Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Minnesota: A Dece Team?

The soap opera in Minnesota has finally come to an end, as the Wolves shipped out Kevin Love in a three-team deal on Saturday, getting back Andrew Wiggins, Thad Young and Anthony Bennett. There's no replacing a player of Love's caliber, but that's a more than decent haul, considering the circumstances.

We now know what the Wolves depth chart will look like next season and it really isn't that bad:

PG - Ricky Rubio, Mo Williams, JJ Barea
SG - Kevin Martin, Zach LaVine, Chase Budinger
SF - Corey Brewer, Andrew Wiggins, Shabazz Muhammad
PF - Thad Young, Anthony Bennett
C - Nik Pekovic, Gorgui Dieng, Ronny Turiaf

Last season, in terms of usage rating, it went Love (28.8), Martin (25.0), Pek (22.9) and Rubio (16.4), which means they are going to want to redistribute a lot of Love's possessions to Pek and Rubio. Martin averaged 19 points a game on 43% shooting last season - he already has a ton of offense on his plate and isn't all that efficient, although his ability to get to the line balances that out somewhat. From a fantasy POV, Pek is the obvious guy who should benefit from Love's departure - he averaged 17/9 on 54% shooting. He'll be the primary option in the half-court and should be at 21/22 a game at least. 

Rubio is the wild-card. They need him to be more aggressive on offense and be a more consistent scorer. He's still really young (23), so he flat out needs to improve because 38% on 8 FGA's a game from your starting PG isn't getting it done. That's Jason Kidd at 40 territory. 

Most people will have Wiggins over Brewer, but I'm not really sure he's a better NBA player than Brewer is right now. Brewer is a defensive ace in the prime of his career who knows how to be effective on the other side of the ball without having a ton of offense run through him. As great an athlete as Wiggins is, rookies don't help you on the defense and his offense has a long way to go. He might benefit from being brought along a little slowly. He's only 19. 

You can't expect Young to fill Love's shoes, but he is a starting caliber PF in the prime of his career who can help you on both sides of the ball. It's easy to fall into a trap of looking at how the new players fill the old players shoes when the reality is that no one player is going to replace a guy like Love - everyone on the team will have to step up. Minnesota is going to be a totally different team next season and the hope is that a guy like Pekovic can be better in a bigger role than he would have had if he were still playing next to Love. That's the ray of hope - since Love only helps you on offense, if you can redistribute his possessions even somewhat efficiently and improve on defense, you can minimize some of the damage.

No matter what the starters do, the bench should be much better. Their top reserves last season were Barea, Dante Cunningham and Turiaf, all of whom are fringe NBA players who are probably better as 3rd string guys. Budinger, who was coming off knee surgery, only played half the season and wasn't very effective, shooting 39% from the floor. They gave a lot of minutes to Luc Mbah A Moute, whose pretty much a complete offensive non-entity as well as Alexey Shved, who hasn't been able to establish himself in the NBA. Dieng was effective, but he didn't start to get serious playing time until the end of the season.

The upgrade from Mo Williams to Barea will be massive as will Dieng taking all of the reserve C minutes that went to Turiaf. It's hard to know what exactly they will get out of LaVine, Wiggins and Bennett, but all three guys were drafted in the lottery and they all have a lot of talent. Minnesota goes 9-10 deep with legitimate NBA players and they will be shedding a ton of guys with substandard PER's - Barea (11.6), Cunningham (12.6), Mbah A Moute (7.5), Budinger (9.7), Shved (10.2), Turiaf (13.9). Going into next season, there's a lot of room in Minnesota to upgrade the back of the rotation.

The other thing to keep in mind about this team is they were much better than their record (40-42) indicated. They had a +2.7 point differential, which is pretty much unheard of for a below-.500 team. 
So when looking at how much worse this team will have than last season, you probably want to start at a baseline of 45 wins, not 40. I'm not saying they will make the playoffs by any means, but I don't think they will be one of the worst teams in the NBA either. Even out West, I have them comfortably above the Lakers and the Kings and probably the Jazz too. This is a team I'll be watching the over/under line on season wins closely - if Vegas put them below 30, the over might be worth considering.

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