Updated: Oct. 27, 2005, 7:29 AM ET

SPECIAL PREVIEW EDITION
Wolves, KG back on the bubble

Timberwolves

Team Page | Schedule | Roster | Hollinger Stats

Where will the Minnesota Timberwolves finish in the Northwest Division and the Western Conference? Get 12 different takes from ESPN's NBA experts.

ANALYST DIV CONF COMMENT

Chris Broussard ESPN Mag

2
6
KG, back with a vengeance, will will Wolves back to postseason.
Ric Bucher ESPN Mag
4
13

Ripe for a dramatic makeover, and you know what that means. But who takes that contract?

John Carroll Scouts Inc.
2
9
A bubble playoff team. Who is capable of helping Garnett on a consistent basis: Szczerbiak, Jaric or rookie Rashad McCants? I am not sure if anybody truly knows, but it will determine if the Wolves go to the playoffs or back to the lottery.
Chad Ford ESPN Insider
4
10
Kevin Garnett is still the best player in the NBA, but his supporting cast is still shaky. Wally Szczerbiak, Marko Jaric and rookie Rashad McCants are going to have to have big years if the Wolves are going to make the playoffs.
John Hollinger ESPN Insider
4
11
Kevin McHale has done such an amazingly bad job of stockpiling talent that not even Kevin Garnett's brilliance will be able to keep this team out of the lottery. Under/over on Marko Jaric's first ankle sprain is Dec. 12.
Scoop Jackson ESPN
Page 2

3
11

KG in a contract season? He'll push Shaq for MVP honors. But what else will Wolves play for?

Tim Legler ESPN Insider
2
8

See Item 7 for Legler's analysis of the Minnesota Timberwolves.


Jim O'Brien ESPN Insider
4
12
They handed the reins to Dwane Casey and he is ready for the challenge. His main task will be to toughen up the Timberwolves. A year ago they shot the fewest free throws and were last in steals and forced turnovers.
Will Perdue ESPN Insider
3
8
Is this really Wally's world? The moose out front should have told you that this is still Kevin's team. I hope that new coach Dwane Casey can get more out of Olowokandi than Flip did.

Eric Neel ESPN
Page 2


4
13
KG's a character in a Kafka story now. He's trapped. No one can save him. Not Dwane Casey, not Marko Jaric, and most especially not Rashad McCants.

Chris Sheridan ESPN Insider
3
11
At some point, this franchise will decide whether it's better to move forward with Kevin Garnett, or without him. The Big Ticket has the NBA's highest trade value, and the Wolves can reel in a mother lode if they move in a new direction.
Marc Stein ESPN.com
3
11
KG has beefed up and turned up the volume on his leadership. The Wolves, though, didn't need a better KG. They need a better supporting cast; all they've got is better chemistry.


Role Playing
Jaric, Hudson, Olowokandi
David Sherman/NBAE via Getty Images
The Wolves' ability to make a playoff run rests in large part on role players Marko Jaric, Troy Hudson and Michael Olowokandi.


Lineup Breakdown
ESPN The Magazine sizes up the Timberwolves roster:

PLAYER ANALYSIS RATING
Starters: Backups and two legit starters. One of them is really good.
PF
Kevin
Garnett
Led team in points, boards, steals and dimes.
10
SF
Wally
Szczerbiak
Sharpshooter hit 50.6% from the field last year.
7
C
Michael
Olowokandi
The reason KG logs minutes at the 5.
5
SG
Trenton
Hassell
26.5 mpg and 6.1 ppg. For his career!
6
PG
Marko
Jaric
Can shoot and defend.
7
Bench: Troy Hudson is a deep threat. Big man Eddie Griffin has found his niche up north. After that, forget it.
6

TOTAL SCORE

41

ESPN The Magazine's NBA Preview hits newsstands Oct. 26.



Hollinger's Player Spotlight
Kevin Garnett
Player Efficiency Rating
28.35
vs. NBA Avg: +13.35

Kevin Garnett had the league's best PER for a second straight season and set an NBA record with his sixth straight season averaging at least 20 points, 10 rebounds and five assists. The Wolves' struggles cost him a second consecutive MVP trophy, and in fact, he barely got a sniff in the voting. This was odd since he was not only the best player in the league, he also played about 600 more minutes than Shaquille O'Neal, Steve Nash and Tim Duncan.

An interesting exercise is to look at how our perceptions of whether a team is "successful" color the award voting. For an example, look at the disparity in the MVP voting between LeBron James, Allen Iverson and Kevin Garnett. Garnett's team went 44-38, Iverson's team was a game worse at 43-39, and James was two games below at 42-40.

Garnett's team won more games than the others, and Garnett was better individually too. As I mentioned, he had the highest PER in the league, and his Defensive PER was better than Iverson's or James'. He also played all 82 games, so there shouldn't have been any reason to vote for James or Iverson ahead of Garnett.

Guess again. Iverson finished fifth in the voting, with a spot on 72 of the 127 ballots and two first-place votes. James came in sixth, named on 43 ballots. Garnett, meanwhile, came in 11th, with only 11 ballots (voters rank five names each).

What could possibly explain this difference? It could be a lot of things. Certainly many people hold an inflated opinion of Iverson's value. But a lot had to do with the perception of the teams' seasons. Iverson's Sixers and James' Cavs finished right around where people expected, so voters felt free to give the two players credit for their accomplishments. But in Garnett's case, the Wolves were thought of as a staggering disappointment. Before the season, many thought they would challenge for the Western Conference crown, and a few prognosticators thought they might win the title.

The Wolves' failure to do this was not held against the people who made the predictions, but rather against Garnett. Hey, nobody likes to admit they were wrong. In this case, however, there were obvious reasons Minnesota couldn't repeat its 2003-04 success: Cassell and Sprewell weren't the same players. Unfortunately, a circumstance completely out of Garnett's control caused him to be left off nearly every MVP ballot, even though he probably should have won the award.

However, Garnett's season wasn't the tour de force that his 2003-04 campaign was. Defensively, his PER dropped because a sore knee prevented him from being as active. He still was one of the best defenders at his position but no longer a dominating force. Additionally, Minnesota's lack of quality big men often forced Garnett to play center, where his thin frame exposed him to nightly punishment. The effect can be seen in the decline in his blocks from 2.2 per game to 1.4.

Nevertheless, Garnett was awesome, finishing in the top three at his position in Usage Rate, Assist Ratio and Rebound Rate. He boosted his rate of free throws to nearly 0.4 per field-goal attempt, a long-awaited increase that had been one of his few weak spots, and shot over 50 percent from the floor. With an offseason of rest, he should come back as good as ever next season. And now that the Wolves are expected to be ordinary, he might even get back into the MVP discussion.

-- Timberwolves player profiles from John Hollinger's "Pro Basketball Forecast: 2005-06," available at Amazon.com and Potomac Books.


Ticket To Ride
Garnett
David Sherman/NBAE via Getty Images
We know what kind of season KG's headed for. The question is whether his teammates will come along.


SportsNation Speaks
Kevin Garnett's been in the NBA since 1995, but he's hardly an old man. On the other hand, he's not so young anymore either.

We asked SportsNation if KG had missed his chance to win a title. More than 7,000 people have voted, and most fans remain optimistic about Garnett's future.

Has the window closed on Kevin Garnett?
66.9% No, he's only 29
33.1% Yes, two seasons ago

Vote: Wolves in 2005-06 | Results



Tim's Time
Kevin Garnett

Legs on Wolves: I'm picking the Timberwolves for the eighth playoff spot. This is based on Kevin Garnett. Period.

I have uncertainty about the Wolves' bench, their inability to make an offseason move to energize their starting lineup and the adaptation of a new system under rookie coach Dwane Casey. All of that should add up to missing the postseason again.

But I have faith that Garnett, still one of the top 10 players in the NBA, will lead them to the postseason.

The distractions caused last year by the contract situations of Latrell Sprewell and Sam Cassell are history. That should help the team's focus and commitment to getting an invite back to the party.

Tim Legler, ESPN Insider



Coach's Corner
Dwane Casey
Experience: None
Reg. season record: none
Playoff record: none
Coach's profile

The Timberwolves missed the playoffs despite being fourth in offensive field-goal percentage and seventh in defensive field-goal percentage.

Dwane Casey's challenge is to get everyone to play as hard as Garnett. This will help solve shooting the fewest foul shots, having the fewest steals and forcing the least amount of turnovers of any team in the league.

Jim O'Brien, ESPN Insider



Hollinger's Q & A
Can the kids step up?

If Minnesota is to stay afloat in the West's tough playoff race, they'll need major contributions from players like Ndudi Ebi, Nikoloz Tskitishvili and Rashad McCants.

McCants, Minnesota's first-round draft pick, is a talented, smooth scorer who led North Carolina to a national championship, but his aversion to defense could be problematic if he's paired with Szczerbiak on the wings.

Tskitishvili flamed out as a lottery pick with Denver, but Minnesota took a chance on him after he showed potential in the summer league in consecutive years. He's only 22 years old, but because he plays the same position as Garnett and Griffin, he may not get many chances.

That's especially true if Ebi blooms. He's spent most of the past two years battling "back spasms" and "strained quads" while stashed on the injured list, but he played very well in two starts at the end of last season. The 6-foot-9, 200-pounder looks like a mini-Garnett but could fill the void in bench scoring left by Hoiberg's absence and provide a reliable backup to Szczerbiak.

In the big picture, however, Ebi, Tskitishvili and McCants all are unproven, and the Wolves probably need two of the group to make major contributions if they're going to return to the postseason.

More Hollinger Timberwolves analysis Insider



Fantasy Fix
Jaric
Jaric

Sleeper: Marko Jaric has seen his stats get better every year. Marko, meet KG. Jaric gets to leave Clipperland to feed the league's top player. Look for seven assists per game, as well as a top-10 total in steals and 12 or 13 points. Jaric, if he can stay healthy, is one of the top sleepers in the league and a wise offseason addition.

Bust: Wally Szczerbiak does what he does very well. But fantasy owners know that unless he's scoring 17 points per game, he's not worth a high pick. Wally's world consists of terrific shooting, and that's it. He doesn't rebound, pass, steal, or despite his shooting strength, wander outside the arc to hit 3s. In fantasy, guys who only score are easy to find.

Eric Karabell | Fantasy Basketball Index

 

Search Arrow