Culture of Hoops

Minnesota Timberwolves: Scoring? Sure. Winning? Not as much.

Image courtesy of Joe Biewala I Flickr

Image courtesy of Joe Biewala/Flickr

The Minnesota Timberwolves are undefeated in the month of March thanks in part to the triumphant return of guard Kevin Martin. Martin missed the past seven games with a broken thumb, but made his way back to the court on March 1 to score 26 points. The Timberwolves defeated the Sacramento Kings 108-97, with Martin’s scoring leading the way.

Saturday’s win was the second-straight victory for Minnesota and fifth in six games. It also pushed the team back to .500 (29-29) on the season. Let’s not get all carried away, lauding the accomplishments of Kevin Martin and his relative lack of defense. Before we go there, let’s at least acknowledge the return of Nikola Pekovic, who hadn’t played in an actual basketball game since January 27.

Martin is a nice offensive player, he always has been. Back in 2008-09, as a member of the Sacramento Kings, he averaged just under 25 points per game, largely due to his deadly three-point shooting abilities (2.3 made per game). His coach in Sacramento was none other than Rick Adelman, now the coach of the Timberwolves. The two, coach and player, seem to have a good working relationship.

Martin was never much of an on-ball defender and little has changed since his days in Sacramento. He still has quite the stroke from downtown, and can pile up the points when his shot is falling, but he’s not the main offensive option in Minnesota. Coach Adelman keeps him involved enough to allow analysts to talk about the Timberwolves offense in the same sentence as the NBA’s elite teams.

The casual observer might assume, quite naturally, that the team would have struggled mightily without two of its top three scorers. Not so. The role players lived up to their monikers by stepping up on an as-needed basis to contribute in a way that neither Martin nor Pekovic are ill-accustomed: playing defense.

Pekovic has been good, in fact he’s been really good at times throughout the 2013-14 season. However, the things he’s legitimately good at are fairly limited in number. He’s been an accomplished scorer, stepping his scoring average to 18.1 PPG. He’s been quite the rebounder too, cruising along at 9.1 RPG (4.1 on the offensive end). He’s also particularly good at being physically large, and something of an ever-present fixture in the Minneapolis club scene. Yes, Big Pek loves him some electronic dance music.

What Pekovic doesn’t love is symptomatic of the entire Timberwolves team: stopping opponents from scoring. While Minnesota fans seem to love fast-paced, action-packed basketball, that flavor has yet to translate into a winning brand of basketball. From that standpoint, it’s really easy to be critical of this current iteration of Minnesota Timberwolves basketball. Many would suggest that the team wasn’t constructed to win, at least not now. Playing in an up-tempo style is at the very least entertaining and, in theory anyway, should sell a few tickets. As such, there are hundreds (PPG) of reasons to watch this team play.

If you’re a fan of basketball, if you’re into scoring, if you like fancy look-away bounce passes or even seven-footers hitting three-point shots, by all means, tune into a Timberwolves game. You’ll get all that and probably more. Especially now, with the offense again set to fire on all cylinders with Martin and Pekovic back to something approaching 100 percent, the points should be abundant.

The T-Wolves’ current pace factor (rate at which a given team scores) is 99.7, good for third in the NBA, behind only the frantic and largely misguided Philadelphia 76ers and the Mike D’Antoni-led Los Angeles Lakers. Needless to say, they’re going to score points. And, for what it’s worth, fans generally like scoring. But fans like winning even more, and the latter is far more difficult to deliver. For now, and for as long as the Timberwolves still have Kevin Love leading the way, this should be an entertaining show to watch, even if it falls short of winning any awards.

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