Ricky Rubio @ Phenom

Will Ricky Rubio’s offseason training be enough to net him the Most Improved Player award?

It’s the summer of 2015, and for a second agonizing season, the Wolves have landed one spot shy of making the playoffs. This time, there are no major injuries to blame—just too many other talented teams in the conference. Sick of questions about his abilities as a franchise player, Kevin Love makes it clear he intends to opt-out and take his talents elsewhere. Ricky Rubio gives an interview saying basketball no longer gives him the joy it once did.

Okay, enough of that. Though it’s a familiar feeling, the Wolves come into the ’13-’14 season with every expectation of having their best year in nearly a decade, certainly the best since Garnett left the franchise. True, there’s plenty to worry about. But if the offseason isn’t the time to be optimistic, when is? What follows is a look at the pieces the Wolves have through rose-tinted glasses:

Kevin Love – PF

Kevin LoveConsider for a moment that Love didn’t play any regular season games for the Wolves last year in top shape. In his 18 games back, his hand wasn’t fully healed and he just couldn’t get his shooting touch right. Considering this, a completely healthy and conditioned Kevin Love is probably the biggest upgrade any team in the NBA will make—with a fully explosive Derrick Rose being the only exception.

This cannot be overstated. Love is a unique player. How many players last season put up 14 rebounds, 20 points, and at least one three-pointer a game? None. And those are numbers Love should surpass with ease. He will look to reclaim his spot this season as one of the best forwards in the game.

Ricky Rubio – PG

Rubio will get the benefit of a full training camp with coach Rick Adelman this year. Combined with a full healthy offseason to train, expect Rubio to make marked improvements coming into this season. Finding a consistent technique for his shooting motion will be a top priority, and as soon as Ricky’s shooting game improves, expect his entire game to blossom. When guards are forced to keep close to Ricky on the perimeter, the floor opens up, allowing for more off-ball motion and more of the inevitable highlight passes that should top many Sportscenter top-10 play lists this season.

This might as well be considered Rubio’s sophomore season. Look for him to be a strong candidate for Most Improved Player. Between his offseason training, a fully implemented offense, and the number of quality shooters who will finally surround him this year, Rubio can be expected to put up an absurd number of assists. Records are going to be broken. Did I mention Rubio will probably be a top-10 rebounding guard as well?

Every time Rubio has the ball on a fastbreak, the state of Minnesota holds its breath. We are rarely disappointed.

Nikola Pekovic – C

With Pekovic re-signed, the Wolves bring back one of the best true centers in the game. Pekovic is surprisingly agile and loves to outrun unsuspecting teams on long outlet passes. But he earns his reputation under the hoop, where he is a 290-pound battering ram of a center—an inexorable force. His game is well complemented by Rubio’s ability to thread the ball to the low post. However, Rubio’s injury proved that Pekovic could get it done on his own. Expect their partnership to continue to grow.

Pekovic was second in the league in offensive rebounding percentage two seasons ago, and remained in the top 10 last year. With a five-year contract, he should be a fearsome presence for a long time to come. Did we mention he has a brand new tattoo of a grizzly bear?

Kevin Martin – SG

Three point shooting and wing scoring were top priorities in this offseason. Flip Saunders continued Minnesota’s streak of quality free agent acquisitions by landing Kevin Martin, a hyper-efficient shooting guard. Martin shot more than 42% from beyond the arc last season. Though it doesn’t look like he will ever get to the free throw line at the pace he once did, Martin will provide a scoring punch from the wings that the Wolves missed dearly last year. While not noted for his defense, he is a 6’7” body replacing the undersized Luke Ridnour (a Milwaukee Buck, yet again). This alone will help stop some of the scoring barrages that opposing shooting guards lobbed lobed at the Wolves.

Kevin Martin knows Rick Adelman’s offense better than any other player on the team. Better, Adelman says, than any of the coaching staff. Not only does this bode well for his role in the offense, it will rub off on those around him as well. His biggest issue? Playing in the Target Center with a nickname like K-Mart might be a conflict of interest.

Corey Brewer – SF

Will Corey Brewer round out the starting five? Chase Budinger might be there on opening day, given his previous work with Adelman. But as this blog has already pointed out, Brewer would add a spark of perimeter defense to the starting lineup that could be crucial to many matchups. He’s also the perfect partner for Rubio, always ready to break out ahead of the pack for some sweet throw downs. He returns to a Minnesota team much better equipped to fit him into their style of play, rather than rely on him. There are still a lot of questions about Minnesota’s defense, but Brewer and Rubio have exactly the peskiness needed to break up plays in progress, and the speed to turn them into points on the other end.

The Starting Five

What does it look like when these players all come together? Well, it looks like this:

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And this:

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Not too shabby.

Classically-trained French horn player born and raised in Minnesota. Latecomer to the game of basketball, but an ardent fan nevertheless. Objectivity is overrated. On twitter at @WillEisenberg

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