Box Score Musings: The Best and Worst in the West
Forgive us David Stern, in a week where the NBA took a backseat to college hoops, the professional ranks stepped graciously aside only to give us a slew a noteworthy moments that we’re just now digesting.
The Miami Heat have dominated headlines of late but week 21 also saw the Denver Nuggets extend their 15 game winning streak and in the process the mile-high wrecking crew found yet another contributor: Wilson Chandler. Chandler has seen his production take a leap forward since returning to the team in mid January and displayed an impressive 35 points paired with 9 rebounds to help the Nugget’s take down the Bulls Monday night in overtime. Just as quickly as Chandler appeared on the scene Denver has had to replace his stat line once the forward was diagnosed with a separated shoulder Tuesday night.
This has been a constant theme for George Karl’s squad: win games with a new hero each night en route to overcome injuries and a brutal Western Conference schedule. Much like the 2004 championship Detroit Pistons, the Nuggets are winning without a star per se, instead they compile victories via a dominant home court advantage (a staggering 30-3 at home, compare that to the ’03-’04 Pistons who were 31-10 during their championship run) and an evenly distributed scoring attack.
The Denver offense features six players scoring in double figures but not one of these weapons averages over 17 PPG. What’s more, the Rich Creamies claim the 4th best record in the NBA and are the only team among that elite group not to have a 20 PPG scorer.
Even if Wilson Chandler remains sidelined for an extended period, there is little doubt that this Denver roster has the balance to secure a top seed in the West.
Bad to Worse in Minnesota
Enter September 26th 2012:
“Yeah, we’re going to make the playoffs. I have faith in this team; I have faith in what we’ve done this offseason.” – Kevin Love
Okay, Love has been absent from Minnesota’s lineup since January 3rd with a fractured hand but even if the star big man were healthy would it really be enough to compensate for the team’s 24-43 record? Prior to injury, Love was averaging over 14 RPG, one might assume that losing such production would hamstring Minnesota’s ability to rebound the basketball. Think again.
The Wolves are currently in the top ten in the league in rebounds per contest (42.7) but the area where the team has suffered the most since their star’s injury is at the offensive end of the floor.
This young Wolves team ranks 27th in field goal percentage and dead last in three point rate (.292)—two categories where Kevin Love would contribute.
The Timberwolves overall offense has also been reason for concern as we look across the NBA landscape. Posting just 77 points this past week against a surging Memphis team shouldn’t be much of a surprise. What was a surprise was the lack of an established scorer for the Wolves since the injury to their frontcourt star. Alexi Shved’s meager 12 points lead the Minnesota attack vs. Memphis, making him the 4th Wolves player to lead the team in scoring during a four game stretch.
The Wolves are fully entrenched as a lottery team entering the spring though the lack of a go-to scorer has the team looking for answers with just over three weeks remaining of the regular season. The team lacks the financial flexibility to make drastic moves this summer but can take solace in that Kevin Love will be a part of their future after he inked a four year extension last January for $62MM.
Nikola Pekovic will hit free agency this summer and might look solidify someone else’s front court rather than return to a Minnesota team that hasn’t known a winning season since ’03-’04 when the team won 58 games. Expect Pekovic to augment his current $4.8MM deal and parlay his best season yet into a lucrative haul. What does all this boil down to for the Wolves? Losing Pekovic amidst an uber competitive Western Conference spells a future entrenched in the Northwest Division basement for Minnesota.