UNKNOWNS: Who Could Contribute This Year?


This is going to be a big year for all of Minnesota Sports.  Our Wild come enter the (pending) NHL season as a legitimate playoff contender after the big free agent signings of defender Ryan Suter and forward Zach Parise, a Minnesota native.  The Vikings come into the season with very low expectations, but are building off of a good draft and brought in a couple of nice players for second year quarterback Christian Ponder to grow with.  Unfortunately for the baseball fans, our historically consistent Twins team has fallen into shambles.  The team is likely going to finish with a losing record for the 2nd year in a row, something that hasn’t happened since the 1999 and 2000 seasons.  The team also has 7 postseason appearances from 2002-2011, which typically doesn’t happen unless you are the New York Yankees or Atlanta Braves.

Let’s not forget about why we all come to Dunking With Wolves in the first place, the Minnesota Timberwolves.  It was a widely anticipated season for the team.  Spanish sensation Ricky Rubio and Arizona star Derrick Williams joined the Wolves for their rookie seasons.  While Williams had an up and down season, it was clear that Rubio is looking like the real deal.  He is also somehow justifying for David Kahn selecting 3 point guards (Rubio, Jonny Flynn, and Ty Lawson) in the first-round of the 2009 NBA draft.  Power forward Kevin Love finished sixth in MVP voting in addition to making his second All-Star appearance, being voted to the All-NBA 2nd Team, and most recently winning a gold medal in the London Olympics as a member of Team USA.  The front office had a very busy off-season bringing in international stars, former all stars, and a couple of young and developing players who have proven they can play in the NBA.

So let me just state that we already know why we’re excited about this year and who we know to get excited for, but there’s always the guys who casual fans have never heard of that come in and blow people away.  Jeremy Lin is the perfect example of this type of player.  New York Knicks fans didn’t expect them to be in the postseason because Lin carried the team on a couple winning streaks this year, and they loved him for doing so.  His efforts were handsomely rewarded in the form of 3 years and $24 million from the Houston Rockets, a team that previously waived Lin.

Unknowns breakout all the time in the NFL.  Tom Brady was a 6th round pick and didn’t get a shot until Drew Bledsoe got hurt.  One of the single season 2000 yard club members, former Broncos running back Terrell Davis, went undrafted out of college.  Vikings fans are already getting excited about linebacker Audie Cole, a 7th round pick who made a showing in last nights preseason game by intercepting 2 consecutive passes and returning them for touchdowns.  Things like this happen all the time around every league, so I’m going to let the readers know who I believe will breakout from relative “obscurity” and be big players on the Wolves.  Nikola Pekovic doesn’t qualify because of his performance last year.

Alexey Shved

Yes, he is getting a lot of hype.  Not Ricky Rubio hype, but still a good amount of it.  He did impress a couple of times in the London Olympics while Russia won bronze, and for all of you that watch the Euroleague religiously, you already know what a talented player he is.  The sole reason he is on the list is because he is an undrafted international rookie, and because of that I am placing rather low expectations for this young man’s performance this season that he is fairly capable of reaching.  Most Americans can only evaluate him right now based on a couple of YouTube highlight videos, but those videos just show the good things he does.  While I’m personally excited to see him play for Minnesota this season, we are better off putting our faith in fellow Russian Andrei Kirilenko to help the team reach the playoffs.  AK-47 played in the league for 10 years, and he knows the NBA game very well compared to most international players.

Malcom Lee

Another young and talented combo guard, but he finds himself unsure of whether or not he will be on the active 12-man roster.  Shved is going to be given more time because Minnesota is paying him $3.3 million, significantly more than Lee’s $762,000 salary.  Lee is also stuck on the bottom of the depth chart behind more proven players in Luke Ridnour, JJ Barea, Brandon Roy, and Ricky Rubio.  Now Ridnour and/or Barea might be traded, and Roy might get hurt again, but these are realistically the only ways Lee gets good minutes this year.  In 19 games averaging 12mpg, he never broke double digit scoring, and his high assist total was 5, so we have very little to work with here.  Look for Lee to be the guy who might breakout in the wake of injury.

Brandon Roy’s Knees

It’s well known that when healthy, Brandon Roy is an All-Star player with the ability to hit key shots in close games.  The knees underwent the “Kobe Treatment,”  the same one that relieved the pain in Kobe Bryant’s knees this season.  Bill Simmons has a great article about the treatment if you click on his name.  Roy’s knees are supposedly going to have fewer inflammatory issues after this treatment, and if this holds true then look for Roy to have a good year.  He won’t be near the numbers he used to put up, but if he can somehow breakout and be the 2nd or 3rd leading scorer on a playoff team, then Minnesota clearly wins on the gamble of his 2 year contract.  Everybody already knows he is a great basketball player, but the question here is whether or not he will become relevant again.  Nobody, except Portland, seemed to notice his absence during the shortened season.  Roy’s knees can make people remember why he was great.

With all due respect, I would have put Greg Steimsma on this list, but he was only brought to the team to do the following: block shots, be big & tall, and give the Love/Pek front court some needed rest every night.  The team still faces a few obstacles if they want to become a legitimate title contender, but these guys can help us overcome those in a big way.