"The Timberwolves vs. conventional wisdom"

A truly fascinating article on Truehoop written by Ben Polk over at A Wolf Among Wolves has really dissected everything that is right and wrong about these Wolves, and some ways we could fix it by the help of some serious statiticians.

Ben starts off by addressing the general public because they are the ones who often have an off-kilter perception of this franchise and its players. They’re the ones that look at our dismal 6-21 record and assume our team is as bad as last year’s — which they’re clearly not. They’re ultimately the beholders of this conventional wisdom that the Timberwolves have been bad, they’re bad now, and always will be very bad.

But to their untrained eye, — and even their demise — Ben has found some things that have significantly turned around for the better this season. Among those being the clearly positive development of Kevin Love and the resurrection of Mike Beasley, who may turn into one of the league’s most dynamic scorers. But maybe more importantly, the Wolves season entails other characters who have helped mightily along the way and factor into being an integral part in this franchise’s corner-turning season.

A complete 180-change from last year to this season is the level of athleticism each player has. The additions of Wes Johnson and Anthony Tolliver, as well as the on-going development of Corey Brewer, have increased our level of athleticism tenfold compared to last season. They’ve also found some strong veteran leaders to help guide this team when they wander astray. Luke Ridnour and Martell Webster are leaders on the court and use their experience and basketball i.q. to follow through on what they think is best for the team.

As a fan that actually watches this team on a nightly basis, I’m understanding the process it takes to go through a rebuilding phase — And it’s not easy, let me tell you that. Developments and enhancements in areas like athleticism and veteran-savvy are important. That’s why people looking from the outside in, who have a skewed look into who the Timberwolves really are, just ridicule and retort the Wolves because they don’t understand the current nature of this franchise. They fail to grasp what this team has truly overcome already compared to last year’s squad.

But some people, properly dubbed analysts for the most part, look deeper into our fluid situation. Mathmeticians like Wayne Winston and David Berri dive deep into the depths that is world of advanced statistics and configure new ways to harp, or praise, a team. Based on the facts I laid above about the current developments and improvements on this year’s squad, both Winston and Berri believe the Wolves could be substantially better if a few, simple lineup tweaks were to be made.

Let’s go through what those tweaks could be and analyze what Ben, Winston and Berri all had to say:

Play Kevin Love more:

Well that’s a given. any coach outside of Rambis would be out of their mind to leave Love on the bench. His numbers are crushing anything that anyone has done this season and beyond, but, more importantly, the Wolves may have found that go-to player they’ve been searching for, for the time being that is.

He alone has accounted for 8.3 wins already, and is on pace to make that 28.3 by the end of the season, according to Berri. The only problem with that: He’s only playing 34 minutes per game.

We all know Love is our team’s best player, and every team’s best player deserves as many minutes as possible. The only difference is that our star player is a 6-foot-11, 260-pound behemoth that has difficulty sprinting the length of the floor more than two times before he’s sucking wind. He’s no Superman, let me tell you that.

Play Anthony Tolliver more:

Being one of those athletes we signed to improve our athleticism, Tolliver has been a major spark plug coming off the bench this season. He plays emphatic defense and can stretch his offensive game beyond the three-point line. Winston believe he’s actually one of the best pick-ups this summer, because he helps the Wolves’ defense immensely, statistically speaking, and also injects tons of energy into his teammates.

It would be ingenious to give Tolliver more minutes but will be hard because of two things: 1) Obviously he’s injured for over a month now, and; 2) He and Love play the same position. How can you play your star player and your best defender more when they play the same position?

Ben said it best in the article: “Things are starting to get complicated.”

Don’t play Love and Darko Milicic together:

Darko is our defensive anchor in the paint and now the focal point of our offense. Love is the ultimate catalyst on offense and rips rebounds down at a frenzied rate. And you’re telling me I can’t play them at the same time?!

“When [Love and Darko] are both in,” says Winston, “they play nine points worse than an average team. But if you put one of those guys in without the other, they’re a fairly good team.”

I’m getting confused.

Play Corey Brewer and Wes Johnson more:

The Wolves’ obvious struggles last year came from our lack of production from our wing players. Ryan Gomes and Damien Wilkins to Wes Johnson and Martell Webster; Talk about your ultimate transformation. And we still have Corey Brewer, who’s been great in terms of defense, athleticism and energy.

Winston has proof showing that Johnson’s and Brewer’s efforts this season have great affects on overall team performance this year. Brewer helps immensely in the defensive category, while Johnson is hitting the three-pointer at a 36-percent rate. The only wrinkle in this dynamic duo is the return of Martell Webster. He’s a proven veteran that fills a significant need for the Wolves. He just seems to do everything right, and so his return is going to mean limited minutes for both Johnson and Brewer.

Play those guys less, not more:

Wait, huh? As tricky as it is to figure more playing time for both of our PF’s, Love and Tolliver, now Berri is telling us that Johnson, Brewer, and even Mike Beasley, should play less, not more like Winston suggested.

Berri says: “Michael Beasley, Wesley Johnson, and Corey Brewer have received about 100 minutes more than expected.”

They all have their flaws, Berri has a point. Beasley is a scorer reliant upon volume, not efficiency. Johnson’s offensive game is limited and hasn’t proven he’s a stout defender. And Brewer makes everyone scared when he puts the ball on the court; And when he shoots it in the air; And when he just has the ball in his possession, period.

But despite each player having something they have to work on, what else are we going to do if we are supposed to limit these guys’ minutes? Should we throw Wayne Ellington and Lazar Hayward to the dogs and hope they learn to develop? No. All three of these guys are just going to have to improve in their respective areas to prove themselves worthy of more minutes.

Win as many basketball games as you possibly can:

It sounds more straightforward than it really is. The Wolves have struggled all season long to put together a sound ballgame and come out with the victory. There always seems to be some mental lapse that diminishes our chances of grabbing the win, usually late in the game.

For a team as youthful as the Wolves, overcoming adversity and coming up with some sort of rally is a difficult task in itself, which makes for winning ballgames a lot harder. Both Winston and Berri believe the Wolves could win more games if their rotations underwent a little surgery.

Berri states that “the allocation of minutes by Rambis would line up with what a ‘typical’ NBA coach would do,” and says a few tweaks could result in better performances.

Winston agrees, saying the rotation ought to be cut to eight or nine players and that Rambis should think about dismantling the three-headed Cerberus and implementing a more efficient and stable rotation.

It’s hard to agree with statistics sometimes. Breaking up our three best players sounds like blasphemy but maybe they’re right. Maybe Beasley would play better when he’s the focal point of the offense, not Darko. And maybe Love could become a better defender with a more athletic Tolliver next to his side, as opposed to a towering giant in Darko, who racks up a lot of fouls and disturbs the gameflow.

Develop the young talent:

As I said before, the Wolves are a very youthful team. They are indeed the youngest in the NBA which proves why we’re the highest-ranked pace team but we also commit a fair amount of turnovers as well.

Let me just name off a couple guys who fall under this category and need more developing:

Kevin Love, Mike Beasley, Darko Milicic, Wes Johnson, Corey Brewer, Jonny Flynn, Wayne Ellington, Nikola Pekovic and Kosta Koufos.

All of those players are under the age 25, Darko being the eldest. All of those players also have some part of their game that needs to be worked on and has an ample amount of time to do so before they miss out on their prime. I believe that if these players all stay in Minnesota, it could be 1-2 years before we start seeing some hit their prime and maybe 2-3 for others. Guys like Darko and Love will probably reach their full potential by the start of next year, given some hard work and dedication. Johnson and Flynn may have a couple more years before they can fully contribute to the team as an efficient resource, but their day’s will come sooner rather than later.

At the end of the article, Ben explains why listening to staticians like Winston and Berri can be difficult because it’s not as simple as making a few strategic changes to your lineup, rather you need players with high basketball i.q’s that have a will and desire to play this game. I also find it troublesome to believe in staticians because I’m a believer that chemistry is indeed a vital part of this game. When two players start feeling each other, then leave them on the court and let the magic happen. Or if a single player starts getting hot and everyone else knows it, get him the ball. You can’t always play the numbers and expect wins to happen. Remember this: When a statician says the Wolves have a better chance at winning if they fix certain things, that only means that their hypothetical chances increase. It doesn’t always relate back to reality because there are so many other factors that play into winning a basketball game, not just allocation of minutes and who plays well with who, statistically speaking.

As a true Wolves fan, don’t get discouraged when you see things like this or listen to your rancid friends gloat about how bad the Wolves are and always will be. They have a long ways to go and have developed some interesting story-lines to follow throughout this season.

Ben finishes saying: “For the first time in years, the Wolves are compelling — not just in the overstated depth of their awfulness.”

I couldn’t have said it any better.