Minnesota has a right to object, but in Toronto, we’ve seen this movie before. A pretty good looking team led by a bona fide All-Star power forward that just can’t seem to get over the hump. The Timberwolves have become the Western Conference’s version of the Chris Bosh led Toronto Raptors.
Chris Bosh was a perennial 20+ point 10+ rebound guy in Toronto who could put up monster games and carry his team to victory – some of the time. But like Andrea Bargnani said after Bosh left (paraphrasing) – we didn’t win anything when he was here.
In Minnesota, Kevin Love could argue his numbers are even better than Bosh’s, but the results haven’t been there for him either. Sure, Love has legitimately been an All-Star, but that hasn’t come with playoff appearances.
The Timberwolves, like the underachieving Raptors of the Bosh era, have talent. They even have former Raptors starting point guard Jose Calderon’s understudy from the Spanish National team Ricky Rubio carving up the league with assists like his mentor. But the team continues to hover near the .500 mark and remain on the outside of the playoff picture looking in. Something is missing.
It is easy to get mislead by Minnesota’s impressive +4.4 points differential which is eighth best in the NBA. The Timberwolves can win games by big margins. Unfortunately, they are still losing more than they win because they have the NBA’s worst field goal percentage defense and that is not going to get them anywhere close to postseason appearance. The Timberwolves are 25th in points allowed this season.
What Minnesota does well is rebound at the offensive end led by Love (3.3 offensive rebounds) and Nikola Pekovic (4.3 offensive rebounds). Bosh had 2.9 offensive rebounds in his last season with the Raptors. The Timberwolves have used these extra possessions and the NBA’s second quickest pace to generate a league best 89.4 field goal attempts per game. A mark that is somewhat offset by their pathetic 43.4 percent shooting, but they are second in scoring with 107.1 points game.
The result has been a win 1, lose 1, win 2, lose 2, win 3, lose 3 type of season. Like those frustrating Chris Bosh led Raptors, this team has the ability to defeat and lose to anybody on any given night. Trying to outscore your opponent without defending has not been a very good formula for success in the NBA.
The Dwane Casey led Raptors have been a different team since the Rudy Gay trade and Casey was able to get his players on board with his defensive philosophies. On the season, the Raptors hold teams to an NBA third best 96.2 points per game and an NBA ninth best 44.4 percent shooting from the field. Those numbers drop to 93.8 points and 42.7 percent since the trade. The change has been equally dramatic on the offensive side of the ball for the Raptors. Before the trade, Toronto was scoring 97.3 points on 42.4 percent shooting (which is even lower than Minnesota). In the 19 games post trade, those numbers rise to 101.2 points and 44.5 percent. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that the Raptors record is 13-6 in the games after Rudy Gay was traded to Sacramento.
The Raptors are trying to emulate the controlled pace and physical style of play used by the Pacers and HEAT. The HEAT take the fewest shots per game in the league at 76.8 and the Pacers are 27th at 79.4. On the season, Toronto takes 82.1 shots per game compared to the Timberwolves at 89.4.
In recent years the games between the Raptors and the Timberwolves have been among the most entertaining – if also among the least promoted – and this clash of styles should produce another exciting contest at the Air Canada Centre on Friday night. It should also produce a bit of nostalgia for the Raptors fans of the Bosh era as they watch yet another team try to build a playoff team around a star power forward who obviously needs a lot of help.
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