Neither as mystical as Phil Jackson nor as entertainingly gruff as Gregg Popovich, Rick Adelman has won 1,002 games (eighth on the alltime list) with a matter-of-fact honesty players respect and a system they embrace. Adelman's corner offense is a read-and-react scheme that calls for a big man to situate himself at the elbow and move the ball crisply to one teammate at the wing or another in the near corner. Players pass and cut based on the positioning of defenders, creating a fluid attack that probes for openings.
Adelman isn't the only coach who runs the corner offense; more than half the teams in the league use some version of it. None of them, though, are better-suited to it than the Timberwolves. Kevin Love, reprising the role that Chris Webber occupied under Adelman in Sacramento, is a skilled passer and savvy decision-maker, the ideal big man to trigger the action. Point guard Ricky Rubio has uncanny court vision, and new addition Kevin Martin, an expert at eluding screens, is a deadeye three-point shooter. Having all three available isn't a given considering the litany of injuries each has suffered: Last year Love was limited to 18 games because of a broken bone in his right hand and Rubio missed nine months with a torn left ACL, while Martin has missed nearly a quarter of his team's games in his nine-year career. But the combination of playbook and players offers Minnesota a good chance to return to the playoffs for the first time since 2004.
COACH RICK ADELMAN (3RD SEASON WITH TIMBERWOLVES)
2012--13 RECORD 31--51 (5TH IN NORTHWEST)
WHAT'S NEW There's perimeter help on the way, as Thunder sixth man Kevin Martin takes on a starting role.
PROJECTED LINEUP (2012--13 STATS)
PG RICKY RUBIO
10.7 PPG; 7.3 APG; 36.0 FG%; 29.3 3FG%
SG KEVIN MARTIN
14.0 PPG; 2.3 RPG; 45.0 FG%; 42.6 3FG%
SF CHASE BUDINGER
9.4 PPG; 3.1 RPG; 41.4 FG%; 32.1 3FG%
PF KEVIN LOVE
18.3 PPG; 14.0 RPG; 35.2 FG%; 21.7 3FG%
C NIKOLA PEKOVIC
16.3 PPG; 8.8 RPG; 0.8 BPG; 52.0 FG%
PF DERRICK WILLIAMS
12.0 PPG; 5.5 RPG; 43.0 FG%; 33.2 3FG%
THREE-POINT PERCENTAGE for Minnesota last year, the lowest in the NBA and the second worst in 10 seasons. The T-Wolves were smart enough to hold their fire: They ranked 21st in threes attempted.
A RIVAL SCOUT SIZES UP THE TIMBERWOLVES
With Kevin Love, you start with the fact that his rebounding not only is on an elite level but it's almost historic. It's effort, but it's also technique and instinct. He has a knack. Dennis Rodman had it. Charles Barkley had it. It just seems like they're always on the side that the ball bounces. Skills-wise, Love is underrated. He shoots well, and he can pass. When you put the ball in his hands you feel like he'll make good decisions.... There are not a lot of true low-post scorers in the NBA—it's almost a dying art—but Nikola Pekovic is every bit one. He is a mountain of a man who you can throw the ball into and either force an opponent to double him or create a disadvantage. And it's not like he's just big. He has touch, good hands and good footwork.... The last guy I saw who had the passing ability and court vision Ricky Rubio has was probably Jason Kidd. He has that Bob Cousy--type court vision that I can't quantify. Rubio's ability is so off the charts that even if he only became a passable shooter, he could be an All-Star.... The signing of Kevin Martin absolutely was underrated, especially at the price point [four years for $27.8 million]. They had no wing play last year—none. They were giving replacement-level players major minutes. Martin played under Rick Adelman in Sacramento and Houston, so both parties know what they're getting. Not only does Martin score, but he scores efficiently. He doesn't need a high volume of shots—and you don't want him taking a high volume when you've got Love and Pekovic to take care of.
DAVID SHERMAN/NBAE/GETTY IMAGES (ADELMAN)
CORNER KING ADELMAN
GREG NELSON FOR SPORTS ILLUSTRATED (LOVE)
JORDAN JOHNSON/NBAE/GETTY IMAGES (RUBIO)
MINNESOTA WILD Rubio returned from ACL surgery with his flashiness and ability to break down defenses intact—but he still struggled to finish, hitting just 44.8% of his shots at the rim.