HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — We checked the numbers for any legitimate correlation between preseason achievement and regular-season results for a team no one expects to do much, and didn’t think there was much to go on.
We looked at Minnesota’s 5-1 preseason record and had an itchy feeling that the might be on to something but we weren’t sure.
So NBA.com’s resident numbers expert John Schuhmann weighed in with some compelling evidence that backs up our hunch.
In the past six seasons, 11 teams have gone through the preseason either undefeated or with one loss and all 11 have made the playoffs. During that same span eight teams have won just one game or have gone winless, and only one of those eight teams (the 2007-08 Cavaliers) made the playoffs.
We knew there was a reason the Timberwolves caught our attention every time they hit the floor.
We mashed them up repeatedly at Draft time and during the summer, when general manager David Kahn made headlines weekly with one thing or another. So they were already on our radar, even if it was for all the wrong reasons.
Watching Michael Beasley and Kevin Love do work now (with our guy, Luke Ridnour, directing traffic), though, makes us wonder … is Kahn on to something?
And it may not come this (regular) season. This group might be a year or two away. But you have to start somewhere. And as one wise coach told us years ago, “young teams and teams in transition have to learn how to win before they can do it on the regular. It’s probably the hardest thing to do in the league, learning how to win without a superstar player to help accelerate the process.”
He said that during training camp years ago, when his team was still in the midst of a transition between a championship run and the inevitable rebuilding process that followed.
He was right. That same team eventually turned into an Eastern Conference contender (only to have other drama derail their run) that just missed out on a chance to play in the NBA Finals.
Again, we ARE NOT predicting anything like that for these Timberwolves, the playoffs would be groundbreaking on its own. Just being relevant in a postseason discussion would be a victory for the folks in Minneapolis. They’ve been an afterthought since Kevin Garnett was dealt to Boston in the summer of 2007.
But if they do have those sort of aspirations, which they surely do, they have to start somewhere.
Maybe this preseason is where they’re starting.
The daily competition for minutes, the shuffling of lineups and the constant prodding of a coach, Kurt Rambis, that understands how this process works is all working in the Timberwolves’ favor. Jerry Zgoda of the Star Tribune quizzed Rambis about his methods and why he’s taking his time settling on a permanent rotation:
“Everybody keeps asking me that,” Rambis said. “I don’t think you solidify things with this young team in a short amount of time. There’s so much growth, so much experience to be gained, and a lot of guys are playing well.
“I don’t feel under pressure to come up with something and say, ‘This is what we’re going to stay with for the rest of the year.'”
And so, he experiments with different combinations and shuffles players on and off the floor.
“This will be a team that if you’re playing well, you’ll get minutes,” Rambis said. “If for some reason you didn’t bring it that night, there’s enough depth on the bench that someone else will get your time.”
He said this competition for positions and playing time is exactly the situation he and President of Basketball Operations David Kahn intended to create when they remade the roster last summer and added nine new players.
“One of the things we wanted to have is a deep roster and the ability to change things around,” Rambis said. “I think we have enough flexibility with this team. With as many young players as we have, I don’t feel like I’ve got to lock myself into something, particularly at this stage of who we are as a ballclub.”
There’s no reason to believe the preseason hype being created by this team. None. Rambis and Kahn realize that and know better than anyone how quickly that preseason shine can fade once the “real” games begin.
Still, there’s something about this team …