Audio: Alan Horton with BasketballProspectus.com’s Kevin Pelton
Editor's Note: During Minnesota's matchup with Portland this weekend, Wolves Radio announcer Alan Horton asked BasketballProspectus.com's Kevin Pelton about the Timberwolves and how they project for the 2012-13 season.
Alan Horton: Proud to be joined by Kevin Pelton, author at Basketball Prospectus.com. He does statistical work for the Indiana Pacers. You can find him on Twitter at @kpelton. Kevin, good to see you, how are you?
KP: I’m good. Thanks for having me back on.
AH: It’s always great to have you, we wanted to get you on and it was great last year. We got a good response just talking Timberwolves basketball and Basketball Prospectus, kind of a season preview which you can get online at BasketballProspectus.com. It’s such a great guide, not only before the season starts, but also during the season. It’s a great read on things you’re seeing on the floor, and it can explain what you’re seeing on the floor. Also maybe sometimes what you’re not seeing on the floor. Your guys’ projection system, the Shoene Projection System, really liked the Timberwolves at the start of the year. Now, it had the Wolves at No. 1 in offensive efficiency and with 56 wins on the season. Now that piqued some interest.
KP: Yeah I think it’s funny, I think nationally everyone took more note of the Denver Nuggets in one version of the projections, we had them first in the Western Conference. But to me, Minnesota was always the most interesting projection. You know, I always had a sense all summer that they were going to come out well, because I knew that guys like Shved and Kirilenko were players that rated very well statistically, better than their conventional wisdom assessment. So adding them on top of the existing core of Pekovic, when healthy Rubio and Love, is going to make the Timberwolves very good in the numbers’ eyes.
AH: You mention too, those guys and then you add in Chase Budinger, and just the replacement guys that the Wolves have added, just on the wings and on the bench this year. With what we had last year, when you look at something called ‘wins above a replacement player’ that was huge. The difference between last year and this year.
KP: Yeah that’s the big comparison we use; to show how much better a player is or worse than an average guy that you could sign for the minimum before training camp. Things like that. So last year, Minnesota’s wing players were actually rated collectively below that, because of the fact that they played so poorly. So even to get to the replacement level would have helped Minnesota, then to also get on top of guys like Kirilenko and Shved that have been as effective as they are, and Budinger before he got hurt, made them much improved.
AH: The Wolves are 5-5 with all these injuries. I asked you to put some numbers together projection-wise of how the Wolves should have fared during this time with all these injuries; how’d they do?
KP: Yeah, this morning I took a look at if everyone had played the minutes that they have played so far over a full season, what would we project their record to be; and most teams don’t change very much. But Minnesota went all the way down to 38 wins, largely because of Kevin Love’s absence and him being so important to everything they do. It had their offense at 23rd in the league. It’s about where they are now, and on top of that, their defense has been better than expected.
AH: So assuming people come back healthy, there’s still the opportunity for this team to come together and be dynamic offensively?
KP: Yeah, I think the key is to just hold things together until Love and, particularly and eventually, Rubio get healthy. Also with Love coming back in the early end of the schedule, that helps. To be .500 right now is a great accomplishment.
AH: I thought Nikola Pekovic was No. 1 in the league for Most Improved Player. For someone who couldn’t stay on the floor his rookie year to a sophomore year where he made huge leaps and bounds, would you agree with that?
KP: Yeah, he had very good Euroleague translations like Shved and like Rubio. But his first year didn’t really live up to them on the offensive end of the floor. And last year I think we often see with European guys that they’re often more comfortable in year two in the league; I think that was the case with him. He also was in a role that was more favorable to him, playing him next to Kevin Love, teams have to put their No. 2 post defender on him. That gives him a lot of favorable matchups like we’ve seen tonight.
AH: Are you surprised with how well the Wolves have played defense so far this year?
KP: A little bit, yeah. I thought that they would be better defensively with the addition of Kirilenko, but I didn’t necessarily expect a top-5 in the league defense. I think Rick Adelman deserves a great deal of credit for that, he made major strides at the defensive end last season, and I think he’s one of the most underrated defensive coaches in the league.
AH: People think he’s more of an offensive coach, and that may be true, but his teams have been in the top 10 in offensive efficiency… but also top 10 in defensive efficiency.
KP: Yeah, everyone thinks of those teams in Sacramento that were better offensively than they were defensively. [A few years ago, a study] evaluating coaches was looking at how their offensive and defensive ratings changed from their predecessors to their successors; in every case but where Rick Adelman was replaced by PJ Carlesimo, it was a situation where he made his teams’ defense better when he took over.