In a television interview after one of their recent wins Kevin McHale said that he told the Timberwolves team, “Have fun. Being able to play in the NBA is like a dream. It goes fast, and when it’s over you wish you could go back to sleep.” That is a great quote, and apparently it and a few other factors have come together to jumpstart the Timberwolves. Some of the factors I’ve noticed are:
Energy, focus & polish – There is an excellent focused intensity on the faces of the whole team, but especially Al Jefferson, Randy Foye and Kevin Love. Jefferson always seems pretty stoic, but he seems to be coming into his polish as a superstar…his stats have always spelled it since he got here. As far as stats go there has been absolutely no drop off from the loss of Kevin Garnett from the franchise. Thus, the Wolves have the necessary pillar of scoring and rebounding essential to any team.
Randy Foye has finally shaken the “trying too hard” bug and seems to have settled into his role as an NBA player. McHale was especially referring to Foye when he suggested “Have fun.” The player that the Wolves traded for Foye (Brandon Roy) has been off to about as good a start as any player in recent history…including LeBron James. Thus, that seemed to cause Foye stress due to the comparisons to Roy, and McHale stressed because making the trade was his decision. No better example could me made of Foye’s “coming of age” than his recent performance against superstar DeWayne Wade of the Miami Heat. The Wolves lost a close game, but Foye showed that he belongs on the same court as Wade, and that says a lot.
Kevin Love has been polished from day one. In his face you clearly see a player who is focused, and has a polished understanding of the game. Being a UCLA fan, I have been able to watch Love a little longer, and you never see him give anything less than his best. Kevin Love cares, and usually that type of energy is infectious in a team environment.
Scheme – It was always curious to me why the Wolves didn’t take advantage of the “around the basket” talents of Al Jefferson and Kevin Love. Both seem to be a bit undersized in the landscape of the current NBA, but much like former great Charles Barkley (who was also a shorter post player) they just get it done. Jefferson has great feel, and Love has great hands and “scrapability.” When you have a combination like that down low, then all you need is a Randy Foye and a Mike Miller to hang on the outside and be ready to take big shots. For some reason that wasn’t the scheme that seemed to prevail under recently fired coach, Randy Wittman. Some say McHale didn’t like the idea of the current scheme, but has since changed since it’s his neck on the line now. Whatever the reason, it’s working, and it’s fun to watch players do what they are good at.
The other guys – Sebastian Telfair looks like a real point guard, and bench players such as Brian Cardinal and Mike Carney are doing what bench players are supposed to do: busting their tails trying to keep a job! On top of the energy level that the bench players are providing, most of them are also veterans, and understand how not to get in the way of the superstars and just play excellent supportive roles on the team. Cutting Rashad McCants’ playing time and giving him a chance to sit on the bench and think doesn’t seem like a bad idea either.
Schedule – fortunately, or unfortunately, the Wolves haven’t really played anybody during the recent winning streak. The excellent showing against the Miami Heat, in which the streak was broken, suggests that the “extreme makeover” may be permanent. Let’s hope so: It’s fun when the Wolves are good.