The Minnesota Timberwolves have made a lot of progress in a relatively short time. From their franchise-low 15-win season just four years ago, they now have an exciting young team on the brink of being a factor in the playoffs.
They have a guy in Kevin Love who is contending for an All-NBA First Team award this season, an exciting young point guard in Ricky Rubio and a solid core of complimentary players like Nikola Pekovic, Kevin Martin and Corey Brewer. After all that, however, they still find themselves quite a way from the top as their 98-84 loss to the Indiana Pacers proved.
It should be noted there is no shame in losing to the Pacers. At 13-1, they are easily the best team over the first quarter of the season. They have the third-best SRS score, they are first in opponent PPG, first in defensive efficiency, and their expected win-loss is even 11-3, showing that their success is not a fluke.
As the Pacers tend to do, they exploited and highlighted many of the Wolves’ weaknesses. Love shot 6-of-20, and both he and Pekovic had a tough night around the rim with Roy “the Hitman” Hibbert patrolling the paint. Additionally, the Pacers forced Love, Brewer and Pekovic to a total of 14 turnovers, which showed their strength against to a very solid frontcourt in Minnesota.
While Rubio had a nice off-the-ball game (five steals, nine assists, seven rebounds) he was still absent from the scoring game.
A big problem with the Wolves this season has been their ability to get points when either of the Kevins aren’t in the game, or if one of them are having an off night. Their trade of Derrick Williams for Luc Richard Mbah a Moute doesn’t necessarily help their bench offense, but it does give them an additional player that head coach Rick Adelman is actually willing to play.
With Chase Budinger’s expected return coming soon, the Wolves will soon have one more scoring option that they absolutely need. I expect him to help immediately and give the Wolves the 10-15 points per game off the bench that is sure to make a big impact on their offense.
That being said, 8-8 after a fairly tough stretch where they went 2-5 is not the worst thing in the world. I expect them to pick up their game as they continue to develop their team chemistry and learn how to win close games as a unit.
The Pacers may have exploited some of the Wolves’ most glaring weaknesses, but that isn’t always a bad thing. There is plenty of time left in the season for the Wolves to shore up some of the areas where they are struggling and make a big-time playoff push.