Dancing With Noah

Just messing around, getting triple doubles

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Future: An Alternative to Winning or Losing – Minnesota Timberwolves

Did you know that Wesley Johnson (24), a rookie last year, is older than Kevin Love (23) and Michael Beasley (22)? Or that Beasley’s older than Ricky Rubio (21) and Derrick Williams (20)? The T’Wolves’ core is filled with youth, dreams and ceilings that reach beyond the firmament. To realize Kevin Love’s 30-30 game is to tip-toe into our past and dance with Moses Malone. To load up on youthful assets like David Kahn has done is put to faith in the future and bank on the development of at least one of Beasley, Johnson, Rubio, Anthony Randolph or Williams to partner with Love’s already historic body of work.

Being so bad for so long (last year, six teams had more wins (57 or more) than the Wolves have had over their past three years combined (56 total)), has helped Minnesota stockpile players who are barely old enough to drink. The front line is already established with a diverse threesome who can produce stats, but have struggled to generate wins. The backcourt, mostly point guard, is more mysterious. It’s not quite as confusing as crop circles, but Jonny Flynn, Luke Ridnour and Ricky Rubio give new Coach Rick Adelman options at the point. I picture a training camp where point guard front runners rotate on a daily basis like Republican Presidential candidates jockeying for position. With any luck, Kahn will throw the whole situation into chaos by drafting Marquis Teague to compete for the position in 2012.

Beyond the potential starters, Minnesota has elements of intrigue coming off the bench. Randolph perennially inspires stargazers to grab hold of isolated visions of potential and extrapolate them into 82-game projections punctuated by big, bold IFs. While the performances across his first three years as a pro have been marked by more valleys than peaks, it feels like we often forget this kid is just 22.

Then there’s Derrick Williams—Minnesota’s reward for being a terrible team yet again in 2011. Williams is an explosive combo forward; a strong rebounder with a slow, but accurate jump shot. Sometimes we see guys devour inferior competition in college, then get to the pros and look ordinary when faced with the world’s finest. Derrick is better than ordinary, but is he quick enough to guard Nicolas Batum? Is he beefy enough to bang with Serge Ibaka? Fortunately, Minnesota can ease him into these questions and peers like Love and Beasley can help provide the answers he seeks.

When winning’s not an option, an exciting underdog with a white hero to latch onto, a quadruple double threat and a previously post-hype Spanish point guard becomes an acceptable substitute. T’Wolves fans won’t have a lot of team success to celebrate this year, but the individual will be at the forefront many times over.

Let Your Heroes go in Peace – the Utah Jazz

For as long as I’ve been following the NBA, the Utah Jazz have been identifiable by the presence of players and a single coach who’ve cultivated a respectable workmanlike ethos. From their ancient leathery coach, Jerry Sloan, the approach flowed toward the blue collar duo of Stockton and Malone and was seamlessly transitioned to a modern-day version in Deron Williams and Carlos Boozer. The Jazz we knew are no more.

The new Jazz are a mishmash of good, but not great players. Their fans go to sleep at night whispering soft prayers to the basketball gods, “Please let this be the year of The Al Jefferson. And maybe if you could see to it that Derrick Favors can become a starter and Enes Kanter can be the real deal; well, it’d kinda cool. ” Regardless of how the basketball gods respond to those requests, big Al’s support system is still young, shallow and somewhat unreliable. That description might sound more applicable to a group of teenagers, but it fits the new Jazz too. Al’s flanked by delicate Devin Harris (averages missing 14 games per year) and Paul Millsap. After that it starts getting lean. It doesn’t look like Andrei Kirilenko is going to re-sign which leaves Gordon Hayward (a tribute to classical Jazz roots), CJ Miles and Raja Bell to fight for the last two starting spots.

This isn’t a squad to inspire fear in the hearts of competitors. Unless Kanter and Favors are able to replicate some Ralph Sampson/Akeem Olajuwon mid-80s type performances, these guys should fall short of the playoffs again. With a group of good players, but no anchor, no Deron or Karl, it’s going to be a challenging climb into the top-eight in the conference. Looking at their opponents last year, they were able to compete with non-playoff teams and Eastern Conference foes, but consistently struggled against inter-conference playoff teams:

 

 Opponent Games Wins Losses Win%
Vs West Conf Playoff teams

31

10

21

32.3%

Vs Non West Playoff teams

21

11

10

52.4%

Vs East Conf Playoff teams

16

8

8

50.0%

Vs Non East Playoff teams

14

10

4

71.4%

 

If Jefferson makes the leap to an elite post player (very possible given his skill-set and the lack of quality bigs in the league) and Favors/Kanter/Hayward make significant improvements, the Jazz could leapfrog Denver or New Orleans for one of the last playoff spots; aka lambs to the Mavs/Lakers/Thunder slaughter. It’s not a contending team, but the Jazz have just enough talent to compete for the playoffs and just enough youth to keep fans intrigued by a promising, but undefined future. It’s OK to let go; Karl, John, Deron, Jerry and especially Al insist on it.

 

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