Minnesota Basketball Rises To The Top
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Take a moment to think about how far the Minnesota Timberwolves and Lynx organizations have come in the past two calendar years. A lot has changed since then.
At the end of the 2010 WNBA season, the Lynx were 13-21, fifth in the Western Conference and 15 games behind conference-leading Seattle. It was the team’s sixth consecutive losing season and sixth straight time the team failed to make the postseason. For the Timberwolves, the 2010-11 season ended with a 17-65 record—the seventh consecutive year without a postseason berth.
Fast forward to 2012, and the scope of Minnesota basketball has changed tremendously. Not only are the Lynx the defending WNBA champions, but the Timberwolves have revamped their roster this offseason that combines enough newly acquired and already signed talent to make a significant climb up the standings this winter.
To quantify just how much talent is on both rosters, take a look at the men’s and women’s basketball medalist teams in London. The Lynx had three Gold Medalists on Team USA in Seimone Augustus, Lindsay Whalen and Maya Moore, while the Timberwolves had Gold Medalist Kevin Love on Team USA and Bronze Medalists Andrei Kirilenko and Alexey Shved on Team Russia.
Combined, no other professional basketball city or state in the U.S. had more basketball medalists than the Timberwolves and Lynx this summer. Not even the combination of the Oklahoma City Thunder and Tulsa Shock (5) or the trio of the Los Angeles Lakers, Clippers and Sparks (4) reached that level.
When it comes to international success this summer, the Wolves and Lynx stand atop the list.
“It’s very unique,” Timberwolves assistant coach Terry Porter said. “From that standpoint, our fan base should be proud and excited to have that type of players that they can go watch and see them perform, see them work their craft and see them at a very high level. They represented our country but also Minnesota. They play for us, and to have some of them here is pretty amazing.”
Porter spent the past year coaching Kevin Love and getting to know the type of play he brings to the court every night, and he’ll get the chance to work with Kirilenko and Shved in the coming months. With Love, a player who transformed his game into an elite scorer last year to go along with his already standout rebounding abilities, the Timberwolves organization has an anchor in its front court who can impact a game around the rim and also from the perimeter.
He did both of those things for Team USA during their Gold Medal run. In eight games, Love averaged 11.6 points and 7.6 rebounds per contest playing on the deepest international team in the world, earning his minutes more and more as the tournament wore on.
Love finished the tournament shooting 62.9 percent from the field. He shot 36.4 percent from 3-point range, although during his first three contests in the preliminary round he was 7-for-13 from beyond the arc.
And on the defensive end, Love came up big in the final half against Spain in the Gold Medal game. Facing a team anchored by NBA All-Stars Pau Gasol and Marc Gasol, Love posted up in the fourth quarter and helped Team USA create separation in what ended up being a 107-100 win.
Leading into the tournament, Wolves player development coach Shawn Respert said Love had an opportunity to soak in all the nuances of that U.S. basketball squad that makes them great. Being around the team, filled with NBA champions, MVPs and All-Stars, could allow Love to take tips both on and off the court back to Minnesota and help the Wolves take that next step into playoff contention.
Porter, who was Clyde Drexler's teammate in Portland when Drexler played on the Dream Team in 1992, said one thing Drexler talked about when he returned was the Dream Team's insistence on accountability. Even on a team with 11 future Hall of Famers, everyone kept each other motivated daily to get better. Love was in the middle of that type of culture for more than a month.
From afar, it seems as though Love was right in the middle of all the action. Not only did he contribute on the court, but he was constantly part of the team’s interaction and social media presence off it—once proclaiming himself the team’s photographer on Twitter.
Come September, he’ll be joined with Kirilenko and Shved in Timberwolves uniforms, two other medalists in the men’s basketball tournament that made major impacts on their team. Kirilenko was a force for Russia, often scoring at will through fast-break heaves from Shved or getting to the basket in the team’s half court sets.
Shved, 23, showed flashes of brilliance on the international stage. His ball handling helped Russia go 4-1 in the preliminary round and earn its first medal in men’s basketball.
That trio, which will take the court this winter, complements the Minnesota Lynx group perfectly. Augustus, Moore and Whalen returned home to a welcoming crowd at Target Center on Wednesday, proudly displaying their medals to the hometown fans.
Their return, after representing the Lynx brand in London, was another extension of the Minnesota’s franchises making a mark on the international basketball scene. It’s something Lynx head coach Cheryl Reeve said should make the fan base proud.
“I think for our fans, it’s awfully fun to be part of this franchise at this time,” Reeve said. “On the Lynx side of things we’re getting it done, and from the Timberwolves side of things we’ve got that level of player in those three, that things are I think going in the right direction for the Wolves. Hopefully they can make a playoff push, and I think it’s just a tremendous time to be a fan of both franchises.”
No other professional market matched what Timberwolves and Lynx players combined to do this summer. Because of their individual talents, there could be a lot to look forward to in the coming months for both teams.
“The fans got to be proud about those players representing the state but also their country,” Porter said. “And for them to be able to watch them play, the players of that caliber they get to see and watch.”