Year-Round News & Updates on the Minnesota Timberwolves
The past week the Minnesota Timberwolves have been at the center of A LOT of criticism, from the local media and especially their fanbase. Is that criticism warranted? Y-E-S.
There's little doubt that this Wolves squad is the most talented they've been since the heyday of the KG/Latrell/Cassell days. I talked about this in the most recent gameday recap after a loss to the Raptors: the thing that makes this season so much different from the past 5-6 years is expectations.
I've always enjoyed watching the Wolves play, even when they were terrible with Darko Milicic as their starting center or when Corey Brewer was the best player on the team. However, the fact that this group can't get the expected results is quite deflating as a Wolves loyalist.
You've got three all-star caliber players in Kevin Love, Nikola Peković & Kevin Martin. Love is undoubtedly a Top 10 player in this League (a Top 5 in my opinion), Nikola was the recipient of a big 5-year $60million contract this summer and I worried at that time if he'd regress now that he'd been paid--I should've known that Pek isn't one to rest on any laurels, despite getting Kevin Love back from those hand injuries and adding more offensive firepower, Pek is still having the best season of his NBA career. Martin has had his ups and downs this season, but there's little doubt that he's the most talented shooting guard that the Wolves have had since Latrell Sprewell (and Martin may be even better--though that hasn't really been the case as of late).
When you look at this team 'on paper' you know that they should be an offensive juggernaut who probably won't have any Defensive Player of the Year candidates on the roster. They're an immensely talented bunch that should be a Western Conference playoff team.
One of the problem has been meshing all of these pieces together to find that 'well oiled machine' that can get the job done on a nightly basis. The Wolves have yet to find that and you can point to the fact that they haven't been able to string together any consecutive wins this season as a prime example. Minnesota's longest winning streak this year is a three-game winning streak. That's how they started the season 3-0 (with wins over Orlando, Oklahoma City & New York). The Wolves' longest losing streak of the year (as of 1/17) are two three-game losing skids: the first from 11/23-27 (Houston, Indiana, Denver) and the other from 1/12-17 (San Antonio, Sacramento, Toronto). If the Wolves fall to the Jazz tonight at the Target Center, they'll be on the longest losing streak of the season and you'll begin to hear a lot of talk about this being yet another 'lost season'.
Can the Timberwolves win with the roster as it's currently constructed? Yes. Can the Timberwolves win with the rotations as they're currently constructed? I don't think so. Anytime you're relying on J.J. Barea as your backup point guard--a player who is supposed to come in and provide a little offensive spark while getting his teammates involved, you're going to be disappointed with J.J. more nights than not. He's incredibly inconsistent and he tries to shoulder too much of the scoring load for that second unit. I can understand why he did it early in the year when the Wolves were without Chase Budinger, Dante couldn't get his mid-range jumper to fall and Alexey Shved was still a wreck, but now Chase is back, Dante looks like the player he did mid-season a year ago and Alexey Shved is playing like he did early in 2012-13 when he was the recipient of a lot of praise from the national media and a potential rookie of the year candidate (more as just a name on the list, because I think after the first month or two of the season, we knew Damian Lillard was the unquestioned ROY). With all these players playing better, there's little reason for J.J. to continue to try to do everything, but that's just his nature. He's a player who's going to look for his shot before finding an open teammate and 90% of the time that's not a good thing. Add to that his very, very poor perimeter defense and his 5'9" frame and it's really baffling to me why Adelman continues to play him. Especially when he's got a player on his bench that proved last season he's capable of running a second unit as the reserve point guard. A.J. Price had a career year in Washington last season and he was brought in as more of an insurance policy in case J.J. Barea got injured--like he has consistently during his Wolves career. However, through 39 games J.J. has yet to miss a single game. I almost find myself wishing Barea would have to sit out for one reason or another (I'm not wishing any kind of injury on him!!) simply so we could get a look at A.J. Price on the floor with Shved, Budinger, Cunningham & Turiaf.
Tonight's tilt vs. the Jazz is Minnesota's 40th game of the year and when the Wolves travel to Utah on 1/21 to face the Jazz again, that'll be their 41st game of the season and the official halfway point of the 82-game NBA season. With back-to-back wins over the Utah Jazz the Wolves can move to 20-21 on the year and get some much needed momentum going as they head into the second half of the season.
In my opinion, if the Wolves aren't 4-5 games above .500 before the All-Star break, they could be in some serious trouble. For the Wolves to be 5 games above .500 heading into the ASG, Minnesota needs to go 11-3 in their next 14 outings which would have them at 29-24 on the year. During that stretch, the Wolves have a lot of winnable games (Utah, New Orleans, Chicago, Denver) but they also have some tough matchups vs. Portland, Golden State, Oklahoma City & Houston.
Saying the Wolves will go 11-3 in their next 14 games is ludicrous, because we know that there's simply no way the team we've watched these past couple weeks is capable of a streak like that. However, the Wolves need to win the games they should (Utah, New Orleans, Chicago, Denver) and then look to steal one or two of those games against the juggernaut teams of the West.
It's all about finding that cohesiveness as a team and trusting in one another to get the job done. The Wolves look like a team that's not trusting one another and above all else they look like a team that's simply afraid to win. They're playing scared and they're playing 'not to lose'...the results speak for themselves.
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