Sports

2011 NBA Fantasy Basketball Preview: Minnesota Timberwolves

| by Give Me The Rock

Say what you will about David Kahn (and plenty have), but unlike some GMs in the league coughMichaelJordancough the man has at least put together a team that I would be excited to watch if I lived in the frozen hell of Minnesota. So while I’m not quite on the Ricky Rubio bandwagon (more on that below), he’s at least going to be fun to watch. Plus Kevin Love is awesome, Derrick Williams has some exciting upside and Darko is always good for a laugh.

The Wolves might not be playoff material just yet, but this is going to be the year that they finally climb out of the basement of the Western Conference.

Depth Chart

Point Guard: Ricky Rubio, Luke Ridnour
Shooting Guard: Wes Johnson, Martell Webster, Wayne Ellington, Malcolm Lee
Small Forward: Michael Beasley, Derrick Williams, Lazar Hayward
Power Forward: Kevin Love, Derrick Williams, Anthony Randolph, Anthony Tolliver
Center: Darko Milicic, Brad Miller, Nikola Pekovic

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Guards

Kahn didn’t blow a 5th pick on Ricky Rubio, sit on him for two years and destroy Jonny Flynn in the process to have him become Luke Ridnour’s backup. So the starting point guard job is Rubio’s to win and – barring a disaster in camp – Rubio should be the team’s starter out of the gate or shortly thereafter. Assuming he is the starter, what are you going to get? Ridiculous Upside has this to say:

His greatest strength is his creativity and ability to distribute the ball. He’s a very crafty and intelligent player who should excel in an open system that likes to get out on the break. His jumpshot still needs a lot of work, however, and we have yet to see how he will perform against NBA athletes.

Rubio’s shot doesn’t just need a lot of work, it might have to be taken out back and put out of its misery. In 2010-11, he averaged 6.5 points a game on 31% shooting from the field and 22% from three playing in the Euroleague. Granted, he was only 20 at the time, but even assuming he improves his shooting slightly, he is still going to be the worst shooter in the NBA this year.

Best case scenario, what are you willing to put up with for 7-8 assists a game and some steals? 35% shooting? 8 points? Are you cool with that? Young point guards with high Q-Ratings tend to go crazy high in drafts and I would stay away unless you’re in a keeper league. Just look at his highlight reel, there is no way he gets away with half of that stuff against NBA-level athletes.

The team’s shooting guard spot is decidedly less hyped. Wes Johnson projects to be the starter, with Wayne Ellington and Martell Webster fighting for leftovers off the bench. Johnson was waiver wire fodder most of last season and isn’t worth drafting, especially given reports that the team is interested in adding a shooting guard who can handle the ball (Adelman has mentioned Brandon Roy). For the record if the team were to get Roy, he isn’t worth owning either unless Santa gives him a new pair of knees for Christmas.

Forwards

Holy forwards Batman! Michael Beasley is the likely option to start at SF unless he does something stupid or gets moved by the team. The Beas is what he is – if you’re looking for consistency look elsewhere – but he is a decent scorer and rebounder who can pop off 30+ point games from time to time. Given the addition of Derrick Williams, Beasley will probably get less run than the 32 minutes a game he got last season.

Last year’s Most Improved Player, Kevin Love, has apparently slimmed down this offseason and is ready work that ass and grab some rebounds (my words, not his). Based on last season’s 20 point, 15 board, 1.2 three per game performance, he projects as a mid-first round guy. However, because the team added a few talented young players this year (one of them being a PF), I might expect a slight regression overall from Love this year. But he’s basically proven me wrong at every point in his career, so first rounder it is. But by far the greatest thing about drafting Love are all the puns it opens up for your fantasy team name… and who doesn’t Love to do that.

Centers

From Nov 15-24 last year, Darko Milicic averaged an insane 18.0 points, 8.6 boards and 4.2 blocks a game. Unfortunately, the other 63 games were more like vintage Darko – 8.2 points, 5.0 boards, and 1.9 blocks a game. If you’re desperate for a center towards the end of the draft, Darko’s blocks may start to look tantalizing. But buyer beware: there is a chance that he’ll get squeezed for minutes if the team goes small and decides to run with Love or Randolph in that spot.

Bench

Luke Ridnour has some low-end fantasy value as a starting PG. He has almost none splitting time with Rubio. I would not draft him.

Kahn has demonstrated that he’s not afraid to go best player available in the NBA draft, positional need be damned. That’s how 2nd pick Derrick Williams ended up on a team with Love, Beasley and a few other natural power forwards. Here is what I said about Williams in our rookie roundup earlier this year:

Williams is one of those lucky guys who is both an athlete and has skills. He’s an efficient offensive player who can score from just about anywhere on the court – including around the rim, in the post, with isolations, and even from three.

Ironically, one of his NBA comps is Michael Beasley, a guy he’ll be competing against for a starting job if Beasley isn’t traded before the start of the season. Despite playing PF/C in college, Williams insists he’s a small forward in the NBA. And with Minnesota’s power forward spot locked up by Kevin Love, the 3 is likely where Williams will get an opportunity to run. All the scouting reports say he’s going to struggle guarding NBA small forwards, but as long as his offensive game is a polished as advertised, Williams could slide into the Wolves starting rotation this season and put up some solid offensive numbers running alongside Love and Ricky Rubio. He’s a mid-round player in fantasy leagues if Beasley is shown the door, otherwise wait until the last third of a draft to pick him up.

I still agree with myself, which is always good. As it stands with Beasley on the team, Williams could end up the teams 6th man backing up both forward positions and scrape together enough minutes off the bench to have some decent fantasy value. If the team moves Beasley, I like him a lot more.

If Anthony Randolph were a cat, he’d be on his last life right about now. Randolph has been a disappointment on multiple teams and has an innate ability to piss off coaches wherever he goes. Still, there is about a 5% chance the team throws him at center and he finally explodes in a breakout year. Not likely, but there’s a chance…

And finally, I don’t care how comfortable Brad Miller is in Adelman’s system, he’s been toast since 2009.

Fantasy Draft Recommendations (Updated 12/1)

Kevin Love: 1st
Ricky Rubio: 9-10th
Michael Beasley: 9-10th
Derrick Williams: 9-10th
Darko Milicic: 12+