If you are a Minnesota Timberwolves fan, right now you feel down. For the first half of the season, the puppies continue to disappoint the same ways over and over. Turnovers, dumb fouls, incompetent defense, fourth quarter meltdowns, allowing average wing players career nights, stupid rotations, non motivation, injuries and misguided hype.
All of this for the team not only having the youngest, but also sporting the most inexperienced roster as well as running an offense that takes some players years to get down. Where's the room for optimism? Has it gone away with every single loss that the Timberwolves have racked up? Has it gone with the thousands of turnovers that are completely idiotic? What it appears to be to me is that the Timberwolves are either going to be one of two things: a team of scrappy players trying to become something greater but ultimately falling, or a scrappy team full of untapped talent thats waiting to make their second-half push.
Looking at the Timberwolves' last few games going against the Spurs, the Wizards and the Orlando Magic, Michael Beasley has been out, and the Wolves have shown progress without him. However it was highly apparent that despite the competitiveness, if anyone thought that the Wolves are a better team without Beasley they are sadly mistaken. While competitive, a team without a player that cannot get his own shot will fail 99 percent of the time. With that being said, the progress despite wins and losses are encouraging.
Most Important Wolf Heading into 2nd Half of Season?
First off, the Wolves are playing much better defense as of late all thanks to the re-emergence of Corey Brewer. He is a matchup nightmare for anybody playing against him; a 6'9'' SG/SF with the speed of a point guard, long arms, and a tenacious nastiness on the court. He gets deflections, and is truly starting to become a lockdown defender. The ball is moving a lot better as of late, but none of this has to truly do with time, it's been a huge dumbing down of the offense.
The Timberwolves have started to run pick and rolls with Kevin Love, Darko Milicic and Luke Ridnour at the controls. This has elevated the play of Luke Ridnour and Darko Milicic, and ultimately over the course of the season have made Kevin Love a deadly three-point shooter. With Luke's shooting ability and court vision, he has had guys like Chris Paul and John Wall flustered on the defensive end. But one thing that's highly apparent is that Darko is probably the most important Timberwolf on the roster.
Let me start off by saying that Darko is not the best player on this roster. In terms of pure talent, Beasley has that. In terms of pure skill, Love by a mile. But in terms of potential, Milicic has both beat and it's not even close.
For games at a time, we have seen Darko completely dominate anyone that has come his way, this includes the likes of Javale McGee, Pau Gasol, Andris Beidrins, Tim Duncan and even go toe to toe with Dwight Howard. But I would also like to say that when Darko isn't mentally in the game, he's probably the worst skilled player I have ever seen.
When Darko has energy, he's a completely different player—it's not even close. A confident Darko looks like a young Hakeem Olujawon. If you need to see, you can check out TeamDarko on YouTube for all of his in game highlights.
But even so, with the nucleus of Kevin Love, Michael Beasley and Darko Milicic, the Wolves currently sport a record of 10-31, only five games away from last season's total. With 41 games to go, I have compiled a grade for each and every Timberwolves entity as well as a checklist that needs to be completed in order for the Wolves to achieve 25 victories this season.
Let's start with the players.
Luke has been great this season, averaging around 12 points and six assists a game. Over his last 10 games? 14.1 PPG, 7.6 APG, shooting 49 percent from the field and 46 percent from the three-point line. As I've said up above, the pick and roll combination between Luke and Love is becoming something that needs to continue, but Luke needs to do a better job of getting guys involved in crunch time.
Many times we will see Luke do what he does best: hitting open shots from all over the concourse and hitting open guys on the pick and roll. But come crunch time, we see many times that Beasley doesn't touch the ball. Beasley is the closest thing that the Wolves have to a closer, he absolutely needs to get shots in the fourth quarter. Luke needs to do a better job of managing a game, Jonny Flynn can get away with this, but Luke being a veteran cannot.
Midseason Grade: C. Luke has gotten better as of late and looks to improve throughout the season. However he's had some injuries and lapses on defense. But he's been running the show adequately to satisfy Wolves fans.
Let me just put it this way. Jonny looks lost, disinterested, frustrated, and unmotivated to do anything positive on the court. I don't know if it's his injury recovery, but one thing is clear, Jonny Flynn is talented and he's not all the way 100 percent yet. For now..
Midseason Grade: Incomplete
I can honestly say that I've been surprised with Telfair this season. Going from reserve to starter to not completely playing at all, Telfair has been the consummate professional. As a reserve and starter, he was a spark, creating matchup problems with his quickness and improved shooting, not to mention that he was the best Wolves defender at the point guard position. But as with every player, he comes with his fair share of negatives.
At times, Sebastian Telfair would attempt to take over games on the offensive end. Bassy, well, no you cannot do that. But he got into some heat checks and started doing what he does best, and that's driving to the basket and getting guys involved. If Flynn is traded, Wolves will happily love to have him playing 18-24 minutes.
Midseason Grade: (prior to Flynn's return): C
I love Corey Brewer, but man, was he horrific to start the beginning of the season. Brewer was a most improved candidate last season, increasing his point total, and also hitting one three-pointer in over 30 consecutive games, good for a Timberwolves record.
He looked primed for another breakout season after having practice sessions with Kevin Durant and company, however the complete opposite happened. Brewer couldn't hit a shot to save his life, no posterizing dunks to spark up the crowd, turnovers and ill-advised drives once again, but it was revealed that his contract situation was bothering him.
Now Brewer comes ready to play, and he's starting to become a lockdown defender. His defensive intensity has been outstanding these last few games, but the offense still hasn't clicked. His last game could be a sign of progress as he went for 23 points, shooting 8-15 and 2-5 from the three-point line. Easily the best Wolves defender, but has become a liability on offense. We will be looking for a big second half on Brewer seeing that he's assuming the starters position at the two-guard.
Midseason Grade: C
When he brings it, he brings it. Martell Webster has done some great things for the Wolves this season on the offensive end, but it's clear to see that he's not 100 percent yet. Looking back at his preseason form, Webster was much more explosive going to the rim, his ball handling was crisper and his shot was dead on off the dribble. Martell Webster has been a spark off the bench, but since defenders have started to take notice, he has slowed down a little bit.
Even when playing well, Martell appears to get beside himself. He forces a lot of passes into traffic instead of going for the simple pass. When Martell drives, he isn't able to finish a lot of his plays, his three-point shot has been off as of late, he's been pretty inconsistent. This is probably due to the injury, allow Martell a few weeks and he should be back to preseason form averaging around 13-14 points off the bench.
Midseason Grade: C-
Wesley Johnson has been so sub-par that it is baffling. Scouts were raving about this all do it all small forward, some saying he would challenge for rookie of the year. So far, he's been very one dimensional. He's become strictly a jumpshooter, and has shown little flashes of creating his own shot. While he can come around a screen better than he could before, his driving game leaves a lot to be desired.
Most Improved Player Winner?
His defense has been on and off. He falls asleep on defensive assignments, he doesn't have the speed to keep up with elite two's or the strength to guard elite three's. But he's been a great shooter to say the least.
He shoots the ball effortlessly, he even has shown some great court vision and competitive fire. I expect more from Wes, it might not happen till 20 games out of the offseason, but improvement and flash will come. Wes can develop a Joe Johnson type game, he has the smoothness and the potential.
Midseason Grade: D+
Midseason Grade: D-League run anyone?
Are you kidding me? The most improved player leading candidate would also be an MVP candidate if the team were winning ball games. Do me a favor and go look at his box scores and that alone would tell you that the Wolves have themselves a cornerstone that they can build around. However.... If anyone thinks that Kevin Love is going to get significantly better than this, I severely doubt it.
He has created a new type of player in the NBA, the elite glue guy. The man that takes all the intangibles of a championship caliber starting lineup and meshes it all together. He's leading the league in double doubles, 30-10's, 20-20's, 30-30's and probably 20-10's. In essence, Love has been getting it done on the glass, behind the arc, and he's been arguably the NBA's most consistent player. Take it to the bank.
Midseason Grade: A+
The future Alpha Wolf. If I told you that there was a 6'9'' small forward available that could create his own shot, is ambidextrous, is 22 yeard old and has potential written on his forehead, I'm pretty sure that someone would have locked him up. I believe that the Wolves have more faith in Beasley than Love at this point. If you are looking at upside, Beasley has it, he's freakishly skilled on the perimeter, and has shown flashes of getting others involved as of late.
Beasley does have the tendencies to ignore his teammates on easy open looks, and although he's been better on the defensive end as of late, Beasley has been atrocious defensively. To his credit, he's had to adjust a lot this year. Going from playing the PF to the SF is one thing, going from being a fourth option to the No. 1 option is an adjustment in itself. But going from getting five shots with the Miami Heat to getting 20 shots and creating his own shot at a new position, will show you that he has all the skill in the world, and truly has the upside of a marquee top 15 NBA player.
Midseason Grade: B+
Hustle plays, size, rebounds. Other than that, don't expect anything special. He shows a flash every once in a while, but he's far for competent at center. He doesn't even catch passes, he's lost out there.
Midseason Grade: F
He is one physical specimen. Anyone playing against an energized Darko and Pekovic will get beat up in the paint. While he hasn't been great at anything, he's definitely been horrible at times. He has racked up countless three-second violations, turnovers, offensive fouls and just countless mistakes. However, anyone can see that when he's out of foul trouble, and playing the NBA game, he definitely has some potential of being a long term backup center to Darko.
He can rebound and block shots, but he has had serious issues on finishing inside the paint; something he was praised for. Nikola Pekovic was supposed to be a taller Al Jefferson, only more physical and big. He's incredible nimble on his feet, but it's apparent that his feet are still getting wet.
Best shot blocker in the NBA?
Midseason Grade: D-
Darko has more double doubles and blocks than Brook Lopez. Darko is No. 2 in blocks per 48 minutes, and No. 3 in blocks overall. If you don't believe that Darko is the best shot blocker in the NBA, you haven't watched him play. One thing about him is that he has a lot of potential, and it's all mental toughness. Like we saw against Dwight Howard however, the referee's have absolutely no respect for Darko. Kurt Rambis has done a good job with Darko.
When Darko is sorry, boy is he sorry. He's been banged up with hip bruises and ankle injuries, and has tried to play through it. With that being said, Darko has shown the flash of creating his own shot, and creating shots for others. Darko has been playing well as of late especially on the pick and roll with Luke Ridnour. He's been ugly inconsistent, but when he's on, he's as good as a top 10 center in the NBA.
Midseason Grade: D+
Overall Grade: D+
While the Timberwolves have been bad, no one thought they would be this bad. However, they have shown plenty of flash of potential in their games in which they are competitive against some of the best teams in the NBA. That alone is worth the D+.
The goal for the Wolves should try be to go .500 from this point on. Winning 20-21 games from this point would put them at 30 wins. Will that happen? Not totally optimistic, but things crazier have happened.