There Are Wolves After Me

If you’re like me, this fall’s been a little rough. The last two weeks of the Twins’ season affected me more deeply than anything so ultimately unimportant ever should. Oh, but don’t worry, there’s also the election season, which is just as emotionally wrenching but, because it actually matters, so very much less fun. I don’t care what party you belong to, the site of adult humans engaging in such extraordinarily undignified moral contortions is cosmically depressing. These minor and major daily rituals of desperate hope and heartbreak combined with the lingering specter of the spectacularly crass NFL (again, this is just if you’re like me) and…I guess what I’m trying to say is that I’m ready for the NBA.

Here We Go, Feel Me Flow

Some of you will probably raise an eyebrow here, gently pat my shoulder and say something like, “Bro, surely you’re not speaking of those corrupt lackadaisical pros? Don’t you probably mean good old school-spirited, youthfully enthused college basketball?” Well I get you, but part of my mission here will be to convince you of the competitiveness, the incomprehensible skill and athleticism, the basic beauty and maybe even (gulp) importance of the U.S. pro game. The other possibly eyebrow raising aspect of this is that I hope to accomplish these goals through the lens of your Minnesota T-Wolves.

Here are some things to watch for this Wolves’ year:

You may or may not know that the Wolves traded their lottery pick, the extremely talented, but potentially Randy Moss-esque O.J. Mayo (don’t get me wrong, I love Randy Moss, but his, let us say, personal style, did not necessarily align with the, uh, styles of many Minnesotans) for the less obviously talented Kevin Love. Love is known to be an intelligent player and a very gifted passer, but he is barely 20 and in possession of the rather shapeless body of an overgrown teen. This, combined with the plainly visible fact that he is not the 6’10” claimed by his roster listing (closer to 6’8” probably) and its pretty safe to assume that, this year at least, he will get routinely punished by the Association’s ruthless big dudes.

Luckily, the Wolves also managed to land Mike Miller in the deal. Miller has hippie tattoos and wears one of those Europeanly masculine, shoelace-ish headbands, but he may also be the league’s best pure shooter; he is undoubtedly the T-Wolves’ best three-point shooter in years. The presence of Miller on the outside, stretching defenses and creating space, provides a perfect complement to Al Jefferson’s sublime low-post skills. The relationship between the two should create a flowing offense, the ball moving naturally from the inside out. The question is whether Wolves’ third-year point guard Randy Foye can transcend his natural scorer’s mentality enough to make this a reality. If he understands that his job is to enable the offense with crisp, early ball-movement and that his best scoring opportunities will arise out of that ball-movement (rather than through his own will and one-on-one skills), the Wolves could put up some serious points.

Defense, but No Defenders

The other big question is defense. The Wolves played “pretty solid” defense (coach Randy Wittman’s words) in going 6-2 this preseason, and there is evidence that a renewed commitment to defending well is paying off. But the Wolves have some basic problems to overcome. Jefferson is still developing as a pro defender and his development has been hampered by Wittman’s seeming determination to play him at center, where he tends to get out-muscled by bigger players (plus fatigued at the offensive end). This, in combination with the threat of Love at power forward could add up to some flimsy interior D. The Wolves showed good sense in acquiring, in the Love/Mayo trade, Jason Collins, a burly seven-foot center unencumbered by offensive aspirations. Collins would have been a good complement to Jefferson inside except that he tore his triceps tendon in a golf cart accident (not a joke) so we’ll have to wait a month or so to actually find out.

Perimeter defense is another problem. Of their top four perimeter players (Foye, Miller, Rashad McCants and the still very, very thin Corey Brewer) only Brewer has shown the aptitude for sustained lockdown defense (the only problem being that he still shoots so erratically that it can be hard for him to contribute much on offense). Miller is willing but probably can’t stay with the quickest NBA guards; and McCants and Foye have shown that sort of sporadic interest that reveals that they might not know exactly what NBA defense really entails. It might seem like I just told you that the Wolves’ only problem on defense is inside and on the perimeter. And I kind of did. But, basically, team defense in the NBA is about the ability to grasp the concepts and the willingness to expend the effort. A team can overcome some weak links if everybody is fully committed to the cause. So we’ll just have to see.

Here’s what I can promise you, though: the soothingly hypnotic sight of Mike Miller’s jumper feathering through the net over and over; at least 30 wins (well not promise promise); a season of such moderate expectations as to be free of this fall’s nauseating surprises and portents; some fun, interesting basketball. I say we do it.

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