10 Thoughts on a 10 Point Timberwolves Win

How long has it been since Wolves fans witnessed a regular season win at Target Center? The last one was March 4th, 2020. Nearly 10 months ago. It wasn’t easy, but the Timberwolves made it happen in the 4th quarter, and sent us all off to our holidays feeling good about an undefeated squad. Here are 10 thoughts following the win:

 

  1. Karl-Anthony Towns was so good, even without putting up enormous numbers. He only played 30 minutes, but ended with a very efficient offensive stat line of 22 points, 11 rebounds, and 7 assists on only 10 field goal attempts. Running the offense through him clearly seemed to open up easy shot attempts for his teammates. On defense he was not spectacular, but he was adequate with a steal and 2 blocks and rebounded his position well. He just needs to be good enough on defense to inch closer to superstar status.
  2. Clutch time offense ran through Towns and Russell. In years past, clutch time was scary time for the Wolves offense. Either “Point Wiggins” would take over, or Towns would get the ball in the post and face double-teams with no quality options for spot-up shooting. The season opener was different. Russell and Towns ran pick and rolls consistently when the game neared the end, and the Pistons were intent on trying to take them away which created easy buckets for the other Wolves on the floor. Most notably, Beasley ended up with an open corner 3pt. shot and Okogie cut into the lane for an And-1 dunk. Running the offense through two offensive threats during clutch time will clearly open the floor for the rest of the team.
  3. Okogie defended Blake Griffin admirably, but the power forward spot is in rough shape. Jake Layman and Juancho Hernangomez combined to play 29 minutes at the power forward position registering 0 points, 4 rebounds, a steal, and a -22 in the plus/minus category. Neither player supplied any real value on either end of the court, on their way to a disappointing start to the season. Josh Okogie was said to be the likely closing power forward and he ended up guarding Blake Griffin for most of the game. Some nights Okogie will be able to hold his own against larger players, but he is not a long term answer against the league’s best power forwards.
  4. Anthony Edwards looked good, and he can clearly get better. The 19 year old rookie in his first regular season game seemed like he was already used to playing in the NBA. His counting stats were impressive registering 15 points, 4 rebounds, 4 assists, and only 1 turnover. What was more impressive is simply how comfortable he looks handling the ball on offense. The game does not seem too fast for him at the moment, and he has no problem coming around a screen and either attacking or moving the ball to a teammate. Defensively he was solid on-the-ball and did not seem to have glaring mistakes guarding away from the ball. The best part is that nothing he accomplished in his first game is unrepeatable, and he could certainly play even better. He only shot 1–5 from the 3pt. line and did not register a steal or a block. I expect both of those statistics to improve most games.
  5. Layups are apparently the Wolves’ biggest weakness? 3 point-blank layups missed that were nearly uncontested by the defense stick out. Rubio, Culver, and Hernangomez had one of those each, while Edwards and Towns missed contested shots just a couple of feet away from the rim. If they are able to convert those shots, the game is completely different and likely does not require a comeback to win. Most likely the blown layup attempts were jitters or rustiness, but this team is probably not good enough to miss those easy opportunities and still win games.
  6. Speaking of missed shots the Wolves did not shoot the ball well, but won the game by dominating the free throw disparity. Offense seemed like it would come easy to this team, but as they continue to shake off the rust and build chemistry it appears offensive proficiency will take time. The Wolves only shot 27% from the 3pt. line and 43% overall, but they made 24 of 28 free throws which helped boost their relatively inefficient offense. If points will not be as easy to come by as originally planned, it will be nice to sustain a high free throw rate to buoy the offense on those off-nights.
  7. Blake Griffin is still good, but it is not apparent if anyone else on Detroit can help him win games. While Griffin’s counting stats were not overly impressive with 15 points, 7 rebounds, and 2 assists, he was still a factor with his strength and shot-making. They continually posted him up against Okogie, and the Wolves defense collapsed hard on Griffin to force him to give up the ball. That plan worked in clutch time, as Griffin’s teammates proved to be much less capable than him to provide offense when the defenses tightened up. It will likely take the Pistons some time to discover an offensive identity at the end of games.
  8. The backup center position seems to be set, and Naz Reid owns it for the foreseeable future. A looming question during training camp was whether Ed Davis, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, or Reid would play center in the minutes when Karl-Anthony Towns was on the bench. Davis was the assumed leader with RHJ close behind him. Fast forward to the regular season and Davis seems relegated to the deep bench and RHJ was let go. Reid is clearly the best option left on the roster with a mix of offensive skills and solid defensive play. In games where Naz has to start, he would certainly be overwhelmed by skilled centers, but in a 15–18 minute per game backup role he is qualified and provides the right amount of energy to the bench units. At just 21 years old, the best may be yet to come.
  9. Jarrett Culver was very good, again. 10 points 10 rebounds and 2 assists with very solid defending is exactly what Wolves fans love to see from the second year wing. He missed his only 3pt. attempt and blew a point-blank layup, but he made 4 out of 5 free throws and looked confident in his abilities as one of the best wings on this team. His individual and team defense can be relied upon to wreak havoc against opposing bench units. The 10 rebounds from Culver is a very good sign showing high energy and a willingness to pitch in to help one of the Wolves weaknesses. Overall a very solid game on his journey to continue improving.
  10. Winning real games feels so good. Wolves fans completely understand that it is only one game against the predictably lowly Pistons. They also started out 3–0 last year before a complete collapse. We know the good times do not last forever, so we can enjoy this one and talk about what needs to improve from a 1–0 standpoint. A lot does need to improve, and they have three days before a trip to the West coast to play the Jazz, the Lakers, and the Clippers could ruin their good vibes. Let’s enjoy this one and the fact that Wolves basketball is back!
 

-Jerry W.