We all know that Kevin Love and Ricky Rubio will be out to begin the season, so who fills in while they're away.
Brandon Roy is the starting shooting guard. Sure, there are concerns about his knees and whether or not they can hold up through the rigors of an 82-game NBA regular season. They're legitimate concerns, but we certainly saw some good things from him in the preseason. I'm VERY curious to see what his season-high will be in minutes played. I'd expect him to miss AT LEAST 15 games this season. For the first month (until Love can return) the Wolves will rely heavily on Roy's scoring, 20-25 points will be needed from him. Once Love gets back I'd expect those numbers to be closer to 15(ish). The upgrade that Roy provides at shooting guard is night and day compared to last season, Ridnour was all right, but Wes Johnson was awful.
Andrei Kirilenko is the starting small forward. Kirilenko did start at power forward in the preseason finale vs. the Bucks and responded with a 8pts, 10reb, 4ast, 6stls and 1blk in 27 minutes. Nonetheless, he'll start at small forward. Along with Nikola Pekovic, Kirilenko is one of my favorite 'TWolfs'. He does everything. He could score 20 a night if he wanted, he rebounds, he hustles, he's the best defender on the roster and I'm beyond excited to have him in Minnesota. AK47 will be the defensive anchor and if the Wolves can come even slightly close to the defense they played in the preseason, Minnesota could have one of the League's Top 5 defenses.
Dante Cunningham or Derrick Williams? Who starts at power forward to begin the season (with Kevin Love out)? My guess is Derrick Williams. Dante had the better all-around performances in the preseason: rebounding, hustling and defending. However, Williams will provide scoring, something the Wolves will lack dearly to begin the year. Reports out of practice in this week leading up to Friday's season opener, D-Will has impressed. Williams needs to hit the boards, something he struggled to do in the preseason (4.4rpg) and something that becomes VERY important with K-Love out.
Nikola Pekovic is the starting center. My favorite TWolf, hands down! The human battering ram with imPEKable post play, Nikola Pekovic. Pekovic should post 16-20 points a night along with 9-11 rebounds a game. Those numbers will likely be a bit higher with Kevin Love out and will be around that 16-9 mark when he returns. Maybe he'll finally get some recognition around the NBA as one of the NBA's premier big men. I don't think you'll get an argument from any player or any team in the League: Nikola is the strongest player in the Association.
Alexey Shved is the second-string shooting guard. Alexey is a 6'6" combo guard that'll see his most time, backing up Roy at two-guard. Shved has some pretty good court vision, he'll definitely average (depending on playing time) 3-4 assists a game. And although we didn't see it much in the preseason, he does have a good shooting stroke, with great ability to knock down the long ball.
Chase Budinger is the second-string small forward. Chase will see some time at both shooting guard and small forward and will likely be the sixth man for the Timberwolves. He's an instant offense kind of guy with incredible ability to spot-up and knock down three-pointers. There'll be nights when Bud scores 20+ in a night, but I'd expect him to average around 10-12 points a game (assuming he sees 20-25 minutes a game...or more).
Dante Cunningham is the second-string power forward. Dante is like Anthony Tolliver, but he offers up a bit more. Both are energy, hustle players that leave it all on the floor. Dante doesn't have the range Tolli does, but Dante should help a bit more in that rebounding void left by K-Love and should be a SportsCenter Top 10 highlight reel candidate, every time he steps on the floor.
Greg Stiemsma is the second-string center. I wasn't too fond of Greg in the preseason. The Wolves brought him in to be an athletic shot blocker, who can patrol the paint and gobble up rebounds. Stiemsma had a couple blocks every night out, but I saw a lot of him getting beat off the dribble in the post, pump faked and out worked on the boards. I'm hoping he can prove me wrong, but I'm just not sure about him yet.
Also Part of the Rotation
Will Conroy. Will is an insurance policy if Luke Ridnour and/or J.J. Barea get injured. Once Ricky returns, he'll be waived. If nothing else I expect him to be a cheerleader at the end of the bench. However, when called upon he's got the talent to run the point for Minny.
Come Back Strong
We know if the Timberwolves are going to have any chance of making the playoffs this season, these two players need to get back before the New Year and return to form...quickly! K-Love is Minny's superstar, if he misses more than 20 games (all season), Minnesota could be in trouble. Things will get much easier (for everybody) when Ricky returns.
That's not to say Minnesota's dead in the water without Kevin Love and Ricky Rubio, they should do just fine (likely just under .500) when Kevin returns and likely just over .500 when Rubio comes back.
That's all for now, thanks for reading HOWL and GO WOLVES!