If you started planning the championship parade route for the Timberwolves after their first two games of the season, you’re probably taking a little break from that after four games (and anyway, they can just us the Lynx route).
The Wolves are the most unusual of 2-2 teams, having won two on the road while dropping two at home. The competition had something to do with it, but so did a few other things. Four games hardly make a season (really, they make about 1/20th of one), but just for fun let’s take a spin through four things in four games that stand out as possible early trends:
*Ricky Rubio’s mirage: Rubio delivered the kind of game Wolves fans have dreamed about in last week’s opener, a 112-111 win over the Lakers. He made jumpers. He finished at the rim. And all the while, he was still the same floor general capable of taking your breath away with perfect passes and efficiency. It added up to a 28-point, 14-assist game (on 10 of 17 shooting from the field, including 2 of 4 from three-point range) that made those prone to optimism wonder if he had found a new gear.
And … well … his next three games were more like vintage Rubio. That’s not to say bad, but it’s also not to say good. He’s been getting the Wolves into their offense and playing good defense. But Rubio is also 8 for 24 combined from the field in his past three games and hasn’t made a three-pointer in four attempts. His stat lines have looked very familiar compared to previous years. He pretty much is what he is at this point, and yet we all still want more.
*Zach LaVine is not a point guard: I thought we established this last year? We didn’t? LaVine can do some nice things on the floor, but he doesn’t have the handle or instincts to play point guard, and he’s not quite a true shooting guard, either. But he’s more of a 2 than a 1, a point driven home during long stretches of every one of the Wolves’ first four games. The second unit, which has some potential, needs some structure. We got a glimpse of that with 39-year-old Andre Miller at the end of last night’s loss to the Heat.
Maybe it’s admirable that Sam Mitchell has resisted doing that more often, since the stated goal of the season is still development and in fact I ripped the Wolves recently for seemingly abandoning that plan. But there’s a rookie who has been in street clothes for four games who might offer more structure, too: Tyus Jones. Again, it’s only four games. There’s time to figure this out.
*Kevin Garnett and Tayshaun Prince are delivering, if not scoring: There have been a few beautiful stretches this season — most notably for most of the victory over Denver and the early part of the loss against Portland — when the Wolves have played the type of defense we really haven’t seen in these parts for a decade. And it’s happened when Garnett and Prince are on the floor. Neither one can score a lick (KG is scoreless in two home games!) but they are a combined plus-45 on the season. At the starts of games, with KG, Prince, Rubio, Andrew Wiggins and Karl-Anthony Towns on the floor, it is clear that Wiggins and Towns are the offensive options (though both play their share of D as well). That’s a very good defensive lineup, an OK offensive lineup, and it works.
*Nobody is going to wear out if Mitchell’s rotations continue like this: Wiggins averaged 36.2 minutes per game as a rookie, which is a lot until you remember that he was a teenager with boundless energy. Ah, those were the days. This season, while fighting back problems, he’s down under 29 minutes per game. But it’s not just Wiggins: Mitchell is playing EVERYONE in relatively limited quantities. Nobody is averaging even 30 minutes per game this year, with Rubio the leader at 29.8, though 10 players are averaging at least 15 minutes per game. Nobody has played more than 35 minutes in any single game.
Part of it has to do with wholesale hockey-style substitutions when the entire second unit comes in, a la Tubby Smith a few years back. Through four games, it’s been frustrating to watch, though understandable in the big picture of development, setting rotations and recognizing strengths. I just hope we don’t have to see it for 82 games because one could argue that some strange subbing hurt the Wolves in their loss to the Blazers.