The NBA is seeing some regular bottom feeders linking talented players together through trades, draft selections and free agency signings to form some resemblance to a professional basketball team.
I say resemblance because these teams are on the verge of making the playoffs but haven’t done so in a few seasons or more and have looked more like a playground team with one or two star players surrounded by a roster full of scrubs — who are only on the court to get a workout.
Golden State Warriors
And the team with the best shot of turning into a winning team — the Minnesota Timberwolves.
The T-Wolves (26-40 in the 2011-12 season, last in the Northwest Division) start and end with power forward Kevin Love. In his fourth season in the league, Love led the NBA with 48 double-doubles in 55-games (missed 11) as he scored 26 points and grabbed 13.3 rebounds per game. His points per game were good enough for fourth best and his rebounds put him in second behind the then-Orlando Magic Dwight Howard.
Love is easily a top 10 player in the league and very well could inch his way to the top 5 by the end of the upcoming season.
What the Wolves didn’t have before was, well, anyone else. Michael Beasley was a great addition two seasons ago, but failed to put up the same type of production last season as Love became the more prolific player. I think Beasley got jealous.
Bring in Ricky Rubio. Last season the fifth overall pick in the 2009 NBA Draft finally came to the states and performed to the level many thought he could. In 41 games he averaged 10 points, 8.2 assists, 4 rebounds and 2.2 steals per game. Not a bad stat line at all. Unfortunately, he got hurt, which ultimately ended the push that could have been the first Minnesota playoff berth since Kevin Garnett left.
Not only do they have Rubio and Love, but they brought in an un-retired Brandon Roy and former superstar Andrei Kirilenko. The bench is also solid with Luke Ridnour, Derrick Williams, Chase Budinger and Greg Stiemsma.
On paper, this roster stinks of playoff sweat.
Against the Clippers, I like the T-Wolves chances to split the regular season series. If both teams are healthy, they match up quite well.
Love is a fundamental machine without Blake Griffin’s athleticism, while Griffin can jump out of the gym but lacks Love’s basketball IQ. Both have defensive lapses and the next game they play against each other could very well end with double-doubles on both box scores.
I stand by my decision of Chris Paul as the best point guard in the league, but Rubio is faster, has great handles and the ability to make passes even the knowledgeable lane defender Paul, can’t anticipate. On the other side of the ball, Paul can pick Rubio apart because the T-Wolves PG doesn’t have the foot work or the body strength to compete with Paul. I can easily see the Clipper guard running all over Rubio — figuratively.
Roy’s knee injuries definitely make his legs older than 28 but Chauncey Billups is past his prime and suffered a season ending injury last season. Both can hit big shots and both can apply solid defense.
Kirilenko against Caron Butler is interesting because it’s the old fashioned defense vs offense battle. The Russian is known as a defensive world beater while Butler is known as a proficient scorer who likes to take it to the hole or hit a mid-range jumper in a defenders face. Should be fun to watch.
I still think the Clippers bench is the deepest/best in the league but the T-Wolves come very close. The only difference is the Clippers’ Grant Hill, Lamar Odom, Jamal Crawford and company are older and wiser, while the T-Wolves Williams, Budinger and Stiemsma are younger and more explosive athletes. Ridnour is the only exception.
The X-factor: If Odom bounces back from last season’s disappointment, I have no problem putting LA’s bench over Minnesota’s in every game.
The T-Wolves are going to be a difficult match up for every team in the NBA with the two big pickups, the depth of the bench and the rising skills of Love and Rubio. However, the Clippers still have more experience and a youthful front court that can only get better.
DeAndre Jordan is a defensive force and we all know the kind of game Griffin has. Furthermore, I think he probably added some more weapons to his offensive arsenal in the off-season. If he did, he could exploit the Timberwolves lack of defense in the paint and take over games.
Griffin could very well be the main reason the Clippers take the regular season series, if they do, and a very good reason I pick LA to beat Minnesota in the playoffs, if they meet.