Minnesota Timberwolves Approaching 'Most Injured Team of the Decade' Status

Tom Schreier@tschreier3Correspondent IJanuary 20, 2013

DALLAS, TX - NOVEMBER 12:  Nikola Pekovic #14 of the Minnesota Timberwolves at American Airlines Center on November 12, 2012 in Dallas, Texas.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
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Following a 106-88 loss to the San Antonio Spurs on the Minnesota Timberwolves' most recent road trip, veteran guard Luke Ridnour made one thing very clear:

Injuries are not an excuse.

It doesn’t matter that Kevin Love is out with a hand injury. It doesn’t matter that Brandon Roy and Chase Budinger may have only played a combined 11 games in Minnesota. It doesn’t matter that Ricky Rubio isn’t 100 percent yet.

And, on top of all that, the team has had to soldier on without its head coach, Rick Adelman.

It doesn’t matter. No excuses.

“You know what?” he told the media after the San Antonio game when asked about injuries. “I’m tired of hearing that. Guys are out, so what? Everybody’s got guys out. We’ve got to find a way to win games.”

Four days later, in a game against the LA Clippers, Alexey Shved and Nikola Pekovic fell to injury in a 90-77 loss at home.

“The players that are healthy have to step up and do a better job,” quipped Rubio after the team’s fifth straight loss. “We can’t say we’re playing bad because of injuries.”

In reality, however, the disabled list is culpable for the team’s struggles.

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Not only have the Timberwolves' top players missed a league-leading 117 games halfway through the season, but they are on pace to be the most injured team of the decade.

Using methods from Jacob Grinyer’s excellent study on injury in the NBA, I have compiled data on how much time the best player from each of the Association’s 30 clubs has missed.

Of course, it is not a perfect measurement. There are alternative reasons why a player may miss a game (suspensions and DNPs, for example).

However, using Grinyer’s method of limiting the study to players with an average of more than 20 minutes of playing time a game, I tried to provide an honest look at which teams are handicapped by the loss of their best players.

After all, the best players on each team miss many more games as a result of injury than due to suspensions or benching.

As you can see in the data above, the Timberwolves' best players have missed more games than anyone else in the league (117). In fact, over the last three years, the team’s best players have missed more games total (347) than anyone else in the league.

Some of this can be chalked up to bad luck.

For example, the Raptors, a relatively young team, have seen their top players miss 96 games this season. At the same time, it is more typical for a team with an older core, like the Lakers (84), to run into injury problems.

Either way, the best players on the Timberwolves are missing more games than anyone else in the league right now. In fact, Rubio, Love and co. have only played in 64 percent of the team’s games this season.

Remember, this chart includes Budinger and Roy, two players who have played only 11 games for the Timberwolves, but that’s just the point: The core that Minnesota needs to have to get to the playoffs is injured.

There are a couple of conclusions to be reached here.

First of all, the team is unlucky. You can call it a curse if you’d like, but this team has endured more injury than any other team this year, and a lot of that cannot be controlled.

What the team can control, however, is whom they choose to draft and how they build their core. The team has had to turn to veteran players to fill out their roster because of recent busts like Wesley Johnson and Jonny Flynn.

Good drafting infuses young blood into your organization. Poor drafting forces management to turn to older, more experienced players to fit the club’s needs. This increases the likelihood of injury.

Finally, the season isn’t over yet. While Love is going to be out for a while and there’s no telling if Roy will ever return, perhaps good fortune is in the team’s future. If the Timberwolves can get everyone back on the floor for the last couple of months, they may be able to sneak into the playoffs—which would do wonders for the development of their younger players.

Here’s to good health and fortune! After all, you can’t win if your best players are injured.

All statistics are accurate as of January 19, 2013.

Tom Schreier covers the Timberwolves for Bleacher Report and writes a weekly column for TheFanManifesto.com.


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