Over the course of the NBA season, a lot of teams lose steam due to lack of depth. Bad drafts, injuries, questionable coaching and a grueling travel schedule are among the contributors. This year offers a unique situation, with the NBA having a shortened 66-game season. However, now there are more games in a shorter amount of time, and all teams must manage the new back-to-back-to-backs—3 games on successive nights. Veteran teams such as the Spurs and Mavericks have struggled this year with this new scheduling phenomenon and it begs the question for coaches of just how much to play key stars throughout the season. A team such as the Lakers, that has an elite starting five, but weak bench, could really struggle down the stretch this season as the condensed schedule takes a physical and mental toll. All of this comes full circle for the Wolves. Minnesota boasts a great amount of depth, and that depth could really be a positive as the season wears on. The Wolves have a young, fast roster and for the most part (with the exception of Brad Miller and Anthony Tolliver) a youthful bench, as well. The only question: Can Rick Adelman mold all of this depth and talent on a nightly basis to form a cohesive team.
From the best player on the team, Kevin Love, all the way down to the last guy on the bench, Malcolm Lee, everyone on this team can ball. But injuries (most notably J.J. Barea, Brad Miller and Martell Webster) have slowed the progress of this Wolves team. Now that everyone is getting healthy, Adelman is faced with the challenge of figuring out whom to play with whom. As we saw with a star studded Miami Heat team last year, it takes a long time for guys to learn to play together. Sometimes too many new pieces, no matter how talented they are, actually hinder the jelling process of a team. Early in the season Adelman experimented with putting Rubio and Barea on the court at the same time and it proved to be a success on the offensive end, but left the Wolves with two small guards having to defend much bigger players at the two-guard and point positions. You also have players like Wes Johnson, who seems to be better off with Luke Ridnour on the floor. So there is this sort of Chess match from game to game, trying to fit pieces with other like pieces. Unfortunately, it has been like trying to fit a square peg into a round hole.
Another factor is the injury situation. Guys like Brad Miller, Michael Beasley and Martell Webster have all dealt with some significant injuries. How does Adelman incorporate them back into the game plan once they’re healthy? A guy like Miller isn’t too much of a concern, as his minutes will be limited, and he’s out there to provide another body in case Milicic and Pekovic get into foul trouble (and the occasional 18 foot jump shot he’s known for). But for guys like Barea and Beasley, who typically play a lot of minutes and are on the floor for crucial times in games, these injuries—and the lost time—are very valuable to them. They need to learn how to play with Love, Rubio and Williams so that they all can learn each other’s tendencies and favorite spots.
So you see how the Wolves strong depth is both a strength and weakness. Minnesota may be able to beat a lot of worn out, older teams at the tail end of the season but there is still a lot of work to be done now to get them playing at a high level. There is a lot of positive talk about the Wolves heading into tonight’s home game against the Sacramento Kings. There is even talk of maybe making the playoffs this year. For that to realistically happen the Wolves have to have their entire roster in good shape heading into March and April. Guys need to be integrated into the lineup now during the middle of the schedule, so that Adelman knows who to play at key junctures when there is something possibly on the line later in the season. Although the Wolves boast one of the deepest teams in the NBA, they also face a lot of questions with their roster as we get closer to the All Star break. And that is their blessing…and their possible curse.