The last eight minutes of the Minnesota Timberwolves' 106-100 win over the Nuggets in Denver Sunday night should have convinced all fans of the team that rookie Jonny Flynn needs to continue as the starting point guard.
Flynn was penciled in as the Timberwolves' starting point guard from day one of the season. Flynn has made his share of mistakes running the team. Flynn’s 1:1 assist-to-turnover ratio is unacceptable, and has occasionally caused his minutes in games to be limited.
Some speculated that Flynn would be replaced by Ramon Sessions after Coach Rambis made a comment about the possibility of proposed changes to the starting lineup.
Well, Coach Rambis made a change to the starting lineup on Sunday, but the change was to go with a smaller lineup with Damien Wilkins replacing Ryan Hollins. Initially, the shake-up appeared to have little impact on the Wolves, as they fell behind 40-25 after the first quarter.
Sensing another loss, many fans at the close of the first quarter probably wondered if Coach Rambis would shake up the lineup by replacing Flynn with Sessions in the next game.
In looking at Ramon’s statistics for the season, a compelling case could be made for him to be given the keys to the car. Sessions has a better shooting percentage from the floor, and a better assist-to-turnover ratio than Flynn.
Clearly, a team like Minnesota that struggles to consistently generate offense should maximize the time on the floor of its best shooters. Further, limiting turnovers would help the Timberwolves stay within striking distance until the end of the game.
One could understand why Sessions should be given an opportunity to start at point guard.
However, Flynn showed the Wolves something on Sunday against the Nuggets.
Flynn played well against Denver, scoring 16 points, handing out six assists, and grabbing four rebounds, all while limiting his turnovers to only two. However his stat line in Denver was not enough by itself to justify keeping him in as the starter for the foreseeable future.
No, what Flynn demonstrated on Sunday night is that he is the emotional leader of the team, and brings positive energy to the court.
Losing takes its toll on you, no matter how positive your mental outlook. As a result, you get tight in crunch time and you begin to think about failure.
If you aren’t careful, your mind will ensure that your body fulfills what is in your mind’s eye.
The Wolves had a sizable lead late in the fourth quarter. The Nuggets made a late push. Would the Wolves envision another collapse, and allow the Nuggets to make it 11 straight wins over them?
As the fourth quarter wound down, the Wolves needed a basket. Which Wolf was going to step up and make the big shot?
Big Al Jefferson made a move in the post, but was rejected by Denver’s Nene Hilario. On Minnesota’s next trip down the floor, Ryan Gomes had his shot erased by Kenyon Martin.
Knots in the stomachs of Wolves fans were tightening. Would the Wolves lose every game in the month of November?
Flynn didn’t seem fazed by the blocked shots of Hilario and Martin. Flynn drove past his man and, despite seeing Hilario in the paint, decided to challenge him.
The shot wasn’t pretty, as Flynn shot a “change-up” in that he softly shot the ball with the hand closest to Hilario. Nene, surprised by the shot, made no attempt to block it, despite being on top of Flynn.
Flynn’s soft shot rolled in. But more importantly for the Wolves, Flynn was all smiles.
The smile was wide and broad. Flynn’s face was expressive and his joy was infectious.
All of sudden any tension among the Wolves dissipated. All of the Timberwolves were now smiling and laughing as a result of Flynn. No longer tight, the Wolves went back to work.
On the next possession, Corey Brewer scored and converted an old-fashioned three point play with a free throw. The subsequent trip saw Jefferson hit a jumper.
Denver would never seriously challenge the Wolves in the game again.
A team such as the Wolves that is rebuilding faces an uphill battle against a more talented opponent night in and night out. They need to have a leader that can visualize a win despite a lopsided win-loss ledger.
There is little doubt that the Timberwolves feed off of the positive energy of Flynn. There is also little doubt that despite rookie mistakes, Flynn is improving as a player.
Flynn’s smile and positive energy by itself will not translate into victories. However, if the Timberwolves are building a foundation for long term success, Minnesota needs to start every game with as much positive energy as possible.
A point guard such as Flynn with his smile and on-court personality appears to be the type of player the Wolves need to keep them on the right track.
The Timberwolves need Flynn to continue starting for the Wolves.