Wiser minds after the Cleveland game advised that we as bloggers not overreact to a tough loss. The Wolves are going to have good games and bad games. That’s the modus operandi with a team this young. And in the spirit of wisdom, I’m going to try to under-react to Sunday afternoon’s win over the hapless Wizards.
Every great thing that needs to be said about this game should be taken with a Javale McGee-sized grain of salt, because that Wizards team is really bad. The defense allowed the Wolves to get whatever they wanted, whenever they wanted it. The offense seemed utterly directionless when John Wall didn’t have a full head of steam. Indeed, John Wall’s slow start statistically is pretty damn explicable when you consider his teammates. Andre Blatche, Jordan Crawford, and Nick Young shot a combined 14-43 from the field. Wall’s most efficient teammate? Trevor Booker. When your best player for the game is Trevor Booker, chances are pretty high that you are not going to win.
The Wolves themselves didn’t play particularly good basketball. The three point shooting, though improved from Friday night, was still mediocre at 38%. Wes Johnson was 2-8 from the field and looked as uncomfortable at the 3 as he ever did at shooting guard. Luke Ridnour still can’t really direct an offense. The ball was turned over with brutal frequency. There was some very old Timberwolvian ugliness to go around.
Of course, that brings us around to the positives: Minnesota still won by 21. This feels significant: last year’s team was really reminiscent of Washington this year. There was one potential all star, a few rotation players, and a bad mix of inefficiency. So what made the difference?
The easy answer, of course, is to say that Rubio is the difference. After all, it was the Wizards who gave up the pick that became Rubio in exchange for Mike Miller and Randy Foye. Rubio is both the convenient answer and the explanation that feels most full circle.
But it goes deeper than just Rubio. Whether by luck or by planning much more than we ever gave him credit for while he was in the process, David Kahn has built a team around Rubio that is suited to his talents. There is Kevin Love, who plays like Wes Unseld 2.0 with his rebounding and gorgeous outlets. There is athleticism for Rubio’s lobs, in Derrick Williams and Anthony Randolph. There are shooters to stretch the floor on the break for Rubio, in Wes Johnson, Wayne Ellington, and Anthony Tolliver. Heck, there’s even a couple of other European players and a fellow Spanish speaker tossed in for fun.
Minnesota has been built as an assembly complimentary of parts. There are plenty of flaws within the machine, but as a whole, the team was built to work together. The Wizards have John Wall and the rest is just filler. That’s what made the difference today, and that’s why I feel comfortable saying that Minnesota has a much brighter immediate future than Washington.
Some bullet point thoughts:
- Ok seriously, by show of hands, when Kevin Love had 8 rebounds in what felt like the first 3 minutes, who else looked up the NBA’s single game rebounding records? I thought so. For those of you who didn’t, it was Wilt Chamberlain with 55. Bill Russell once had 34 in a half, and Nate Thurmond grabbed 18 in a quarter.
- Speaking of Love, I’ll admit: I was kind of hoping that the Wolves would offer him that max contract extension this evening. You know, after a 21 point win in which he went for 20 and 16. Everybody is in a better mood after a win.
- Today was the first game in which Derrick Williams looked truly comfortable shooting threes. Up until this point, he looked a little hesitant, a little overexcited, a little rookie-ish. But after his first attempt bounced high off the rim and through, he settled in and shot extremely well, scoring 4-7 from deep. His only field goal apart from his three pointers was equally impressive.
- Of course, Williams looked so comfortable in no small part because Rubio was feeding him beautifully. Any shooter will tell you that catching the ball exactly where you like to catch it makes all the difference in the world, and Williams appeared comfortable all day.
- Wayne Ellington finally broke out of his season long shooting slump today, going 5-8 from the field, which was good to see. The Wolves are really going to need him over the next two days. He also had the second most minutes with 34, behind (unsurprisingly) Love at 41.
- Say what you want about +/- stats, but they pretty much captured the feel of this game perfectly. Rubio and Williams are in? The lead balloons, as both players were at +29. Darko is in and fumbling everything that comes his way? The lead shrinks, as Darko is a -8. Wes Johnson, Luke Ridnour, and Anthony Randolph are feeling a bit inconsequential? Funny you should mention that: +2, +2, and -1.
Teams in the third game of a back to back to back so far this season are a surprising 6-0. The Wolves play their third straight game Tuesday against Chicago. That streak will be in SERIOUS jeopardy. But for now, let’s appreciate the fact that we get to watch Ricky Rubio play basketball for three straight days. Was today a perfect win? Not by a long shot. But it’s a good start.