You can now add starting small forward Chase Budinger to a list of injured Wolves players that includes Ricky Rubio (torn left knee ligaments), Kevin Love (broken right hand), Brandon Roy (sore right knee) and J.J Barea (sprained left foot). Budinger will miss the next 3-4 months of the season after undergoing surgery on his left knee.
Four of Minnesota’s five projected starters to begin the year are already missing time as they battle major injuries. Even with all of that bad luck, head coach Rick Adelman still has these short-handed Timberwolves sitting at 5-2. That’s good enough for second in the Northwest division and fifth in the Western Conference.
How is this happening? How are the Timberwolves remaining afloat?
It’s because of their defense.
In each of their seven games, the common ingredient has been their strong defensive rating. In their five wins, they had a better defensive rating as their opponent, while they had a worse rating in their two losses. They rank second in defensive rating and second in points allowed (88.4).
Andrei Kirilenko has not waited long to re-adjust to the NBA game, as he’s currently tied for second in defensive win shares.
From an offensive standpoint, the Timberwolves have had five different players lead the team in scoring in their first seven games. Furthermore, their expected wins (according to www.basketball-reference.com) for the remainder of the season have them ranked ninth in the NBA. That’s good enough for a playoff spot out west.
The law of averages say that Minnesota is primed to regress towards the mean, especially with all of their injuries. However, there upcoming schedule could be their saving grace The Wolves next three outings are winnable home games against the Charlotte Bobcats, Golden State Warriors, and the surprisingly inefficient Denver Nuggets (16th in FG% and 25th in points per shot). The Timberwolves then begin a four-game road trip against the Portland Trail Blazers, Warriors, Sacramento Kings, and Los Angeles Clippers. The way their defense has been to start the year, I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Wolves take three of four on that trip.
Last season, the Wolves didn’t get their 10th win until their 23rd game.
Minnesota was a major sleeper pick in the Western Conference before the season began as a team that could really make some noise and vault up the standings in 2012/13. The second Kevin Love went down with an injury, this team was completely neglected by all pundits (including yours truly). Injuries or not, Rick Adelman has his team united and winning basketball games, letting their defense do the talking.
As long as they’ve got bodies on that court, do you really want to continue doubting these Timberwolves?
I’m a believer.