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Minnesota Timberwolves Mid-Season Review
It’s been a difficult year for Wolves fans. Again, I mean. All we do is lose, and if you’ve ever been a fan of a losing team, there’s only one thing to do: look for silver linings/moral victories/hope for the future. So that’s what we’ve done since late October. That, and marvel at Kevin Love and Michael Beasley’s production in the face of absolutely insurmountable adversity. We Wolves fans pray their competitive spirit isn’t crushed by all the defeats.
Here’s a player-by-player (relevant guys only) rundown of what’s been happening to this point in the season:
Luke Ridnour: People really didn’t like the guy initially, but Ridnour has proven effective in running the offense, and is especially vital now that shoulda-been starter Jonny Flynn’s glacial return to relevance is still in the “beginning of the middle of the middle” stages. He’s been a revelation in January, with a nice 15-point, seven-assist average for the month.
Wesley Johnson: It’s nice to have a draft pick that’s not foreign to the concept of playing defense (lookin’ at you, McCants). But for all his effort, Johnson hasn’t offered consistent-enough scoring to justify his draft position. We’ve seen development during the year, with evidence coming in the form of a glorious 19-point, three-rebound, four-assist outing versus Houston on January 24. He’s coming along, and certainly demanding playing time in a way Wayne Ellington never did last year. Johnson is clearly more than a shooter, and is learning how to score in a variety of ways.
Michael Beasley: There’s nothing not to love (double negative intended!) about Beasley’s scoring numbers this year. They were unexpected, and are greatly appreciated. What’s annoying is his tendency to settle for jump shots as a 6-foot-10 small forward. You’d think the guy would want to put “getting within 10 feet from the hoop” in his repertoire, but he refuses to do so on anything but an infrequent basis. Even more maddening are his shaky handles, which really become a problem if Beas has to put the ball on the floor more than two times. Defensively, he’s a problem, but with maturity and experience, he’s expected to improve quite a bit. Feels good to get an elite scorer for so cheap! Thanks again, Riles.
Kevin Love: I can’t think of any more superlatives to throw at Love than have already been hurled his direction, so I’ll just say he’s a fantastic offensive player, and a fantastic rebounder who’s having one of the best seasons that have ever been had by a power forward. What’s more, he’s developed a confidence and proficiency in his long-range game that’s astounding. His defensive deficiencies are many, and at his height he’ll probably struggle throughout his entire career when it comes to locking down the opposition. The hope is that the team will acquire a bruising, formidable center to shore up the interior, and that Love will excel in other areas to make up for poor defense.
Darko Milicic: The season has been kind of a roller coaster so far for Darko. He started out a pariah (as did GM David Kahn), then had some really excellent outings to quiet the critics, and now has fallen into a holding pattern where he’ll basically clean up Kevin Love’s leftovers. If the opposition is focused on stopping Love, Darko has a nice night. One thing that’s been consistent is blocked shots, however. He’s up to 2.33 a game, which ranks him third in the NBA. Last season, the Wolves didn’t have a shot-changing presence, so this is a welcome change. Darko’s offensive game has developed a bit this season too… his baby hook shot is far more refined, and he’s starting to limit the “wild running floaters off the backboard” as well. So that’s been good, along with the fact that his contract isn’t embarrassing anymore.
Corey Brewer: I don’t know what happened, but all of the sudden Brewer is producing after doing very little from October through December with similar minutes. Same thing happened last year though. He’s averaging 9.8 points with over two steals in January, while being lauded for very good defense. Basically, he’s gradually gained confidence, and his play has improved.
Nikola Pekovic: Despite some injury issues, Pekovic has been a solid “big” off the bench for Minnesota. He bangs down low, makes his bunnies and hits free throws. You’ll get no complaints from most fans, other than laments about his atrocious foul rate. Thankfully, the team rarely needs him for more 15-18 minutes a night. Because there’s no way in hell he’d last any longer.
Martell Webster: I like Webster’s bulky frame off the bench. It gives the second unit some brawn at the small forward spot. He’s been a decent scorer, but his minutes have waned as Coach Rambis has turned to Corey Brewer as a top guy off the bench.
Jonny Flynn: After promising a December return, Flynn hopped back-and-forth from the D-League a couple times before settling in the Twin Cities and proceeding to fail miserably. He’s been an absolute train wreck. Granted, things have looked slightly better of late, as his aggressive nature and vision have shown signs of returning. Chances are it took this long to shake off the “rust” that formed after hip surgery/rehab. The explosiveness isn’t quite there, but we’re all hopeful it will return before the end of the season.
Anthony Tolliver: I love Tolliver. He works hard, plays adequate defense and has good range for a guy his size and position designation. I really thought he’d be a hit on the Wolves, but Beasley and Love have been far too effective to give him much court time. I assume that as apathy sets in during the second half of the year that Tolliver might get a little more run.
There are no simple fixes; no quick patches to cure what ails the Wolves. They’re – in a basketball sense – very immature and undisciplined. The saving grace has been some much-needed star power, which makes the team eminently watchable as we fade into oblivion, and begin dreaming of a no. 1 pick in what might be the worst draft in years.