2013--14 RECORD: 40--42 (3RD IN NORTHWEST) COACH: FLIP SAUNDERS (1ST SEASON WITH TIMBERWOLVES SINCE 2005)
As a high school sophomore Andrew Wiggins declared that he wanted to "score like Kevin Durant and get to the basket like LeBron James." Expecting this year's No. 1 pick to match the rookie productivity of the NBA's two best players, however, is asking too much. Durant was more aggressive on offense when he entered the league in 2007--08, while the '03--04 James was much stronger than the 6'8", 194-pound Wiggins. What's more, both of Wiggins's role models joined teams that were designed for their instant success.
The SuperSonics (now the Thunder) traded Ray Allen and Rashard Lewis to fast-track Durant. James's old Cavaliers, coming off a 17-win season, eagerly featured him. Each phenom responded by leading his team in minutes and scoring, and was named Rookie of the Year.
The table is in no way set for Wiggins, 19, who was acquired from Cleveland for Kevin Love. Minnesota's muddled offensive pecking order includes veterans Kevin Martin, Nikola Pekovic and Thaddeus Young. The team also has three wings—Martin, Corey Brewer and Chase Budinger—who are being compensated as rotation players, not bystanders. And don't forget the jumble of recent lottery selections who expect playing time.
By hiring himself as coach, president Flip Saunders accepted dual responsibility for short-term results and long-term planning. He would do well to remember that Oklahoma City and Cleveland eventually made the Finals because they built around their franchise-changing talents.
9.5 PPG; 8.6 APG; 2.3 SPG; 38.1 FG%
19.1 PPG; 3.0 RPG; 43.0 FG%; 38.7 3FG%
17.1 PPG; 5.9 RPG; 44.8 FG%; 34.1 3FG%
17.9 PPG; 6.0 RPG; 2.1 SPG; 45.4 FG%
17.5 PPG; 8.7 RPG; 0.4 BPG; 54.1 FG%
12.3 PPG; 2.6 RPG; 1.9 SPG; 48.1 FG%
9.7 PPG; 4.3 APG; 41.7 FG%; 36.9 3FG%
‚Ä†ROOKIE (STATS AT KANSAS)
The losses mount fast, hastening a sell-off and positioning the T-Wolves for a high draft pick.
Saunders's aggressive pursuit of mediocrity comes at the expense of youngsters' development.
A RIVAL SCOUT SIZES UP THE TIMBERWOLVES
They will try to run to take advantage of their athleticism on the wings with players such as Andrew Wiggins, Corey Brewer, Thaddeus Young and Zach LaVine. When the early offense isn't there, they'll play inside-out with Nikola Pekovic, who will get more shots with Kevin Love gone. Pekovic is as strong as a bull.... Gorgui Dieng became a force as a rebounder and shot blocker when Pekovic was hurt at the end of the year. Dieng can make midrange shots too. That's a very good center combo, with Dieng the better defensive presence.... Young won't replace Love's outside shooting, but he can be a face-up four who attacks. Anthony Bennett needs to play the same way in order to get his career on track.... The great players add to their games in the off-season. I haven't seen any change in Ricky Rubio over the last three years. His poor shooting has kept him from becoming a Tony Parker--like scorer. He's a phenomenal passer, but it will take those young guys some time to grow accustomed to his creativity.... There won't be expectations on the team after trading Love, but there will be expectations on Wiggins to start establishing himself as a slasher, finisher and defender.... Kevin Martin will come off screens and get his looks—the same way Rip Hamilton did under Flip Saunders in Detroit—but Martin has lost a step.... J.J. Barea is tenacious, but he annoys teammates by forcing things and looking for calls. That's not a guy you want on a rebuilding team.... Mo Williams is another shot-seeker.... LaVine will make some ooh-and-ahh plays.
RON HOSKINS/NBAE/GETTY IMAGES
Wiggins will vie with vets for time.