Five Against One

So the fellows over at ESPN are asking us all to choose the Timberwolves’ all-time starting five. Sounds like fun right? the kind of idle thought experiment that’s so good at whiling away those long workday afternoon, right? Wrong. Here’s my take:

Point Guard:

On the face of things, it would seem that the only clear choices are: the very young, very confident, very skilled Stephon Marbury; Sam Cassell, who hit some seriously huge jumpers and then did the testicle dance;  Terrell Brandon, who was actually really productive in his Minnesota years. Of course, Brandon’s career was prematurely ended by injuries (and anyway, he was never the dynamic backcourt player the Wolves needed during those years) and Sammy’s two ill-starred seasons are still killing the Pups (see: the Marko Jaric trade). As for Marbury: he got us really excited and then he broke our hearts; he gave some insane interviews, he ate vaseline on the internet, he went to China. It was all over so quickly.

So I could choose those guys, or I could choose the guy with the Finals MVP trophy and the World Championship gold medal, the guy who resurrects struggling teams upon arrival, the guy who is clearly (if you ask me) the best PG the Wolves have ever had on their roster. Do I care that Lord Chauncey Billups was only a backup for the Wolves and that his best years came after he went on his merry way? I do not.

And anyway, anytime we anthologize the Minnesota Timberwolves we should make some mention of one or more of their many terrible, terrible decisions. Letting Chauncey go was one of the worst.

Answer: Chauncey Billups

Shooting Guard:

It’s ironic and appropriate that the little ESPN voting gizmo lists Randy Foye as a shooting guard. Foye actually manned the point for most of his time as a Wolf but you would never have known it from watching him play; the way he overdribbled and jacked contested threes, he certainly looked for all the world like a shooting guard. ‘Course he couldn’t defend the two or any other position for that matter.

As for Latrell Sprewell, I have always dearly loved the Professor for his utterly fearless, utterly brazen scoring as a Knick and Warrior, and for his role in the best season in Wolves history. But one year of fading glory and another of dead-legged jumpers and pure locker room poison just aren’t cutting it.

By the way, thank you ESPN for allowing me to see in my mind’s eye Isaiah “J.R.” Rider and his breathtaking skills and his stunning dunks and the ridiculous things he said and did.

Rashad McCants? Ricky Davis? Can I vote for Gerald Glass?

Answer: I dunno, Doug West I guess? See how hard this is?

Small Forward:

The offensive stats tell me I should choose Wally Szczerbiak or Tony Campbell. Campbell scored 20.6 points per game as a Wolf and Wally hit more than 45% of his three pointers one year, but I’m not going to go with either of these guys. I’m going to go with Sam Mitchell because he gave the best years of his career to some godforsaken teams, because he defended and rebounded with passion on those unwatchably bad squads, because he played professional basketball in the Metrodome, because he mentored KG and countless others, because he was a completely righteous dude.

Answer: Sam Mitchell

Power Forward:

Clearly, there is only one player who can fill this spot and that player is, of course, Joe Smith. I’m sorry, that wasn’t funny.

Answer: the best defender and rebounder of the last decade, who is still the best reason, geography aside, to love the Wolves, who (along with Flip Saunders) was the only reason the Wolves ever won more than 40 games, whose throbbing heart still pounds inexorably under the Target Center parquet, I don’t care what his uniform says.

By the way, wasn’t Trent Tucker the best?


I have three observations about this:

1) I have a soft spot for Rasho Neterovic, don’t get me wrong. But the fact that Rasho and Michael Olowakandi are candidates for anyone’s list of the best of anything pro basketball related is hilarious.

2) Did the Wolves just trade the best center in their history, at age 25, for two first-round draft picks?

3) This is getting depressing.

Answer: Al Jefferson


This starting five–Chauncey, West, Mitchell, KG and Big Al–is pretty good. Throw in a solid crew of all time Wolves bench players–maybe like Kevin Love, Pooh Richardson and Trenton Hassell for example–and you just might have a contender (although I wouldn’t put any money on them beating last year’s Lakers). You heard me: the best team 20 years of Timberwolves history can produce, might conceivably have had a chance to win last season’s Western Conference. Sigh.

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11 thoughts on “Five Against One

  1. Sorry – I love all the choices (especially the Chauncey argument), but I’ve got to disagree about Big Al at center. For me personally I think putting KG in at center a second time makes more sense than putting Big Al in at center. Big Al is…a unique ‘hybrid’ PF in that his game is back to the basket, but he can’t defend other centers at all. On the team you suggest (Chauncey, West, Sammy, and KG) Big Al is a clear weakness and not nearly as effective a player if he’s playing second or third fiddle to KG. Honestly speaking I wonder if playing Rasho instead would lead to more wins because you want Chauncey and KG scoring, not Big Al (in this particular scenario).

    Anyways, great ‘state of the overall franchise history’ post – we have a long ways to go in player acquisition and development if there’s only one clear cut best player ever at a position.

    1. You’re absolutely right that Al was always miscast as a center and that he was pretty miserable defensively at the five. That was a pretty grudging pick for me, I must say; I feel like it says more about the rotten state of T-Wolves centers through history than anything else. On the other hand, the Wolves were never able to pair KG with a bona-fide back-to-the-basket low post scorer and I think doing so would really have freed KG to play his natural offensive game. What’s more, given KG’s defensive versatility and genius, I feel like Al’s weaknesses in that area would have been less noticeable. Thanks for the comment.

  2. Damn that was depressing. I think the most glaring point of this post is, besides maybe one good year of Spree, have the Wolves ever had a truly great point guard? Or even a good one?

  3. Move Garnett to the 3, Laettner at 4…the frustrating thing about the ESPN voting is the restriction to positions. The Bulls’ all-time points SUCK, but in reality I’d play Pippen there. For the Lakers, Jerry West AND Kobe would be in my starting five, but since they are both listed at SG you can’t (Magic, Kobe, West, Kareem, Worthy…best possible five from all teams, including the Celtics).

  4. This has absolutely nothing to do with this article, but I just happened to be perusing some college bb info, and came across the Iowa State site. I had completely forgotten the fact that Fred Hoiberg had been named the coach there. Congrats to Freddie, and best of luck. I don’t know if the Gophers play I-state this year, but if they do, that will be the only time I don’t cheer for the Cyclones.

    I have done a lot of trashing of the T-Wolves, as a franchise… but I will always respect their handling of Fred’s health issues. They didn’t slam the door on him, the minute he was unable to play ball anymore. And don’t get me wrong… they didn’t gift him the assistant GM job. The man has a great mind and demeanor for that kind of position (which is why I have always said that he should have been the GM, when they finally canned McHale).

    Anyways… congrats to “The Mayor”, and best of luck dealing with all the Big Ten cast-offs that are heading your way.

  5. Totally agree with the Trent Tucker comment…..hearing “Whooooa big fella” for everything Stanley Roberts did on the court was hilarious to hear and never got old imo. Best color commentator Wolves ever had/will have.

    One question…..where’s even a mention of Malik Sealy. I’d take him over ANY of the people you mentioned for best SG. Doug West was pretty good….when sober.

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