Projecting the NBA using xWARP: Minnesota Timberwolves

The Minnesota Timberwolves haven’t made the playoffs in nine seasons. They’ve likely had the talent to make it over the last two years, but bad luck with injuries to their two most important players, Kevin Love and Ricky Rubio, have, unfortunately, blown those hopes to hell. Love and Rubio have combined to play just 171 games of 296 games the two of them, together, could have possibly played over the last two years. Next year, as it always does, provides another opportunity for the ‘Wolves to crack the playoffs for the first time in ten seasons. What do the numbers suggest Minnesota fans can likely expect?

This ‘Wolves squad has 45 win talent, without context. On the other hand, the numbers, as I ran them initially, gave each team, on average, 1.11 points over the required sum of 0 total net points across the league- given that basketball is a zero sum game. Every player making a positive contribution comes, in +/- and thus xRAPM, at the expense of another player or set of players being debited for those positive contributions coming against them. As a result, you can adjust the strength of each team simply by subtracting out those 1.12 points from their total Contribution per Game. When it doing this with the Timberwolves, it makes them a +.31 team. Plugging in to the simple MOV to wins equation (2.7*MOV+41 = Wins), the Timberwolves project as a 42 win team. This jives with their projection in the big schedule spreadsheet, as a 42 win team, when factoring in their strength, the strength of their opponents, and their home court advantage.

Kevin Love

How does Minnesota get there? Kevin Love and Ricky Rubio carry most of the weight, as any even casual Timberwolves observer would expect. Their health is, obviously, of paramount importance for the ‘Wolves to reach their postseason goal. Nikola Pekovic, Kevin Martin, Chase Budinger, Corey Brewer, and Derrick Williams are the lesser lights ranging from slightly above average to slightly below, though, they’re all solidly above replacement and so they should all be helping. Also of note, Shabazz Muhammad projects to be pretty okay as a rookie, by the Hickory High rookie projections, and as a result, he’s an above replacement contributor by these numbers.

For my part, I’ll be rooting for the ‘Wolves. Their fans have dealt with the disappointment of David Kahn’s draft record, the tantalizing frustration of waiting for Ricky Rubio to come over from Spain, and the scuttling of the last two promising seasons due to Love’s recurring injuries and Rubio’s torn ACL. The players, Love especially, must be just as frustrated, if not more so. This is a team that, health permitting, should compete for the right to test themselves against the Thunder or the Rockets or the Clippers in the first round of next seasons’ playoffs. Hopefully the Timberwolves will finally be playing come late April.

Images via wikimedia commons.

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