The news that Kevin Love's hand injury will sideline him for 6-8 weeks is certainly devastating for the Minnesota Timberwolves. Love is one of the most productive players in the league, averaging a deadly-efficient 26 points and over 13 rebounds per game last year while dragging a terrible supporting cast. That was good for nearly 30 percent of the Timberwolves' scoring and rebounding, per CBS Sports' Royce Young. With both Love and Ricky Rubio out until well into December with injuries, it's almost impossible to imagine the Timberwolves cracking the deep Western Conference hierarchy.
But if Timberwolves fans are looking for a silver lining, they are at least better-equipped to replace Love this year than they would have been in the past. One man's injury, as difficult as it is to put it in these terms, is always another man's opportunity. In this case, the Timberwolves have two players in Derrick Williams and Andrei Kirilenko that have been afforded an opportunity they cannot take lightly.
For Williams, this is a chance to rediscover the mojo he showed at Arizona that made him worthy of the No. 2 pick in the 2011 NBA Draft. It was a frustrating rookie year for Williams in 2011-12, as he struggled to adjust to playing more on the perimeter. He wanted to make the transition badly, but he ended up falling in love with his jump shot, firing 3.5 threes per 36 minutes at just a 27-percent clip. The speed that he once used to beat slower defenders at power forward suddenly became ordinary when matched up against quicker wings. Worse, coach Rick Adelman lost faith in him because he struggled to adapt to his system, which requires wings to move well without the ball and make quick decisions.
But now that Love is out, Williams can get a chance to play some power forward, which is -- whether he likes it or not -- his ideal NBA position. He can use his quickness to go by defenders off the dribble, which will enhance one of his strengths coming out of college. He can also be used more as a roll man in pick and roll situations, which will mitigate his ball-stopping tendencies. It's an open secret that Adelman is not fond of Williams' game, but if Williams plays well at his natural position, perhaps the Timberwolves could get more for him in a trade when Love eventually returns.
As for Kirilenko, he, too, had some issues playing on the perimeter earlier in his career. When he had the chance to play the position for the Utah Jazz several years back, his athleticism became more of a strength. He gave up weight to bigger players, sure, but he also was key in upping the tempo of games, forcing turnovers and being a terror in transition. But the Jazz also had Carlos Boozer and Paul Millsap, so Kirilenko was forced to play on the wing, where he wasn't quite as effective. He was still a useful enough player to convince the Timberwolves to sign him to a two-year, $20 million contract to start at small forward, but he he may really show his value in the short term by taking some of Love's minutes during his absence.
The Timberwolves have more depth at the position than last year as well. Late in the summer, they dealt guard Wayne Ellington to the Memphis Grizzlies for combo forward Dante Cunningham, a useful player who never got a chance to get extended minutes due to the surplus of big men in Memphis. That was expected to be the situation for Cunningham in Minnesota as well, but Love's injury means he will move up in the rotation. For a third swing forward, you could do far worse than Cunningham.
In short: while Love's injury is devastating due to his value as player, the Timberwolves are better equipped to manage in the short term than they have been before. There's a somewhat decent chance that Williams and/or Kirilenko will step up and improve their play now that they will have more of an opportunity to be at their natural position.