Lovin’ The Timberwolves: How Minnesota might actually be good very soon

Posted: January 16, 2011 in NBA
Tags: , , , , , ,

See this article with photos on Bleacher Report

I never really stop and consider the Minnesota Timberwolves.  Honestly, they are pretty much a faceless NBA team that just happens to be there to me.  They’ve been really bad low these past five or six years, but even before that, they weren’t exactly relevant.  The Kevin Garnett years, with that one Sprewell-Cassell led run as an exception, saw the Wolves as first round fodder year after year.  It was big news if they won a single playoff game, let alone a series. Not high on anyone’s radar.

Kevin Love has brought a lot of attention their way this season for his absurd rebounding prowess.  He’s scoring 20+ a night, too.  He’s got a shot to be the league’s first 20 point, 15 rebound player in 28 years.  Moses Malone was the last back in the ’82-83 season.  Love, who’s only 22 years old, has already had his name attached to Malone earlier this season by putting up a 30-30 game on the Knicks.  That’s pretty impressive so far for a guy on a team I generally barely acknowledge exists.

Then there’s Michael Beasley.  Lost, confused and run-down trying to play sidekick to Dwayne Wade in Miami, losing a lot of the promise he showed at Kansas State with that freshman year 26 and 12 he put up.  For comparison’s sake, the year before, a kid at Texas named Kevin Durant put up 25 and 11.  Texas is in the Big 12, too.  But while Beasley languished with the “bust” label drifting around him in Miami, Durant has become widely recognized as one of top few players in the league, and probably the world.  This past off-season, Beasley and his baggage were dumped onto Minnesota for a bag of corn chips and a few extra dollars to pay for some real superstars.

But wait, now that he no longer has Dwayne Wade’s brilliance crushing him with every missed shot, Beasley is looking more relaxed and confident.  He’s pouring in 21 a night to go with six boards.  Maybe the bust label was a bit premature for Beasley, who only turned 22 last week.

One of the more interesting reclamation projects has been Darko Milicic, who will forever be stained with the inability to live up to enormously unfair expectations of being picked ahead of Carmelo Anthony, Dwayne Wade, Chris Bosh, etc, etc.  In case anyone hasn’t noticed, and odds are, you haven’t, Darko’s been playing like an actual NBA center this season.  He’s getting consistent minutes, scoring a little at nearly 10 a night, pulling down close to six rebounds (a number that is likely lower than it would be were it not for the rebounding machine also playing in the Wolves front court.  But best of all, he’s blocking shots at a career high rate, and is actually fourth in the league, ahead of a notable multiple defensive player of the year from Orlando.

Is it possible that everyone jumped on Darko too soon because he happened to be unlucky enough to be the one guy picked at the top of a draft that was filled with superstars?  After all he’s been through over seven years in the league, he is still only 25 years old and just now coming into his prime.  How many teams in the league would like to have a center who blocks a lot of shots, pulls down some rebounds, and scores in double figures in 20-25 minutes of work?  I don’t think there are many who would turn that down, not successful ones, anyway.

But even still, the Wolves remain irrelevant.  They are 10-31 this season, a brisk half a game ahead of Sacramento for the worst record in the Western Conference.  Sure, Love is a great story.  Beasley and Darko finding measures of respectability after previous high-profile failures is nice and all, but why should I pay attention to these guys?  They’re still bottom feeders.

Well, there are some reports floating around that, possibly, there might be a trade in the offing that brings O.J. Mayo back to the team that originally drafted him.  Mayo is a shooting guard who appeared, at least last season, to be on the rise.  His fist two seasons, he scored about 18 a night with three assists, and shot at a reasonable percentage for an off guard.  This year, though, he’s fought with Memphis coach Lionel Hollins, has seen his minutes cut way back, and his game along with it.  His name has been floating around in trade talks for quite a while, and it is widely thought that he will be moved before the trade deadline.

Minnesota has been attached, perhaps more than any other team, to going after Mayo.  The T’wolves have a dark hole at shooting guard, with Corey Brewer, rookie Wes Johnson and Trailblazer washout Martell Webster filling the role.  Webster is the only one of three scoring in double figures.  Mayo, who, by the way, is all of 23 years old, immediately would give them a guy who could take the position and run with it, like Love and Beasley have done in the frontcourt.  There’s a suggestion that yet another draft bust, center Haseem Thabeet could be included with Mayo.  If we’re making this a theme, why not?  Thabeet, who will turn 24 in February, will likely never have the offensive skills to be a great, or even starting NBA player.  But he’s quick, long and if he ever figures things out, could be a menace blocking shots.

That would still leave a gaping hole at the point guard position.  Johnny Flynn showed flashes during his rookie year, but he’s not the guy to fill this spot.  Ricky Rubio is.  Rubio, who is 20 years old, has been progressing overseas from most reports.  You never really can tell about these European guys until they get over here, but I look at a guy like Brandon Jennings.  Looking at just his numbers and performance during his year overseas, would anyone have expected he would emerge in the NBA as he has?  While we don’t really know how good Rubio is or could be, we do know that he’s got far more potential than anyone else Minnesota’s reasonably got a shot at landing for that position.

It’ll be tough to get Rubio in a Wolves uniform, what with the potential lockout, changes in the collective bargaining agreement that could make it much more lucrative for Rubio to remain overseas, and then there’s the Minnesota issue.  Why would Rubio want to play in an irrelevant NBA backwater?  Who says he won’t try to force his way to a city with brighter lights.  I hear the Lakers may need a new point guard pretty soon.  All told, it’s probably a bit of a longshot that Rubio ever plays for Minnesota.

But let’s say that GM David Kahn figures out a way to make it happen and he does, take a look at this team for a minute.  Power forward Kevin Love, small forward Michael Beasley, center Darko Milicic and maybe Haseem Thabeet, shooting guard O.J. Mayo and running the show, point guard Ricky Rubio.  All six of these guys are 25 or younger, all six of them have had or still have large upsides to their games.  Beasley, Mayo and Rubio, in particular, may not have ceilings, or at least very, very high ones.

All of a sudden, this may be a team that isn’t so irrelevant anymore.  It would be nice to have a better center, even if Darko has been useful of late, for a change.  Hey, Greg Oden’s gonna be a free agent.  Minnesota could set a new precedent here.  The Miami Heat took team-building to a new level by cleaning out virtually their entire roster at once and signing the biggest names possible.  The T’Wolves could do it by taking other teams’ young and talented disappointments and give them a chance to grow, hopefully with a new-found appreciation of their opportunities after experiencing failure at the highest levels.

The NBA is a win-now league.  Not all players are suited to step right on the court and be LeBron James.  Sometimes, it takes time and a little nurturing to reach success.  Minnesota is never going to be a prime destination attracting  the best the league has to offer.  But every year, there are talented players available who just didn’t work out somewhere else for one reason or another.  There may even big a bigger upside is taking that route than the draft.  Minnesota got a much better player in Beasley than anyone that second round pick they gave up for him would have netted them.

Maybe sometimes, the after-market players are the way to build.  Especially if you’re an NBA nobody.

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