Oh, what could have been– the glory of a playoff berth. At least that was the expectation of many Timberwolves fans coming into the season. Everyone was supposed to be healthy, Kevin Martin was added,Nikola Pekovic was back and things were looking up. This was it: the year playoff basketball returned to Minneapolis. With Kevin Love at the helm, the Timberwolves were going to end their decade long–
Well, this turned out not to be the Timberwolves’ year. Sure, they went through some injuries like everyone else, but nothing like last year. And Love was still his usual historically awesome self. If so much more could go right for them this year than last, then how come they couldn’t get over the hump? As it turns out, building a winning basketball team is pretty difficult.
In response to their 30th ranked three point shooting in 2013, the Timberwolves let Andrei Kirilenko walk and brought in Kevin Martin and Corey Brewer. Of course, this came at the expense of their perimeter defense, but their shooting woes were supposed to be resolved. Martin was supposed to be the scorer; Brewer the corner three and leak out guy; and Chase Budinger and Love were supposed to be healthy again, supposedly bolstering their offense instantaneously.
For all their wheeling and dealing, the Timberwolves went all the way from last to…26th. Conversely, their defense suffered as well, sliding from 15th best to 26th and allowing the second-highest field goal percentage in the league. Both of these factors combined with a top-heavy roster left the Timberwolves fighting for their playoff lives until they were officially put out of their misery late in the season.
The biggest reason the roster would be described as top heavy would be because of the bench, or lack there of. Adelman struggled all season to get any consistency out of anyone on his bench and found it difficult to trust anyone on a nightly basis. Look up and down the list of reserve players and you struggle to see who can sustain a lead, no less build one. Dante Cunningham and JJ Barea score in spurts. Budinger was hurt and Luc Richard Mbah a Moute is by far more productive defensively. Who else was there? Alexey Shved, Ronny Turiaf, or AJ Price? Please. Sure, Shabazz Muhammad and Gorgui Dieng were able to contribute, but by the time they were playable it was too late.
Looking back, the Timberwolves’ playoff hopes were predicated on the faulty construct of the offense being able to cover up their poor offense. Given the offense’s incremental improvement and the defense’s obvious regression, it’s not too surprising that they did not achieve their goal this season. All of these factors combined make it hard to succeed in late-game situations and it showed, costing the team valuable wins. It’s like the house of cards metaphor I used awhile back: it’ll stand for a little while, but eventually topple over. Having three scoring capable players and as many solid defenders is not a recipe for a playoff team. As for the disappointment over failed expectations, you know what they say; you can wish in one hand and you-know-what in the other and see which fills up faster. It’s as if we as fans allowed our wants to cloud our perception of reasonable expectations.
Yet, I’m not here to call this season a failure; it was progress. The team continued to improve, going from 31 wins to 40 this season. We saw Love continue to grow as a player, Rubio’s three ball move closer to respectability, and the apparent emergence of Dieng. While Flip Saunders may not have been able to complete a full makeover of David Kahn’s roster, he took it a step forward and will be able to shuffle the deck some more this summer. They will be able to tweak the bench, add a lottery pick and seek continued improvement from Dieng and Muhammad. Really, there’s still a lot to be excited about next year for the Timberwolves.