Fifteen games into their season, the Wolves are 4-11. Given their injuries and youth, that record isn’t terribly surprising. That said, there are three facts within that record that do jump out at us:
1) With Kevin Martin sidelined for several weeks still, the Wolves’ best offensive option very well could be Shabazz Muhammad. He’s second on the team (behind Martin) in points scored per 36 minutes, averaging a cool 21.7. He’s shooting 51 percent from the field. And more than just that, he often looks like the Wolves’ most dangerous offensive threat. Right now, though, he is just 11th on the team in minutes played. We imagine that will change — and it should.
2) We figured the young Wolves would struggle on offense this season, and those struggles only intensified with injuries to Martin, Nikola Pekovic, Ricky Rubio and others. What surprises us is just how poor the Wolves have been on defense. It does speak to the defensive value of Rubio, since they were clearly a better defensive team before he hurt his ankle, but the fact remains that the team defensive rating of 113.6 and average points allowed of 110.1 ppg are 29th in the NBA. That’s not good.
3) That defensive rating is even worse than the 76ers, who have yet to win a game this season. That’s relevant to the Wolves because Minnesota hosts Philly on Wednesday. If Minnesota DOESN’T win that game, it will be the subject of scorn and ridicule. It also could be the Wolves’ best chance for a win in a long time. Consider their next five games aside from the 76ers game: at Clippers (11-5); home vs. Rockets (13-4); at Spurs (12-4); home vs. Warriors (14-2); home vs. Blazers (13-4).
Teddy Bridgewater didn’t have to be great Sunday. The vast majority of NFL quarterbacks, regardless of where they reside on a depth chart, should be able to navigate a victory when handed two touchdowns on blocked punts in the first half.
Still, Teddy’s 15-for-21, 138-yard, two-TD, zero turnover game was impressive in and of itself. Not only did he avoid the kinds of crushing mistakes that can actually lose a game like that, but also he provided the momentum-starting TD drive and the TD drive at the end of the first half that essentially put the Panthers away. He posted a 120.7 passer rating and an 84.1 QBR. Neither of those are perfect metrics, but those are also both very good numbers.
It was a very Alex Smith-esque game, and we bring up that name because he’s the QB ESPN analyst Tim Hasselbeck believes represents Bridgewater’s high-end potential in this league.
Smith has evolved into one of the best “game managers” in the NFL, and in this case it’s not an insult. He has a 37-14-1 record in his last 52 starts with the 49ers and Chiefs. Some of that is because he has played with good defenses. Some of that is because he plays mistake-free football that results in a lot of wins by scores like 21-16 and 24-13.
Smith also isn’t a quarterback who is likely to beat you when he has to throw a lot. He’s probably not going to win a game for you by himself, but he also isn’t likely to lose it, either.
If Bridgewater became Smith, we could most certainly live with that. He’d be a top-half QB in the NFL, and the Vikings — assuming they also shored up some other areas — would probably make a decent number of trips to the playoffs during Teddy’s era.
We’re waiting to see if Bridgewater is Smith. Sunday’s game was a good indication that he can be. What we’re more interested in seeing, though, is whether he can be more than Smith — if Bridgewater will evolve into that rare QB who can both manage a game and go win a shootout, too.