Today Y! Sports’ Adrian Wojnarowski broke the story that All-Star power forward Kevin Love broke his hand and would miss the start of the season. It came as no surprise to Minnesota fans that yet another star athlete went down with an injury (see: Adrian Peterson, Trevor Mbakwe, and Ricky Rubio) as fans are getting to a points where this sort of thing is inevitable. Now the good news is that it is just a broken hand that will keep Love out for six weeks. Down two of their better, if not best players in Rubio and Love, the question becomes how will Timberwolves respond to start the season?
Love’s scoring, rebounding, free throws, and floor spacing ability will be sorely missed by the club while he is away. Face it there is no way you can replace one of the ten best players in the league overnight. So, who will step in for Love while he is out? Who will pick up the scoring? Where will they get 25 points of night from? Love did in fact account for 22% of the team’s total points last year.
Let’s check out some possible solutions.
A year away from the NBA did his body some good, but he has been prone to injuries recently. The once defensive ace could get by with guarding the opponent’s four-man, but he could get worn out by the games end.
His last season in the NBA, 2010-11, Kirilenko was pretty solid when playing the power forward spot; averaging 14.2 ppg/7 rpg/4.7 apg/1.6 bpg per 36 minutes of action. It seems unlikely though that Kirilenko would be the one to take a majority of the minutes left by Love, but Adelman will not hesitate to deploy him down low if others do not answer the bell.
One of the remaining leftovers from last season’s team still has a lot to prove. At just 21 years of age, Williams is now just looking for consistent minutes to make that impact. His moment may just be right on the horizon as the season is two weeks away and no else on roster fills the description of power forward better than Williams does.
Last season, Derrick Williams had a rough season trying to adjust to NBA play and figuring out what position he would play. William’s actually had a tougher time last year at the four than at the more athletic small forward spot. When playing the four, Williams produced 15 ppg/7.9 rpg/1.2 apg/.8 bpg per 36 minutes while playing relatively bad defense.
But Williams is said to have dedicated himself to being in better shape this season. And for what it is worth, Williams also was the only Wolf to play in all the team’s 66 games during last year’s compacted season.
The chart below shows William’s game log from last season using WP48 (Wins Produced per 48 minutes). The size of the circles indicate the amount of minutes Williams played in the game. The darker the circle, the more efficient scorer Williams was (i.e. points per possession) in that game.
Click here to interact with the chart.
Williams had a nice stretch for about a month from late-February to late-March after that *bleep* hit the fan as most nights Williams was below league average.
The thin vertical black line indicates the point when Love went down with a concussion to end the season. The games to the right of that show an eight-game stretch where Williams had a chance for major minutes. So how did he respond?
William’s played very little even then, averaging only 19.5 minutes, 8.5 ppg and shooting a horribly 29% from the field.
When trying to find a temporary solution for Love’s minutes, Williams only scored 20+ points in a game four times (6% of games) last season. Now granted he did always play the most minutes to do that. Nonetheless there is no guarantee that Williams will get the nod on opening night, but he certainly offers the most upside even without much of a track record.
Already slated as the team’s center, Pekovic may be one of the team’s biggest beneficiaries of Love’s absence. In the same aforementioned eight-game stretch, Pek picked up the slack, providing a healthy 19.1 ppg/10.5 rpg/1.3 apg per 36 minutes on a bum ankle. During that time he saw his usage rate increase from 21% to 23%.
Pek is uber-efficient around the basket. In other words, give Pek the damn ball and get out of his way.
Pekovic lost an estimated 15 pounds this summer and has looked lean and mean in the team’s first couple exhibition games. Don’t sleep on Pek, he might just kill. I am serious, the dude is scary good and scary looking.
The sneaky trade acquisition of Dante Cunningham could prove as a nice insurance policy as the Wolves go forward. Cunningham should fill in nicely off the bench for whoever takes Love’s starter minutes.
The guy has always been a pest for other teams to deal with and one gets the sense that Adelman likes what he has seen from Cunningham thus far in preseason. Cunningham is a name to watch.
What They Are Saying?
Minnesota with Kevin Love on court last season: +0.6 per 48 minutes. Without Love: -8.1 per 48 minutes. Tough break.—
Tom Haberstroh (@tomhaberstroh) October 17, 2012
I think you can chalk this one up to Love being on the court a whopping 68% of the time. Paired with the fact that the Wolves bench was so brutal last year, it comes as no surprise that everything would fall apart like it did without him. With a revamped roster, this should no longer be the case.
Note: 12% of the total 32% of the time without Love came when he was out with his concussion at year’s end. That -8.1 may be a little inflated. The wheels were already falling off as the team was in tank mode of sorts, winning just one of their last 14 games to end the season.
Update: Adjusted Wolves projection is down 1 game to 44-38, assuming 12-15 game absence for Love.—
John Hollinger (@johnhollinger) October 18, 2012
With Cunningham/Williams picking up most of the extra minutes, SCHOENE projects Love's injury costing the TWolves 3.1 wins.—
Kevin Pelton (@kpelton) October 17, 2012
Pelton still has the Wolves projected at 52.4 wins even considering the Love injury.
Just Look at Schedule
Let take a look at that November schedule and project where the Wolves should be by November’s end. The arrows by each team is my opinion of if they will be better, worse, or the same as last year’s team.
They will have to travel on the road a fair amount to start, playing five of their first seven on the road. They’ll play five of their first six games against the inferior Eastern Conference, which should help some. Then they finish up with a week long west coast road trip. To be a game above or under .500 would be ideal given the current situation.
Now lets project the wins with wins produced:
There you have it. The Wolves will win somewhere around eight or nine games in November before getting Love back.
I think many fans would be thrilled with an 8-7 or 9-6 start.