Timberwolves’ offseason acquisitions are living up to the billing

Published 5:50am Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Column: Notes from Nashville, by Andrew Dyrdal

I was 16 years old the last time the Minnesota Timberwolves started a season 3-0.

I was a new driver, cruising the wrong way down one-way Lakeview Boulevard around Fountain Lake; and Kevin Garnett — already in his eighth NBA season — was about the lead the Wolves to a 58-24 record and first-place finish in the Western Conference.

A lot has changed in 10 years: My driving skills for the better, the Wolves for the worst. But things finally seem to be turning around for real this season.

This season’s Timberwolves won’t finish first in the West like in ’03 — that spot is reserved for the Clippers, Thunder or Spurs — but they look like a team fit to compete for home-court advantage during the first round of the playoffs rather than just a spot among the top eight.

Led by offensive guru Rick Adelman, the Wolves, heading into Monday night’s game against Cleveland, averaged 109 points per game, the fifth-most in the NBA.

A lot of the Timberwolves’ improved efficiency on offense has to do with its roster, which former coach and new Vice President of Basketball Operations Flip Saunders crafted over the offseason.

Kevin Martin, who the Wolves acquired in free agency, made 10 of his last 13 3-point attempts, and Corey Brewer, who too is making a return to the team, keeps the offense humming with his aggressiveness on defense.

Add in the best scoring power forward in the league, Kevin Love, who leads the NBA averaging 30 points per game and is second in rebounds with 15, and the maestro Ricky Rubio, and the Wolves should have no trouble putting the ball in the hoop this winter.

The Timberwolves had a solid foundation with Love, Rubio and Nikola Pekovic, but in past seasons lacked a defensive stopper and pure scorer.

Saunders addressed both those needs with Brewer and Kevin Martin and neither has disappointed. Brewer helped shut down superstars Kevin Durant and Carmelo Anthony in back-to-back wins over the Thunder and Knicks, and Martin has led the team in scoring during the past two games.

While both players added upgrades at the shooting guard and small forward position, many writers criticized the Wolves on paying too much for players who were past their prime and a defensive liability (Martin) or a role player not worthy of a modest contract (Brewer).

While some teams may not have dished out a combined $43 million on a tandem like Brewer and Martin, those critics must understand that Minneapolis isn’t a destination city like Los Angeles, New York or Miami, and it isn’t a title contender.

The Wolves are in a position to win now and may have to pay a premium to get mid-level free agents to pick a place with brutal winters over smaller deals in warmer cities.

I think both players are living up to their sticker price. Brewer had six steals on Monday’s 93-92 loss to the Cavs and has been an important addition to the team’s greatest weakness — defense.

Despite last night’s loss, the Wolves are poised to remain relevant well into April and fight for the fourth seed in the West.

Andrew Dyrdal’s column appears in the Tribune each Tuesday.