that I go into homer zone but I really do believe a healthy Wolves team can get into the postseason. The 7th and 8th seeds in the West are wide-open. The Wolves will have a great offense and if they’re competent on defense, this team can give us some playoff games to go to.
We’ll check back at the end of the regular season and see how dumb this was.