Timberwolves Breakdown: Learning To Prowl in Minnesota
With their extreme youth and absent bite, it’s a wonder the Minnesota Timberwolves aren’t simply called the Timberpuppies.
Still, despite their 92-88 loss to New Jersey on Tuesday, the Pups played hard right to the final buzzer.
Let's look at the team to identify if and when the T-puppies will mature into full-fledged Wolves.
Jefferson was the premier piece acquired from the Celtics in the Kevin Garnett deal, and is the player the T-puppies plan to build around.
Jefferson (5-18 FG, 6-8 FT, 11 REB, 0 AST, 0 TO, 1 BLO, 16 PTS) was double-teamed throughout the game and was unable to adapt to New Jersey’s crowding defense. He showed a deft right hook but missed nearly all of his left hooks, his jumpers, and any complicated moves which required a step-through or a spin.
Jefferson was willing to defend and attack the offensive glass, as evidenced by his five offensive rebounds. Boxing out on the defensive glass wasn’t Jefferson’s mindset, and he was unable to complete more than the simplest of passes.
Jefferson has the tools to be a star, but his passing, his footwork, and his ability to read double teams have to improve. If they don't, he'll only develop into a powerful scorer on a middling team.
Given a full opportunity to run an offense, Telfair (8-17 FG, 3-6 3FG, 5-5 FT, 3 REB, 7 AST, 0 STL, 1 TO, 24 PTS), surprisingly, thrived.
He was patient in allowing Minnesota’s plays to develop, made several tricky entry passes to Jefferson, showed an excellent pull-up game after reading screen/rolls, and was unselfish for the duration.
Telfair still isn’t comfortable playing defense or boxing out, and he still tends to overhandle. On one sequence he dribbled the ball up the court, drove the baseline, couldn’t find an opening to pass or shoot, dribbled out to the corner, turned around, dribbled for a couple of beats looking to penetrate, found nothing, and finally dumped the ball to Ryan Gomes with the shot clock expiring.
Still, considering where Telfair’s ability to run a ball club was as recently as last season, his newfound confidence is both amazing and impressive.
While his skills and awareness still need to be heavily refined, Telfair is finally showing the emotional and mental goods to be a starting point guard in the NBA.
Brewer (3-7 FG, 5 REB, 2 AST, 3 STL, 2 TO, 7 PTS) is long, lean, and athletic, but he dribbles too high, is painfully frail, and his jumpers tend to fall off the front rim.
Brewer also often ends up trying to do too much on defense, resulting in poor body position when defending his man.
Brewer projects to be a tempo-changer who can pick up steals and finish on the break. For him to be anything more, he’ll need to get stronger, improve his handle, work on his jumper and get comfortable playing defense with his feet instead of his hands.
That’s a lot of “if’s.”
Jaric (3-9 FG, 5 REB, 3 AST, 2 STL, 1 TO, 6 PTS) was composed but played with a good amount of intensity. In fact, his best statistic was the three deflections he picked up in the first half.
Jaric doesn’t have quick feet, won't handle or pass like a point guard should, isn’t a tremendous shooter, isn’t a great defender, and is limited athletically.
But besides Telfair, Jaric is the only guard on the roster with a clue as to what he’s doing, which is reason enough to give him substantial playing time.
Still, Jaric has no purpose on the rebuilding T-puppies and will be looking for work elsewhere for the 2008-09 season.
Gomes (4-9 FG, 1-2 FT, 5 REB, 3 AST, 1 STL, 9 PTS) is a classic ‘tweener.
He isn’t strong enough to play the 4, he isn’t athletic enough to play the 3, and he’s usually on the wrong end of a mismatch defensively.
Gomes, however, is a reliable shooter, an excellent passer, a fearless rebounder, and a tireless worker. He posesses a wise veteran’s game on a team that needs young explosive scoring.
Foye (2-7 FG, 2-3 3FG, 1-2 FT, 5 REB, 2 AST, 3 TO, 7 PTS) can’t run an offense, can’t finish with strength, can’t defend, and looks best suited to being a zone-busting shooter at the point.
Walker (4-12 FG, 1-5 3FG, 3-3FT, 5 REB, 3 AST, 12 PTS) still can’t defend or set screens; what’s left of his first step and ability to finish is eroded; and he missed too many of his flat-footed flippers and three-pointers to be of any use.
His passwork is still top-notch and his landlocked jumpers can provide an outside threat, but Antoine doesn’t have much gas left in his tank.
Smith (1-1 FG, 1-4 FT, 3 REB, 1 STL, 3 PTS) is all energy, all foul trouble.
What he lacks in skill and athleticism, he makes up for in effort and heart.
Green (1-5 FG, 2-2 FT, 4 REB, 1 AST, 1 STL, 4 PTS) hasn’t taken that step forward since he’s been in the league.
He ended up blowing a fast break because of his inability to dribble quickly up the court or find a teammate to dish to on the run. He also launched a forced baseline fadeaway after he picked up his dribble and panicked instead of waiting for a teammate to break open.
Green’s athleticism is still exciting, and if he ever figures things out, he can be a talented player in the league. But at 22, in is his third year in the NBA, he still plays like a teenage rookie.
Despite their limited athleticism and wherewithal, the T-puppies fought, tugged, and clawed at the Nets right to the final buzzer. The fact that they only lost by four on the road to a playoff team when Al Jefferson was completely ineffective is even more impressive.
Props goes out to Randy Wittman for getting Jefferson to play up to potential and for finally teaching Telfair how to be a point guard. Props also to Wittman for getting such a mismatched roster of yesterdays, tomorrows, and never-happeneds to play with purpose and energy despite a hopeless record.
The T-puppies can easily knock off even the most talented teams in the league at home if their opponents don’t pay attention. But the they're still a learning curve and a superstar lottery pick away from being playoff contenders.
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