Wolves fans, here's a look back at one of the unsung heroes of those 2003-2004 Western Conference-finalist Wolves, Trenton Hassell.
Remember that Garnett played his entire career in Minnesota prior to 2007. Despite his best efforts, those Wolves were bounced from the first round of the playoffs for seven straight years (1996-2003). Despite his tenacity, Garnett wasn’t given a supporting cast that could compete defensively. During the 2003-2004 season, in which the Wolves boosted their win total from 51 to 58 games and fought their way to the Western Conference Finals, Garnett finally had that cast. Here’s a look at the differences between those 2003 and 2004 rosters. This is where we see how the roster was finally assembled with a defensive-focus, one that allowed them to play their best in April and May:
- Replace Wally Szczerbiak with Latrell Sprewell. Szczerbiak’s injuries starting piling up in 2003. He played a mere 28 games, becoming a sixth-man during playoff time in 2004. Compared to Szczerbiak’s questionable defense, the mercurial (this adjective fits Sprewell better than perhaps any other NBA player of the last twenty years except for Marbury) Sprewell was sparked by Garnett’s intensity, and found the wing-stopping defense which had garnered him All-Defensive First-team votes in his second year (1994).
- Replace the lightning fast, but easily overmatched, Troy Hudson with the pesky, gritty Sam Cassell. Without analyzing it too deeply, anyone who remembers the Houston Rockets teams of the mid-1990’s knows that Cassell was not only a clutch shooter, but a true aggravation on defense.
- Replace the aging (34) Kendall Gill with the aggressiveness of Trenton Hassell (the poor man’s Bruce Bowen). During Hassell’s nine-year NBA career, he averaged a meager 5.8 ppg. However, he averaged more playoff minutes than Szczerbiak (26 to 25) because of his ability to hassle (sorry, couldn’t help it) Peja Stojakovic of the Kings in Round 2 and Kobe in the Western Conference Finals. In addition, Hassell’s biggest contributions came in the first three games of the second round series with Sacramento, during which the Wolves took a 2-1 advantage.
During the 2002-03 season, Minnesota finished 5th in offensive rating, but 16th in defense. The next year, with this rebuild roster, the Wolves remained at 5th offensively, but jumped up to 6th on defense.
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Thanks for reading,
Jonah (The Darko Index)