Nearly everyone is looking at the Wolves to make a climb in rankings this season. With an offseason that brought Brandon Roy, Alexey Shved, Greg Stiemsma, Chase Budinger, Andrei Kirilenko and Dante Cunnigham, the expectations for this team will be higher than ever. While nearly every new player signed is a strong improvement from those who've departed, the team is still deficient in several areas, most notably defense.
Last year, the Wolves ranked 25th out of the NBA's 30 teams in Defensive Rating according to basketball-reference.com. Even with a rebounding monster in Kevin Love and the goliath of a man that is Nikolai Pekovic, the Wolves were barely able to hold their own against competition on the defensive end. With a revamped roster and a full training camp, it's worth asking if the Wolves will figure out how to better limit opponent's possesions and make the necessary improvements to propel them to league averages.
Before examining how the new roster additions will affect the Wolves' defenesive woes, let's evaluate who were the biggest contributors this past season. Not suprisingly, the stars of this team were those who provided the most value. Love secured the most defensive rebounds, Pekovic held the best blocking percentage and Rubio became one of the most lovable thiefs to ever grace this fine sport. Yet, none of these players proved themselves to be the complete package defensively. Even Love, the lone All-Star, is still to this day largely criticized for his defensive shortcomings. This season, it's likely the Wolves will rely more on the continued improvement of Pekovic and pray for greater contributions from players like Derrick Williams and Luke Ridnour.
Williams will surely be the prayer most in doubt. Depending on how you view the glass, you either believe Williams needs more time to reach his potential or his play thus far has already proved his ceiling. Although most will look to his offensive game to determine whether he's worth keeping, his defensive value should also be harshly judged. During the 2011-12 season, Williams averaged 3.5 defensive rebounds and finished second behind Love in defensive rebounding percentage. As he tries to shape himself into a small forward this season, it will be interesting to see how greatly these numbers change. It's likely Adelman will look for Williams to be more active on the boards and more importanly play his assignments with a greater focus and agressiveness. If he can be more locked in, Williams could provide the defensive boost that would lead to a better transition game for the Wolves bench unit.
Unlike Williams, Ridnour will not be expected to make any great leaps but instead produce minor advancements to become the defensive guard missing in this roster while Rubio is away. Lest we forget, Ridnour was perhaps the most stable presence on this team following Rubio's injury. He brought energy, desire and control each night as the Wolves' starting point guard- at least offensively. The team will look to Ridnour this year to strive for the tenacity Rubio brought each game. Ridnour's defensive win shares were equal to Pekovic's this past season, proving he was capable of stepping up defenesively when it mattered most; it will be even more important this season that Ridnour continues this trend. It's clear that management still holds Ridnour's professionalism and modest talent in high regards; with all hope he proves once again capable of leading this team during Rubio's absence, this time around with a defensive edge.
Fortunately, Ridnour will have more help than he did last season with newcomers clearly able to bring more dedication than many of his prior teammates. Kirilenko, Roy, Shved, Stiemsma, Budinger and Cunningham should all help get this team off to a better start and provide key support during late-game situations. Right off the bat, fans should notice holes being filled by the team's new talent. Specifically, shot-blocking, an almost non-existent feature of the team, will be aided by Kirilenko and Stiemsma's time on the floor. For two seasons in Utah, Kirilenko averaged 3 blocks per game (BPG) and last year Stiemsma averaged 1.5 BPG in just over 13 minutes per game. Both players will be able to prevent fellow small and power forwards from getting to the rim. Those that may have been invincible against the Wolves last season (Lebron James, Carmelo Anthony, Kevin Durant, etc.) will have a much more difficult time finding open driving lanes.
Perimeter defense is another area requiring major adjustments. Ridnour can occasionally provide a spark for this team but otherwise the Wolves often find themselves turning heads as faster and more athletic guards blow by them. Unfortunately, the additions of Roy and Shved only resolve this issue to a minor degree. Shved showed in the Olympics that he often had trouble sticking to his man and failed to readjust through mismatches. Roy can similarly be quite passive on defense, a quality that may be even more emphasized due to his lingering injuries. With no cartilage in his knees, it's doubtful Roy will easily be able to get around screens or move laterally at all. Unless Shved turns into another player entirely, it's hard to believe either of these guys will be able to handle the speed and athleticism of their peers.
The best cure for this team's guards and overall defensive weaknesses will be Rick Adelman. His experience, extrordinary use of in-game lineups and unrivaled reputation for extracting players' strengths should all point to noticable progressions from the whole roster. Furthermore, a full training camp should be able to show Adelman's coaching staff who signals the most defensive promise. With practice time and strict direction, it's possible even poor defenders like Shved will ratchet up their play a notch or two.
With the evidence presented and predictions drawn, the fairest conclusion is the 2012-13 Wolves will improve defenesively but not dramatically so. There is so much room for this team to grow but their offensive strides are likely to be much more apparent early on than any defensive adjustments. With the excitement surrounding the Wolves offseason moves, it's easy to begin forming fantasies of what this team could be. However, while these Wolves could be a top 10 defensive team in this league, it's more probable they will fall somewhere in the middle of the pack. That kind of jump should not inspire disappointment but rather a more realistic goal to reach for.
Oh, this is just great. In a matter of hours I have convinced all of you that Malcolm Lee is good and I have absolutely ZERO evidence to support this.
Malcolm Lee is that dude. don't sleep.
@Daddyfatsax He was my pet player when I was trying to convince you all that he compared comparably in the combine to Westbrook. Bwahahaha. I have hopes for a poor man's Avery Bradley type role for him though.
@Daddyfatsax Well done.
@Wolfenstein Never less than a steal per game or a block per game in any season? That's a great stat. I secretly have kind of high hopes for AK47. Sounds like he completely owned Euroleague and the Olympics since hs left the L. I like him as a vet on this team. I hope.
Leezy could end up being the kind of guy who is just good to have on the floor. He seems like a smart player. Plays tough D, seems wise & athletic out there.
Ha, the Wolves defense certainly can't get much worse... that's for sure! ;-)
Good article though, and enjoyed reading. As long as our defense at least improves a little, it will go a long way towards increasing our playoff hopes. Well, and we obviously need a healthy Rubio, and for the rest of the new additions to the squad to stay reasonably healthy as well. I give us like a 60% chance at getting the 7th or 8th seed.
The main problem is that none of our guys are really good defenders. Ricky is solid, and AK used to be decent in the NBA. He's older now and it remains to be seen how good he'll be against NBA competition. He's probably still above average though (hopefully.) Steamer is solid in limited minutes, but it also remains to be seen how much playing time he'll be getting (without fouling out first!)
@CollegeWolf AK at his best was a top 5 defender. Super underrated, the guy averaged almost 5 BLK+STL per game (!) for 3 years in a row in his prime. He led the league in BS in 2004-05, was second the next year, and was in top 5 in both BLK and STL in 2003-2004. Plus he has that long, gangly, bony defensive presence that just makes him a pain in the ass to play against. No idea how he'll translate back in the NBA this year but in his prime he was a top shelf defender.I'd feel way better if he was our 6th guy or maybe 7th, but he's at least a solid starter to plug in if he can stay on the court.
@Wolfenstein Fair points, I won't dispute any of them.
Only thing is... 03-05 was quite a loooooooong time ago.
@Wolfenstein True, but again that was a while ago. And he has been injured a lot since he was 25 years old.
Still... I'm not arguing that he will certainly be an above-average defender. And we desperately need that.
@CollegeWolf Fair enough. But did you realize that Kirilenko blocked way more shots between ages 22-25 than Patrick Ewing? Chew on that for a while. He's never averaged less than 1.0 blocks OR steals per game in any season, including the 2010-2011 season with Utah. I'm looking forward to legit defense from at least one guy on the court even when RR is injured.
Good article dude. However, Ridnour isn't a good defensive player. At all. He's a very competent offensive player and an outstanding jump shooter. His defense is mediocre. He doesn't move his feet very quickly and his hands hang down by his knees too much.
I agree with you about Shved's D from what I saw, too much Beasley in him, not being aware of what's going on around him. That could change of course with good coaching (Shved is young) and also Shved does a better job than Luke of getting his hands up and creating turnovers.
Lee has the potential to be a solid stopper off the bench if he dedicates himself (he's young, athletic, hungry, and was known as a defender at UCLA). Haven't seen enough of him to know and I'm not sure we will this year with Adelman.
Kirilenko will be a solid to plus defender when he's healthy. That much is a given.
Roy... I have no idea what to expect. Portland's voodoo witch doctors are remarkably adept at ending careers with nagging injuries, so he has to regain something just by staying the hell away from the Rose City. It will be fascinating to see what he brings to the table.
Rubio fortunately doesn't rely on his lateral quickness for his D but instead on hustle, smarts, and his freaky-deaky long arms. I don't foresee his knee injury giving him too much trouble except when matching up with the Russell Westbrooks and the Derrick Roses of the league. And.. I mean, don't they all have trouble with those matchups?
Good stuff! I was wondering when you were going to mention Kirilenko. He will help immediately. Stiemsma will also help up front but I wonder about his ability to play for more than brief stretches. Hassan Whiteside could certainly be a prospect to look at to develop into a DeAndre Jordan-type of player over the long haul, but should we sign him, he may not get the opportunity he needs to develop here.
While I'm glad we didn't sign Ronnie Brewer (as it lead to AK47), we could use another perimeter defender/guard to round out the roster. Marquis Daniels may fit the bill here. But if not, Malcolm Lee certainly has the chance to make his mark in the league defensively.
@WallyWorld MALCOLM LEE!! Dude is awesome. My second favorite player on the Wolves behind Rubio. Yes, it is completely irrational but he is so athletic and tries so hard on D I decided he's awesome at it. Put him out there as a backup to Shveddy and Roy and let's do the damn thing.
Ya'll forgot Budinger is fine on D. Compared to who he is replacing (Wes, Martell or Beasley) he is fine and dandy.
Literally the only average defender on the wing outside of Rubio was Martell Webster. So switching out his broke-back/no-offense with Buddy's averageness makes the team better while losing nothing defensively.