As much as this was technically a matchup between a playoff team and a playoff hopeful, the reality was a little less glossy and even less substantial. What should have been a case of a talented Minnesota Timberwolves offense against a tough and coherent defense descended into a battle of wills of which the Timberwolves were undoubtedly shorthanded.
I don’t think it is outrageous to posit a correlation between having good basketball players and attaining basketball victories. While it seems facile (my apologies), it serves to further the confounding nature of this current Timberwolves roster.
This is a roster that carries a reasonable reputation, essentially because it is thought to contain good basketball players. However, it seems that this team gets a lot more praise for its abilities than it does for its equally significant shortcomings.
Kevin Love, Kevin Martin, Nikola Pekovic and Ricky Rubio are all in the upper echelon of their respective positions in terms of skill and ability. They are also the core of this team. Love is relatively excellent in most facets; Martin is an experienced efficient scorer from outside and off the dribble; Pekovic is one of the few remaining centers with a refined low-post game and Ricky Rubio has a passing highlight reel to match any currently active player.
These skills are difficult to deny and theoretically should form a winning basketball team. Of course, focusing on individual worth is narrow-minded in a team game so the synergistic effects of these moving parts working together need to be accounted for. But while most basketball ‘skills’ are covered (an inside scorer, a stretch 4, a wing threat, a pass-first point guard) the physical and athletic deficit in this roster has become glaringly obvious.
The physical makeup of this team is thoroughly below the NBA’s average. For a team that plays at the league’s fourth-fastest pace, it is filled with unremarkable runners and leapers who leave the margin for error inches thin. For all we speak of intangibles and fundamentals, one’s vertical leap will probably decide the rebound and a slow-motion drive to the basket is unlikely to end in success .
The difference against Charlotte was not that of All-Stars or the franchise figureheads but the workmen who construct the games structure. Minnesota were not demolished by a bulldozing Al Jefferson or caught napping by the shifty Kemba Walker. Instead, they were run into the ground by the perpetual motion of the opposition’s laborers.
Cody Zeller (10 points, eight rebounds, three assists) routinely outworked the Timberwolves frontcourt rotation, displaying the energy and athleticism that earned him his high draft status. In a similar vein, the dogged Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Chris Douglas-Roberts, whose entries into the league could not be more contrasting, both reached a gear that their counterparts could not match.
Relying solely upon Corey Brewer leak-outs for easy points does not seem an obvious step on the road to successful basketball. The Shabazz Muhammad hype train will forever be fueled by the absence of explosive plays in Minnesota.
In a league of athletes, it can often pay dividends not to overlook a player based on his physical ceiling. The league after all is filled with hyper-athletic busts; Pogo sticks with no spatial awareness and titans with no subtlety. To prioritize one aspect of the game though (even one is integral as basketball fundamentals) will be to the detriment of your team.
Moves have already been made to inject the roster with athleticism, specifically the drafting of Dieng and Muhammad alongside the offseason signing of Corey Brewer. Still, this team won’t reach it’s potential until it can make basketball plays that go beyond a nice pass or sweet shot. In a fast paced game with a goal 10 feet high, it does not do to neglect the ability to run and to jump.