|Can Derrick Williams step up in Love's absence? (Getty Images)|
Initially, the team was reloaded with talented veterans to complement the core of Love, Nikola Pekovic and Ricky Rubio when he gets back. There was going to be an adjustment period for the new pieces to jell and a waiting period for Rubio to return to the hardwood, but most experts were picking them to still be a team to reckon with in the Western Conference.
Now, their franchise player could miss about 20 games as he waits for his shooting hand to heal up.
So where does this put the Wolves and what are their options going forward?
Filling the power forward slot
Derrick Williams is the first name that comes to mind as a replacement for Love. Williams has looked out of place in the Wolves' attack, mostly because he's more of a power forward and they already had a pretty good player manning that position. He was so out of place in his rookie season that he attempted to drop his weight to around 225 pounds this offseason so he could become a wing player on both ends.
|More on Kevin Love's injury|
Williams will now get to play his more natural position for the first quarter of the season, and the pressure is on him to truly shine and show he was the No. 2 pick for a reason. Ideally, this will get him closer to the basket where coach Rick Adelman would rather have him taking shots and being more aggressive.
If anything, this is an audition of sorts for Williams to, at worst, increase his trade value.
However, if Williams continues to lack the aggressiveness Adelman wants from him and continues to float around the perimeter, he'll lose his chances at minutes to his new teammates.
The other option for the Wolves is to put Andrei Kirilenko at the 4 and allow him to operate out of the high post. He doesn't end up being the primary scoring option like Love is for the team, but using him as the primary playmaking option isn't a terrible idea.
Kirilenko has impressed both the team and fans with his passing and ability to make plays throughout the preseason so far. And slotting him as the power forward would allow him to guard slower opponents on most nights, which could be a boost for the 31-year-old forward.
The loss of Love hurts not just for the talent and focus of the team, but for the tandem of Kirilenko and Love also. After Tuesday's win over Maccabi Haifa, Kirilenko spoke about the two players developing chemistry on the court together:
Like tonight, we have a couple possessions with me and Kevin kind of figure out the new thing. Every game you can get one or two possessions out of it. The more and more games we play, we're going to get better and understand each other better
That connection has to be put on hold while Love's hand heals. If Kirilenko gets the majority of minutes at power forward because Williams doesn't prove himself, newcomer Dante Cunningham will probably earn a majority of the backup minutes. His energy and willingness to attack the rim on offense make the likelihood of him getting on the court during meaningful minutes a lot greater.
Focal point of the team
Who becomes the focus on offense for the Wolves? It has to be bruising big man Pekovic, who has become a bit of a Chuck Norris-type cult figure in the online basketball community.
Pekovic is regarded by many players, coaches and fans as the strongest man in the NBA, and he'll need to be even better than he was in his breakout season last year to make up for the loss of Love.
Last season, Pekovic threw opposing big men around like rag dolls -- 10.8 of his 13.9 points per game came in the paint, and he led the league in offensive rebounding rate with 15.8 percent. He was so tough on opposing big men that after a Lakers win over the Wolves, Andrew Bynum told a reporter, “Thank god they took Pekovic out of the game.”
Pek reported to training camp about eight pounds lighter than last year and with the look of a man far more sculpted than we saw the previous season. He's much more agile and running a lot easier in the preseason so far.
Now it's on Pek to be the focal point of the offense. The Wolves will surely rely on Brandon Roy if his knees hold up, and they'll hope the guard play and wings can space the floor with shooting. But ultimately Pek being a force on the low block will tell the tale of how the Wolves survive without Love early on.
For the second straight year, the Wolves have a major injury to one of their top players, but at least they're deeper and better equipped to handle the hit.
They'll need a group effort to stay afloat until Love can return to the lineup.