I brainstormed several different titles for this post. All of the following probably would've sufficed:
"Get Ready for One Heck of a Season"
"Ricky Rubio Made Me Cry. Four Separate Times."
"Watch as I Overreact to a Preseason Blowout"
But instead, I went with "Why This Team is Special" -- because the culture of losing we've become so accustomed to is finally over.
Last night the Timberwolves defeated the Bucks 117-96 in their first game of the preseason. Yes, it's the preseason, but it was an impressive showing nonetheless.
I'm going to go out on a limb here. Call me a homer. Call me naive. Call me whatever you like. But this year's T-Wolves team is going to sneak into the playoffs with a 36-30 record. I'm calling it right now. BOOK IT.
First and foremost, this team is incredibly talented. Unlike any Timberwolves team we've ever seen, this team is actually filled from top to bottom with NBA caliber players. Don't believe me? Look at our depth chart. We have 8 quality players, 3 fringe players (Johnson, Randolph and Pekovic), and nearly every player in that group can play 2 or 3 positions effectively.
Here's how they did individually last night, in order of how impressed I was:
Ricky Rubio - Watching Ricky play tonight was just amazing, and there's no doubt in my mind he will contend for Rookie of the Year this year, especially if the Timberwolves win games. If there's one generic criticism I could assign to the various Timberwolves' backcourts over the last few years, its been that there's been a complete lack of control. Turnovers have plagued this team for years. Yet when Ricky Rubio brings the ball up the court, you can't help but have confidence in his decision making. Last night, he put up 6 points, 7 assists, and 6 rebounds with just 1 turnover. He simply doesn't make mistakes. He also demonstrated an incredible ability to make pinpoint passes to any spot on the court. Several of his assists came from throwing passes clear across the court to the corner for wide open three pointers. That type of passing accuracy is incredibly rare in the NBA.
Most importantly, his confidence and sound decision making was contagious. Most of his time on the court last night was spent with the 2nd unit, and they played quite well compared to what we're used to out of the Timberwolves 2nd unit. I can't wait to see what he'll do with the starters.
Ricky Rubio is our Tim Tebow. He might not put up incredible numbers, but he "just wins." Our team's ceiling is absolutely dependent on Ricky Rubio. If he becomes a once-in-a-generation point guard, we will become a once-in-a-generation team. The pieces are finally in place.
Kevin Love - Wow, Kevin Love lost a lot of weight. He looks ridiculously skinny. For a minute or two, I kind of questioned if this would hamper his ability to bang inside and grab rebounds. That was clearly stupid. Last night he put up 21 points and 15 rebounds in just 27 minutes. David Kahn needs to make extending Kevin Love a priority, and if we need to give him max money, so be it. He deserves it. What a player.
J.J. Barea - When I found out we'd signed Barea, I was pretty stoked. I loved what he did for Dallas, and I felt like he might be the perfect backcourt compliment for Ricky Rubio. Why? Because Ricky Rubio plays a LOT like Jason Kidd, and Kidd/Barea happened to be the starting backcourt for last year's NBA Champions. Sounds like that might be a bit of an improvement.
Barea didn't have a stellar game, but he and Rubio just gelled incredibly well. I think Coach Adelman will end up utilizing them together quite a bit.
Wait a second, do we have a capable backcourt? This is the Minnesota Timberwolves, right?
Derrick Williams - Holy NBA-ready Batman! I'll admit, I didn't watch Derrick Williams a lot last year when he played for Arizona. I heard good things, and I just kind of accepted that we made a good pick at #2. But wow, he's a gamer, and he's going to quickly become one of my favorite players. He didn't get a lot of minutes, but this guy's first game makes Wes Johnson's last 82 look pretty freaking terrible. Seriously.
Anthony Tolliver - This guy is the perfect energy-injector off the bench. I always feel great with him on the court. He plays with a lot of heart, and I think he'd be a solid addition to any team. I'm glad he's on ours.
Darko Milicic - Darko played well. I wish we had a better starting center, but if someone will manage to tap into Darko's inner Vlade Divac, it'll be Rick Adelman.
Michael Beasley - I don't like that he seems to be a ballstopper on offense. On the whole, the Timberwolves really moved the ball well last night, with one exception: when Beasley got the ball. Several times he received the ball, held it for 5 or 6 seconds, and then launched contested jumpers. This game he happened to make a lot of his long two pointers, but I don't think that's a good long-term plan.
I love Beasley's game, but it needs to be harnessed. We have a lot of talent this year, and Beasley doesn't have to be a volume shooter.
Luke Ridnour - He's a capable back-up point guard. He makes questionable decisions at times. He's a good shooter. I can't hate too much on Luke Ridnour -- I'm just glad Ricky Rubio is here to take his starter's minutes.
Wesley Johnson - I'm pretty much ready to trade him. He's just not impressive. I really like Wes Johnson, I want him to be great, but we have better players that deserve the minutes he's currently getting. And by better players, I mainly mean Derrick Williams.
Anthony Randolph - He has "potential." But he looks terrible. The T-Wolves had a tough offensive stretch in the second quarter, and it was mainly because Randolph started chucking up 20 footers. I'm just not sure he's going to figure it out.
Nikola Pekovic - I'm pretty sure he set a new record. He didn't commit a foul for a full 13 seconds after he entered the game!
This may be premature, but I'm serious. I think this team can sneak into the playoffs. There's going to be a lot of crazy stuff going on this season due to the shortened nature of it, the back-to-back-to-backs, etc. We could absolutely make some noise.
Am I being overly optimistic? Of course. But at least I'm not being blindly optimistic. Last night's game gave us a real reason to believe that this team is for real.
The TL;DR version? Thank Tebow we have Ricky Rubio.