Nobody needs reminding that the Minnesota Timberwolves won just 15 games last season. But following a mad summer, which involved trading away Al Jefferson, Ryan Gomes and others, trading for Michael Beasley and Martell Webster, plus acquiring Luke Ridnour and Wesley Johnson others, there is a sense of optimism resonating from the Target Centre.
So far this season they are 3-9, not a major step-up but considering how they were widely panned in the off-season and predicted to get worse, to be averaging numbers that suggest they will notch 20.5 wins if things carry on exactly this way, it’s not great, but it’s not bad.
But it’s even better when you look beyond the numbers. This is almost a completely new team, learning what is quite a complicated game-plan, competing for a team that were widely panned during off-season for letting go off their ‘best player’ for a pittance. Creating team harmony isn’t something that happens overnight, just look at the slightly stuttering Miami Heat. Both teams have a lot of growing to do before they reach their potential. It happens a lot in European soccer where a team will completely overhaul their squad because of a new owner, or relegation to a lower league. It usually takes at least a year with the new team for them to gel, so the Timberwolves should get a lot better as the season progresses.
So far this season the Timberwolves have already played elite teams like the Miami Heat, the Orlando Magic and the LA Lakers. Admittedly, they lost all those games, but those are not the games on which the Timberwolves' season will be defined. Even the most optimistic Timberwolves fan would have to say those games are more than likely going to be losses; that’s common sense. Later this week the Timberwolves have a very winnable game against the LA Clippers, which could make their record 4-9. It took the Timberwolves until mid-December to get five wins last season. Something tells me that despite the difficult games following the Clippers, it won't take that long this year. Compare the 2009-10 results with the 2010-11 schedule yourself.
What has made getting to three wins tougher than it should be has been the injuries to key players. Had Jonny Flynn and Martell Webster not missed a game, the Timberwolves’ record could be even better. In the interviews posted online during preseason, Martell Webster came off as a particularly intelligent guy, who will be a mature influence in the dressing-room with all the young Wolves in the roster. Flynn, like any athlete, hates being injured and seemed determined to get past his injury and get back on the court. Adding Wesley Johnson to the team has had a particularly positive effect on Flynn, here’s hoping the two of them combine expertly while occupying the two guard positions.
Speaking of Johnson, he has impressed already. He won’t be winning Rookie of the Year, but that’s no slight on him. As he adjusts to the league, his confidence grows, and he hits absolute fitness, his game will shine. Corey Brewer has taken note, as he has finally started to look a little more like his usual self.
The real breakout stars have been Michael Beasley and Kevin Love, what hasn’t been written about them already this week? Beasley is scoring for fun, and showing he has a real all-around game that is thriving in Minnesota. Not only that, his Samson-ic hair is incredible. It must distract the opposition. Love does a lot more than rebounding, although he has shown already this season that he does that better than anyone else in the team, arguably the league.