A Wing Away

Feb 19, 2012; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Minnesota Timberwolves forward Wes Johnson (4) shoots during the third quarter against the Philadelphia 76ers at the Target Center. The Timberwolves defeated the 76ers 92-91. Mandatory Credit: Brace Hemmelgarn-US PRESSWIRE

A wing away.  That’s all the Wolves need.  Competent play from the wing spot and the Wolves are likely playoff worthy.  In a full 82 game season, the Wolves point differential is that of a 45 win team.  They would easily qualify as the most improved team in the league.  There are three main differences in this years team and last years, despite virtually the same roster.

  1. Ricky Rubio- He’s easily the main reason, as the one thing the Wolves were lacking was competent point guard play.  Flynn had one of the worst seasons of any Wolf all time last year.  The upgrade from Flynn to Rubio has been substantial, and the number one reason for the teams improvement.  The fact that the team only added him, a 5-10 sparkplug guard, and the #2 pick who doesn’t even make the top three reasons, I think that shows how responsible he’s been for the team’s improvement.  Oh yes, and he’s only 21.
  2. Kevin Love’s improvement.  His attitude.  He knows he’s good, and put in the time to get better.  He lost the weight to handle the workload he’s received this year.  He’s gotten tougher, and dirtier.  He’s become more aggressive, demanding the ball in key situations.  It’s worked with game winners over the Clippers and Sixers, and his key play down the stretch has keyed wins in many of the team’s wins this year.  He does still have limitations, but he’s a top 10 player in the league and arguably the best PF in the league.
  3. Rick Adelman’s coaching.  The team’s improvement in defense is a start.  The slight improvement in turnovers.  He’s preached these two principles since day 1, and slowly they are being instilled in this young Wolves team.  While many trucks full of Glen Taylor’s money certainly helped, it seemed the desire to teach young players oozing with potential but lacking necessary leadership was a small part of the allure in taking the job.  Most have bought in, with Rubio being given the freedom to play his game, Love being instilled as the focal point of the offense, and many other Wolves showing marketed improvement in their games since last season under Rambis.  The team’s offensive efficiency has jumped from 24th to 16th, and defensively 27th to 13th.

Nikola Pekovic’s recent play has certainly made a case for 3b, but as a couple of January’s ago showed Wolves fans, one month doesn’t change everything.  I expect Pekovic to continue to play well, but if he stays at his February level, watch out.  I hope he can, but expect a small drop more along the likes of his translated Euro stats of around 18/8 per 36 minutes.  A good chunk of his success is probably attributed to Rubio’s ability to run pick and roll with him, but he’s a smart player who knows his game and doesn’t stray from it.  You’ll never seem him shooting jump shots or anything like that.

Unfortunately, for reason’s that seem to escape myself and most other fans, is the team’s desire to continue to give Wes Johnson minutes in hopes he puts it together.  While there isn’t a much better alternative, ANYTHING would be an improvement over what he brings to the table.  He’s four years older then Rubio is, and the Wolves should by know in the total amount of minutes he’s played, realize its time to move on from Wes Johnson.  He’s a failed pick.

While there were options to fill this void this season, be it making plays for Rudy Fernandez or even old friend Corey Brewer, the team opted against it.  With Pekovic seemingly solidifying the center spot, its the wings at SF and SG that need improvment.  SF is likely easier then SG in house, but a strong SG or SF needs to be addressed and brought in either at the deadline or the offseason.

——–

In other news, Lakers have expressed interest again in Michael Beasley.  There seems more truth to this rumor then the previous one of Derrick Williams and others for Gasol that sprung up earlier.  One though wouldn’t be surprised if both of these were potentially combined if they ever actually happen.   Beasley finally seems to be settling into his sixth man role, playing more efficiency on both sides of the ball.  I don’t think he’s in the team’s long term plans, but if its just Beasley for cap space/filler, I’m not sure I wouldn’t look around elsewhere first.

The loss to the Nuggets was a tough one.  Unfortunately, work prevented me from catching all but the last half of the fourth quarter and overtime.  Even that was distracted by finishing up some paperwork, so I never got to into the game.  The only things I could pull away was:

  • The only logical reason I could find with Webster going in for the dunk was he was hoping for an and one.  That’s it, and still, the pull up had to be the play.
  • Both teams looked tired on the heels of a back to back, and it showed down the stretch and in overtime.  Poor shooting and ugly basketball marred the end of what was actually a competitive looking game.
  • Another poor shooting/high turnover night for Rubio.
  • Beasley with a very solid game off the bench.
  • For all those shocked by Ridnour’s missed layup off what ended up being a well designed play, we must remember his finishing stats around the rim have always been among the worst in the league, with him only shooting 47% last year in close.  Ridnour’s game is midrange and pick and roll.
  • Hope Pek’s ankle injury isn’t too serious.

This was a winnable game, but ultimately tiredness and sloppy play ruined what would have been a nice 4 game win streak.  They’re back under .500 again, somewhere they’ll likely dance with all season, or until they upgrade their wing position.

Topics: Kevin Love, Michael Beasley, Nikola Pekovic, Rick Adelman, Ricky Rubio, Wes Johnson

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