Wolves' Regained Health Important For Future Beyond 2012-13

Wolves center Nikola Pekovic was not on last week’s road trip when the Timberwolves traveled to Indiana and Houston. He, along with Andrei Kirilenko, remained back in Minnesota to try and wrap up their rehab and try to do as much conditioning as possible in preparation for their impending return.

They watched from afar as the Wolves ran into Roy Hibbert’s 27-point, 12-rebound effort in Indianapolis, followed by a second half surge by Houston two nights later. Both close games at time. Both ending in defeat.

“Watching those nine players fight every single night is hard,” Pekovic said.

The Wolves received good news Sunday night in advance of their matchup with New Orleans, as Pekovic (abdominal strain) and Kirilenko (left calf strain) were both cleared to play. That’s a major step forward for this squad as both guys are key contributors in their starting lineup. Add that to news of Chase Budinger’s recovery—he said last week he is a couple practices away from returning—and Minnesota suddenly has gone from just nine healthy players to being on the verge of 12.

When those 12 are available, essentially all their key contributors except for All-Star forward Kevin Love will be available. As we head into the final month of a season filled with injuries—the team literally has not been at full strength for a minute this season—this is an encouraging benchmark. There are 4 ½ weeks left in the 2012-13 campaign, and getting healthy for this stretch run can do a lot for this club heading into next season.

It’s important for the Wolves’ roster to understand what the next month means to this franchise. We’ve yet to see how Minnesota’s offense can work with Ricky Rubio coming off screens and finding Chase Budinger for a catch-and-shoot corner three. We certainly haven’t seen how the possibility of that scenario can open up the middle for Pekovic. This team has been filled with what-ifs for an entire year.

In the coming week, hopefully some of those possibilities will become realities.

“I think the whole process we’re going through, you have to be smart enough to look at not only this year and how we finish the year but where we are going forward,” Adelman said. “We’re going to find out about a lot of players. The more guys we get back and see on the floor, the better off we are.”

It’s all going to start with shooting. Minnesota is 28th in the league in field goal percentage this season at 43.4 percent, and they’re last in 3-point shooting at 29.8 percent. But as Minnesota starts getting their players back, one by one, it should open up some space on the floor to get more open looks. Pekovic, for instance, has had nights where he has very little room to operate around the basket thanks to defenses collapsing near the rim.

But there has also been a bright spot during this injury-plagued season. It has allowed other members of the team to gain additional playing time that they would not have had. Derrick Williams has benefitted over the last two months, really coming into his own on the floor and playing with more confidence than we’ve seen during his career. The results are in the statistics. Williams has set career bests for points per game in a single month in each of the past two months, jumping from 14.3 points per game in February to 17.1 in March. He also had 8.2 rebounds per game last month and has 6.9 this month.

Just as important, Adelman said Williams has learned what it takes to compete against NBA talent on a nightly basis. Williams’ trouble in his career has been consistency, and he’s starting to gain that with his increased minutes.

“We’ve relied on him as one of our main scorers, and he’s gotten a taste of what it’s like to succeed in this league,” Adelman said. “That’s only going to help him, and it help us, too, watching him. I think there are still a lot of things he can do better, but he’s certainly tried to improve his game.”

The pieces are hopefully falling into place for the Wolves. It’s been a tough season trying to get everyone on the court at the same time, but there is still reason to believe it can happen down the stretch. It’s too late for a playoff push in 2012-13, but it might be an opportunity to plant the seeds of success for next year.

Each day this team’s players regain their health is important for the future. It starts with Kirilenko and Pekovic returning against the Hornets.


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