The Minnesota Timberwolves are making waves early in the NBA season because of their new image and the improvement of the team. Rookies Ricky Rubio and Derrick Williams have joined All-Star Kevin Love to form the Timberwolves most watchable squad since Kevin Garnett left town in 2007. With the first Spring Training game still 45 days away, now is as good of a time as ever for Minnesotans and sports fans alike to check out another local team. You don’t need to know much about basketball to enjoy this team and lucky for you, everything you need to know is below the jump, in terms any Twins fan will understand.
Offensive Equivalent: Joe Mauer
When looking at Kevin Love on offense, like Joe Mauer, he really does it all. He can make a step-back three or bully a center in the post. He is, without a doubt, the Timberwolves offensive MVP. After scoring, he also has Mauer’s ability to do the little things that help the Timberwolves become more efficient. Whereas Mauer will take an extra base if the defense gets lazy, Love will often sneak inside to get an offensive rebound and a put-back in a similar situation.
Defensive Equivalent: Luke Hughes
Luke Hughes is a fair comparison to Kevin Love on defense, because I feel like they are in similar situations. For the most part, Kevin Love is a reliable defender, but their are situations where he struggles. Being undersized, Kevin Love often has trouble defending bigger players and his help defense is lacking when Darko loses track of his man, which happens more often than you’d like to see.
Other Feature: Joe Mauer’s Quick Thinking
Much like Joe Mauer’s dive to get Brett Gardner at home plate, Kevin Love has the propensity to make quick decisions that often help the team that you wouldn’t see out of the average player. Things like passes out to the wing for three or opportune screens for the ball handler show that there’s something special about Love and that he has a high basketball IQ.
Offensive Equivalent: Denard Span
Ricky Rubio is the most exciting player in Minnesota, if not in the entire NBA. Every time Rubio has the ball in his hands as he’s running down the court, you don’t want to look away because you don’t want to miss something special. Denard Span has that same appeal. Every time Denard gets a hit, your eyes are glued to the game, because you never really know what’s going to happen. The man had three triples in one game!
Defensive Equivalent: Justin Morneau
Rubio is exciting on Offense, but his defense is solid as well. Like Justin Morneau’s killer stretch at first base, Rubio’s long arms allow him to hassle opposing point guards and come away with steals that lead into his dynamic fast break. He also is like Morneau in the fact that he comes away with big plays when the team needs him and he’s always there to help a teammate out if they make a mistake.
Other Feature: Justin Morneau’s Fan Appeal
Ricky Rubio is not only helping the Timberwolves on the court, but off the court as well. His presence in Minneapolis and with the team has created a large amount of buzz locally, as well as nationally. Justin Morneau had that same value when he won the MVP award in 2006, because he cemented the Twins’ brand on a local level, as well as increasing the Twins’ brand on a national level.
Offensive Equivalent: Danny Valencia
Luke Ridnour is very similar to Danny Valencia in their style of play in the fact that they’re players who take what they’re given and don’t force their game. Ridnour has been a very efficient shooter this season and while Valencia doesn’t show that same efficiency, he doesn’t play outside his means. Unlike many player, Valencia is happy pulling a bloop single down the left field line every at bat. Ridnour and Valencia aren’t physical specimens; they use the tools they have to be the best players they can be.
Defensive Equivalent: Trevor Plouffe
Trevor Plouffe’s defense is never going to lose you a game, but he’s also rarely going to be on Baseball Tonight with a Web Gem. The same can be said for Luke Ridnour. Luke isn’t the type of defender that’s going to force turnovers and lead to easy points, but he’s not the kind of defender that’s going to get burnt of the dribble and watch his man hit an easy layup.
Other Feature: Danny Valencia’s Reliability
Luke Ridnour is reliable. He’s played in all 13 games this season, and played in seventy-one of eighty-two last season. Danny Valencia, like Ridnour, had the most at-bats of any Twin last season and eclipsed 300 the previous season even though he was called up in June. Should Ricky Rubio have some growing pains this season, Ridnour’s role will be even more crucial.
Offensive Equivalent: Tsuyoshi Nishioka
Nishioka was not the average rookie. He had played eight years of professional baseball in Japan, so when he got to the United States, his potential was limited. The Timberwolves are in the same situation with Wes Johnson. Wes Johnson started his college career at Iowa State before transferring to Syracuse. The resulting year off of basketball made him a twenty-three year old rookie and he’s now in his second year at age twenty-four. With the limited potential, his lack of production shows. He looks like a college player out there with the pros.
Defensive Equivalent: Matt Tolbert
Matt Tolbert’s defense is an average fielder. He makes some mistakes, and shines at times. Wes Johnson is very much an average defender. At times, he’ll be terrific and shut down his man or he can just look completely lost. The truth, as always, lies somewhere in between. Wes does an excellent job of rising to the challenge of a better player, but sometimes fails to defend players that he should be shutting down.
Other Feature: Alexi Casilla’s Misleading Stats
Despite mediocre performances, Wes Johnson consistently has an incredible +/- on this team. The +/- looks at how the team performed with that individual player on the court. The same phenomenon occurs with Alexi Casilla. Last season, Casilla trailed only Cuddyer and Span in WAR, which is a system that rates the value of a player. How bizarre!
Offensive Equivalent: Carl Pavano
Darko Milicic’s offensive game is a mystery to me. Darko will often pass up easy dunks for a flip shot, that he will almost undoubtedly miss. Playing with Rubio has made him even more of a liability because he often bobbles the ball when an even average pass is thrown to him. It might be a bit of a stretch to compare him to Carl Pavano, but Darko is without a doubt, one of the poorest offensive starters in the NBA.
Defensive Equivalent: Drew Butera
Darko Milicic is serviceable defensively. He’s not Dwight Howard, but he’s okay. He provides the same energy when Drew Butera goes into catch for Joe Mauer, none. That’s not to say Drew Butera isn’t serviceable, you just don’t want to see him out there. Darko Milicic suffers a similar fate. He’s not terrible on defense, but on a team as loaded with energetic, young talent as the Timberwolves, you don’t want to see the Serbian Skywalker out there.
Other Feature: Bert Blyleven’s Comedic Value
The facial expressions that Darko flashes when he plays are amazing. When I attended a Timberwolves game earlier this season, Darko had two block shots in the first quarter and it seemed like he didn’t even know that he did it. He plays like he isn’t aware that there is a basketball game going on around him. I don’t think it’s actually like that, but he is very funny to watch nonetheless.
Offensive Equivalent: Luke Hughes
Derrick Williams is young and versatile. He is an excellent combination of speed and power and he has flashes of brilliance, but he’s still a little raw. Luke Hughes is cut from the same mold. I feel like both players could someday be incredible, but for now they’re learning. Luke Hughes stepped up in a big way for the Twins in 2011 due to injury. I hope that Williams will someday get the same break, without someone being injured, of course.
Defensive Equivalent: Ben Revere
Derrick Williams is athletic and that allows him to make plays like a big blocked shot or jumping a pass. His defense is modeled after Ben Revere. Revere will make a big play, and like Williams, Revere will make a few “rookie mistakes.” For every time he loses a fly ball in the sun, or takes a bad angle on a line drive in the gap, he’s going to make an amazing catch at the wall or throw someone out at home.
Other Feature: Joe Benson’s Potential
Derrick Williams was the #2 overall pick in the 2011 NBA Draft. Williams is seeing his first real NBA action and for him, the sky is the limit. He’s shown that he can shoot threes consistently and take the ball to the rim with power. It isn’t long before we’ll start to see the mistakes fade away, and Williams making more key plays.
Offensive Equivalent: Justin Morneau (You know, if he feels like it, but if not, whatever.)
Beasley has the ability to become a big time scorer; we just haven’t seen it yet. We’ve seen flashes of brilliance, but he has yet to pull his game together on a consistent basis. I hope that me comparing him to a young Justin Morneau will wake this kid up. He has all the talent in the world, but his attitude on the court and lack of a will to win upset me. He just doesn’t have the passion for basketball required to be a great player.
Defensive Equivalent: Alexi Casilla
Michael Beasley comes up big in big games on defense. Michael Beasley has played really good defensive games against some of the best teams the NBA has to offer. It’s the defense he’s played in the other games that really tells the story. Michael Beasley struggles in games that he should excel. I believe that Michael Beasley thinks that playing well in big games will make him seem like a better player, but really, it just disappoints fans because we see the Beasley we could have all year around, not just when a big name comes to town.
Other Feature: Ron Gardenhire’s Attitude
One of the things I really like about Beasley is that at times, he will show fire on the court. I think that it’s important that at least one player is willing to show some emotion on the court because I feel like it can be a positive influence on the team. If Beasley cut down on the amount of complaining he did and came to play everyday, the Wolves would be something special.
This fresh, energetic Timberwolves squad is fun to watch and the crowds at Target Center have been electric. The Timberwolves will be at home tomorrow night (Wednesday) as well as Monday night. Tickets can be purchased on StubHub for less than the price of a beer at Target Field (Sadly, the beer at Target Center is just as expensive.).