Introducing the Minnesota Timberwolves Skeleton Crew
The Minnesota Timberwolves came into the season with high hopes and thoughts about a return trip to the playoffs for the first time since 2004 until injuries came and tore the team apart.
Minnesota started the season with Ricky Rubio and Kevin Love on the sidelines, and along the way, they saw Chase Budinger, Malcolm Lee and Brandon Roy go down with injuries that would keep them out for months. Love re-injured his hand, and Alexey Shved and Nikola Pekovic ended up with a nick and a bruise here and there.
Even still, the T-Wolves have looked like a decent team in the process, continuing to play solid defense and even being exciting at times.
They aren't going to make any kind of a splash without Kevin Love leading the way for them, but they're not too far out of the way to make the playoffs. Sure, at 17-21 they're a long shot, but the bottom of the Western Conference's playoff picture isn't as pristine as it has been in the past.
If anything, they're doing the best they can to stay afloat while Rubio works his way back into form, buying time until they get a few players back.
It's impressive that they haven't totally collapsed in the past month, and they've done it all with a ragtag group of rapscallions who seem to be having a great time playing together.
So, if you haven't had the pleasure of watching this fleetingly victorious and fun team, I think it's time that they've been introduced.
The Main Player
The stat sheet paints very broad brush strokes about this team, especially in the case of who their star player is.
If you've not seen them play this season, it's Andrei Kirilenko in every way, shape and form.
Not only has he come back to the NBA better than he was when he left, but he also looks even more like a walking dead version of Ellen DeGeneres than ever before.
AK47 does everything for the T-Wolves, whether it be efficient scoring, solid rebounding from a premium position, excellent defense, countless energy and hustle plays and even knocking down a three-pointer every now and then.
It probably would have been more damning to this team if he had gone down instead of Kevin Love.
The Rabid, Three-Headed Chihuahua
Minnesota's guard situation is definitely a positive. Each guard has a specified role and can perform it to a tee despite the ridiculous size disadvantage.
In perhaps the most generous height listings in the NBA, J.J. Barea is listed as 6'0" (probably closer to 5'9") and Luke Ridnour as 6'2" (he's 6'0" at the most), while Ricky Rubio clocks in at a fair 6'4".
What do these guys do? Well, put the little fellows together and they average 27 points and 13.5 assists, as they constantly confuse defenses with their differing styles of play.
Rubio is the playmaker, Barea the irrationally confident penetrator and Ridnour the wise shooter.
For the T-Wolves, the only player "youth" really refers to is Derrick Williams. Sure, they have a few young guys, but they don't have many young guys who are going to be around for the future, or so it seems.
Williams has been inefficient and rebounded poorly this season, yet he somehow still comes off as a solid player for Minnesota.
His defense has improved over the past year, he plays with more energy and just seeing him string together a few shots seems to really hype his team up.
The term "stopgap" has been used more times than any Timberwolves fan would like to count this year, and most of their stopgap players have filled in nicely at one point or another.
The list is longer than most, and it includes the likes of Lazar Hayward, Will Conroy and Josh Howard, while Lou Amundson, Greg Stiemsma and Dante Cunningham have stood tall above all the rest.
Stiemsma and Cunningham are two guys who have been around for the entire season, and they provide two distinctly different needs for Minny.
Stiemsma, while an oddly underwhelming rebounder, is a solid defender in the post when he's not fouling every two minutes. Cunningham, meanwhile, is a decent low-post scorer and can rebound well in limited minutes.
Amundson's contributions are limited to having a ponytail and keeping himself from doing too much bad while he's on the floor.
Who Are These Guys?
Minnesota's two most recent additions are basketball veterans, but were completely unknown before they got their "MVP" chants against the Houston Rockets a few days back.
I'm completely serious.
Chris Johnson is on his fifth team since the beginning of 2010, and has spent most of his time flitting between the NBA and the D-League. He may have earned himself a place on the squad for more than just a 10-day contract with his 15 points and six rebounds against the Rockets in a Timberwolves win.
In an equally impressive return, Mickael Gelabale has put up 18 points and six rebounds over the course of two games.
Gelabale, of course, has most recently played in the NBA with the Seattle Supersonics, mixing in time between Belgium, Spain, Croatia, France and Russia since then.
While a lot of the above players aren't going to draw any eyes on the street, they're all integral to the success of Minnesota over the next few months. If it ends up working out in their favor, then there should be a lot of Coach of the Year award talk surrounding Rick Adelman.
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