Playoff Result: N/A
Key Additions: Nikola Pekovic (re-signed), Kevin Martin (trade), Corey Brewer (free agent), Shabazz Muhammad (draft), Gorgui Dieng (draft)
Key Losses: Luke Ridnour (trade), Andrei Kirilenko (free agent), Mickael Gelabale (He was important, I swear!)
Predicted 2013-14 Record: 45-37 (7th in West)*
What to Expect: I think we can expect the end of Kevin Love doing knuckle push ups, right? The Timberwolves again have playoff aspirations that they hope won’t be derailed by the injury bug that they’ve been plagued with over the past couple of seasons. First it was Ricky Rubio, then it was Kevin Love, then it was… well, everybody.
However, the additions of Kevin Martin and Corey Brewer creating a rather interesting starting lineup with Rubio, Love, and Pekovic. Behind all of that, they will still have Shved, Dieng, Muhammad, Budinger, and Derrick Williams to come off the bench. With a coach as good as Rick Adelman, the only reason the Timberwolves SHOULDN’T make the playoffs is if devastating injuries pop up again. They were 25th in offensive efficiency, but that should vastly improve with Love returning from injury and with the über-efficient Martin joining the team. The only concern could be the defense taking a step back with the departure of AK-47 and the aforementioned addition of K-Mart.
Should they be able to keep everything together, Minnesota could be a really pesky team to face in the playoffs for Western opponents. Despite of what happened last season, Love was a top 10 player in the league after the 2011-12 campaign and should conceivably be able to regain that form this year. I think Love has a good enough supporting cast that it’s not a blasphemous statement to say that Minnesota’s ceiling is the 2nd round this season. They have the makings of a squad that could really surprise NBA fans this year.
Matchup with the Hawks: The squads will meet up on February 1st and March 26th, both of which should be extremely exciting games.
The biggest problem the Hawks will likely have to overcome is rebounding. Love and Pekovic might be the best rebounding tandem in the league, a part of the game that the Hawks have had problems with the past few years. Love and Pek will look to do a lot of damage on the offensive boards, meaning that the Hawks will need a full team effort to seal, box out, and take control of the defensive glass. We don’t know what Coach Budenholzer’s policy will be on “going big”, but this is definitely a game where I could see the Hawks tinkering with their lineups.
Another thing to watch out is Minnesota’s transition game. They acquired Corey Brewer in the offseason, who as Zach Harper notes, is an expert at leaking out in transition. Kevin Love is a great outlet passer, so the Hawks will need to keep their eyes on Brewer to prevent easy points in transition.
Then there is Ricky Rubio, who will present his own matchup nightmare with his passing and great defense. Like with the rebounding issue, you can’t point to one player here and say, “go stop him!” It will take a full team effort to limit what Rubio does on the floor; the whole team has to scheme to try and take away Ricky’s passing lanes. Yes, Teague and Schröder will have a lot of responsibility in this, but it’s not entirely on them.
The Hawks do have some advantages, by the way. If they keep Horford at center against Pekovic, they have a large speed advantage that Al can use to score easy buckets. (Love isn’t the best defender either, so Millsap should be able to get his, too) Of course, that comes at the possible disadvantage of Pekovic (290lbs) being too large for Al to guard on defense.
Also, as efficient as Kevin Martin can be on offense, he’s liable to be just as bad on defense. The Hawks could force a lot of problems with Lou Williams or with Kyle Korver and a few screens. Expect a lot of production out of the ATL two-guards in these games.
So who wins? Minnesota might have a slight upper-hand, but I would think that these two teams will split their two games. It’s hard to use past matchups to judge this because of injuries, but let’s hope both of these teams will be healthy when they meet down the stretch of the season.
*predicted record based on my ESPN Forecast projections for every team