Created: 11/09/2012 9:53 AM KSTP.com By: Ben Musel
Last time I wrote about what it meant to play as a team while the faces of the franchise were out. This post contains the same principle, but on the opposite end of the court.
Defense wins championships.
I’m not saying the Wolves will truly contend for the title this year, but in order to lay the foundation for a championship run, this team needs to know that they can come back from 22 down on the road (see Nets, Brooklyn) or stop the bleeding when a team goes on a big run late in the game. They need to know that they can make the necessary stops or at least alter shots and find themselves in the right place for the rebound. They need extra possessions for themselves and wasted possessions for their opponents.
They need hustle and grit, and they may finally have it. Last year it felt like Ricky Rubio might have been the only Wolves player out on the court giving his maximum effort when the other team had the ball -- opposing teams scored 7.6 more points per 100 possessions after Rubio went down with his ACL injury. To help you get a better understanding of this, the Wolves are averaging 93 possessions so far this season. The team finished the season with a defensive rating of 106.6 -- the higher the number the worse the team is -- which ranked tied for 25th in the league.
So far this year, still without Rubio, the Wolves have the 7th best defensive rating clocking in at 95. They are accomplishing this feat on the backs of forwards Andrei Kirilenko and Dante Cunningham, centers Nikola Pekovic and Greg Stiemsma and guards Luke Ridnour and Alexey Shved.
Yes, Pekovic and Ridnour were on the team last year, but once Rubio went down, Ridnour was tasked with guarding bigger, faster and stronger shooting guards. Pekovic seems to be an ever evolving beast who has recently discovered the lost art of rim protecting that seemed to allude him last season. They also both went down with injuries of their own further uncovering the defensive weaknesses of the bench that have seemingly been fixed.
Pekovic is not the only player on this team who actively protects not only the rim, but the paint. In fact, you could argue that he is the 3rd best, ranking behind Kirilenko and Stiemsma. Those two are tied for 5th in the league in blocks, averaging 2.5 per tilt and helping the team average 8.5 per game, which is good for 3rd in the league. If a team wants to beat the Wolves they better make three pointers because driving the lane is going to leave them battered and bruised.
They also better not miss their shots because while the Wolves may not have Kevin Love out on the court vacuuming up every rebound in sight, they are doing a wonderful job of rebounding as a team. They average 45 rebounds per game and have four different guys -- Pekovic, Kirilenko, Cunningham and forward Derrick Williams bringing in at least five apiece.
Finally, while the team may still be middle of the road when it comes to accruing steals with only Kirilenko and Ridnour averaging over a steal per game, I fully expect Shved to add his name to that list in the very near future as he acclimates himself to the league and begins to take more and more of Brandon Roy’s minutes.
When you actually delve into the statistics (Basketball-reference.com is my best friend), you’ll notice that offensively not too much has changed in terms of offensive rating and points scored, but defensively this team is completely rebuilt and ready, willing and able to take the ball away or ensure that their opponent must take the tough shot.
I wish I talked more about Stiemsma. He is an epiphany and every Wolves fan should be thrilled that he and ex-Wolves center Darko Milicic more or less traded roster spots.