Three weeks into the NBA season and the Pups are having a rough go at it. Not from a record standpoint, as the team remains near the top of Northwest Division, but on the injury front. Here’s what the last week has presented to the Wolves and their fans.
Last Wednesday, JJ Barea mildly sprained his ankle while diving for a loose ball in the 4th quarter of a blow-out win vs. Orlando. Why? Even JJ doesn’t know why he did this, but he did and the injury forced him to miss the next three games. JJ is currently listed as day to day this week.
In the next game against Indiana, Brandon Roy never came out of the locker room for the 2nd half. It was later reported that Roy had soreness in his degenerative right knee. Brandon has since missed the last two games because of the injury and is also listed as day to day. It sounds like there is a very good chance of Roy being ready for Wednesday’s game vs. Charlotte.
The very next night in Chicago, Chase Budinger tore his meniscus in his knee and a timetable for his return will be announced after the surgery. Woj is reporting this morning that the surgery was completed earlier today (by Dr. James Andrews …) and Budinger will likely miss up to three months.
Finally, in last night’s game against Dallas, Nikola Pekovic rolled his ankle and didn’t return to the game. I don’t expect Pek to be out very long though. Why? Let’s let him answer those questions, “I didn’t hurt nothing, just a lot of pain” and “I don’t use crutches”. Those were his quotes on the injury after the game. If anyone in the NBA deserves a “beast mode” tag, it should go to Pek.
So, this brings up a few questions and thoughts. What in the world did the franchise do to deserve this? Haven’t the Wolves paid enough for all of the bad decisions made over the past twenty-something years? What does this mean for the team in the short and long term?
In the short term, this of course adds up to awful news for the team, who are already missing their two cornerstones until mid-December (in a best case scenario). The team must make do without five guys in what would be Adelman’s regular rotation and adds pressure to the few remaining willing and able wings on the roster. Everyone will need to step up, but allow me to be a bit pessimistic for the next few paragraphs.
Andrei Kirilenko has been an absolute blessing thus far this season. He has done a little bit of everything. However, he will now need to carry a larger burden of the scoring. Will he be able to do this? How will his body hold up given the presumed extra minutes he’s going to receive? Only time will tell.
Derrick Williams has been wildly inconsistent to start the season, which isn’t too much of a surprise. However, DWill has to step up. He cannot produce one night and lay an egg the next. Quite frankly, I don’t have high hopes here and it doesn’t feel or look like Adelman does either right now.
Alexey Shved has provided solid minutes from his backup, rotational spot. How, or can he match up with starting two guards in the league? Will his flaws become more visible and problematic for the team with increased minutes and playing more against starters?
Can the team get net-positive results from Malcolm Lee and/or Will Conroy? Is it even fair to set these expectations? In Monday’s game in Dallas, Lee got the starting nod and didn’t look great, but made enough plays to warrant more time there if/when needed, which would also allow Shved to come off the bench in a 6th man role.
Longer term, this puts another caveat into this season’s goal of making the playoffs. There will likely be added pressure on the team come January/February to start winning at a greater percentage in order to make it to the playoffs as the team’s cornerstones return. Roy and Budinger’s injuries are big question marks that may (more likely, will) have an impact throughout the year, but the others should be back sooner rather than later. At this point, I believe the team will need to tread water for the rest of November. The team plays every other day this week through Friday (including last night’s win in Dallas), and are then off until next Wednesday, which may be a small blessing in an otherwise crazy start to the season.
Let’s focus on Chase Budinger’s injury for a second, as JJ Barea should return soon and Brandon Roy’s knee injuries are well documented and should now be expected to be an on again, off again item for much of this season. In a limited amount of games, Budinger had already proven to be a valuable commodity for the Wolves.
At the time of the injury, Chase was the second leading scorer on the team at 11.8ppg. He was also throwing in 3.5rpg and 1spg. Most importantly, Chase was clearly option 1A or 1B on shooting from three point range, depending on how you feel about Luke Ridnour. At the same time, it looked like he was getting more and more acclimated to his teammates and building confidence in his own game. So naturally, the injury had to occur now.
While very cliché, the healthy Pups that remain on the floor are going to have to collectively make up for these missing points and the outside shooting that Chase was providing. A few guys – particularly Roy upon his return and Shved – will need to quickly find their outside jumpers that have been missing so far this season. The team’s PG’s are also going to have to become more effective jump shooters as well and do a better job at spacing the floor.
Naturally, another option would be for the team to go out and sign another player. However, the Wolves have virtually no flexibility with the cap and only have the veteran’s minimum to offer. Who could this go to? Here’s a very short list of player’s available that I would consider: Mickael Pietrus, Josh Howard, and/or Ryan Gomes. If you really want to drive yourself crazy, we can talk about expediting Troy Hudson’s comeback to the NBA. (Let’s not)
Net/net, the injuries have continued to mount for the Wolves, but I have to say that in watching the past handful of games, this year’s roster is light years ahead of last year’s squad. Their ability to overcome deficits and the injuries to Love and Rubio have been highly commendable. However, we are certainly teetering on the edge of the cliff of not being able to make up for all of the injuries this team is enduring.
Here’s to a speedy recovery to all of the Wolves and to a healthy 2013! (Please?!)