Taking care of business
The Philadelphia 76ers are a model franchise for the Timberwolves right now.
Their best player isn’t widely regarded as a franchise guy but he is a player that sets the tone for everybody else. They’re fairly deep in terms of role players who can be effective on any given night. They’re playing great defense, explosive offense and there isn’t a single ego disrupting that team right now.
People want to blow them off because their schedule thus far has been pretty weak. And to be fair, it really has been pretty easy. They have the lowest strength of schedule in the NBA at 37.2%. They’ve played 10 games against teams under .500 and won nine of them. Their point differential this season is currently over six points per game better than the Bulls, who have the second best point differential in the NBA with +8.53. The Sixers are blowing bad teams out of the water, and it’s helped propel them up nearly every team metric measurement there is.
The only quality win they’ve had is against Indiana. The rest of the wins are against bad teams. However, there is no reason to overlook what they’re doing. I don’t care that they’re blowing out bad teams left and right because that’s exactly what you want them to do. I’ve never been impressed by improving teams hanging with the big dogs in the NBA. It’s a nice story to show you can hang, but playing to your competition isn’t necessarily a sign of future success to me. I want to see the good teams destroy the bad teams to show just how serious they are about taking the next step.
It shows a certain level of readiness that you want to experience with a young team. It doesn’t mean the Sixers are going to eventually win a title with this squad. It doesn’t mean they won’t fall apart next season with Pat Riley’s “Theory of More” potentially trying to kick the door down. It just means they’re maturing as a unit.
The Wolves have a similar situation. Whether Kevin Love is truly a franchise guy or not in terms of the traditional, go-to scorer we all worship, he’s definitely the guy you want leading this organization because he sets the tone in every way, shape and form. The talent pool of role players on the team is deep and you expect almost anybody to be capable of stepping up on any given night. They’re currently a top 10 defense in the NBA (8th in defensive rating at 100.2, according to Basketball-reference.com) and the offense with Rubio on the court is capable of drowning any opponent in the league. Looking around the locker room, there isn’t one unlikable guy on the team that would submarine his teammates with a subversive attitude.
When they walk into a game like tonight against the Pistons, there is no reason to think they shouldn’t run away with this victory. Despite a couple of bright spots with Greg Monroe, Jonas Jerebko, and Brandon Knight, this is a very bad Detroit team with little reason to give you a game on the road.
According to the mySynergy numbers, you can score against the Pistons quite easily on isolation plays (23rd), with the pick-and-roll ball handler (21st), in the post (19th), with the PnR roller (21st), spot-up shooters (27th) and in transition (30th). Other than transition situations, the Wolves are in the top half in points per possession on all of those other situations. They are perfectly set up to run this team off the court with Kevin Love’s versatile scoring and Ricky Rubio and Luke Ridnour picking the defense apart with dribble penetration, shooting and passing.
It’s not really reasonable to expect the Wolves to be the type of team that runs bad teams off the court like Philadelphia is doing. This is essentially the first season together (thanks to Rubio addition and Adelman’s hiring) for this entire team, so there are going to be plenty of ups-and-downs. And while the game against the Kings Monday night was ugly for the majority of it, the way they closed out such a bad team gave me hope they were understanding how to win a lot more than I would have expected.
This isn’t a must-win game by any means for Minnesota. It’s just another game against a really bad team. The Wolves struggled to dominate the Hornets last week in New Orleans, despite being a much more talented team. After blowing a big road lead to a good but inconsistent Hawks squad, they rallied back and ended up running the Kings out of the building in the fourth quarter. It showed growth from the win in New Orleans and hopefully is a prelude of what is to come tonight and moving forward.
It’s not essential for the Wolves to win by a wide margin. Any win at this point is a good lesson in some way. But it would show this team becoming ready to take care of business against the lesser teams in the league. That’s what good, improving teams learn how to do.