The Timberwolves’ hot start: Is it sustainable?

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This article could have been written last year.

Going into last season, the 2012-2013 Timberwolves squad looked promising. Kevin Love, Ricky Rubio, Nikola Pekovic, and the newly-signed former all-stars Andrei Kirilenko and Brandon Roy were going to bring the Timberwolves back to relevance. They maybe even looked like a playoff team, the first since the Flip Saunders era.

Until the injury bug hit.

After a 12-9 start, the Timberwolves went 19-42 the rest of the way, en route to a 31-51 record and 12th place in the Western Conference finish. Kirilenko played just 64 games, Pekovic 62 games, Rubio 57, Love 18, and Roy a grand total of 5. Love broke his hand. Twice. The only Timberwolves player to appear in all 82 games was…drumroll please…Luke Ridnour. Needless to say, it was a season to forget. They were almost as bad as the John Wall-less Wizards.

The Timberwolves have not made it to the playoffs since the 2003-2004 season, in which they lost to the L.A. Lakers in the conference finals. I will make the not-so-bold prediction that this will be the year that they return. If Love and Rubio can continue to play at anywhere close to the level they have in the past two weeks, the Timberwolves will not only make the playoffs this year, but could even challenge the top dogs in the West (Oklahoma, San Antonio, L.A. Clippers, Houston and Golden State) for a top 5 position.

Statistically here’s why I like their chances of making a real run for it this year:

  1. The players are killing it. Kevin Love is averaging 25.4 points (fourth in the league to Kevin Durant, Carmelo Anthony and LeBron James) and 13.3 rebounds (second to Dwight Howard). For most players, 25 points and 13 rebounds is a ridiculous double-double, but for Love it is just day-to-day business. Kevin Martin and Kevin Love form the highest scoring duo in the NBA, and both are both deadly from three point range. To make matters worse for opponents, Ricky Rubio is averaging 8.8 assists per game (third to Chris Paul and John Wall), and already has a triple double under his belt. His backup, J.J. Barea also plays fast-paced basketball and won’t let many games slip away while Rubio takes a break on the bench.

  2. The Timberwolves play fast-paced, high scoring basketball. The Wolves, according to ESPN’s John Hollinger, use the second most possessions per game of any team in the NBA at 102.3. But despite their quickness they turn the ball over with relative infrequency (14.7 turnovers/game, 12th in the league).

  3. The Timberwolves can more than hold their own defensively. According to Hollinger, the Timberwolves have the 6th best defensive efficiency in the league, allowing just 98.9 points per 100 possessions.

  4. The team is not afraid to blow opponents out of the water. Through 13 games, the Timberwolves are averaging more than six points per game more than their opponents (107.0 versus 100.6). Their propensity to run opponents out of town was made especially clear in the Timberwolves’ 29-point thrashing of Cleveland last Wednesday.

Of course I don’t want to jinx the T-Wolves with this article. (Probably already have.) The injury bug can be a recurrent virus, but I just don’t foresee Kevin Love pulling a Larry Sanders and breaking his hand in a bar fight any time soon. The Timberwolves are looking strong to begin the season. If they continue to run the ball and clamp down defensively, they could slyly squeeze their way past some of the more star-studded Western Conference teams (I’m looking at you, Houston). As my favorite Western Conference team in the league, I can only hope that they keep up the good work.