Okay, so our favorite professional basketball team just lost five games in a row, including three in row with its best player back from injury. Worse, all five losses came at the hands of beatable teams - Golden State twice, Charlotte, Denver (the toughest opponent, but it was still winnable until the 4th quarter), and Portland. The ball has stopped moving on offense, the defense allows guards to do whatever they want, and we're all holding our breath hoping the team isn't rocked by yet another injury. The team stands two games under .500 after a promising and scrappy start, and this is supposed to be the easy part of the schedule.
Things are looking bad right now.
But! As with all things, there are reasons for optimism. It's true! Don't believe me? Well that's okay, I've compiled this handy list for spirit-raising purposes.
Ricky Rubio is coming back soon. Ricky Rubio is coming back soon. Ricky Rubio is coming back soon.
This was my mantra in the 4th quarters of the last two games, and it continues to be my mantra still. There is nothing this team is struggling with that can't be solved with a careful application of a strong dose of Unicorn. Opposing point-guards going off every game? Throw a little Unicorn on it. Passing stagnant? A dash of Unicorn will spice things up and move that ball. Need defense? Unicorn. Need ball handling? Unicorn! Need above average back-court play? What aren't you getting? UNICORN! He'll be back soon.
Kevin Love isn't 100% yet.
Currently he is shooting 40% from the field, 18.8% from three, and 64.7% from the line. For reference, his career averages are 45.6%, 36.8%, and 81.9% respectively. Uh, I think his hand is still bothering him. He's also looked winded at the end of games, and his defense has been worse than normal. I have a feeling these things will improve.
On the other hand, he's getting to the free throw line at a career high level (11.3 FTAs per game compared to a 5.9 career average) and the good news about this admittedly small sample-size is that it could be sustainable. His FTAs have increased fairly dramatically every season he's been in the league (4.1, 4.6, 6.8, 8.4, 11.3) and there is good reason to believe he's only just starting to get super-star calls. This bodes very well for his ability to score points for our offense deprived squad once his shooting percentages start to come up. He'll get better. And even if he was 100% already...
Kevin Love needs time to adapt to his new teammates, and they need time to adapt to him.
It has been particularly baffling since Love has come back to see the full-team efforts of the Wolves' games without him on both offense and defense evaporate. My theory is that Wolves players kind of relaxed when Love returned to action - perhaps subconsciously telling themselves they didn't have to work as hard to move the ball and play defense because Love was back. He'll score for us, they said to themselves. He'll rebound our misses. He'll end their offensive possessions with defensive rebounding. He'll save us.
Well, that's not the way it's worked out in reality, and with any luck three straight losses with their best player actually playing might convince them to up their game again and start to move without the ball on offense and start playing good team defense. On the flip side of the coin, Love being unable to win games by himself might convince him to trust Kirilenko more and humble him enough to contest shots rather than get in position for the rebound. In any case, Love's integration into the team concept is nothing I don't trust Adelman to figure out given enough time. This will get better.
The Timberwolves haven't had a new injury in five whole games.
That's got to be some kind of record.
Alexey Shved will continue to improve.
He's been a relative non-factor the last few games, but don't expect him to be held down forever. His shooting has been... inconsistent so far this season, but he's shown much better shooting ability overseas, so I expect this to improve as he gets more comfortable in the NBA, especially when offense is created for him, rather than the team is relying on him to create all of the offense. Speaking of which, he's shown the ability to create offense better than anyone else on the roster so far, and his capability to drive and create layups for himself in traffic is elite. He may not be a large factor right now, but he'll improve as the season wears on, and don't be surprised to see him win a few games with late-game heroics when the stakes are higher. He thrives on pressure, and he'll be better.
Williams, Barea, and/or Ridnour are still valuable trade chips.
Well, for now anyway. VoodooMagic is busy spinning his trade machine, and I'm quite sure Kahn is spinning his real-life trade machine, and hopefully some depth can be added only at the expense of expendable assets. Names like JJ Redick and Jared Dudley are being floated by the community, which would add much needed shooting to the roster, and there are plenty of other available players who could help the team right now. Such a move could be just around the corner.
In addition to the players mentioned above, our draft picks might be more valuable now than at the end of the season, since most of the public and GMs in the league would likely underrate the Wolves final record, making our picks theoretically higher than they might actually be at the end of the season. Kahn has some chips to work with without damaging the core or long term prospects in the team. The Wolves may get better this way. But even if it doesn't...
The team's biggest problem areas can be addressed by players already on the roster.
Namely, outside shooting, back court defense, and offense creation. I've already talked a little about the second problem in the Rubio section, but the player who would address our needs most is already on the team: Chase Budinger. Everyone knows he's a sharpshooter, but he's underrated as a cutter and ball handler, and while his defense is only average, it's worlds better than the Barea/Ridnour shit-sandwich of back court defense. Once Rubio and Bud are back, the vast majority of the Wolves' most glaring problems are suddenly solved. That's not even to mention if we can extract anything from Brandon Roy's corpse, who was an excellent facilitator (if nothing else) before he had his last surgery. Sure it'll be a few months before Bud is back, but his absence is inherently temporary. I guess what I'm saying is that I'd rather have an injured Budinger than a healthy Wes Johnson. It's harder to find a good player to space the floor than it is to simply wait for your injured floor-spacer to come back. He'll be back, if not soon, at least before we're out of playoff contention.
It can't get much worse.
Well, there's that of course. It's hard to imagine continuing to lose in the most excruciating way possible for the rest of the season. I don't think we'll lose five in a row again for the rest of the season. There's nowhere to go but up.
So! I hope this has been informative and enlightening to you. I know that spending the time to think of these reasons for optimism has made me feel better. Let me know in the comments if you have other good reasons to be optimistic going forward, or if you think I'm deluding myself.