Worries with the Wolves.
I’m trying to remain optimistic. Really I am. But 0-5 in games to improve the record above.500 hurts. 0-10 (1-18 if you want to go back further) in games decided by 4 points or less hurts even more. I understand that we aren’t even halfway through the season, but I already get a sense that this season may be a season of What If’s?
What if Love had made those free throws against Oklahoma City?
What if Pek had made the baseline hook against the Clippers?
What if Martin had made the shot against the Suns?
In the NBA the champions take those opportunities when they present themselves. Ask Ray Allen, he will tell you. So far this season the wolves have faltered when it matters most. Again on Wednesday, the wolves fumbled the ball, turned it over, and missed clutch shots against the suns (without arguably their best player) and it cost them. Collapsing in the last two minutes after leading by 9 late in the fourth. For fans, it was an eerie case of déjà vu from just a few days before, when Durant torched the wolves in the last quarter to drag the Thunder to a win after trailing by 16 in the last.
While there are plenty of positives so far this season (let’s be honest here- we should be rejoicing that we are even close to .500 and the playoffs after 8 years of misery) starting with Kevin Martin’s hot start, Kevin Love’s All Star play, and a decent record through a tough opening schedule, it still feels like things are slipping.
The Wolves are team of contradictions.
We are an inexperienced team, but we don’t have time to learn how to win.
We need to be winning now. While our core of Rubio, Love, Martin and Pekovic have only played 18 games together before this year, yet their ages are 23, 25, 30 and 28 respectively. The window for the wolves success (and keeping Love) is not very wide. Signing Kevin Martin, has given the Wolves another scorer, but not a guy who has the ability to create for himself at the end of games which we still miss. All good teams have a closer. A Tony Parker. A Kyrie Irving. A Steph Curry. A Damian Lillard. The wolves are still looking for that guy.
Rubio is one of the most dynamic PG’s in the game, but the easiest to defend at the end of games.
Rubio makes exciting plays all game long, sees passes and lanes that nobody else sees. The issue of course is that he can’t shoot. Nor can he can’t finish inside. So at the end of the game opponents sag off him into the lane and dare him to shoot or finish. David Lee highlighted this strategy the most emphatically, as he sagged into the passing lanes time and time again, picking passes he knew Rubio would try to make instead of attacking the rim. Bottom line, Rubio needs to get better at finishing at the rim, or outside shooting, or both.
The Wolves lead the league in steals but are dead last in Clutch Defensive Rating.
Everyone knew this team wasn’t going to be a defense first team. The wolves were always going to try to out-gun teams, but their hustle has been forcing turnovers (and fast break points). But the problem is deeper. No rim protection when Pekovic and Love are on the floor together. Dismal transition defense. Even worse perimeter shooting defense. THE WORST CLUTCH DEFENSIVE RATING (118.6 per 100)! It starts with Love. His one on one defense often involves hands at his side in an attempt to get out of the way or not foul. At times it appears he has no interest in contesting shots, but instead prefers to get position for a possible rebound. A questionable tactic.
The fastest starting team… and the worst finishing.
The Wolves lead the league, averaging 29 points in the first quarters, putting them in great positions to start games. And it gets better. The wolves rank 3rd in 2nd quarter points, and 1st in 3rd quarter points. Then sh*t hits the fan and it all changes by the time the 4th rolls around, as the Timberwolves are ranked 25th in the last, averaging a measly 22.8 points. Fatigue? Concentration? Clutch? Whatever the case the wolves will begin winning these games if they can even improve this by even a few points.
The wolves should still make the playoffs, sneaking into that final spot, but it’s going to be a tricky task in the tough Western Conference, and they will need some help from other teams. For now the Wolves desperately need to sort out their last quarter struggles. And maybe even more importantly, they need a leader to emerge, a Chauncey Billups or a Udonis Haslem, who may not be the best player on the team, but who commands respect, and knows how to take a young team forward. There is still plenty of reason for hope in the Twin Cities, but we don’t have a whole lot of time to play with. The wolves must be playing at the end of April.