Good basketball is like a good Gladwell book or essay. It takes a complicated series of movements and plays, countless hours of practice and drilling, then boils them down into things that look simple like layups, open jumpers and good chances at defensive stops. If you do this, then that will happen. But the this takes a long time to perfect. The that takes a few seconds every possession.
Where the Timberwolves are stumbling right now is executing the that in the final six or so minutes of games. Where we, as a fan, stumble right now is in forgetting that the Wolves don't yet have enough of the this.
Gladwell might refer, in this case, to his famous 10,000-hour rule, which attempts to put a specific number on the basic notion that practice makes perfect. He cites cases through history where reaching 10,000 hours of practice at a certain task gives a person the means to succeed at that task.
The Wolves' task is basketball. More specifically, it is basketball when it matters most. For the first 42 minutes of games, Minnesota is basically a .500 team -- and one that shows promise to be even more than that, given a couple more key pieces. Collectively, they have enough of this to execute at a reasonable level when their opponent is playing at a comparable level. We won't even try to guess how many Wolves players qualify for Gladwell's 10,000-hour rule, nor would we even know how to quantify when to start that clock. What we do know is Minnesota is extremely young. They have less practice turning this into that during the crucial minutes of games than just about every team in the NBA.
So they panic. They press. They succumb to the tricks of more experienced teams over and over again -- just as they did last night in blowing another double-digit lead, this time to the exceedingly veteran Celtics. They become too eager to get over the hump and do foolish things (Luke Ridnour said he didn't think he traveled. Luke, sorry. You took somewhere between 3 and 18 steps).
It's a process. And there is no guarantee that it will ever be complete. (We're fairly certain, for instance, that we could practice basketball for 10,000 hours and be no better than a No. 2 scorer and primarily ballhandler on a slightly above average intramural team). But we see something in these Wolves that makes us believe that when they get enough of this, they will be a force -- and everything will flow naturally to a central point inside a neat cylinder, just like something Gladwell would write.