By: Joe Perovich, KFAN Intern
Whether it can be attributed to a string of less-than-desired rosters, untimely injuries, or merely an irrational allegiance to T-Mobile, the Minnesota Timberwolves (7-4, 2-3 away) will face the Washington Wizards (2-7, 1-2 home) at the Verizon Center, a road venue that in recent history has featured little to no success for Wednesday’s visiting team.
Minnesota has won just one of their previous nine trips to the arena nestled in the Nation’s Capital. Fortunately, a man that was instrumental in two of those wins for Washington is now on Minnesota’s side, doing his best to reverse the streak in the exact opposite direction.
Flip Saunders wasn’t hired as Minnesota’s President of Basketball Operations until May 3rd of this current year, but don’t fret T’Wolves fans, he was doing favors for the team long before he was even hired. In fact, a big reason Ricky Rubio puts on a jersey every night that has the team name “Wolves” emblazoned across it can be credited to Flip Saunders and his brass in Washington.
Flip was hired as the Wizards’ head coach on April 14th, 2009, and on June 24th, 2009 he and general manager Ernie Grunfeld sent a slew of contracts and the No. 5 overall pick (which wound up being then 18-year old Ricky Rubio) to the Timberwolves for SF Mike Miller, and eternal “tweener” Randy Foye, in an effort to patch up their past season’s vulnerability on the wing.
To Saunder’s credit, Randy Foye wasn’t awful, and his went down but his production remained consistent. Surprisingly, Mike Miller went on to post the second-best FG% of his career and the absolute best 3PT% of his career (that is, in years he played over 50 games). For some reason Foye, and more pointedly Miller, weren’t retained for the 2010-11 season, and the Timberwolves won the trade and finally reeled in their PG of the future after some elongated patience.
Fast-forward to today. Current, Timberwolves’ GM Flip Saunders will roll out a team with the ability to manufacture a scoring outburst from nearly any position at any given time.
With a roster more talented than any in the past five years, even if you combined a couple (it’s sort of ridiculous how ridiculous that isn’t), the Timberwolves will hope to erase any memory of past futilities and stamp out the Wizards early.
Simply put, the Timberwolves and the Wizards are trending two different ways at the moment.
For starters, Minnesota has Ricky Rubio, who averages the second most assists in the league and has a streak of 32 games with a steal. They added Kevin Martin in the off-season, and he has been exactly what the Timberwolves were on the market for. Martin has recorded at least 20 points in nine of the 10 games he has played in, and has been a brilliant complement to Rubio.
And finally, the Timberwolves have Kevin Love.
The season is young still, but Love’s accomplishments leading up to Wednesday night’s game are so lengthy that you would likely discover a new thing he is leading the league in with each and every look.
Just about everyone is aware that he is the third-leading scorer in the NBA (26.8 PPG, ahead of last year’s scoring champion and behind only two guys, a couple semi-recognizable NBA players, LeBron James and Kevin Durant), and several know he is the NBA’s current runner-up in rebounds at 13.6 RPG. How about this: Love leads the NBA in the advanced statistic ‘win shares’ (an estimate number of wins contributed to his team by a player) at 2.6, ahead of LeBron’s 2.1, and CP3 and Anthony Davis’ 2.0’s.
Prepare to fall over: Love is notoriously known for his shoddy defense, but at this current moment he is ranked 19th in the NBA in defensive rating (estimate number of points allowed per 100 possessions) and 7th in defensive win shares (an estimate number of wins contributed by a player due to his defense), ahead of players that are consistently labeled defensive-minded stalwarts like Chicago’s Joakim Noah, Golden State’s Andre Iguodala, and Houston’s Dwight Howard?
Kevin Love is excelling in every aspect of the game right now including the defensive end as conveyed by advanced stats. Conversely, the Wizards have been terrible defensively, routinely surrendering 105 points a game while letting opponents shoot almost 50% from the field on average.
It’s not any more magical on the other end of the court for Washington. The Wizards, during their current four-game losing streak, have shot just 41.2% as a team while barely mustering a 90-point showing in any of the four, averaging an uninspiring 93.8 during their losing swoon.
Washington has reason to not completely close the book on the season just yet. Bradley Beal, just 20-years old, has stepped and become the Wizards lone 20-point scorer. He doesn’t contribute much elsewhere, but he’s far surpassed what many thought he produce scoring-wise as a second-year player. Marcin Gortat, an underrated big man traded from the Suns to the Wizards before the season, has been another faint flicker of optimism for Washington through this first 1/8 of the NBA season.
Trevor Ariza and Otto Porter are not expected to play for the Wizards on Wednesday night, and Al Harrington is considered questionable. Ariza missing time could be the most valuable assist on Wednesday that doesn’t come from Rubio.
Embodying the phrase “diamond in the rough”, Ariza has been one of the single bright spots on the Wizards defense. If he misses, that opens up the floor even more for the Timberwolves on the offensive end.
This is a game that looks pretty lopsided in every aspect, and one that a team like the playoff-bound Timberwolves should win, and likely will win. When they do, Flip Saunders will extend his own streak: winning in games where the Timberwolves enter the Verizon Center as the visiting team.
Prediction: Timberwolves 119, Wizards 91.