October 25, 2012
NBA Enemy Lines
Minnesota Timberwolves
2011-12 Record: 26-40
Kevin Love is looking to make the playoffs for the first time. (Garrett W. Ellwood/NBAE via Getty Images)

The difference between having Ricky Rubio [who is expected to miss the first two months of the season while recovering from knee surgery] and not having him is huge. Everybody likes Rubio and still I think he's underrated -- he's that good. I honestly think he'll be better than Steve Nash.

Obviously, he needs to improve his shooting and some other things, but, man, he can dominate a game and get easy baskets in a way that very few people can. Just dribbling down the floor, if his man is sealed, he makes eye contact with his guy -- and if Rubio has any advantage, any angle, he's able to find the guy and it's two points. He makes his teammates so much better. You could see it last year, when they were on their way to making the playoffs before he got hurt. If Rubio becomes a good shooter like Nash did, you can forget about it.

Defensively, he's better than Nash. Even though he gets a lot of steals, it isn't because he's gambling. It's because he's able to use his length and size and great feet while he's playing solid defense.

[Rob Mahoney: Why Rubio is a player to watch this season]

Rubio is one of the few players I would pay to watch play. If he's able to stay healthy and his shooting improves, [Timberwolves president] David Kahn is going to look like a genius for waiting the two years for him to come over from Europe. We've all seen a lot of international guys who were overrated in the draft, but this guy is for real, and in a couple of years they could have a chance to make a deep run in the playoffs because of him and Kevin Love.

Rick Adelman is the right coach for this team and for Rubio in particular. Rick lets his players play and he gives them confidence. He gets them to do it his way and it's very successful. Maybe Rubio wouldn't have been as good right away if he'd been in a more structured offense.

Up until last year, I thought Love was overrated. I remember one game last year in the last two minutes when he had [then-Clippers power forward] Kenyon Martin on him and Love took over the game to win it. I didn't think he had it in him. But he had more games like that and it turned out he was ready to become that kind of guy.

Now Love [who will miss at least the first month of the season with a broken hand] has to prove that he can get his team into the playoffs. But if you think about them having two young guys like Love and Rubio who can be superstars, then that team is in great shape.

Love can do it all. He shoots the three, and his post game is good. He can play pick-and-roll, and he can spot up and spread the floor. Obviously, Love puts up big rebounding numbers, but he actually could be a better defensive rebounder. He gets a lot of those rebounds off missed free throws and things like that, but there's no doubt he is a great offensive rebounder.

[Photo Gallery: Kevin Love through the years]

Love could improve defensively. One reason I used to not love him was because I saw him as one of those guys who would dive or reach in the backcourt to try to steal a pass so he wouldn't have to run back on defense. But I think you'll see Love's getting better and better defensively and in all areas, really.

Center Nikola Pekovic looks like he has the shortest arms you've ever seen. But he's a strong dude who plays his butt off. He's physical and he does get into foul trouble. But he was second on their team in scoring as a rookie and he was a better offensive rebounder per minute than Love. He can score in the post and can step out a bit, though I wouldn't call him a shooter. He is a great complement to Love.

They paid Andrei Kirilenko a ton of money [$20 million over two years], but I understand it in a way. It's hard to get free agents to come to Minneapolis. He could be a great sixth man who can play the 3 or 4, and if he's coming off their bench it will be easier for him to stay healthy because there will be less wear and tear on him. That's going to be a big deal because he had so many injuries over his last few years with Utah [before playing last season in Europe].

Kirilenko can do a million things. He can play alongside Love if they want to move Love to the 5 for a little bit. As a sixth man, he can dominate a game on occasion with his scoring. And, of course, he is a great defender who can guard multiple guys. Kirilenko is really long, he's a big shot-blocker and he's also a high-steal defender without being a bad defender.

You've got to love Brandon Roy as a leader for a team that's trying to get to the playoffs. But I would be shocked if he is able to make a major impact. Every player needs that burst of athleticism, and I don't know how Roy can get that back after retiring because of his knees. It was painful to watch him at the end of his time with Portland -- he could not turn. I don't know how his knees could have improved that much since then. And if he isn't able to contribute throughout the season, they're going to need a 2-man.

[Sam Amick: Northwest Division preview]

I don't know much about their rookie from Russia, Alexey Shved. But I think they're going to need him early in the season because Rubio will be out and who knows what they'll get over the long term from Roy.

I would guess Luke Ridnour will be starting at point guard to begin the season, and then they'll bring Jose Barea off the bench to play either guard spot. When they have Barea and Ridnour on the floor together, Adelman will just scramble the game defensively because he worries more about the offensive end. Ridnour is a great backup who is probably one of the top 30 point guards in the league overall. Barea can't be your starting 2, but against backup 2s he'll have a better chance. Barea is a streaky shooter, and when he drives he's looking to score. He plays hard and brings energy.

Chase Budinger is the same way in terms of playing hard and bringing energy. Adelman loves him. The fact that he can make a shot helps.

Derrick Williams still has a lot to prove. He was decent as a rookie. I think he can find a place on this team because he can play with Kirilenko. Williams can play a little bit of 3. He's not a great shooter but he can make a shot, and he's athletic and he does a lot of things. He's solid, but ultimately I don't think he's going to be as good as Kirilenko.


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