In the midst of a Season Heading South – the umpteenth consecutive in Minnesota, it seems – frustration is too easily projected on what’s known. In mass losing, what’s consistent becomes What’s Wrong. Even if it really isn’t. What little joy or optimism remains after a playoffs-hopes-killing losing streak is disproportionately allocated to the unknowns; the uncertainty. On the Timberwolves right now positive energy derives from Mickael Gelabale and Chris Johnson, ten-day contract wonders. They helped lead an unexpected win in their mutual Wolves debut and each has provided a shot in the arm at a position of short-term need. Even the most beaten-down can rally behind a feel-good story. If Chris Johnson successfully “makes it” out of the D-League that will be special indeed.
Then there is the draft. As the coming weeks pass and we head into March, you can bet that minds will wander toward the college game. Chad Ford, Draft Express, Jay Bilas, Big Monday, The Lottery Machine, The Lottery itself, tweeners, versatility, long arms, short arms, Height Without Shoes, intangibles, baggage, efficiency, inefficiency, eye tests, motors, headcases, smiles, hand shakes. We know how this works. As the games matter less, and the path to nightly failure is crystalized into predictability, the best place for a Wolves fan to find hope is the upcoming draft. I’m already finding myself drifting over to ESPN to catch 15 minutes of Kentucky or Kansas. Ben McLemore’s jumper and Nerlens Noel’s flat top? Might as well get to know em. I’m not proud.
For the Timberwolves right now, certainty is Luke Ridnour. He’s 9-year veteran. He is neither long nor athletic, but only fundamentally sound and professional. He averages 14 points and 4 assists per game with a league-average .099 win shares per 48 minutes. In the right role Ridnour helps a team win more than he causes it to lose. Unfortunately for Luke, and unfortunately for fans of the Timberwolves, circumstances do not allow Ridnour to play “in the right role.” The slew of backcourt injuries – first Rubio, then Roy, then Budinger, then Lee – has required Luke to play over 30 minutes per game, often times at shooting guard where his slight 6’2” (generously listed) frame is physically overmatched. On offense, he’s asked to create scoring opportunities. On defense, he’s asked to guard starting-caliber guards – sometimes superstar guards. They are invariably bigger, stronger and faster than he is. His offensive and defensive assignments are each beyond his preferred call of duty. Preferred by fans anyway. Luke might deny that there are any excuses.
What I’m getting to, I guess, is that Luke Ridnour played great last night. The Bobcats are terrible, to be sure – they were fresh off a 16-game home losing streak! – but the Wolves were ravaged by injuries and Luke damn-near carried his team to a victory anyway. He scored 22 points on 9-14 shooting while dishing 7 assists and pulling down 7 rebounds in 41 minutes of action. His steal and breakaway “Kobe Assist” to Kirilenko with under a minute to go looked like a game-saver. Gerald Henderson played spoiler, stealing a Charlotte win with a 25-foot heave that improbably swished through the net. But Ridnour’s performance deserves recognition just the same.
Just 24 hours earlier I watched Luke heating (or icing?) his back on the bench in Washington, clearly in pain but gutting it out. He checked in with Lou Amundson with a few minutes left in that game, only to be mocked by Wizards fans cheering the gratuitous garbage-time minutes Lou was about to receive. Luke didn’t appear to be enjoy that, and I would not have bet on him turning around the next night and playing great ball, no matter who the opponent.
The NBA regular season is a grind and few teams can bring a top-notch effort 82 times. Right now Oklahoma City might be the only one that can. Barring a miracle or something majorly unforeseen on the trade front, the Wolves will not be making the playoffs this year. Things might get worse before they get better. It wouldn’t surprise me if we don’t see Kevin Love or Rick Adelman back on the floor before season’s end. My instincts as a fan steer attention toward avenues for hope or at least renewed interest, which will mean the Rubio Recovery, the finest nuances of Alexey Shved, and yes, even the upcoming college draft. But for one night, even after a loss to the Charlotte Bobcats, Luke Ridnour deserves praise. Certainty and all.
Season Record: 17-24