Positional Previews: The Bigs
With media day and training camp just two days away, and the first preseason game less than two weeks away, we finally have a (mostly) set roster. Now that the Timberwolves have announced the names off their official training camp roster, the first attempt at a post-Kevin Love era has more or less taken shape.
We start with the group big men that Kevin Love used to lead. Even with a haul as good as the one the Wolves got, replacing a frontcourt presence like Love can’t be done right away.
In short: Minnesota’s frontcourt won’t be as strong as it was a year ago. While the center position may actually be the deepest it has ever been, there are some big question marks, especially at power forward.
C- Nikola Pekovic
Last season: 54 GP, 17.4 ppg, 8.7 rpg, 0.4 bpg
Pekovic has struggled with injuries since he became a regular starter a couple years ago. Last year was no exception. While #Pekgoestoo happened last year, 28 missed games followed pretty quickly after. In the past, the Wolves have had the luxury of sliding Kevin Love into the 5-slot whenever necessary.
His new mate in the frontcourt, Thaddeus Young, is barely big enough to play power forward. As a result, it would be especially nice for Flip Saunders to have Pek healthy this year. Sadly, his physical style of play makes that impossible to guarantee. Consistent production from him has added importance this year, and his health will be the determining factor.
PF- Thaddeus Young
Last season: 79 GP, 17.9 ppg, 6.0 rpg, 2.3 apg, 2.1 spg
It was incredibly refreshing to see Young’s name on the list of guys acquired in the Love trade. Between his enthusiasm at the state fair, along with the simple fact that he’s quite good and established made the trade that much better.
Much like last year, there isn’t going to be any rim protection from the starting frontcourt. Still, Young brings an interesting skill defensively to the power forward position: he’s really, really good at pocket-picking. He won’t be able to muscle anybody down low, but he’s incredibly good at getting open inside. He has a weird set of tricks for a power forward, and while he’s no Kevin Love, I’m hoping and expecting him to become a fan favorite pretty quickly.
Last season: 60 gp, 4.8 ppg, 5.0 rpg, 0.8 bpg
Last 18 games: 12 ppg, 11.3 rpg, 1.5 bpg
*applause erupts for Jack Sikma and rest of coaching staff*
If you take the foul-prone Gorgui Dieng that we saw in spurts to start the season, and compare him to the guy we saw in the last 18 games (and the World Cup), the level of difference is pretty astounding. This isn’t to say that Rick Adelman’s staff is the entire reason why Dieng “figured it out”, but Gorgui himself made mentions of their (mainly Jack Sikma’s) impact throughout the season.
Still, most of the skills he showcased to end the year (rim protection, rebounding, passing from the high post) were skills that he had shown off for a number of years at Louisville. It started to look like it was going to carry over last year. This year includes a new coach, a few new teammates, and no Kevin Love, but Gorgui’s future seems bright.
Last Season: 52 gp, 4.2 ppg, 3.0 rpg, 12.8 mpg
He’s definitely lost weight. Based on his summer league play, he looks quicker.
Whether weight loss will get Bennett to where the Cavaliers (and now, Timberwolves) were hoping when they picked him with the first overall pick a year ago. Bennett at his best is a dangerous combination of power, agile and athletic on the offensive end, with the ability to shoot from the perimeter, and the strength to take it inside. The Wolves don’t have another option at power forward (unless they want to move Robbie Hummel to full-time backup 4), so Bennett really needs to show people he’s legit, for the Wolves’ sake.
Last season: 31 gp, 4.8 ppg, 5.8 rpg, 1.6 bpg, 19.5 mpg
Combined games played between Turiaf and Pekovic barely reach an entire season. If Dieng hadn’t turned it on the end the year, that stat might be a lot more alarming. Thankfully, Dieng’s emergence gives Wolves decent deep at the center position, which could be big, given Pek and Turiaf’s injury history. Unfortunately for Turiaf, it might be tough for him to find consistent minutes as a result.
Turiaf is a locker room favorite (for players and media), in large part because of his positive attitude. So when he gets his chances, he’ll play hard on both ends. Also, we must not forget his awesome bench antics.
Traning camp invite
Fesenko showed some nice instincts during Summer League play, and will be useful for training camp. There really isn’t a plausible way for him to make the roster, but…
Get ready for DUNKS.