4 Thoughts on the Wolves 4th Straight Win
Maybe the Wolves have decided to never lose again? What a novel concept! Seriously, last night was agood example of a team that is clicking vs. a team that is mentally and physically exhausted. For once, the Wolves were the team that was clicking! The Wolves beating Golden State is sweet enough on its own, but beating them by 12 and mainly controlling the entire game was a different type of satisfaction. Minnesota was the more well-rounded and focused team last night, and while their wins mean very little in the standings it is great to see that they are capable of such performances. After a fun win, and their 4th in a row, here are 4 thoughts on the Wolves win over the Warriors.
This latest “team” win is yet another example of the Wolves finding different formulas to win. There have been plenty of games in past years and even earlier this season when it felt like the Wolves would need a heroic performance from one of their studs to eek out a win. The win in Phoenix earlier in the year is a prime example as it took a couple of 40 point outbursts from KAT and Ant to steal that game. Lately, the calculus has changed as the Wolves are receiving contributions up and down the roster. Against Utah, D’Angelo Russell had superb scoring outbursts to push the Wolves ahead and sustain leads. Then in Houston with tired legs they had a couple of reserves, Juancho and Vanderbilt, come to the party to save the day. Finally against Golden State with DLo and KAT having rough shooting nights (9/29 combined), Anthony Edwards and Ricky Rubio were there to push the Wolves over the edge in the end. Edwards’ performance was especially notable. Heading into the 4th quarter down a couple points, the Wolves needed someone to take over. Ant was mostly quiet to that point, but he decided he would take over the game with STRONG drives to the rim and smooth stepback 3’s that had me walking around my living room with my arms up in the air. His scoring barrage (18 pts in the 4th) stunned the Warriors and put the Wolves up for good. Through all of this, the team’s best player and leader Karl-Anthony Towns has continued to put up winning performances even when his scoring is not at his usual efficiency. Heading into the season, the idea was that KAT would consistently dominate and only one of Russell, Beasley, or Ant would need to follow suit on a given night. We are starting to see that play out with the supporting cast under Chris Finch and it certainly feels like a sustainable way to win heading into next season.
An ode to Jaden McDaniels, Josh Okogie, and Jarred Vanderbilt. “JJJ” a.k.a. Jaren Jackson Jr. may be the next star big man in Memphis, but the Wolves have their own “JJJ” as their stout defensive trio that no opposing offense wants to see. Jaden and Josh each deserve an ice bath after chasing Steph Curry around all night. The effort and tenacity it takes to stay attached to the best shooter and off-ball mover in the league is incredible, and both of those guys spent the night making life difficult for the superstar. Now, he still ended with 37 points because he is STEPH CURRY, but they made him take 27 shots and there is no doubt he was exhausted as Jaden and Josh made him work for it. Jarred Vanderbilt was his own personal brand of special. Against the undersized Warriors, Vando looked like a man amongst boys on the offensive glass in securing 4 offensive rebounds and tapping out several others in only 16 minutes. His energy and willingness to guard any opposing player on defense is continuously proving to be a valuable asset. In lineups with plenty of skill and finesse alongside DLo, JMac, Juancho, and Naz, Vanderbilt can be unleashed to fly around the court like a bull in a china shop. Defensively he switches 1–5 (sometimes even when he shouldn’t) and offensively he knows his role as a guy who sets screens and crashes the offensive glass like his life depends on it. All 3 of the “JJJ” trio have bought into their roles as the team’s best defenders and low usage offensive players. They know they will not receive much glory and will need to do the dirty work. That is a testament to the team’s leadership and hierarchy to get 3 players who are age 22 and under to buy in so distinctly.
Let’s talk Wiggins! We are not going to re-litigate The Trade or talk about who fleeced who. It doesn’t matter at this point. In general, I am more interested in Wiggins the basketball player right now. Let’s start with defense. He’s a different defender in GSW than he was in MN. I watched nearly every single one of his games in a Wolves jersey, and I never saw him use his length the way he uses it in the Bay Area. He had plenty of possessions where he locked in on man to man defense in Minnesota, and he nearly always looked good in those situations. It’s not like he was some terrible defender here, he was just not the dominant defender that we hoped he would be. With the Warriors, Wiggins still is not dominant but he is using his length and athleticism to deter shots at the rim this season. He had a couple emphatic swats on the Wolves and contested several others very well. I would chalk much of that up to “the Draymond effect” but some credit needs to be given to AW for buying in. Offensively, while his shooting percentages are up I still do not feel his impact is overly positive. When he shares the floor with Steph, he is nearly invisible. When he does get the ball he is immediately looking for an opening to get the ball to Curry. That is smart! Curry is one of the most transcendent offensive players in NBA history. But that means Andrew is not often doing what he does best — attacking the rim. In the “non-Steph” minutes they put the ball in his hands and ask him to drive. That works just fine a lot of the time, but the Warriors as currently constructed are not able to surround him with good enough players to make the defense focus on anything other than Wiggins. It hamstrings his efficiency in those cases. I know, because I watched that same formula for 6 years. His future is interesting. If the Warriors want to go all-in for one last run at a ring with Steph, Draymond, and Klay they should absolutely look to trade the Wolves pick and use Wiggins’ contract to go along with it. I do not see Wiggins in a Warriors jersey next season which is a shame because I think he has found a role there and I am not sure many other teams could secure the same “buy in” from him that Golden State has. It will be an interesting situation to monitor!
Chris Finch is coaching his A$$ off. You could tell it was coming. We would see little glimpses of cool play designs and short stretches of solid defense, organized offense, and 4th quarter excellence. In this 4 game winning streak it has started to come to fruition. Finch is making a significant difference for this team and the win against the Warriors was the best example. Minnesota came into the game with a clear plan of attack on offense and defense. Offensively the goal was to use the Warriors’ aggressiveness against them and get to the free throw line to the tune of 29 attempts for the Wolves. With the major size advantage, they also crashed the offensive glass and snagged 16 offensive rebounds. Defensively Finch drew up a system to sell out to stop Curry then scramble back when Curry gets rid of the ball. He was not afraid to ask KAT and Naz to switch on to the sharpshooter, and their goal was clear. Run Steph off the 3pt. line and scramble back to protect the rim. If the Warriors were going to burn the Wolves, they would have to rely on their supporting cast to make plays. The defensive scheme is not a unique one to defend the 20–21 Warriors, but it is hard to get a young team to communicate and operate on a string to execute it. To be sure, there were some breakdowns as Curry netted 37 points, but Golden State had to work for nearly every bucket which is all you can ask. Chris Finch has this team’s direction trending so far upward, and he has only had half of a season and almost no practice time. Imagine what he will do with a full offseason and training camp!