With the season getting under way ETB is taking time to check in with the bottom feeders of the Western Conference. As a combination of freezing rain and snow turns to ice on the fertile ground of our Midwest, we present to you the Minnesota Timberwolves: my hometown squad and the fourth-worst team in the Western Conference.
The Minnesota Timberwolves
2007-08 Record: 22-60, 13th in the West
2008-09 Salary: $64,728,383
As regular readers know, I have a love/hate relationship with the Wolves. Since Tom Gugliotta left the love affair has been monoamorous. Until two years ago my love of the Wolves was because of one man: Kevin Garnett. And since his departure, the love has mainly been for the man who replaced him: Al Jefferson. Big Al is one of the most prolific and skilled offensive post players in the NBA. He’s a true banger who possesses perhaps the most unstoppable and polished low-post footwork in the league and he crashes the glass as well. Some question if Jefferson is a true franchise player, but when playing his natural power forward position he’s a true difference-maker.
From a personality perspective you have to love Al as well. He’s got drive and a throwback blue-collar attitude that’s as sincere as it is refreshing. He punches in at the office every day and goes to work, and off the court his work ethic means the sky is the limit for the 6-10 23-year-old. Jefferson’s passing and defense are still sub-par, but there’s little doubt the young man is a star.
Minnesota’s roster also features an impressive assortment of very young (if flawed) role players with room to grow. Starting with the guards, 24-year-old Randy Foye, discussed below, has all the tools to be a quality starting point in this league. Also 24 years of age, shooting guard Rashad McCants is a pure scorer who, when his head is in the game, can light things up off the bench. 23-year-old point Sebastian Telfair has matured and developed into a quality pass-first backup point last season, despite the fact that he can’t shoot the ball. And Mike Miller, while the elder statesman at 28, is one of the premier three-point marksmen in basketball.
Joining Jefferson up front 22-year-old forward Corey Brewer is offensively challenged but he was the best perimeter defender in the 2007 draft class and has shown an ability to run the floor in the early going. 25-year-old bruiser Craig Smith is a brick outhouse who hustles and can bang with anybody under the rim, though he’s undersized even listed at a generous 6-7. 26-year-old Ryan Gomes is versatile and professional and plays with a basketball IQ beyond his years, but doesn’t excel in any phase of the game. Finally rookie Kevin Love is an offensively skilled 20-year-old who stands 6-10 and possesses good range, proficiency on the glass and strong passing skills. Unfortunately Love is unathletic, out of shape, largely redundant with Al Jefferson and, well, not O.J. Mayo, the player he was in essence traded for on draft night.
The Bad and the Ugly in the Twin Cities after the jump…
Photo Credit: Icon SMI
The Bad and the Ugly:
All of the players mentioned in the Good section above come with a caveat. Be it size, defense, shooting ability or passing skills, they all have flaws. There isn’t a complete player on this roster. The one guy who is supposed to be complete is Randy Foye, but he’s not there yet. And for Timberwolves fans the biggest cause for concern so far this season is the lack of development, and even regression, of Foye. After missing a bulk of last season due to injury Foye came on strong down the stretch, leaving some (me) to think he might make that draft-night swap for Brandon Roy look a little less embarrassing. But while Roy has been dropping daggers, Foye has looked lost on both ends of the floor. It’s been so bad that instead of emerging as a franchise cornerstone he’s been removed from the starting lineup.
Foye isn’t the only one who struggles on defense. Last season Minnesota allowed 102.37 points per game, the 21st highest total in the NBA. Their opponents shot a staggering 47.2% from the field, the 4th highest opponents’ field-goal percentage in the league. So far the defensive numbers are nearly identical this season, and that goes on everybody. Nobody on this roster pulls their weight on that end, starting with Big Al. Of course, the fact that he’s being asked to play out of position at center only exacerbates things (What do you mean?).
The slipshod defense coupled with the lack of a go-to playmaker in the clutch makes Minnesota one of the absolute worst teams in the league at closing out games. Scratch that, the worst. It was on full display in the double-overtime loss to San Antonio last week that saw Tony Parker drop a career-high 55 points and the Timberpups choke away the lead over and over. Al Jefferson does his best, but as a post player and mediocre free-throw shooter he can only do so much and is constantly double teamed.
The hardest pill to swallow for Wolves fans isn’t the youthful mistakes on the floor though. It’s that the franchise is still being run by the dumb, dumber and dumberer triumvirate of Glen Taylor, Kevin McFail and Randy Wittman. I won’t bother to list all of McHale’s draft-night blunders from over the years (see the season preview), but two of his trades from the last three drafts could come to define this franchise for years to come. The first was flipping Brandon Roy for Randy Foye two years ago and the second was swapping O.J. Mayo for Kevin Love and friends this year. Mayo and Roy look like potential franchise players. Foye and Love do not.
But don’t worry about McHale’s job security, absentee and irresponsible team owner Glen Taylor refuses to hold him accountable. And McHale keeps the chain of idiocy and lack of accountability going by sticking with Randy Wittman on the sidelines, a man who is roundly outcoached nightly, refuses to develop young talent, seems to be reinventing his rotation each game and doesn’t have the respect of his players.
Until these three go, it could be ugly in Minnesota for a while – despite Big Al’s best efforts.
– Sometimes Love Hurts – Minnesota Timberwolves 2008-09 Season Preview
– Why Kevin McHale Still Doesn’t Get it and Kevin Love Won’t Fit in Minnesota
– Minnesota Timberwolves Star Al Jefferson Thinks 20 and 10 Isn’t Enough