Oct 23, 2013; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Minnesota Timberwolves forward Shabazz Muhammad (15) brings the ball up court during the fourth quarter against the Philadelphia 76ers at Wells Fargo Center. The Timberwolves defeated the Sixers 125-102. Mandatory Credit: Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports
Rick Adelman is gone, like it or not. While historically one of the winningest coaches in NBA history, Adelman’s coaching had faults. Especially when choosing his rotation. Adelman simply refused to utilize his younger players, relying heavily on his starters and veteran role players. This was an issue for the Timberwolves last season.
Last season, Shabazz Muhammad, the Timberwolves first of three picks in the 2013 draft, played a mere 7.8 minutes per game and only appeared in 37 games, spending more than half of the season in the D-League. This maybe would seem like a smart move if Muhammad wasn’t NBA ready. However, Muhammad was ready to contribute for the Wolves off the bench, maybe not as a start but definitely off the bench.
On February 25 while playing in Phoenix against the Suns Muhammad was given significant minutes by Adelman and produced. In 24 minutes of action Muhammad dropped 20 points along with six rebounds and two steals. Pretty good performance for Muhammad and one would think he would be rewarded with some more playing time in the next few games. Instead Adelman slowly cut down Muhammad’s minutes until he fell out of the rotation playing only a handful of minutes each game for the remainder of the season.
Apr 4, 2014; Miami, FL, USA; Minnesota Timberwolves center Gorgui Dieng (5) dunks the ball against the Miami Heat during the first half at American Airlines Arena. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports
The same happened with Gorgui Dieng. Dieng was just coming off championship season with Louisville but was virtually out of the rotation until mid-March where he was inserted due to injury issues from Nikola Pekovic. Leaving Dieng out of the rotation for so long seemed puzzling because Dieng was the only natural center on the roster besides Pekovic. Guess what happened when Dieng was inserted into the starting lineup? He dominated.
In only his third start Dieng managed one of the best rookie performances of the season with a 22 points, 21 rebounds and 4 assists while shooting 10-11 from the free throw line.
For the month of April when Dieng was consistently starting he averaged 11.9 ppg, 10.7 rpg and 2 bpg which are pretty impressive numbers not just for a rookie but for a center in today’s NBA. Putting up those type of numbers for the whole season would have put Dieng in Rookie of the Year contention but Adelman was too dense to play him the whole season instead favoring the aging Ronny Turiaf and Dante Cunningham.
Now that I have channeled my anger about Rick Adelman out it is time to look forward to the upcoming season.
With Flip Saunders managing the rotation he will hopefully play and utilize his young talent. The Timberwolves have an abundance of young talented players and if Kevin Love is traded to the Cleveland Cavaliers they will likely receive a lot more. Love will not be on the Wolves’ at the end of this season, and will likely be shipped off sooner which will send Minnesota into full rebuilding phase. That is the perfect time to develop these young players.
The Timberwolves have eight players on the roster that are 25-years-old or under, Saunders must try to fit these guys into the rotation. This is incredibly important for Muhammad, Dieng, Alexey Shved, Zach Lavine and Glenn Robinson III who all could become starters in the NBA later in their careers.
Lavine will also need some additional TLC from the Wolves’ coaching staff as he is just 19 years old and only played 24 minutes per game last season with UCLA due to the fact he was stuck behind the coaches’ son in the rotation. Lavine is raw and was drafted on his potential alone. He will need time to develop but it can all pay off in the end if he reaches his ceiling.
Love may be on his way out but the future remains bright in Minnesota. All they have to do is keep developing their younger players and playoff success can be brought back to the Twin Cities.