Not to diminish Brandon Rush's season-ending injury, Andrew Bogut's indefinite injury, or the threat of Stephen Curry's ankle, but the Minnesota Timberwolves have a whole rotation full of injuries that make our injury discussions almost seem like trivial whining.
And yet, Minnesota is currently 5-3 - that's no excuses basketball.
To get a sense of what remains of the Timberwolves roster entering tonight's game, I had an Q&A exchange with Stop-n-Pop of SB Nation's Canis Hoopus to discuss the roster, what they've done well so far this season, a disappointing player, and an exciting player that the Warriors certainly could have used this season.
Q&A with Canis Hoopus
1. I'm going to start with Andrei Kirilenko because a number of Warriors fans were hoping that we could sign him. From a quick scan of your site, you all seem to be on board with the idea that he's a top 3-5 SF in the league right now. What, if anything, has surprised you most about his performance thus far?
LeBron James is the only better small forward in the league right now.
(Pauses, waits for laughing to stop.)
Seriously. Pick any game this year for proof.
Wednesday night, he was the only long-term starter in the lineup against the Bobcats. Single game +/- is hokey but take a look at the Popcorn Machine Game Flow. When he was in the lineup, the Cats couldn't push the line more than 5-6 points away from the Wolves. The second he left the court in the 2nd quarter, Charlotte went on a 12-2 run that basically ended up winning the game.
AK is doing it on both ends of the court, too. Last night he guarded all 5 positions. He was switching on pick and rolls from Byron Mullens to Kemba Walker and was more than holding his own. He creates passing lanes with nifty pump fakes and shifty dribbles. He's hitting 3s and getting to the line.
He's doing everything and he's doing it very well. Last night he ate MKG. Next up, Harrison Barnes.
Of course he'll eventually get hurt and miss a bunch of time, so there's that.
2. Some people thought that the Wolves' off-season injuries would increase the likelihood of the Warriors making the playoffs. Yet despite being hit even harder than the Warriors by injuries, the Wolves are currently 5-3 and only a half game out of first in the Northwest Division. How would you explain that early season success?
Defense. Defense, defense, defense, and defense. They have the 2nd best Drtg in the league, they hold opponents to the 2nd lowest eFG, they kill the glass, and they don't foul. AK is a top shelf defender, Pek is much better than people give him credit for, and even guys like Malcolm Lee and Dante Cunningham are able to defend at a level much higher than people have seen in the past few years from Wolves like Wes Johnson or Jonny Flynn.
The Wolves play mostly man defense and they have active hands, communicate well, and they stay in front of people. This means they give up a few more 3s than you'd probably like to see, but so far, so good. Oh, when Rubio gets back the Wolves will be able to field a Rubio, Alexy Shved, AK perimeter defensive lineup that will really, really cause some havoc in the passing lanes.
3. After Wednesday night's game, the Wolves injury report at Basketball-Reference showed 7 players out. If you could magically get any one of those players back at 100% health for Friday's game against the Warriors, who would it be?
Love > Pek > Rubio> Budinger > Barea > Roy
Yep, that's who they're missing. 6 of their 7 best players.
4. Dana Wessel has described Derrick Williams as an enigma who simply isn't taking advantage of his opportunity to step up in the face of all these injuries. What do T'Wolves/Canis fans feel about Williams right now and what do you make of his future potential based on what has transpired thus far in his career?
He's straight-up awful. He beasted in his second year at Arizona because he was able to play the 5 or take smaller 3s into the lane, all the while while shooting the lights out from beyond the arc. In the NBA, all of that is gone. He's super athletic but it's a slo-mo athleticism that seemingly takes about 5 seconds for him to wind himself up into a big jump or a quick move. His shooting has completely gone the way of the dodo and he can't defend. Dante Cunningham is taking most of his minutes and, as you will see on Friday night, this is completely justifiable. The Wolves will be lucky to trade him for a toaster. Yesterday, when the team needed a scorer on the floor, Rick Adelman let Alexy Shved be the #1 option against the Charlotte F'ing Bobcats rather than put Williams back out on the court with Dante Cunningham, Greg Stiemsma, Malcom Lee, and Lou Amundson. This is when the Wolves got torched on a 12-2 run. Adelman didn't even look down the bench towards Williams. That's all you need to know about Derrick Williams right now. Can't defend, can't score.
5. With all the players the Wolves are missing, what scares you most about this Warriors team?
Mostly, getting hit by an errant Biedrins free throw attempt.
After that, the Wolves are a banged up bunch. There's really nothing they can do about that. If they had everybody back, they'd have a top 3 roster in the West. They don't.
Hopefully, they won't get lit up from beyond the arc too badly, and Pek and Barea will be back in action. If those two can play, things will be fine against the Warriors.