BoxScore Geeks' 2014 Minnesota Timberwolves Preview

The Numbers

  •  Average Seed
  • 📉 Pessimist
    28.2 wins
  •  Realist
    36.4 wins
  • 📈 Optimist
    44.6 wins
 First Seed
⋆ Division
 Top 4
👍 Over (27.5)
ğŸ‘Ž Under (27.5)
ğŸŽ€ Playoffs

The Brief

The 2014 offseason was unique for the Timberwolves: they were in the news for almost all of it. Kevin Love made it clear that he had no intention of coming back after the 2014/15 season. As a result, Flip Saunders felt forced to trade him for a package that included Andrew Wiggins, Anthony Bennett, and Kevin Love. So the story of the Timberwolves seems simple. They had the best power forward in the NBA, and they weren't that great. Now they've lost him, and so they must be one of the worst teams in the NBA. Right? Well...not so fast.

The Story

There's more going on here than meets the eye. Yes, Kevin Love was indeed the best power forward in the NBA (depending on whether or not you classify LeBron James as a power forward), and probably will be fighting with Anthony Davis for that same honor this year. So, on the surface, if you take a 40-win team and subtract Kevin Love's 16+ wins, the Vegas over/under of 27.5 looks just about right.

Except, the Wolves weren't "really" a 40-win team, were they? Everyone bandied this stat about all season: they led the league by a wide margin in "losing close games". Even if you blame that on poor execution, there were a lot of unlucky breaks in close games last year. The team's efficiency differential of +1.5 was 14th in the league, consistent with about 48 wins.

And if you subtract Love's 16 expected wins from 48, you get a number that's quite a bit higher than 27.5. This is what investors would call an arbitrage opportunity.

Last Year

  •  Actual Wins: 40
  •  Expected Wins: 48.4
  • ⚅ Lucky Wins: -2.8
Player Minutes Age WP48 Wins
Kevin Love  2,797 25 0.285 16.6
Ricky Rubio 2,638 23 0.202 11.1
Corey Brewer 2,609 28 0.084 4.6
Kevin Martin 2,177 31 0.054 2.4
Nikola Pekovic 1,663 28 0.148 5.1
Dante Cunningham 1,635 27 0.067 2.3
J.J. Barea 1,471 30 -0.066 -2.0
Gorgui Dieng 818 24 0.197 3.4
Luc Richard Mbah a Moute  807 27 0.034 .6
Chase Budinger 751 26 0.030 .5
Alexey Shved  664 25 0.006 .1
Robbie Hummel 655 25 0.110 1.5
Ronny Turiaf 606 31 0.209 2.6
Shabazz Muhammad 290 21 0.020 .1
Derrick Williams  162 23 -0.081 -.3
A.J. Price  99 27 -0.111 -.2
Othyus Jeffers 13 28 0.012 0

 Indicates that the player is no longer with the team.

  • 48.4 total Wins Produced
  •  5 players leaving
    (4,529 minutes, 16.8 wins)

Last year's story is familiar to readers of this blog. Love and Rubio were among the best in the game. Pek was good when he was healthy. Dieng was a pleasant surprise, but nearly all of his minutes came well after the Wolves' playoff hopes were gone. Brewer and Martin didn't really move the needle.

Barea was an utter disaster. He was the worst point guard in the league (by virtue of inexplicably being allowed to play many more minutes than his 'peers' Dennis Shroder and John Lucas III) and single-handedly cost the team wins.

This Year

  •  Projected Wins: 36.4
  •  Conference Rank: 14
  • % Playoffs: 15.6
Player Position Minutes Age WP48 Wins
Thaddeus Young  4.0 2,196.4 27 0.017 .8
Kevin Martin 2.0 2,111.8 32 0.066 2.9
Ricky Rubio 1.0 2,010.8 24 0.213 8.9
Nikola Pekovic 5.0 1,866.2 29 0.132 5.1
Andrew Wiggins  3.0 1,854.2 0 0.051 2.0
Corey Brewer 3.0 1,431.3 29 0.075 2.2
Chase Budinger 2.0 1,331.3 27 0.045 1.3
Gorgui Dieng 5.0 1,095.3 25 0.181 4.1
Anthony Bennett  4.0 999.6 22 -0.063 -1.3
Mo Williams  1.5 797.8 32 0.011 .2
Ronny Turiaf 4.5 733.1 32 0.230 3.5
Robbie Hummel 3.5 636.1 26 0.106 1.4
Zach LaVine  1.0 500.8 0 0.047 .5
Shabazz Muhammad 3.0 422.5 22 0.014 0.1
Glenn Robinson III 3.0 349.8 21 -0.030 -0.2
J.J. Barea 1.0 1342.8 31 -0.051 -1.4

 Indicates that the player is new to the team.

  • 📅 33.2 WP last year
    by these players
  • 🔀 -12.9 WP (roster changes)
  • ⏲ 0 WP (age/experience)

Things look different this year.  They've lost Kevin Love, but Gorgui Dieng looks primed to get a bump in minutes, and he will make up for some of that production because he is a skilled rebounder and shot blocker. But this roster looks grim. But fear not, Wolves fans, there is reason to be hopeful!

I love Arturo's simulations but frankly, I think the minute predictions for this team are wrong. Of course, I can confidently say that because Dre has already pointed out that these are very hard to predict. Pekovic has only averaged > 1700 minutes once (even if you adjust the 2011-2012 season minutes), and management has talked about resting him to protect him from injury. I think it is unlikely he hits that threshold this year, let alone 1866. The most likely candidate to soak up those extra minutes is the excellent Dieng.

Next, this roster has 16 guaranteed contracts. One of these players will be gone in two weeks. There is speculation that it will be Chase, but it could also be J.J. Barea. And even if it isn't, I very much doubt Barea will play 1400 minutes again, especially if his production continues where he left off last year. They've signed Mo Williams, and Flip has made a big deal of trying to convert Lavine to point guard. This says a lot about Flip's intentions. I think the idea that Barea will get more minutes than Williams at the backup PG spot is nuts (I'll chalk this up to Arturo's blind love of a fellow countryman).

Each of those factors could add one or two wins.

Next, we have Thad Young. He was pretty awful last year, but he has traditionally been a very solid player. Last year his responsibilities included a lot of things he wasn't good at. He was also expected to do these at a fast pace. I think there's hope that Thad has a bounce back season in Minnesota. This will depend on how Flip utilizes him.

The final factor is Andrew Wiggins. He stands to get a ton of minutes. His college numbers suggest that he'll be like Corey Brewer. Of course, college numbers are also hard to translate into NBA production, so he could be another Rose or Drummond! Stay optimistic Wolves' fans.

The Wrap

In the end, this all boils down to expectations. If you believe that the 2013-2014 Timberwolves were "really" a 48 win team that got unlucky, then there is reason to hope this team will scrap, scrape and dogfight its way to 35+ wins. The signs all point to this.

In addition, there is always the chance of a parlay: Thad Young has a bounceback year, and Andrew Wiggins is a surprise star. If that lucky parlay hits...well, 100:1 odds on the Wolves to win the Northwest won't look so shabby.