Point guard Terrell Brandon talked last preseason about
relinquishing his starting role to a younger player in the
not-so-distant future--a notion that seemed absurd once the season
started. Brandon handed out a league-best 6.14 assists per
turnover and missed only one of his 84 free throw attempts, but
even those stats don't convey his importance. He didn't just
contribute to the Timberwolves' offense; he also ran it almost
every time down the floor.
So when Brandon had surgery to repair his left knee last
February, Minnesota stumbled and never recovered, bowing in three
straight to the Mavericks in the first round of the playoffs.
Brandon, 32, is still on the mend, and though he hasn't been
officially shelved for this season, coach Flip Saunders is
preparing to be without him. "We've opened our offense up a lot,"
says Saunders. "No one guy's going to be so depended on."
While Brandon is hurting, Saunders is likely to hand the point to
Troy Hudson, 26, a wiry bundle of energy who was one of the
league's streakiest scorers last season. Though the 6'1" Hudson
has started only 11 games in the past two seasons, he is eager to
take charge of the T-Wolves' wide-open attack. "They fit my
style," he says. "Up and down."
That's also an apt description of Hudson's career. Undrafted out
of Southern Illinois, he has been waived three times and served
two tours of duty in the CBA. Last season he blossomed under Doc
Rivers in Orlando, and in August, Minnesota signed him to a
three-year, $7.4 million deal. With the Magic, Hudson excelled as
a Vinny Johnson type--an explosive player who can come off the
bench and ignite a team. Will he be able to pace himself as a
starter? Saunders hopes not. "Troy always plays with a lot of
energy, so we'll incorporate that into what we do," he says. "We
like to push things. He has the ability to do that, and it frees
up [Kevin] Garnett and [Wally] Szczerbiak in the open floor."
Aside from those two All-Stars, the Timberwolves' lineup is
filled with question marks. Center Rasho Nesterovic will be an
unrestricted free agent next summer, and small forward Joe Smith,
who faded at the end of last season, came to camp 15 pounds
underweight. "We're going to have to be greater as a whole than
we are as parts," says Saunders. New offense or not, achieving
that goal will depend on how well Hudson can pull those parts
together. --Mark Bechtel
COLOR PHOTO: BOB ROSATO STILL RISING? All-Star Garnett remains Minnesota's best player, but can he elevate the play of his teammates?
COLOR PHOTO: DAVID E. KLUTHO TO THE POINT Hudson, who started just four games for the Magic last season, will have to run full time with his new team.
Kevin Garnett became the first player since Larry Bird in the
early '80s to average 20 points, 10 boards and five assists three
an opposing team's scout sizes up the Timberwolves
"There's no doubt Kevin Garnett is an elite player, but he's hit a
ceiling in terms of making his teammates better. I love his
emotional leadership, but there are times when your best player
must demand the ball and he must finish--and Garnett has not
established himself as someone who comes through in the clutch.
He's good enough to carry these guys into the playoffs, but if he
wants to advance further, then he has to show he can take over.
Otherwise, if he opts out of his contract after 2003-04 and asks
for more money, maybe the team should consider trading him and
starting over with a lot of new parts.... You don't get better by
losing a second-tier player like Chauncey Billups and replacing
him with Troy Hudson, who is a poor man's Chauncey Billups: a
scoring point who's not going to get guys organized for you.
That's why Terrell Brandon's comeback from knee surgery is
crucial. Flip Saunders has one of the thickest playbooks in the
league--I bet he has 60 to 75 plays in it--and Brandon can run them
all. They break down a lot more when he's not in there.... Joe
Smith had his poorest year. He's a guy who had a great future,
but he never got stronger, never got better, and now he can't go
beyond mediocrity.... Everything Rasho Nesterovic does is quiet.
He tends to disappear against the better players, and he's almost
an afterthought when you're making a game plan against the
T-Wolves.... I think Wally Szczerbiak is a tough kid who should
be Garnett's strongest ally because he's the second-best player
on the team. He's not the quickest guy, maybe he looks for his
shot a little too much, and he struggles defensively, but he does
try. Szczerbiak has heard all the rumors that they've been
looking to trade him, and that has to be weighing on him. If they
don't deal him, Garnett ought to pull Szczerbiak toward him
instead of pushing him away."
2001-02 record: 50-32 (third in Midwest)
Points scored: 99.3 (5th) Points allowed: 96.0 (16th)
Coach: Flip Saunders (eighth season with Timberwolves)
STARTERS PVR* 2001-02 KEY STATS
SF Kevin Garnett 4 21.2 ppg 12.1 rpg 5.2 apg 1.56 bpg 47.0 FG%
PF Joe Smith 126 10.7 ppg 6.3 rpg 1.1 apg 0.82 bpg 51.1 FG%
Nesterovic 144 8.4 ppg 6.5 rpg 1.33 bpg 49.3 FG% 54.9 FT%
Szczerbiak 60 18.7 ppg 4.8 rpg 3.1 apg 50.8 FG% 45.5 3FG%
PG Troy Hudson 87 11.7 ppg 3.1 apg 0.70 spg 43.4 FG% 35.3 3FG%
BENCH PVR* 2001-02 KEY STATS
Peeler 191 9.0 ppg 2.5 rpg 2.2 apg 42.1 FG% 39.2 3FG%
F Gary Trent 216 7.5 ppg 4.2 rpg 0.9 apg 0.33 spg 50.7 FG%
Gill 233 5.7 ppg 2.8 rpg 1.5 apg 0.68 spg 38.4 FG%
C Loren Woods 287 1.8 ppg 2.0 rpg 0.57 bpg 34.4 FG% 73.3 FT%
F-C Marc Jackson 307 4.8 ppg 3.3 rpg 0.28 spg 36.6 FG% 82.5 FT%
 New acquisition
(R) Rookie (statistics for final college season)
*PVR: Player Value Ranking (explanation on page 92)
GARNETT HAS NOT ESTABLISHED HIMSELF AS SOMEONE WHO COMES THROUGH
IN THE CLUTCH.