January 12, 2010
There are certain things you want to work in this league, because it reinforces your ideal (no matter how unrealistic it is) that any situation rife with potential could work out quite ably should the participants do their best to make things work.
With the right roster, the right coaching staff, and the right attitude, a pairing involving Kevin Love(notes) and Al Jefferson(notes) could work. There would be defensive limitations, to be sure, but that's why we throw in the "roster" caveat. At point guard, 1994-era Gary Payton(notes). At small forward, 1994-era Scottie Pippen. At shooting guard ... you get the idea.
As it stands, the Minnesota Timberwolves do not have the right roster. As it stands, the coaching staff (while rife with as much potential as the forward tandem they toss out every night) still has so, so much to learn on the fly. And the attitude?
I'd like to think Kevin Love and Al Jefferson have the right attitude. They're certainly saying the right things. And while Jefferson is charged with having to shoot 15 times a game (at absolute minimum) so as to not hurt his team, I still think, from what I've seen, these guys are attempting to play the right way.
But it's been a rough start. And while the stats tell us that things are working (look at the plus/minus of various Love/Jefferson-involved five man units), you could be forgiven for thinking that things aren't working.
What you can't be forgiven for, is losing patience.
Well, you can be forgiven for that. You want to win, you want to win now despite stated rebuilding plans, and you get to run your own team (trades, hirings, firings, uniforms, everything!). I can understand losing sight of the real goal.
I can't forgive it, though, for reasons included in the opening paragraph.
It's early. Timberwolves? You drafted a point guard last June that may not deign to play in this league for years. You drafted another point guard that, down 15 and coming out of a timeout, you either draw a play for or allow to walk up to a three-point shot with 20 seconds on the shot clock. David Kahn? You took this gig knowing that your immediate cornerstones would be two 6-8ish power forwards that were going to have to learn how to play at the same time.
You should have also taken this job knowing that size doesn't matter, when the production is so, so significant.
And the production?
Kevin Love is averaging 15.6 points and 12.5 rebounds in just under 32 minutes. And 2.7 assists (or 1.3 assists fewer, per game, than your starting point guard). Those are ridiculous numbers, for a man in his prime. Much less a guy who turned 21 four months ago and is playing with a Power Glove on his strong hand.
Cackle all you want about PER, but he's 12th in the league. His rebounding, per the amount of rebounds available with him on the court, is virtually identical to Dwight Howard(notes). He's not only a franchise player, but he's a top-notch franchise player.
Al Jefferson? I'm not ready to give up on a guy who just turned 25, is a year removed from averaging 23 and 11, and is (please say it with me, because it will help the others remember) 11 months removed from tearing his ACL.
Modern science is a lovely thing, what with the measles and mumps and rubella going away, and while players can come back from ACL tears to be as good as new, it still takes a while. It takes, at least, a year, even if you're playing at a professional level just nine months removed from tearing the damn thing.
Jefferson is averaging 18 and nine rebounds as it is, looking absolutely nothing like he looked last year, and looking exactly how he looked in 2005-06. When he was dealing with nagging ankle injuries that limited his effectiveness. When people wrote him off as another Danny Ainge brain-teaser. Two years later, of course, he would be averaging 21 and 11 points at the tender age of 23.
It's early. It's so, so early. And while I fully submit to hoping this works out more than thinking this will work out, 2009-10 is not the time to give up on the sort of low posts studs that 80 percent of all teams clamor for (cue Kenny and Charles on TNT, Thursday nights — "what they need to do is find a low post scorer ...") incessantly, without satisfaction.
The Timberwolves have won eight games. They look awful on most nights. Doesn't matter. The point is looking fantastic in 2011-12.