Fernando Pessoa once wrote that "The human soul is so inevitably the victim of pain that it suffers the pain of the painful surprise even with things it should have expected."
Had Pessoa been an NBA fan, he would have surely gravitated to the Timberwolves. Failure, sadly, has been an entrenched identity in Minnesota.
The Wolves have been handed golden opportunities to shed their minnows tag, and for one reason or the other -- awful general managers, debilitating injuries, poor draft picks, messing around with Kevin Love's contract extension -- they always manage to regress to the mean. That mean is not winning 30 games in any of the seasons before Kevin Garnett (1995) and only reaching that threshold twice after him (2007).
But now, Garnett is back, and along with him comes the dawn of a hopeful age. The messy Love divorce gifted the team 2014 No. 1 draft pick Andrew Wiggins. Point guard Ricky Rubio has recovered from the latest of his unfortunate injuries and is ready to spread joy again. And for the first time since 1995, the Wolves have drafted a player who seems predestined for greatness in Karl-Anthony Towns.
Minnesota is therefore on the cusp of another great dawn. History suggests we should expect impending failure, with the KG era, the David Kahn blunders and the most recent Kevin Love divorce as examples. Yet, against all reason, there's hope to change the narrative. The Wolves possess a glut of young talent that could defy the team's innate nature of screwing itself over.
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There are few more sympathetic young heroes in the league than Andrew Wiggins. Beyond his obvious athleticism and talent, he was adopted as the universal We-All-Want-You-To-Win player, through no action of his own. Last summer, while the media cycle was in chaos with news of a potential Love trade to the Cleveland Cavaliers, ESPN was interviewing the draftee. Asked about the trade rumors, he responded almost apologetically.
"I just want to play for a team that wants me," Wiggins said. "So, whichever team wants me I'll play for."
Wiggins also said that LeBron James had not contacted him since he was drafted, that he knew that the NBA was a business, that he was aware of his status as a rookie and that he also knew his desires and words were worthless at that time. The Cavaliers, of course, traded Wiggins in a package deal that included Anthony Bennett, the top overall pick from 2013, who was bought out of his contract this September.
Despite the cold shoulder from LeBron, Wiggins has drawn comparisons to a young King James. Like LeBron, Andrew Wiggins is a broad-smiling, self-aware kid who became the first Rookie of the Year for a moribund franchise. And Wiggins showed franchise-lifting ability when his teammates kept dropping like flies due to injury; Wiggins responded by becoming more productive, averaging 19.1 points per game after the turn of the year.
Before the 2014 draft, many feared Wiggins was far too passive to become an elite player. In his last 13 games, he averaged 23.3 points per game while taking 10 free throws per contest. So much for that critique. He then spent this summer dunking on anything and everything in his path at FIBA Americas. Sorry Andres Nocioni.
Canadian national team coach Jay Triano gushed about the burgeoning star during the Olympic qualifiers: "His basketball IQ is high, his work ethic is good, he’s been great defensively and offensively. It just gives me flexibility to run things. You can run plays over top, you can run isolations, you can run post-ups from the wing position and we haven’t really had that in the past."
Of course, LeBron is a generation defining talent and Wiggins' career is just beginning, so any comparison is overstated. Wiggins lacks the expectations, and the passing ability, of a young LeBron. Wiggins has to improve his skills but looks like a star in the making. How good he will be depends on his own ambition and the team's ability to feed it.
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There's also the new kid on the block -- the low block, to be specific. Karl-Anthony Towns is a tower of talent that can't be ignored. He's been compared to everyone from Anthony Davis to the old White Fang himself, Kevin Garnett. Yet he could and probably should become an entirely different beast.
The 2015 No. 1 pick shares a critical trait with those two: he's a big man who isn't limited by his size. Towns is the perfect model of modern NBA centers who are mobile, smaller than their predecessors and do more than clog up the middle. The ball moves faster nowadays and teams are in the market for centers who can facilitate, not stall, that motion.
To that end, Towns brings a multi-dimensional presence in the middle. He can certainly block shots and protect the rim, a welcome addition to a Wolves team that finished last in defensive efficiency last year. But he can do so, so, so much more. Most notably, Towns can knock down mid-range shots and lure opposition bigs out of the paint. Though he barely shot threes in college, he took a ton in high school and was able to bury 71-of-100 from NBA range in a predraft workout. If developed correctly, Towns should find an opportunity to do a little of everything from a variety of spots on the court.
And this is where Garnett's return to Minnesota will prove to be much more than just a feel-good end to a magnificent career. He can teach Towns that rebounding and defense at the NBA level is less about size and more about footwork, anticipation and mental strength. Presumably, he'll school Towns the hard way and we just might find that Towns' nice kid persona gives way to a Melo-insulting, KG 2.0 clone.
Ricky Rubio will be pacing the offense and creating opportunities for these two, and the rest of the Timberwolves. he forever-cheerful 25-year-old Spaniard has been beaten often by his own body -- most recently a left ankle injury which limited him to 22 games last season -- and perhaps because of that was the target of trade rumors all summer, which the Timberwolves deny.
Still, he and his famed sleight of hand endure. The boy could probably no-look pass a beach ball through a mouse hole. Now with varied offensive options to feed, Rubio has the chance to dismiss or validate the trade talk by making good on the promise of this young team.
There is little question that Rubio can defend. ESPN's Regularized Adjusted Plus-Minus stat pegged him as the best defender at the point guard position last year; he was second-best the year before. The startling issue, besides the injuries, is that after four seasons in the NBA and a decorated international career, Rubio's shooting and finishing levels still border on inept.
Whether it was because of his injury or his confidence, Rubio stopped driving to the rim consistently last season. Only 18 percent of his total shots last year came around the hoop, and when he got there, he shot a terrible 33 percent on them. Mix in his well-known perimeter shooting issues, and his offensive situation doesn't look pretty. A point guard who can't prod defenses with the drive or burn them with the jumper is a recipe for disaster.
If Rubio's injury history made him hesitant of contact then, with his health issues resolved and his youth, there's still hope that an improved Rubio isn't that far-fetched. The key will be restoring his confidence, urging him to probe in the paint and developing a strong finishing move. As for the jumper, it may never be lethal, but there's no reason why it can't be capable. The team needs it to happen.
And of course, Rubio needs to stay on the court, whatever the cost, whatever the method. Witch doctors. Natural cures. Stephen Curry's magical ankle braces. Anything and everything should be done to make sure that fans can enjoy his playmaking abilities and see a smile return to the face of basketball's most joyous player.
Through their own futility, luck and the good grace of the Universe, the Timberwolves have been blessed with a vat of young talent. If history repeats itself, these players will falter or, worse, board planes for greener pastures.
That can't happen. The Timberwolves have a superstar in waiting, a prospect who encapsulates the ideal for the modern NBA big man and a Spanish wizard whose bounce passes can thaw the Grinch's heart. This team has everything, from promise to talent to personality. This should be awesome.
Of course, in order for a new history to be written for the franchise, Minnesota must nurture all of this talent and become relevant again. The right path is clear but the justifiable fear is that they'll once again go astray and wind up with nothing accomplished with these stars and nothing left from their dispersal. We can hope against that fate and in our expectant anticipation all think the exact same thing.
Please don't fuck this up, Timberwolves.