The Minnesota Timberwolves got off to a fast start in their first game of the season. They scored 38 points in the first quarter en route to a 60 to 52 half time margin against a young Magic squad. Unfortunately, the Wolves’ scoring pace slowed and defensive shortcomings which carried over from last season started showing through in the second half. Kevin Love was easily the Wolves’ best player and showed why he was one of the best power forwards in the NBA and an All-Star two short seasons ago. He was his usual dominant self, though for some Wolves fans, it seems like forever since that was the case. He scored 31 points and grabbed 17 rebounds (including 4 offensive) while dishing out 4 assists. Most importantly, he knocked down 3 of 8 three pointers including the one that sent the game into overtime. He almost made me forget about the challenging season he had last year.
Ricky Rubio was the quintessential version of himself – both the good and the bad. First, the good. He dished out 11 assists and turned the ball over 4 times for a very respectable 2.75 assist-to-turnover ratio. He had 3 steals, 6 boards and even made a three and blocked a shot. Now, the bad. He shot 33% from the field (on 15 shots!). That looks way too much like the Ricky of old for someone who supposedly significantly improved his shot over the off-season. He also had a key turnover late in the game when the Wolves were leading where he dribbled underneath the basket and tried to kick the ball out to a shooter. The end of a close game calls for some amount of conservatism and Ricky didn’t look like he understood that.
Corey Brewer looked like a much more complete player than the T-Wolves faithful may recall from his first stint with the team. He was the third leading scorer with 16 points and he scored mostly on well-executed cuts to basket and fast break opportunities. Brewer’s defensive play was inspired, which is primarily the reason that he was brought back to Minnesota. He obviously has some big shoes to fill from a defensive standpoint having replaced Andrei Kirilenko, but he doesn’t necessarily have to be AK47 to have a major impact defensively. Next to Ricky, he should be the second best defensive player on the court most nights and while comparing his defensive abilities to that of Martin, Love and Pekovic isn’t saying much for him, he should be a strong contributor defensively. Three pilfers to go along with tough man defense showed part of why Corey will be counted on early and often this season. The other reason, of course, is the fact that Chase Budinger is on the shelf and will be for some time. One of the negative aspects to Brewer’s game and something that was prevalent last year as well is his penchant for taking over 3 three-pointers a game (he took 4 on Wednesday) while only making an average of 28% of them over the last two seasons. Though he shoots fairly well from the corners, his percentages are quite marginal from anywhere else beyond the arc. At some point, this kind of selfishness will start hurting the Wolves and costing them games. The three point shooting should be left primarily to Kevin Love (career 35% shooter) and Kevin Martin (career 38% shooter including a career best 42% last year).
And finally, the $60 million dollar man. Nikola Pekovic was relatively quiet and sat much of the fourth quarter. He didn’t have the kind of performance that we’ve come to expect from Big Pek, but he did chip in with 11 points and 7 rebounds. I do not think this is a sign of things to come, however; his post presence will greatly counted upon throughout the course of the season.
All in all, the Wolves’ opener was something to build upon in their quest for their first postseason birth in nine years. They won the game primarily on their ability to take and make free throws (28/34 vs.11/18 for the Magic) and distribute the ball well, but will need a marked improvement defensively (having given up 103 points through four quarters) and from downtown (only 32% as a team) in order to make a serious postseason run. The Wolves continue their homestand on Friday against the Thunder.