Minnesota Timberwolves: Guarded Optimism Surrounds Team, Ricky Rubio

| by

You will know a Timberwolves fan by their signs--an almost preternatural ability to cope with (or flat out accept) failure; gallows humor when it comes to trades and free agents; misty eyes with the letters K and G are said together.

I won't go through the entire history failure here--we might simply run out of Internet if I even attempted to do so. But I will point out that a lot of people were confused during the Chris Paul trade that somehow the Wolves #1 pick for next year was involved, but the Wolves themselves weren't. That's because a half-decade ago, the Wolves decided that Marko Jaric was worth a First Round Pick and Sam Cassell. And they were happy about it, back in 2005. (It is stuff like this that makes me angry at the folks who have no patience with David Kahn--he's still dealing with stuff like this, you see.)

Here's Kevin McHale on that deal--"We're extremely excited to have acquired Marko...He is a very versatile player who has the ability to play the one, two or three spots on the floor. With Marko, we've added another player who can break down the defense and is a pass first point guard. Lionel [Chalmers, another player acquired in the trade] is a player that we think has some upside and will compete for a roster spot in training camp."

The Chris Paul deal notwithstanding, when you get taken to the cleaners by the Clippers, you done messed up. Jaric is playing in Italy this year; Chalmers is in Russia. So, yeah. But Jaric did help us out, by being part of the Draft Night Deal that sent Minnesota draftee OJ Mayo to Memphis in return for Memphis' draftee, Kevin Love. Now, at the time, I had some worries about Kevin Love:  one post was titled in part, "Kevin Love? NOOOOO!"

Which was stupid, of course. In my defense, I didn't know that KLOVE would lose almost 50 pounds over the course of two off-seasons, or that the Wolves would ship Al Jefferson for two First Round Picks. KLOVE is clearly the face of the franchise now, with Ricky Rubio very quickly moving up the Fan's List of Totally Awesome Timberwolves who also have gorgeous big brown eyes.

So this gets us, finally (and very eventually) gets us to 2011, with Ricky Rubio in the fold, Derrick Williams his rookie cohort, and Rick Adelman leading this young team. (Real quick though--remember when the firing of Kurt Ramis was going to mean that no quality veteran coach would come to Minnesota? Yeah, that was bull.)

After an 0-3 start, despite competing mightily with both the Thunder and the Heat (the listless loss on the road to the rag-tag bunch of sucks Bucks in Milwaukee hurt, sure), the Wolves have heard some of the same complaints as before--inconsistent defense, uncertain play at center, and turnovers, turnovers, turnovers. I've personally heard some really stupid stuff on the sports radio about how they need to worry about Michael Beasley's personality (which is all heart, all sleeve, all the time) "rubbing off on the young guys." Seriously--the media here sometimes seems to forget that Michael Beasley is 22 years old. Younger players? There aren't many on the roster, even a roster as young as the Timberwolves, than Michael Beasley. (We may not have to worry about Michael Beasley's super-talented, somewhat mercurial nature for a little while. He got injured tonight, and you can hear him freaking out over "being able to see the bone". Not good.)

The Wolves did get a win tonight. Against the defending World Champions Dallas Mavericks! Who I'll admit have been playing exactly like a bunch of guys in their mid-30's who had been trying to win a ring for a decade, and had finally done it. They now have the same record as the Wolves (1-3) but I don't think their opening schedule has been as tough as the Wolves' (seriously--Thunder, Bucks, Heat, Mavericks? You'd assume the Wolves at 1-3 had beaten the Bucks, and had lost to the other 3 teams by double-digits. You'd be wrong). All the same, it seems clear the Wolves have a game plan and personnel that could cause trouble for lots of teams.

What they have is a collection of tall shooters in KLOVE, Derrick Williams, Anthony Tolliver, Beasley, etc who can space a floor, and let their new whirling dervish Rubio take the action to the defense and find the open man. Which he excels at. And now that he is proving that the rap on his game (not a great shooter) is kind of bull, it will just open up those guys more. Luke Ridnour, as good as he's been (and he has been quite good--he had the fourth highest 3-point shooting percentage in the league last year, and is a capable assist man, too) is about become the 2nd or 3rd point guard off the bench for the Wolves.

Ricky Rubio's stock was never higher than it was prior to him falling to the Wolves. People were raving about him and about how he could be one of the best point guards in the NBA. When he did fall to the Wolves in the 2009 Draft, there seemed to be some agreement in the media that there must be something wrong with him--that if the Wolves drafted him, the teams in front of the Wolves knew something that they didn't. To be fair, with the exception of Hasheem Thabeet (drafted #2 overall) the players in front of Rubio have all worked out pretty well, too--Blake Griffin, James Harden, and Tyreke Evans have all found happy homes, after all. In fact, after only a couple of years, one could argue that the 2009 Draft Class was exceptional. But that's neither here nor there).

Rubio's stock was never lower than right after the Wolves drafted him, except maybe during the intervening years in which national guys were convinced that Ricky would never play for the Timberwolves; that they had wasted the pick, and it was just another Kahn cock-up. After four games, I think it is safe to say that Rubio's stock is right back where it was during the 2009 draft, that Kahn's proclamation that Rubio is a "transformational player" is no longer getting greeted with eyerolls. The Timberwolves have a point guard who can drive the line, make passes and yes, hit shots like no one they've had at the one since either Terrell Brandon or Stephon Marbury, and I'll say this--six games in, (2 pre-season, 4 regular season) I think Rubio has made my jaw drop more than any of those guys did in twice as many games.

Forget it. Enough talking. Just look at what this llama-eyed Spaniard can do.