Well there it is. First to worst in the course of 11 games. It was probably a little too much to ask that a Minnesota Timberwolves team have something that approaches a 'normal' season, but there they are: still rocking a mismatched roster with too many bad parts wrapped around an amazing nougaty core of goodness.
Let's start with the elephant in the room: Injuries.
Prior to the return of Kevin Love the Minnesota Timberwolves, your favorite professional basketball team, was sitting a grand total of 25.21 wins produced on its bench. Last season, Kevin Love, Ricky Rubio, Nikola Pekovic, Chase Budinger, and J.J. Barea had a WP48 average of .158 spread out over 7,000 minutes. That's a decent starting 5 on most nights. All gone.
While Love, Barea, and Pekovic have all made their way back into the lineup, the injuries continue to plague the backcourt, where Rubio, Budinger, and Brandon Roy are all unavailable to take over minutes from diminutive and poor defending players like Barea and Luke Ridnour, or horrible offensive players like Malcolm Lee. Having the nuts and bolts of the best starting frontcourt in the league doesn't seem quite so cool when the guards either can't keep anyone in front of them or can't score the damn ball. Maybe the Roy acquisition was a bigger gamble than anyone originally thought. Even someone like Alonzo Gee would be a welcome addition right now. Here's hoping that Bud can make an Adrian Peterson-esque recovery. His shooting, size, and position flexibility were all perfect fits on this squad and they need him in a bad way. Anywho...
The second elephant is the easy early schedule. The Kings (4-9), Raptors (3-10), Nets (7-4), and Magic (5-7) provided the Wolves with a springboard on which to build a nice foundation on their (then) decent size and length, surprisingly solid d, and excellent team ball movement. Then, Chicago.
Chicago was the last time we saw Chase Budinger. It was where the Brandon Roy surgery/it's-all-over-Johnny whispers began. The next game in Dallas saw Pek go down while running down the court. These quick turns of events turned two soft home games vs. Charlotte and Golden State into losses, and instead of looking at a healthy Love returning to a nicely-tested Andrei Kirilenko, Nikola Pekovic, Chase Budinger core that had landed the squad at 5-2 heading into a 3 game homestretch against Western Conference rivals, the Wolves...well, it's been 5 in a row headed in the wrong direction.
The Wolves are now losing games pretty much for a single reason: because of incredibly poor guard play. This poor play has reared its ugly head in two main areas: defense and shooting.
The team is sitting below league average in each and every single shooting statistic. The only thing they do well, and the only thing that is keeping them in games lately, is their ability to get to the line. After 11 games, the Wolves have taken 94 more free throws than their opponents, making 61 of them. 5.5 extra points per game is nothing to scoff at and it's the primary reason why the squad's Ortg/Drtg differential is anywhere close to being even.
Once Bud went down, the Wolves were pretty much left without any perimeter shooting threats.
To be fair, it isn't just Malcolm Lee, Alexey Shved, Luke Ridnour, and JJ Barea. The Wolves take 26.8 shots/game at the rim. This is a shot above league average after 11 games. However, they shoot 60.7% on these bunnies, which is 3 points lower than the league average (60.7%), which is not exactly where you want to be with Nikola Pekovic and Kevin Love on the roster.
Speaking of the big fella, Pek is shooting 50.5% on 2s, down from 56.4% last year.
Moving outward, the Wolves have thankfully given up on the no-man's land that was so popular here during the Reign of Rambis (and with Flip), taking nearly 4 shots/game fewer between 3-23 feet than the league average (30.8 vs. 34.6). Beyond the arc is where things get crazy. The Wolves not only take fewer 3s per game than the league average (18.4 vs. 19.7), their eFG on those attempts is nearly 10 points below what the rest of the league is able to shoot from the great beyond (43.9 vs. 52.5). That's straight up crippling in a league that is doing everything it can to shoot as many bunnies and 3s as humanly possible. It dwarfs everything else on the offensive side of the ball. The Wolves area straight up getting murdered from beyond the arc.
Team and Opponent Stats
-15 on 3 pointers is a tough thing to make up. Thank god for free throws, otherwise Our Beloved Puppies and their horrendous shooting would be getting drilled game after game after game after game (which is kind of happening right now).
The kicker here is that I'm not really sure what the team is supposed to do. While I'm completely opposed to wasting time, money, and effort on players like Josh Howard (although Tracy McGrady would be ok if they could pry him away from the CBL), I really don't know who they're supposed to bring on board with Roy eating up a roster spot and $5 mil. Trading Derrick Williams is pretty much the only good option they have right now and I'm not sure what they could even get for him. That being said, if I were the POBO I'd be on the horn to Orlando (J.J. Redick) or Phoenix (Jared Dudley) post haste.
There's really not much to break down when you have simple ratings that look like this:
If Bud was healthy and Rubio was back, they'd be rolling people. Instead, they're handing out way too many minutes to Malcolm Lee and Luke Ridnour...who are otherwise known as the starting backcourt.
Also, losing Bud really, really, really hurts. I'd almost rather have him back right away than Rubio. Having a guy with size who can shoot and play the 2/3 is exactly what this team needs right now.
- Andrei Kirilenko: Abrasive Ale. Simply the best, but you have to worry quite a bit about its availability.
- Kevin Love: Pubstitute. A workhorse that is also complex and able to perform at the very highest levels in a league where you just don't think that something with a 3.1% ABV can be any good.
- Chase Budinger: Size 7 Ale. So, so hoppy. Pours almost yellow and finishes nicely.
- Nikola Pekovic: Midnight Ryder. Nearly black. Light cannot escape it. Puts fear, awe, and tasty goodness into everything it touches.
- J.J. Barea: Divine Oculust. Not quite as good as you remember it being the first time you had it, but it still gets the job done.
- Dante Cunningham: Grain Belt Nordeast. The workhorse.
- Alexey Shved: A half full (finished?) glass of something that looks like a nice IPA. Is it good? Did someone with herpes drink the other half? Was it half poured or half drank? It could break a lot of different ways.
- Greg Stiemsma: Milwaukee's Best. And we mean that ironically, Wisconsin.
- Derrick Williams: Listerine Mouthwash. I know, you paid a lot of money for it but it just aint going to do the trick. It doesn't go well with fish, beef, or even veggies.
- Luke Ridnour: Sam Adams. It belongs in the cooler but there are better options.
- Josh Howard: Maui Wowee. We never forget.
- Brandon Roy: Dangerous Man Brewing. It sounds like a great idea but it is under construction.
- Lou Amundson: An empty bottle. Because both things have about an equal chance of making a free throw.
- Malcolm Lee: PBR. Something that is only ironically lovable.
- Getting something for D-Will. The writing has been on the wall since the 2011 Draft Night. Even if he's good, he's a 4 playing behind the best 4 in the league. Now add in AK47 and Dante Cunningham. Get rid of him ASAP. There is no corner to turn, no hoop to jump, no nothing. He plays the position of the team's best player and he's not very good. His value diminishes by the hour.
- No more Josh Howard-esque signings. Either trade for someone or sign someone out of the D-League.
- Can Pek and Love get a good rhythm going?
- Can they hit some 3s?
- Can they stay healthy? Seriously, that would be nice.
- Can they stay close to .500? They can't lose too many more games while hoping to stay in the mix at the end of the year. Not with Portland, Houston, Utah, and Phoenix staying afloat.