Looking at the Timberwolves' log-jam at shooting guard
Get the 1500 ESPN SportsWire delivered to your inbox daily, and keep up with all the news in Twin Cities Sports
With the preseason wrapping in Friday's 119-118 win over Milwaukee and the regular season five days away, it's time to turn the attention away from the successful -- yet ultimately meaningless -- 6-2 exhibition record and start focusing on issues the Minnesota Timberwolves face heading into the regular season opener.
Barring any last minute change or injury, four of the five spots in the starting lineup for Wednesday's season opener against the Sacramento Kings are all but locked up.
Luke Ridnour will man the point, at least until Jonny Flynn returns from a hip injury to provide competition. Michael Beasley and Kevin Love will be at small and power forward positions respectively and the 20-million-dollar man Dark Millicic will be at center.
This leaves a spot open at shooting guard and a list of candidates fighting not only for the starting position—but minutes on the court.
"There just aren't enough minutes at the position," Timberwolves coach Kurt Rambis said Tuesday.
Wesley Johnson: Timberwolves fans will want to see Johnson in the starting lineup at some point this season to justify taking him with the number-four overall draft pick this summer.
Johnson comes into this season with the unfair burden of being compared to rookie center DeMarcus Cousins by Timberwolves fans who feel the team made a mistake by letting Cousins fall to the Sacramento Kings at the fifth-overall pick.
Johnson has had an up and down preseason that started with a hamstring injury in summer ball that is still lingering. He did not travel with the team for the final preseason game in Milwaukee to try to get his leg ready for the season opener.
On the court, Johnson has averaged 21 a game while scoring 7.8 PPG. He has shown that he can hit an open three, going 6-for12 from behind the arc. But the keyword there is open, Johnson has struggled to create his own shot.
Also, like most rookies, Johnson has looked a bit lost at times, often being a few steps behind the play. All of this just comes with experience. Experience that Johnson, assuming this nagging hamstring injury heals, is sure to get—either off the bench or as a starter.
Martell Webster: Up until a lower-back injury sprung up, Webster was the obvious choice to land the starting shooting guard position.
Acquired via trade with the Portland for forward Ryan Gomes and the draft rights to Luke Babbitt (16th overall), Webster was touted as a three-point specialist but is eager to show off the other facets of his game.
"I am not one dimensional. I finally get a chance to showcase myself," Webster said after the Timberwolves win over the Denver Nuggets Oct. 12th
Webster has been impressive this preseason, averaging 12.3 PPG, good for third on the team behind Love and Beasley. Webster has also displayed the shooting range that made him worth the high price tag—hitting 45% of both field goals and three pointers.
Further, in one of those weird 'only-in-the-NBA' anomalies, Webster is a five-year veteran despite being only seven months older than the rookie Johnson. Webster entered the draft in 2005 when high school players were still eligible while Johnson played four years of college basketball at Iowa State University and Syracuse.
Although all this could be for not if the Websters lower-back issue is not resolved. He missed Tuesday's game against Indiana while having a stim attached to his back.
Webster has had an MRI but the team has not released the results but said Webster will stay in the Twin Cities rather than travel with the team to Milwaukee.
Corey Brewer: If there is a make-it-or-break-it season for anyone on this Timberwolves team it would be Brewer.
The Timberwolves had high expectations when they selected Brewer seventh overall in the 2007 draft but despite a few flashes, has not lived up to the billing.
Brewer, one of the few holdovers from last seasons 15-win team, has been the odd-man out, averaging just 15 minutes a game—despite starting four of seven games.
Shooting has also been a huge question mark so far for Brewer. After averaging a career-high 13 PPG a year ago, Brewer has managed just 4.2 PPG on abysmal 23% (9/39) shooting t his preseason.
Brewer will need to rediscover his shooting touch if he wants to be a major factor into Rambis' rotation this season.
At this point, the best thing going for Brewer is he is in his fourth season, can play defense relatively well and has a healthy lower-back and hamstring.
Wayne Ellington: The second-year guard out of North Carolina has shown signs this preseason that he is ready to take the next step after a rookie season where he averaged 6.6 PPG in 76 games.
In his only start of the preseason against Milwaukee, Ellington scored 22 points on 8-of-11 shooting, including 3-for-3 from distance.
While Ellington realistically has no shot at a starting position, assuming of course Webster's lower-back doesn't completely give out and Johnsons's hamstring doesn't completely explode, but he can be a solid contributor off the bench during his sophomore season.
The ideal situation for the Timberwolves would be for Webster to begin the season as the starting shooting guard while Johnson continues to develop and get used to the fast pace and rigors of playing in the NBA. Then, after a few months of learning under the Webster, Johnson would transition to the starting role and the team would use Webster as a scoring spark off the bench—much like Love was used a year ago.
However, if Webster' back injury forces him to miss extended time, look for Brewer to step into the starting lineup, a place where he was for all 82 games last season.
Hamstring or no hamstring, Johnson is a bit too raw at this point to be expected to contribute as a starter. Johnson is better served at this point to come off the bench with lower expectations as he adapts to the speed of the NBA. This should not cause Timberwolves fans to worry; Johnson has shown great potential and will be their guy at some point.