THEY CAN’T DO MUCH WORSE
Despite losing C Al Jefferson, I’ve got the Timberwolves improving by about 11 or 12 games next season. There’s three main reasons why.
1. Kevin Love should play a full season. That’s (+3.0) extra wins right there.
2. Last season they got -0.6 wins out of 35.5 of their “player games”. That’s almost impossibly bad, and I’m not joking. They cannot possibly repeat such a stunt.
3. Building on point two; Historically, it’s almost impossible to have a player of Kevin Love’s win productivity on your roster and still win only 15 games. Thus just by switching out their roster as they have, they ought to get more win productivity than they got last season.
For those who don’t follow, when I refer to a “player game”, I mean 241 minutes of court time. In 241 minutes of court time a bench level player, meaning a player who is easily obtainable, should deliver 0.34 wins for his team. Yet if you add together the 2010 court minutes of Ryan Hollins, Nathan Jawai, Oleksiy Pecherov, Brian Cardinal, Sasha Pavlovic, Darko Milicic, Jonny Flynn, and Corey Brewer, you get 35.8 game responsibilities that somehow produced only -0.6 wins for the team.
That is a grand total of 13.3 wins below bench. Below bench! Below the amount you should be able to get out of easily obtainable players. Terrible. It’s actually hard to do that bad. You should be able to fall ass backwards into at least 6.0 wins in that amount of court time.
The good news for the Twolves is, with yesterday’s trade of the non-productive “SF masquerading as a F/C” Ryan Hollins, they’ve now cleared out four of the seven non-producers, and I don’t think Nathan Jawai is really in their plans for next season. Just by replacing those players, the team should improve by at least 5 more wins. That’s 8 wins.
Then when you consider that the team was not only bad but unlucky by 2.5 to 3.0 wins last season, you have to project them to win around 27 games in 2011.
The caveat is this. They must play better defense, especially at the rim. Last season the Timberwolves allowed the highest FG% at the rim in the NBA, 60%. That’s ridiculous. Yet they did not add length in the draft… so their defense has no chance of substantial improvement. But they must show some improvement. Improved effort alone should do that.
In fact, improved effort in general would net the Timberwolves a few extra wins on top of the wins I’m projecting. One area I look at when I’m looking at a team’s effort, particularly its defensive effort, is “Opponent Assists”. The NBA average assist per made field goal is 56%. It has stood at that percentage for some three decades.
Last season Minnesota allowed assists on 62% of made field goals. That indicates to me, or at least suggests to me, that the Timberwolves perimeter defenders were applying ZERO ball pressure on the outside. You cannot give up that many extra assists without completely free passing lanes. That has to be tightened up.
And the team needs to pass the ball. Their 52% assist rate on made baskets harkens back to the 1960s.
In fact, when you look at Dean Oliver’s “Four Factors” (which are really just a different way of stating “Win Score”), the Timberwolves were terrible in three of them, eFG%, FTA/FGA, and Turnover%, and the only reason they were competitive in rebounding was because they employ the best rebounder on the planet in Kevin Love.
So I expect an 8-11 game improvement from the Wolves this season. But, if the team’s defense and ball movement don’t improve immediately, I would fire Kurt Rambis before Christmas. The team’s overall performance and effort level last season was so bad, I don’t know how he remains as head coach. I have no idea how he survived the off-season.