Do you remember when our whole team would stand in place on the court and watch Al Jefferson play the post? Big Al would get the ball down low and every other Timberwolves player would simply stop playing basketball. The other team’s players, momentarily shocked that counterparts had ceased movement, would regain their composure and wreak havoc on our static team. It wasn’t Al’s fault so much, after a while his teammates just decided it was easier for him to work his magic in the post than for them to try to run an offense. Last night’s game against the Thunder without Kevin Love and Nikola Pekovic made me wonder if the Timberwolves are again doing that same thing again with Love (and to a lesser extent Pekovic), but this time psychologically.
Obviously there is more dynamic movement going on away from the ball so they aren't physically standing on the court watching Kevin play, but could it be possible that they are psychologically watching Kevin Love try to win basketball games? This is Kevin’s team; he is the undisputed best and most important player on the team. This franchise has no culture of winning whatsoever especially in the last almost decade and a streak of bad injuries luck the last few years have kept the team from regaining any sense of that winning culture. If anyone is going to make the Timberwolves better, it will be Kevin Love. Right?
I used to work in the church and one of the most frustrating aspects of working in a church was the transference of responsibility and belief that happened from the average member of the congregation to the pastors. The role of the pastor often becomes one that believes and works on behalf of the people in their congregation. Effectively the role of the pastor often allows the members of the congregation to bear the weight of belief in God or the weight of belief that God is not there. The pastor shields the individual from the need to confront their disbelief and therefore nothing ever really changes. Many people in churches exist not really believing in what is said up front but not really doing anything about their disbelief either. Similarly, I wonder if Kevin Love effectively shields the other players from owning up to their need to be a part of winning basketball games.
I wonder if the role that Kevin Love plays right now, to no fault of his own, is to allow the individual "less important" players on the team to neither confront their ability to positively contribute to a win nor their inability to positively affect the outcome of the game. Do the other Timberwolves players simply believe that if they are going to win it will be because Kevin Love has a really great game, not due to their own performance?
Last night against the Thunder those other players who have possibly been hiding under the shadow of Kevin Love were forced to play basketball. They couldn’t watch Kevin Love try to win the basketball game because Kevin Love wasn’t on the court. It was just them and the best team in the league and if they didn’t play the full capacity crowd and everyone watching at home would see that the whole time they had been simply pretending to play basketball with the big boys. And last night it seemed for the first time this season that many Timberwolves players believed that their play would affect the outcome of the basketball game.
Ricky Rubio led this team. Let me say that again, Ricky Rubio led this team. We all know he is a leader. He is one of the most natural leaders ever to wear a Timberwolves jersey. He has just never had to lead while Kevin Love is active. Dante played like a man escaping from an inferno and effectively changed the opinions of his current season by most Timberwolves fans. Alexey Shved was aggressive and seemed like he cared that basketball was happening around him; he even joined in. Muhammad had an extremely active six minutes. Gorgui was so excited to make a difference that he put the ball in the wrong basket at the end of the third quarter.
John Hollinger’s automated power rankings at ESPN have the Wolves as the sixth best team in the league (recently higher) while our record indicates us to be the 18th best team in the league. Obviously there is a disconnect between how good this team should be and how good their record is showing them to be. Many people have pointed to the last minutes of games as our problem but I think the problem is much deeper and much more psychological than being able to hit shots at the end of the game. This team needs everyone to believe that they can contribute to winning games. Last night they played like their performance mattered to the team and to winning. And for a good chunk of the game it looked like that was enough. It wasn’t.
This team needs Kevin Love to win. But Kevin Love needs this team to believe in their ability to positively affect the game so that they can win together. Here’s to hoping that the Loveless Wolves realized in the 35 minutes and 59 seconds (thanks Gorgui) that they stood toe-to-toe with the best team in one of the toughest conferences in NBA history, that they can compete without Love, and if they compete with Love they can be the team that the ghost of John Hollinger believes they are.