The Timberwolves’ Unlikely Leader?
Entering the 2011-12 NBA season, a vast majority of fans of the Minnesota Timberwolves were full of excitement to see their team more competitive than they had been in years. About halfway through the season at this point, the focus seems to have shifted towards achieving a berth in the playoffs for the first time since they lost to the Los Angeles Lakers in the Western Conference Finals. This is still a young team, making mistakes and learning and while the season has been fun, there still needs to be a level of patience.
Few epitomize the need for patience more than Martell Webster. Everyone is aware of what he can do on the basketball court, but making a return from microdiscectomy surgery is not something that happens overnight.
“I’m alright,” Webster told HOOPSWORLD. “Every day is a little bit of a struggle and it’s going to be that way for a while. You usually don’t get full range of motion for a full year, so I’m just trying to work hard and smart. I’m not trying to overdo it because that can overwork your body and you can take a couple steps back, so as eager as I am to want to go 100% all out, I can’t and have to listen to my body, be very in-tune with it and take it each day as it comes.”
To this point of the season, Webster’s averages are down across the board and some of that is due to Rick Adelman’s rotations. However, it is also attributed to Webster having to be smart while he attempts to return from an invasive procedure.
“Expectations are always high because it gives you something to shoot for, so am I where I expected to be? No, but it’s good enough for now,” said Webster.
While microdiscectomy surgery is one performed on the back, it is done more to relieve leg pain a majority of the time. Webster fell into this camp and is doing everything he can to return to the form the Minnesota Timberwolves saw when he played in Portland a few years ago. As he does the work to improve his body, Webster has become a leader off the court with his work ethic, as well as by becoming a much more vocal leader for his young teammates.
“He’s a guy that needs to speak up because he’s been around this league for a while now,” said Kevin Love. “That’s what we expect out of him because guys look up to him, he’s a vocal player, he leads by example, does the right things, takes care of his body, gets into the weight room, takes extra shots, so he’s working as best as he can to help his team.”
Developing as more of a leader off the court was almost accidental, but now that Webster embraces the role, he is attempting to transition into a much-needed player in Minnesota’s lineup. Anyone who has watched a Timberwolves game this season realizes the biggest need is a perimeter player who can hit outside shots with consistency, as well as put the ball on the court and drive to the hoop. When healthy, Webster can do both. Working towards getting his legs completely back under him after the surgery, Webster realizes there are other ways to make contributions to the Timberwolves.
“I can’t control if my shot is going to go in or not, but I can control my energy and how I play on defense,” said Webster. “I don’t ever think about my offense and I don’t let that affect the other end of the court. Things aren’t rolling on the offensive end of the court, I know I can always rely on my defense, get in and help rebounding and being vocal on the defensive end. That doesn’t affect me because there’s more than one way to win a game.”
About halfway through the season, Webster continues to have good and bad days in his total rehabilitation, but the bad days are becoming few and far between. Obviously, that is a good thing for both Webster and the Minnesota Timberwolves and they are working together to make him an integral part of the team’s attack.
“Martell is a big body,” said Love. “He’s a big guard and a guy that we can matchup against stronger forwards. We’re happy to have him back. We knew that he was coming off of injury and he had to get into a better rhythm, but we love having him in the locker room. He’s only going to get better for us as we continue to grow. He’s still relatively young, but he’s a veteran on this team and we’re happy to have him.”
Even when completely healthy, Webster has never been a player completely focused on his offense. Now, as his recovery forces him to focus on other ways to help his team outside of putting the ball in the basket, Webster is growing as an intelligent basketball player. Once his body is able to catch up to his mind, Martell Webster should become the player the Minnesota Timberwolves want and need him to be.
“My offense doesn’t dictate my performance,” said Webster. “I don’t really think too much on it. If a shot is open, I’m going to take it. If it doesn’t go in, oh well and I’m going to get back on defense. It’ll come. I am my toughest critic and people tell me I shouldn’t be like that. I’m trying to be a little easier on myself, knowing that not every shot is going to go in. I can always be ready, set and shoot the shot, but if it doesn’t go in, oh well. That’s how you have to think about it. The game isn’t over for the Minnesota Timberwolves if my shot isn’t going in.”
An honest assessment of himself, as well as a constant willingness to improve makes Webster a great leader for the young Minnesota Timberwolves.