CHICAGO – There are a thousand ways to quantify losing Kevin Love, and early this season, the best measure is 72 to four.
Going into Saturday night, Nikola Pekovic was tied for 72nd in the league in points per game. He’s the Timberwolves’ leading scorer.
Last season, with 26.0 points per game, Love was fourth in the league and best on the Timberwovles. Fourth vs. 72nd. It was a measure that hasn’t mattered much, at least not until Saturday, when there was a glaring lack of anyone to lead a scoring charge.
There’s no consensus leader on the offense, and J.J. Barea, Andrei Kirilenko, Pekovic, Luke Ridnour, Chase Budinger have all led the team in scoring on at least one night. Only Pekovic has notched the most points twice, and in Saturday’s 87-80 loss, the team desperately needed someone, anyone, to be that guy.
That guy who could break through the Bulls’ air-tight second-half defense. That guy who could pick up steam in the fourth quarter, despite an injury to Budinger that took him limping off the court in the fourth quarter. That guy who could be the one his teammates look for, consistent and dominant.
Kevin Love is that guy. But Kevin Love was on the bench in a checked blazer, looking every bit as dapper as he did unavailable.
On Saturday in Chicago, this utopian thing the Timberwolves have had going was shattered, and watching them, you couldn’t help but think that some unfair distribution of the wealth might not be the worst thing ever.
It was as if Rick Adelman had seen it coming.
“We’re trying to figure out who the go-to guy is,” the coach said pregame. “At the end of the game last night, I really had no idea who our go-to guy was. We don’t have a player today like Derrick (Rose) or like Kobe that you can get the ball to that can win games for you.”
“We have to find other ways to do things, and you know, like right now, I’m really not sure. I hope we can find some.”
The loss doesn’t spell doom for the Timberwolves. Hardly. But it exposed what’s perhaps their biggest weakness, and you had to know that all this warm and fuzzy, pat on the back, we’re all equals stuff couldn’t sustain them every night. This is the NBA, and the Bulls, even without Rose, have some bite.
The problem with the way the Timberwolves have been winning is that it hinges on so many pieces. It will until Love and Rubio return. It hinges on some level of health, which is precarious at the moment, and it depends on most players playing to their peak. When Derrick Williams goes 0-for-10 from the field and Pekovic gets into foul trouble, the method is jeopardized. When the Timberwolves start turning over the ball, things get worse. When Greg Stiemsma fails to score a point, that doesn’t help either.
Some nights, the Timberwolves’ balanced attack will be crippled by its too many pieces. When you have a scorer like Love, it takes one player, one elite player, and the odds are that he’s going to perform. It’s a simpler equation, that kind of winning, and for a while, any success the Timberwolves can achieve will be through more complex mathematics.
Realistically speaking, until Love and Rubio return, the team will be stockpiling wins, hoarding them for a better day. It’s not going to create a go-to guy out of nothing, and it’ll likely be a tag-team effort as November fades into December. It’s the kind of problem where you hope that someone – Pekovic, Williams, Kirilenko, maybe Budinger if he’s healthy – emerges, but you know that there’s a bigger, better option waiting in the wings.
Eventually, the elite scorer will be there. That’s placating, at least, but still frustrating, and as much as this chemistry, equality, parity – whatever you want to call it – can be delightful to talk about, sometimes, it won’t be enough. That’s not to say it won’t lead to wins, or even to a winning record (it very well could), but the Timberwolves will need to somehow learn how to address their lack of a go-to guy, short of shoving Love out there in that checked blazer.