As we trudge forward through the month of December, one thing about this year’s Minnesota Timberwolves team has been made abundantly clear: they don’t play a particularly pretty brand of basketball.
Our friends over at Canis Hoopus last week wrote an excellent piece about how to enjoy this Minnesota Timberwolves unit. In it, they also highlighted all of the frustrating aspects of the team that makes some of us inwardly cringe and others openly rant about the displeasure caused by viewing this year’s squad.
Coaching blunders, slow and disorganized offensive play, defensive lapses and uncomfortable amounts of hero ball from stars are all culprits for this unhappiness in some way. There has been no shortage of points to complain about and no real appearance of solutions to these complaints that gave hope for rapid progress. The combinations of these things have become unnerving to Timberwolves faithful, and for good reason. But searching for ways to appreciate this version of the Wolves is vital for the collective sanity of the fanbase.
How do wins become “ugly”?
For 13 years, Wolves fans have craved and clamored to anything resembling competent basketball. There have been enough obscure names and hapless wannabes on Timberwolves’ teams over the last decade to make even the most plugged-in basketball experts wonder if they’re reading actual NBA basketball rosters or some sort of comedic character list for a movie that was never released. This extended torture that we’ve been forced to endure should be propelling us forward into consuming all forms of winning with great pleasure.
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But, somehow, the 2017-18 Timberwolves have found a way to trick us into refusing contentment when being given triumphant basketball.
The way in which they’ve done it is fascinating. Rational people would think that the only way wins could be ugly for someone claiming to be a Wolves fan is if the offense was terrible, but the defense won them plenty of low-scoring slugfests that make the eyes bleed. This has been the furthest thing from the case.
The Timberwolves currently sit fifth in the NBA in offensive rating with a mark of 108.4, trailing only offensively stacked teams in the Golden State Warriors, Houston Rockets, and Cleveland Cavaliers (with the Toronto Raptors sitting in fourth). Their defense has bordered between the classifications of “just pretty bad” and “absolutely atrocious” for much of the year, as the Wolves now sit at 24th in the league in defensive rating.
What does this lead to? Typically it means that fans are gifted to many high scoring affairs where they witness the Wolves outscore their opponents with high-flying theatrics and talent-based firepower.
This, however, is unfortunately far from the actual case.
The Timberwolves rank just 21st in the league in pace of play at 98.29 possessions per game, which lends itself to less open floor plays and, in turn, less aesthetically pleasing contests. On top of that, Minnesota’s fourth quarter clumsiness compound matters in a way that creates nightly migraines for followers of the team. Wolves’ fans are treated on a gamely basis to constantly hearing assistant coach Andy Greer bellowing “GREEN” like a New Yorker in rush hour traffic, urging his players to do something other than stand around until the waning shot clock forces a desperate heave from whichever guy has the ball.
This assortment of things accumulates into a flurry of frustration and perplexity when it comes to analyzing how we view this team, which is entirely understandable. The next question though is how do we solve this irritation?
Embracing the ugly.
Ah, yes, back to the original headline of this piece.
The frustrating, yet completely endearing, thing about being a fan of a professional sports organization is that you have absolutely zero say in how things are done from a strategic standpoint. As much as we protest Tom Thibodeau’s minutes distribution, grumble about Andrew Wiggins lack of outward emotion, or nag how stagnant the late game offense looks, the truth is we have no impact on actually fixing any of these problems.
However, what we can do is somehow embrace the ugliness with which the Timberwolves play.
In whatever way you slice it; Minnesota is 16-12 and currently sits in fourth place in the Western Conference. If that sentence was uttered to any Wolves fan before the season started as to where their team would sit one-third the way through the year, I think they would be pretty satisfied with it.
Almost every significant NBA franchise has a distinct style with which they play. The Golden State Warriors have their free-flowing play and incredible shooting. The Houston Rockets have their relentless three-point heaves and analytics-driven philosophy. The Cleveland Cavaliers have their uniquely spaced offense ran by the best player in the world.
The Wolves are not like these teams when it comes to satisfying the eye test. However, they do have a style that has potential to be effective, even if it doesn’t always look attractive.
Think more along the lines of the Grit-and-Grind Memphis Grizzlies (R.I.P.) of the last decade or so. The Timberwolves do not sport the same sort of suffocating defense or veteran-laden roster, but they do resemble this example in the form of finding ways to come out on top even if the wins don’t feel quite as nourishing.
I’m not telling anybody that his or her complaints about the Timberwolves are unwarranted. I’m also not saying that the brand of basketball the Timberwolves are currently playing is a sustainable style if they want to get past the first round of the playoffs. All I’m saying is that if Wolves fans want to extract any sort of pleasure out of this year’s team, they must embrace the fact that things just aren’t going to be very pretty.
So try and enjoy every Jimmy Butler clutch shot that comes as he has a defender draped all over him and the floor is poorly spaced. Take solace in the fact that the Wolves will hardly ever let a deficit become bigger than five points in the 4th quarter, but understand that with skill comes an inability to ever extend a lead to more than five points in the final frame as well. Enjoy that the law of averages from the last dozen years is allowing the Timberwolves to lead the league in wins decided by six points or less. Embrace it. Bask in it. Appreciate it.
Because when it comes to winning basketball games as a Minnesota Timberwolves fan, being picky doesn’t seem to make a whole lot of sense.