|image courtesy seacrestwolfpreserve.org|
I have to admit that I haven't been following the Timberwolves all that closely this season. I've been far too busy with school, and work, and the other blogs I write for (which have weekly posting requirements) to focus too much of my attention on an 8-25 basketball team. I work nights, so I don't get to see the games very often, and for some reason, weekend Woofs games are seldom (if ever) televised. This actually makes me sad; the Woofs are easily the worst team in the Western Conference, and yet they are kind of fun to watch.
Make no mistake, the Wolves are an awful team. They've won all of eight games, and they don't do anything particularly well, especially on defense. They're eighth in the league in scoring, but an abysmal 29th on defense. They average about 103 points per game, but allow an average of 106.9 points, and don't have anything resembling a passable perimeter defense (I don't know what the numbers are, but they seem to give up more wide-open threes than any other team in the NBA). And it gets worse; according to more advanced stats, the Woofs are 28th in SRS (-6.30), 20th in basketball-reference.com's offensive rating (105.0), and their defensive rating (111.7) ranks 29th.
There are, however, a few bright spots on the team, and at least some reason to be hopeful for the future:
Kevin Love is a rebounding machine, the likes of which the league hasn't seen since Dennis Rodman in his prime. His 162 offensive rebounds lead the league, and he's averaging 15.5 per game. He's also averaging 20.8 PPG, and if you prefer advanced stats (I'm on the fence about them; I don't think they're as effective in sports that aren't as static as baseball, but I like to make people think I'm smart, so I use them anyway), his Player Efficiency Rating is an All-Star level 23.6. Love is almost single-handedly making T-Wolves basketball watchable, much like Kevin Garnett did for most of his career.
I am forever going to think of the Decision as the move that brought
Despite his talent, Beas does have his faults. He is also leading the team in turnovers, averaging 2.7 per game. He doesn't seem to be, um, the brightest fellow on the court, but he is young, and it appears he's at least trying to learn from his mistakes. It's just that he may lack the basketball IQ necessary to quit making mistakes, and if that is the case, there might not be much Rambis (or anybody) can do to get through to him.
Darko is, and I am not exaggerating or being hyperbolic in the least, pretty much the best center the Wolves have ever had. Seriously. While members of the mainstream media were collectively scratching their heads over the Darko signing, Wolves fans understood; after all, this is a team that has trotted out the likes of Theo Ratliff, Mark Blount, and Luc Longley (mind you, these were some of their better centers) over the years. $20 million over four years seemed a pretty reasonable price to pay for a center who could actually play defense and move the ball a little, to boot (also, letting him go would have meant more minutes for Kosta Koufos; you, too, would be happy about Darko coming back if you had to watch Koufos play basketball every night). Darko got off to a very slow start, seemingly proving the doubters right, but he's been on a tear since then, leading the league in blocks and putting up some pretty good offensive numbers for a center.
I guess, if anything, the current Wolves squad kind of reminds me of the Twins teams of the late '90s. Those teams were not very good; in fact, they lost at least 90 games for four straight seasons, from 1997 to 2000. But they were, for the most part, a likable group with a solid core of young talent in place. Brad Radke, Corey Koskie, Doug Mientkiewicz, and, yes, A.J. Pierzynski, made all of the losing that much more bearable, and more importantly, provided the front office a foundation to build a decent team around. The Twins haven't lost 90 games in ten years; they've only had one losing season in that time, and they've also captured six division titles (though their postseason record leaves a little to be desired). The Woofs have a solid core of young talent (and similarly likable players) in K-Love, Beas, and Darko, and they've got a pretty deep bench with the likes of Luke Ridnour, Martell Webster, and Anthony Tolliver. Johnny Flynn and Wesley Johnson might be good, but like Beasley, they've got to stop committing so many turnovers and making so many rookie mistakes. Whether David Kahn will be able to build a contender around them remains to be seen, but at least he's got the foundation, as well as cap space and draft picks, in place to do it.