The Wolves Year in Review, 2013 (The Punch-Drunk Edition)

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Here we go. A month-by-month rundown of our best and worst Wolves moments of 2013.

January (AG)

Best: Gelabale & Johnson Beat the Rockets

Remember all of the injuries last season?

What’s that? You’re hoping to never think about them again? Okay fine.

Let’s talk about who *was* healthy during the middle of the 2012-13 campaign. Signed to 10-day Kahntracts were Mickael Gelabale from France and Chris Johnson from Louisiana State and the D-League.

On January 19, 2013, riding a five-game losing streak and playing in James Harden’s house, a Timberwolves win was not expected. DNPs would be registered for Kevin Love, Nikola Pekovic, Chase Budinger, Alexey Shved (pre stock plunge), and Brandon Roy.

Worries of a sixth consecutive loss were put to rest in the fourth quarter thanks to the dominant play of the 10-Day Wonders, Johnson & Gelabale. The Wolves won by 13, largely on the backs of the two newbies. Johnson had 15 points and 6 boards. He made all of his field goal attempts. Gelabale scored 11 points, 10 of which came in a hot stretch of the fourth quarter. He also contained Harden on the other end.

For one night, amid a miserable season of bad news and medical updates, the Wolves provided a feel-good story about two young guys trying to carve out NBA careers for themselves.

Worst: Everything else

Aside from that win over Houston, the Wolves were 2-10 in January. In the month’s first game, at Denver, Kevin Love reinjured his hand; this time shelving him for the rest of the season. In our season retrospective post, I named the January freefall as the lowpoint. I stand by that. They were getting blown out repeatedly. The injuries were such a real excuse that fans couldn’t really even get mad. What’s the opposite of cathartic?

I hated last January.

February (PJ)

Best: Timberwolves Destroy the Hornets in a Laugher on February 2

On February 2, the Wolves beat the New Orleans Hornets 115-86 in a laugher (boxscore here). The 29-point win was the only lopsided win the Wolves got in February, and it’s nice for Wolves fans to get to sit back and enjoy a dominant performance every once in a while.

Kevin Love was already out for the season by this point, but everyone contributed, making the lopsided win even more satisfying.

Indeed, the bench did most of the damage: Dante had 18 points on a perfect 9-9 from the floor; Shved had 12 points, 8 assists, and 4 boards and looked like a real prospect; Gelabale had 11 and 5, shooting 4-5 in 21 minutes.

Worst: The Games Didn’t Mean Much Anymore…and Alexey Shved Started to Disappoint

February was another bad month for the Wolves. After going 3-12 in January, they went 3-10 in February. Apart from the lopsided win over NOLA on February 2, their only wins in February were over Cleveland and Philly–not exactly powerhouse teams.

The NOLA game was one of the last times Good Alexey has been seen in an NBA game. Starting in mid-February, his game took a precipitous decline. The Alexey of late 2012 and early 2013 hasn’t been seen again.

March (AG)

Best: Ricky Rubio’s Triple Double

The playoff hopes were dashed, but we still had Ricky. It was fun, and sometimes encouraging to watch Rubio’s ongoing rehab and recovery process after ACL surgery. On March 12, 2013, against the eventual-almost-champ Spurs from San Antonio, Ricky had it all going. He scored 21 points. He pulled down 13 rebounds. He dropped 12 dimes. He messed around and got a triple double.

Oh but this wasn’t just substance — “doing stuff” as some like to call it.

There was also the patented Rubio flair, never more so than on this drive to the bucket for an easy two points:

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Ricky’s taken a beating recently in the talk radio and blogosphere as casual fans place a little bit (sometimes a lot) too much emphasis on his shooting struggles. It’s worth remembering games like this one where he destroyed one of the league’s best teams.

Worst: Saying Goodbye to Derrick Williams’ Excuse

The silver lining to Kevin Love’s injury was supposed to be the fresh opportunity for Derrick Williams to show off his crazy-cool, number-two-pick-in-the-draft skills. Unfortunately, the opportunity revealed nothing helpful. As we now know, increased sample size sanded his trade value down to Luc Richard Mbah a Moute; a reserve defensive specialist.

In March, after getting an extended look at Uncaged Lion Williams, I offered the following take:

“The problem with Williams — as I observe him — is that he does nothing at an elite — or close to elite — level.  He plays hard enough and makes enough open jumpers to command a reserve role on an NBA team.  He is not Jonny Flynn or Wes Johnson, in other words.  But there isn’t much hope (that I can detect) that he will ever be an above-average NBA power forward.  His athleticism goes to waste around the basket where he has next to no good scoring instincts or fundamentals.  His jumpshot was falsely advertised under the tease of college small sample size; a case where some classic scouting perhaps should’ve observed his poor shooting fundamentals (footwork, balance, flying shooting elbow) and how that probably would not translate into consistency at the NBA level.”

Nine months later, nothing has happened to change my opinion.

April (PJ)

Best:  David Kahn’s epic exit interview

You can read all four parts, starting with Part I here. To be as succinct as possible, the four-part interview illustrates the truth in, “NBA: Where Amazing Happens.” (!)

We also spent some time doing an AAR of the Wolves season and the way ahead. Nothing can top Kahn’s Last Stand, but we’re still fairly happy with our take on 2012-13.

Worst: Wolves fire David Kahn

Steve Aschburner broke the story on April 26: David Kahn would not be returning as the team’s POBO. Aschburner also hinted that Flip Saunders would be Kahn’s replacement.  Andy G wrote about it here.

Kahn’s dismissal was welcome news for many Wolves fans. So why does this qualify as April’s worst moment?

A few things. First, Andy and I tended to be more ambivalent about Kahn as POBO, seeing the good along with the bad moves he pulled off. Second, we were constantly entertained by Kahn’s foot-in-mouth interviews. We liked Kahn’s lawyer-speak, large vocabulary, and ability to say exactly the wrong thing with such eloquence and precision.

I mean, did this really happen? I just pinched myself but I’m still not sure!

Finally, and most important, Kahn’s firing qualifies as a “worst” moment because it’s yet another data point that is consistent with longstanding patterns of failure in how the Wolves have gone about building an NBA basketball team. Having to fire any decisionmaker is never a good sign.

May (AG)

Best: Dr. Lawyer IndianChief’s PDW Post

Flip Saunders was announced as David Kahn’s replacement and partial franchise owner in late April. In early May we (and all of our readers) were fortunate to have FreeDarko author Dr. Lawyer IndianChief pen an epic post about Saunders; specifically, how Flip’s hiring — for the second time — fits into the greater Minnesota sports culture. No matter how you feel about Flip, if you know Minnesota, you enjoyed that post. (And probably agreed with much or all of it.) Link here.

(Also, while you’re at it (and ICYMI) check out the Above The Rim photoshop portraying the Timberwolves game of thrones that took place last spring.)

Worst: Not winning the lottery (again)

Hindsight has made this less bad news and more “meh” news. We love Anthony Bennett — or what we hope Anthony Bennett becomes, anyway — but he and the rest of last June’s draft have been underwhelming. Still, the Wolves failed to move up in the lottery, and ended up trading down. Had they won a top-three pick, it’s impossible to know what trades — perhaps in conjunction with Derrick Williams — would have been possible.

June (PJ)

Best: “Clairvoyant Punch-Drunk” predicted the Wolves would draft Shabazz Muhammad

I think we were the only ones who predicted the Wolves would end up with Shabazz. Good on us! (Eds. Note: PDW predicted the Wolves would stand pat and take Shabazz at #9 rather than trading down and selecting him at #14).

Here’s some footage of Shabazz that was shot during his workout for the Wolves. Look at him dunk!

He dunked hard!

Worst: “Clairvoyant Punch-Drunk” was right–the Wolves actually drafted Shabazz Muhammad

Shabazz Muhammad has played zero meaningful minutes this year. To be fair, we don’t know what he can do yet, but at the same time, the Shabazz pick hasn’t paid off at all, and the opportunity cost of not taking Trey Burke appears real. Bad on us?

July (AG)

Best: Adding Shooters

The Wolves were aggressive in free agency. (Maybe *too* aggressive.) They signed Kevin Martin and Corey Brewer to long-term deals, and re-signed the unrestricted free agent, Chase Budinger. As you know, Budinger’s been a flop due to his second meniscus tear in as many seasons. He’s been recently cleared to practice at full speed and will hopefully provide the team with necessary catch-and-shoot ability. Kevin Martin started the season like a superstar and has since cooled off. Still, he’s a helpful scorer. Corey Brewer, like Martin, has regressed from a great start. He’s a question mark. These additions were not really “best” moment worthy as much as they were the only thing that happened. Well, unless you count…

Worst: Saying Farewell to Bill Bayno

For the past couple seasons, thanks to an aggressive pursuit and commitment made by David Kahn, the Wolves had Bill Bayno on their coaching staff. He’s one of the league’s best assistant coaches. He’s DEFINITELY the league’s coolest assistant coach. When Toronto upped the ante with a “lead assistant” offer, the Wolves let him out of his contract so he could pursue the better opportunity. Adelman’s son David took his place.

To be a little bit dramatic about this, the whole thing reeks of “Tony Dungy and Mike Tomlin win Super Bowls somewhere else.” (Oh, I guess I left out Brian Billick. Anyone else?) It won’t surprise me if Bayno goes on to have a 10+ year stretch of head-coaching excellence at another stop while the Wolves struggle to find a good replacement for Rick Adelman.

August (PJ)

Best: Nikola Pekovic re-signs with the Wolves

Andy and I both listed re-signing Pek as the Wolves’ top priority for the offseason after the 2012-13 campaign. In August, after drawing surprisingly little interest as a restricted free agent, the Wolves inked Big Pek to a 5 year, $60 million deal. Pekovic remains one of the best true centers in the NBA, and is averaging 17.4 points and 9 boards per game so far this season.

Worst: Shabazz Muhammad got kicked out of the NBA’s Rookie Transitions Camp

Yep, Shabazz made a bad first impression with the NBA. We covered it here.  Someone–I think Bill Simmons and Jalen Rose–likened Shabazz’s dismissal to this classic scene from Friday.

Shabazz is expected to be back at the Rookie Transition Camp next summer.

September (AG)

Best: Media Day

No, not because I made my credentialed media debut. (Though that was fun, too.) Media Day was a highlight because Kevin Love showed up in obviously-good shape. With Love, it’s easy to tell what type of condition he’s in. For whatever reason, he wears it on his sleeve. Or his upper arm anyway. Love’s muscle definition seems to come and go with his cardio conditioning level; to a greater degree than his NBA peers. He’s been great this year, just like he was in 2011-12 when he also showed up with a newly chiseled physique. Add to that his improved passing and jump-hook shooting skills and he’s on pace for one of the better all-around statistical seasons in modern league history.

Worst: Budinger Injures Knee (Again)

Chase Budinger tore his meniscus during a preseason workout. It’s the same injury he suffered last year and required the same surgery to repair it as last year. Despite the Kevin Martin addition, the Wolves need another shooter. Like Budinger. He should be back soon, but his injury has already cost him 28 games. It will likely cost him a few more. This was bad news in September.

October (PJ)

Best: Optimism in the run-up to the 2013-14 season…and winning the season opener

We were bullish on the Wolves’ prospects in our season preview. And even though the Wolves barely squeaked by an underwhelming Orlando Magic team in their season opener on October 30, they still won. Maybe this meant the Wolves would find a way to win the close games in 2013-14?

Worst: Cutting likeable players

To bring the roster to the league maximum of 15, the Wolves brass had to make tough choices about whom to cut. The main casualties were center Chris Johnson and wing Othyus Jeffers. Johnson was a bright spot last season and had been rewarded with a guaranteed kahntract for 2013-14. Jeffers had won fans over in the preseason with his toughness and intangibles. Jeffers is having an outstanding season in the D-League, currently averaging 24.1 ppg and 11.9 rebounds in 10 games thus far. (Eds. Note: A quick search of the DX site for Chris Johnson doesn’t reveal any statistics for this season; his whereabouts are unknown here at PDW. Does anyone know if he’s hurt, waiting to sign another NBA kahntract (!), or doing something else?)

November (AG)

Best: The happy-go-lucky start to the regular season

All kinds of stuff was working. Kevin Martin was the perimeter scorer we needed. Kevin Love was an all-around beast, showing off new passing skills in the halfcourt and better utilizing an old one — his famous outlet — with new teammate and notorious leaker outer, Corey Brewer. The Wolves were 6-3 at one point with blowout wins over the Thunder (without Westbrook) and Lakers (without Kobe). Perhaps our optimism was inflated by a soft schedule. In any event, people were excited after a hot start.

Worst: Losing twice to the Nuggets

Perhaps as much as any other losses, the pair of L’s at the hands of Brian Shaw’s Gallinariless Nuggz were the reality check on early optimism. After all, Denver is precisely the sort of team that the Wolves need to view as a competitor for a playoff spot. It’s a team they should — and need to — be better than. But the Nuggets are fast where the Wolves are slow and energetic when the Wolves play with peculiar lethargy. In the first loss — at Denver — it felt like the Wolves beat themselves. In the second — at Target center — it felt like the Wolves were just the worse team.

December (PJ)

Best:  Beating Portland

The Wolves beat Portland decisively on December 18, 120-109. Portland had an NBA-best 17-4 record at the time, and the Wolves looked flat-out better than the Blazers. The game didn’t even feel as close as the 11-point difference in the final score suggests, because of a late-game Blazers run. Portland is as close as the Wolves have to a true rival. Any victory over the Blazers feels good, but beating them while they were atop of the League was especially gratifying.

Worst: Smoked Out and Losing

The Spurs-Wolves game scheduled for December 4 in Mexico City was postponed due to smoke in the arena. We did a Photoshop of it. But that was the only fun to be had from this “game.” Not even being able to play what seemed like an ill-fated game since it was initially scheduled seems to suggest something about Timberwolves Karma.

More important, the Wolves have played poorly in December, going 4-6 so far. Weaknesses have been exposed. It’s unclear whether we should still expect a playoff appearance from our favorite team this season.

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These are the best and worst 2013 Wolves moments that sprang to our minds.

What did we miss?

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