Rick Adelman to Minnesota Timberwolves: ‘If you think you’re a playoff team, why don’t you just forget it?’

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Before the season, all five of us predicted the Minnesota Timberwolves would make the playoffs (and I didn’t include that link just to point out I was the only one to predict the Trail Blazers would make it, but check that out as long as you’re on the page).

The Timberwolves had a star (Kevin Love), an underrated interior force (Nikola Pekovic), an intriguing point guard with breakout potential (Ricky Rubio), one of the league’s most efficient scorers (Kevin Martin), a good coach (Rick Adelman) and a deep roster that offered several players capable of filling in the cracks. It seemed health would be the top obstacle they faced.

But Minnesota has mostly avoided injury and still stumbled to an 18-20 start.

Adelman, via Kent Youngblood of the StarTribune:

“We have to face facts that we’re a .500 team,” he said. “Right now we’re below .500 [18-20]. I told them, ‘If you think you’re a playoff team, why don’t you just forget it? Because you haven’t proven that you are. You haven’t gone out and really established yourselves yet.’ ”

Here are the current standings of the 11 Western Conference teams with seemingly realistic playoff hopes:

1. Spurs, 31-8
2. Trail Blazers, 29-9
3. Thunder, 29-10
4. Clippers, 27-13
5. Rockets, 26-15
6. Warriors, 25-15
7. Suns, 22-16
8. Mavericks, 23-17
9. Nuggets, 20-18
10. Grizzlies, 19-19
11. Timberwolves, 18-20

And here are the standings if we used Pythagorean win percentage, historically a better indicator of future success than standard win percentage:

1. Spurs, 29-10
2. Thunder, 28-11
3. Trail Blazers, 27-11
4. Clippers, 27-13
5. Warriors, 26-14
6. Timberwolves, 24-14
7. Rockets, 25-16
8. Suns, 22-16
9. Mavericks, 22-18
10. Nuggets, 20-18
11. Grizzlies, 18-20

The Timberwolves have experienced bad luck in tossup games, and though they’ve accentuated their own problems, there’s little reason to predict the run of poor fortune will continue. It’s most likely to regress to the mean.

However, even if they immediately begin playing like the team Pythagorean win percentage says they are, their 18-20 start will weigh down their record. Here’s what the end-of-season standings will look like if each team wins at their current Pythagorean rate the rest of the year:

1. Spurs, 63-19
2. Thunder, 60-22
2. Trail Blazers, 60-22
4. Clippers, 55-27
5. Warriors, 52-30
6. Rockets, 51-31
7. Suns, 47-35
8. Timberwolves, 46-36
8. Mavericks, 46-36
10. Nuggets, 43-39
11. Grizzlies, 40-42

It’s quite possible the Timberwolves keep their mindset exactly as it is now, get a little better luck the rest of the season and make the playoffs. But it’s close, and that’s why Adelman’s displeasure is warranted.

The Timberwolves need more urgency.

No franchise has a longer active playoff drought than Minnesota, which hasn’t made the playoffs since 2004, when a Kevin Garnett-Sam Cassell-Latrell Sprewell core led the Timberwolves to the Western Conference Finals. And it’s not just an organizational issue. It’s not as if Love, Pekovic and Rubio have made the playoffs elsewhere before arriving in Minnesota. It should be personal to them.

Objectively, Adelman might be being too hard on his players. But he’s also probably treating them as their head coach should.