Believe it or not, the Minnesota Timberwolves are 4-1 to start off the season despite playing without both Kevin Love and Ricky Rubio. Their latest victims in their surprising start were the struggling Indiana Pacers, who simply messed up on the final play, allowing Chase Budinger to score a game winning layup with 0.8 second left on the clock.
Who is/are responsible? Hard to say. The team’s leading scorer is Nikola Pekovic with 13.8 points, leading five players averaging in double figures. The Timberwolves are only scoring 94.2 points per game. Without Rubio, there isn’t a point guard that loves to run and can carry a team with him. But it seems the team’s biggest asset is a depth to the squad that hasn’t been in here in quite some time, making their second unit just as good as the first and making it possible for a lot of interesting combinations.
Variety, and defense. That’s what Andrei Kirilenko is all about. He’s playing as a “3” in the NBA most of the time, but the guy can play as a power forward or even center when needed, but his biggest addition is a defensive mentality and attitude. The Timberwolves are allowing only 90 points per game so far, allowing a team to score over 100 only once.
They’re 10 man deep, with no one playing more than 31 minutes a night, and 10 players with at least 15 minutes a night. Brandon Roy isn’t an All-Star guard anymore, shooting at only 31.4% from the field and averaging 5.8 points per game, but he’s not trying to do too much, knowing his limitations.
He acts as the primary ball handler when he’s on the court, being the best passer on the team, averaging 4.6 assists per game. The ball is in the hands of their best passers instead of whoever is the official point guard. Andrei Kirilenko has 3.6 assists per game this season, and he was the one who found the cutting Budinger on the way to the last second win.
Kirilenko’s return to the NBA has been a big part of the Wolves’ success. After preferring to stay with CSKA Moscow than return to the NBA last year, the 31 year old 10 year veteran is doing anything that needs to be done. Rebounding, passing, scoring and above all defense. Not just his own, but inserting a defensive mentality that has carried off well from him to the rest of the team.
And there’s generally good, smart basketball from this team. Not a lot of isolation and simple on ball screens to allow a shot, because they don’t have that kind of talent pool on the team. Derrick Williams might be able to pull that off, but he’s trying to do a much better job than last season in picking good shots. He’s 40% from the field this season, but he was 6-9 from the field against the Pacers, leading the starters with 15 points.
Chase Budinger is another pleasant addition this off-season, second in scoring so far with 12.4 points in 22 minutes a night, second on the team in offensive efficiency behind Barea. Aside from Pekovic, who obviously draws a lot of contact, Budinger is the Timberwolves best option in creating points and opportunities when driving to the basket. Again, no one that is playing off the charts, but a lot of guys playing well, individually and as a team.
Holding the fort? Rick Adelman is doing much more than that. It’s early in the season, but few would argue about his coaching abilities and credentials, proving that there’s plenty to work with on this team even without its two best players. You just need to put the pieces in the right spot.