As a whole, the first 53 games of the 2013-14 Minnesota Timberwolves season can be described in many ways: disappointing, inconsistent, portentious, a “middle finger to point differential” analysis (well put, Patrick Fenelon). Rick Adelman’s squad has undershot its Pythagorean win total by 8 (mathematically speaking, teams who outscore their opponents by 3.7 points per contest ought to be 33-20 at this point, not 25-28). The reasons have been discussed ad nauseam; the Wolves can’t close out games, they failed to beat weaker opponents while they were at full strength early in the season, and on, and on, and on.
Every game isn’t a referendum of the franchise as a whole, nor do any of these individual games dictate the future in any meaningful way. Since the Wolves have Kevin Love’s early termination option hanging over their heads, it’s easy for fans (and even – shockingly – the media) to worry about the future, forgetting that it’s okay to enjoy individual games when good ones come around. Some of Minnesota’s losses have been wildly entertaining contests – the loss to Oklahoma City on January 4th and both losses to the Clippers in L.A. come to mind – but blowouts can be fun, too. Especially when they feature the kind of ball movement, efficiency and hustle that the Wolves displayed in thumping the Denver Nuggets on Wednesday night.
To be fair, the Nuggets are woefully thin in the backcourt at the moment. Andre Miller’s collecting a paycheck to sit at home, the result of a feud with coach Brian Shaw. Nate Robinson’s done for the season with a ligament tear in his knee. Most importantly, Ty Lawson’s out until after the All-Star break due to a fractured rib. Without them, Denver’s offense lacked anything resembling flow, or purpose. They tallied just 19 assists, and turned the ball over 21 times. The low number of assists meant a lot of 1-on-1 possessions, often resulting in poor shot attempts; the turnovers meant the Timberwolves could get out and run in transition, where Corey Brewer made them pay, rather vociferously, on five separate occasions:
But even before the Brewer dunk parade, the Wolves had taken complete control of the game. How? By executing their half-court offense, flawlessly, starting with the opening tip. Chase Budinger, who looks like he’s (finally) getting his legs back, drilled two three-pointers by the 7:00 mark of the 1st quarter – the second of which gave the Wolves a 17-to-3 lead. Ricky Rubio was confident, assertive, and successful – he made his first four shots, doled out the assists with his usual flair, and finished with 11 points, 12 assists and 7 steals. Even when he left the game, victimized by an errant Randy Foye elbow to the chin which required 5 stitches to close, J.J. Barea stepped in and was fantastic. The enigmatic sixth man went 8-for-8 from the field and only turned the ball over once in 18 minutes off the bench. Minnesota’s core group could do no wrong.
That especially includes Kevin Love. No matter what happens in the future, it’d be a shame if Timberwolves fans didn’t just stop and appreciate what it’s like watching this guy suit up for their favorite team on a nightly basis. All the little things that might rub you the wrong way about him – sniping at referees, a lack of hustle in transition defense, poor body language – were absent tonight. What you got instead was all the good stuff – beautiful outlet passes, a precise understanding of the halfcourt offense, a stepback three, gorgeous catch-and-shoot rhythm jumpers, and tough rebounds on both the offensive and defensive ends.
It was a good primer for Love before the All-Star break. Prior to Wednesday’s game, he’d sunk just 13-of-54 attempts from beyond the arc over his previous ten games. That’s 24%… which probably wouldn’t keep him in contention to reclaim the three-point-contest crown. It should be fun to watch him in New Orleans – especially if he’s able to somehow throw a 90-foot lob to Blake Griffin at the other end of the court on Sunday night.
In former Timberwolf news, Randy Foye and Anthony Randolph made appearances in the game for Denver, and both, um, struggled. Foye’s a fine role player, but he’s been thrown into a tough spot – he just isn’t suited to be a primary ball handler for more than a couple of possessions at a time. He turned the ball over 8 times in this one, the second time in two weeks he’s accomplished that ignominious feat. It’s hard not to feel a little bad for him – unless you were the random fan near press row yelling derogatory things whenever he came to your corner of the court.
Anthony Randolph attempted two three pointers in this game, which is an important side note, so important that I made one more video, an “Anthony Randolph Three Pointers” video, to commemorate the occasion:
The Wolves’ victory over Denver probably did little to assuage the fans who are inconsolably disappointed with the way the first part of the season has gone, but I offer Anthony Randolph as an example of the progress this franchise has made over the past few seasons. The Wolves no longer employ him. See? Progress!
In all seriousness, though, would you rather the Wolves were still grasping at straws, searching desperately for talented players in any form, no matter the baggage? Their problems now concern fit, and cohesion, and identity. They’ll need a miraculous stretch run to meet the implicit goal of a playoff berth, and they might not be able to right the ship in time for that. But no one questions the talent on the roster, and at least they’re all under contract for next year, in case they show signs of figuring it out. Give me the latter situation any day of the week. No contest.