FanShot

Minnesota tops list of surprise teams

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Welcome back to the NBA, Minnesota. We missed you. Although the Timberwolves lost a tight one to the Memphis Grizzlies on Wednesday night, one of the takeaways from these opening days of the season is that Minnesota once again has a legitimate professional basketball team. Kevin Love has come back in better shape and looks like a bona fide superstar, nailing step-back 3s and ranking fourth in the NBA in PER. Rookie Derrick Williams looks like a long-term keeper, too; in fact, he has outplayed starter Michael Beasley and could get his job at some point. And then there's Ricky. Point guard Ricky Rubio has given new meaning to the term "Rickrolled," wowing fans and critics alike with his supernatural passing skills. He's averaging 10.1 dimes per 40 minutes and assisting on more than 40 percent of the possessions he uses; he's also playing solid defense and is helping on the boards. None of that comes as a big surprise, but this last, most important item is: He's making shots. Rubio is at 52.6 percent from the field with a 63.4 TS%, nearly double what his translated European stats led us to expect from him. And this is the part that bears watching. Two years ago, a rookie with poor shooting numbers in Europe took the NBA by storm, raining a torrent of 3s on unsuspecting opponents. His name was Brandon Jennings, and he regressed to his previous baseline pretty quickly. So let's not proclaim Ricky's shooting woes over based on 38 field goal attempts. But he doesn't have to shoot like this to be a star; he just has to be non-awful. The rest of his game is that good. So far, the signs in that department are really encouraging. As they are for the Wolves. Minnesota won only 17 games a year ago, but, if the Wolves ever stop playing Draft Failure Roulette at shooting guard, they might be a playoff team. They are a shocking 11th in defensive efficiency against a fairly difficult early schedule, and they have a positive scoring margin to boot. In fact, don't let that 2-4 record fool you; between their strong schedule and solid scoring margin, the Wolves rank 10th in my yet-be-released Power Rankings. I don't think they'll hold such a lofty perch all season, but just the fact they aren't in the bottom five has to have Wolves fans singing hallelujah (and New Orleans Hornets fans crying into their chicory coffee). As a result, Minnesota tops my list of early-season surprises -- teams with results we might not take fully at face value just yet but that have strong starts that deserve more scrutiny going forward.
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