COMMENTARY | If the Minnesota Timberwolves are going to make the playoffs this season, they will do as a team.
By that, I mean, this is not going to be a superstar-driven club, rather it will be one where everyone does a defined task really well.
Kevin Love is far and away the biggest star on the Wolves, but he has his limitations. While he can make shots from all over the floor -- beyond the arc, mid-range, and under the basket -- he is not going to carry a team the way LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, or Kevin Durant does. It's probably just the nature of being a power forward more than anything -- he needs somebody to feed him the ball.
Ricky Rubio and Nikola Pekovic are also stars in their own right and make up a Big Three of sorts in the Twin Cities, but they aren't quite on Love's level just yet. Rubio is a dynamic passer that makes every player around him better, but he is a poor shooter. Pekovic is a wrecking ball that cannot be moved by bulldozer or crane and is an absolute force underneath, but he is also a poor shooter and limited offensively.
Derrick Williams has the potential to be the most versatile player on the team. He has the ability to be a slasher that can also shoot efficiently and create his own looks. Unfortunately, he's kind of a tweener -- too small for a four and kind of big for a three -- and unpolished as a player. He has a tendency to double-pump on his shots, allowing players to guard him on the perimeter, and occasionally will stop the rhythm of play by either making an errant pass or by traveling.
Similarly, Shabazz Muhammad is a gifted athlete, but h e needs to work on being a better two-way player and it will take time for him to adapt to NBA play after only one year in college.
The point I'm trying to make is that one player will not carry this team to the playoffs. If Love was that good, Minnesota would have been there already. He's a bona-fide superstar, make no mistake about that, but he's not Allen Iverson on the Philadelphia 76ers, LeBron James on the Cleveland Cavaliers or, to use a local example, Kevin Garnett in his Minnesota days.
Love will probably take the last shot, and rightfully so, but he won't create it. Rubio will probably find an open man late in the game, but is unlikely to score the ball himself. Pekovic might set a devastating screen or knock in a put-back, but isn't going to generate offense on his own.
The Wolves will succeed if everyone does his task. Love needs to be a double-double machine; Rubio needs to find the open man; Kevin Martin needs to hit threes; Corey Brewer needs to guard the perimeter and score in transition; and Pekovic needs to crush opponents.
It's not just the starters, either: There are guys that need to come off the bench and make a difference. For example, as a whole, the Wolves are a poor defensive team but Gorgui Dieng is a good rim-stopper. Williams and Muhammad can be change-of-pace players off the bench. Alexey Shved can be a dynamic scorer. Chase Budinger, when he comes back from injury, will provide additional outside shooting. J.J. Barea is great off the pick-and-roll. Ronny Turiaf and Dante Cunningham bring the energy.
That's an incomplete roster, but I just named 13 players there and all of them offer something unique and valuable to the team.
Sometimes it's hard to remember that basketball is a team game when you see one, two, or three guys dominate play every night, but keep in mind that LeBron and Friends need role players like Udonis Haslem to do their thing in order to win; Carmelo Anthony and Derrick Rose probably could use more help out in New York and Chicago; and the Indiana Pacers are a great example of a complete team that can compete with the best teams out East.
When the Wolves were a perennial playoff team, they were riding on the back of Kevin Garnett. Sure, Stephon Marbury had a presence on some of those teams and Sam Cassell and Latrell Sprewell were key members of the 2004 team that went to the Western Conference finals, but this is probably the most complete team Minnesota has had in years.
If the Wolves make the playoffs this year, it truly will be a team effort.
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- Minnesota Timberwolves
- LeBron James
- Ricky Rubio
- Kevin Garnett
- Nikola Pekovic