Early in Minnesota’s 102-86 loss to the Golden State Warriors, Andrew Bogut was hobbling up and down the floor. It was unclear what was wrong at the time, but it was clear he needed to be taken out. Swiftly, new Golden State head coach Steve Kerr moved to put in backup Festus Ezeli. Bogut would not return to the game.
Golden State came into to the game already a man down, having lost David Lee to a hamstring injury during the Warriors’ season opener. This was not an ideal situation for the Warriors, who have faced the consequence of injury struggles come playoff time the past couple years.
Tonight, however, the Warriors faced off against a Timberwolves team that, when fully healthy, is probably still a worse team than Golden State was short-manned. But Minnesota isn’t healthy right now.
Andrew Wiggins is *knocks on wood* one of the few opening day starters to remain healthy early on this season. He had one of his better games tonight, converting more of his mid-range jumpers and getting to the line (the absence of Andrew Bogut probably helped in that regard).
After Wiggins, it was tough to find a guy that had played well for 4 quarters. Shabazz Muhammad looked good when he got out there, but was limited in his minutes due to an ankle issue Flip didn’t want to take a chance on.
The Timberwolves clearly long for the return of their missing pieces. Ricky Rubio most of all. Whether you look at the stats: 19 turnovers, including 6 for the team’s lone “point guard” Zach LaVine, or go by the eye test, which was even less pleasing on the eyes, it was clear the team needed a calming force with some passing ability. Mo Williams (who was also out tonight) has been able to do that to a certain extent, but as Flip Saunders said after the game, the Wolves “miss their creator”.
“When you look at a team, and take away their creative player, they’re going to struggle,” Saunders said. “We’ve lost our creative player, but also our big and our scorer.”
Obviously, the big he was referring to was Nikola Pekovic, but they’ve also been without Ronny Turiaf for even longer, making life extra difficult for Gorgui Dieng to start his sophomore season. It’s made life tough on young guys like Gorgui, Wiggins and LaVine, but it’s also put added responsibility on vets like Brewer and Thad Young. This is responsibility players of their caliber should not have to carry, but are forced to due to the circumstances.
Obviously, the hope is all this will help the team in the long run. There’s nothing fun about guys getting hurt, but that’s the hope.
With a full, healthy lineup, the Wolves were predicted to be a best-case 30-ish win team. Without Rubio, Pekovic, and Martin, where does that leave them? For now, it leaves them at 4-16. Portland on Wednesday.
A couple final notes:
- Flip also said Pek is still about 10 days away from coming back. Ricky Rubio is looking like he won’t be back until around January.
- Flip was noticeably frustrated with Zach LaVine’s play on the offensive and defensive end tonight. Obviously, he will continue to give the rookie a break, as he’s playing way more than he was supposed to this early on, but any coach is going to get frustrated with some of the plays LaVine was making tonight. In fact, Flip mentioned specifically LaVine’s tendency to stop, jump mid-air and not know whether to shoot or pass. Sound familiar?