Greg Smith-US PRESSWIRE
The Timberwolves lost twice in week three, but got three players back from injury. It's time for the Wolves to face up - this is the team they're going to have for much of 2012-13.
This, right here, is your Timberwolves team for this season.
Ricky Rubio is scheduled to come back next month, it's true, but any sensible schedule won't have him returning to full-time duty until well into the new year. He'll play, but he has to get into game shape and take it easy on his knee. And speaking of knees, it's now looking very much like neither Brandon Roy nor Chase Budinger will end up being a big factor on this team.
This is the team the Timberwolves have. Kevin Love made a shock return before Wednesday's home game against Denver; he took to the floor in front of a surprised but raucous fan base, and scored 16 points and grabbed six rebounds in the first quarter, and fans across Minnesota turned to each other and said, relief in their voices, "It'll be okay now, won't it? It'll be okay now!"
It wasn't, though; Love scored 34, but the entire rest of the team combined to shoot an ugly 34% from the floor. The Wolves' semi-secret shame this year has been the team's inability to shoot; they're seventh-worst in adjusted FG% and third-worst from behind the arc. The Wolves have held opponents to 91.5 PPG and are the league's fourth-best defensive team through ten games - but they're 5-5 because they can only find 92 points per game themselves.
This is the team the Timberwolves have. Their theoretical starting backcourt of Roy and Rubio is out, leaving four guards - Luke Ridnour, J.J. Barea, Alexey Shved, and Malcolm Lee - who, to varying degrees, are unable to throw it in the proverbial lake from inside the proverbial boat. Ridnour and Barea can't shoot, kind of. Shved can't shoot, but we're hopeful for the future. But Malcolm Lee - we need a new paragraph for Malcolm Lee.
Malcolm Lee has only played 27 games for the Wolves, between last year and this year. He's played in eight of the team's ten games this year, starting four of them, and already I can say that I think that Lee is going to go down in the annals of Timberwolves history alongside some of the greatest "lots of potential that never quite materialized" Timberwolves of all time. He can't shoot. He drives wildly and excitingly to the basket, but can't finish. He plays good defense, but he'd have to guard two people to make his terrible offense worth it.
Jonny Flynn, Randy Foye, Corey Brewer, Gerald Green, Ryan Hollins, Michael Beasley, Wayne Ellington, Darko Milicic - you could easily construct an entire roster of Wolves players from the past few years who we thought might be almost "there," but could never find out just where "there" was. Lee is one of them. Every time Lee is on the floor, I get horrible flashbacks to the past eight years, when the Wolves lost every game by either six or twenty-six, and those of us who watched could feel our brains slowly leaking out of our ears and running out onto the floor, in search of a human host that was maybe not so interested in self-mutilation.
This is the team the Timberwolves have. Rick Adelman will rotate those four guards each night, trying to find a combo that's working that evening. Nik Pekovic and Greg Stiemsma (if he can catch the ball that night) or Lou Amundson (if Stiemsma can't) will play center. Love and Andrei Kirilenko and Dante Cunningham will play forward, with new signing Josh Howard rotating there (and perhaps even in the backcourt if necessary). And Derrick Williams - well, he'll sit alone at the end of the bench, hoping for a blowout either way so that he may get out there and try to work his way out of Adelman's doghouse.
Williams didn't play one minute against Golden State on Wednesday. Love hadn't played or even practiced, and looked winded all night; he still played 35 minutes. Kirilenko - 35, Cunningham - 22; even Howard played 13, but Williams didn't get off the bench, the only Wolf so honored. Williams is on the train to Jonny Flynn-ville, and I don't know what he needs to get off, though the ability to shoot and actually, you know, move around on offense would be a good start.
This is the team the Timberwolves have. If they're to make the playoffs, they'll do it with this core group, with an energy and dreaminess infusion later from Rubio.
This is the team the Timberwolves have. And it's worrying that they couldn't beat Denver at home on Wednesday, because to be good, they're going to have to win those games.
This week: Last week was practically a week off for Minnesota, with just two games in seven days, both at home. This week - not so much. The team's on a West Coast road trip, with a pair of back-to-back nights on the schedule: tonight and Saturday, they take on Portland and Golden State; Tuesday and Wednesday, they play at Sacramento and the Clippers.
Two wins would be average. More would be exciting. But one - well, one would feel like this is not only the team the Timberwolves have - it's the same team they've been for most of the past decade.