5 Thoughts on a Wolves Blowout and the Joy of a Good Team
A glance at the final score might shock Wolves fans that watched their win over the Oklahoma City Thunder on Friday night. 37 points was the difference! It certainly did not SEEM like the Wolves were routing them that terribly throughout the game as Shai Gilgeous-Alexander scored anytime he wanted and Tre Mann launched 3’s without a 2nd thought. But the Wolves just continued to play their brand of basketball and relied on their superior depth to run away with it. Here are 5 thoughts on a Wolves rout in Oklahoma.
New Wolves, taking care of business.
I’ll highlight this again — the Wolves won by 37! When the Mop Guys jumped out in front of Jordan McLaughlin, the Wolves were only up by 16 with about 2 minutes left in the 3rd quarter. That actually seemed like a fairly big deal at the time!
Now we can laugh about it — how the Thunder needed 2 extra defenders to stop the Wolves. But this game was just a 48-minute example of how Chris Finch wants this team to play.
No single player dominated for the Wolves. There did not need to be a concerted effort to get certain guys involved. The offensive plan was simple: get the ball to Towns who was getting immediately doubled and then move the ball around him against a scrambling defense.
For the 2nd unit, it seemed even easier. Those guys are so connected right now and they are able to dominate lesser bench units because of their experience playing alongside one another. The foursome of Beasley, Prince, Reid, and JMac ended up with 58 points combined and they were plus about a million in the +/- category.
The Thunder were overmatched from the beginning, to be sure, but this is also the same team that had toppled the Nuggets in Denver a few nights before. The Thunder are feisty, and they threw a punch at the Wolves to begin the game. Chris Finch is likely proud of the way his guys just played their game, without panic, and it lead to a cruise control win. The Wolves are so fun right now.
Jaden McDaniels is taking advantage of his opportunity.
I don’t think there are Timberwolves fans that exist who do not love Jaden McDaniels. If there are, I don’t want to know about them. This dude is starting to take some of that potential oozing out of him and turning it into real live meaningful production. I mean check out this defensive possession:
It begins with a quality closeout on Roby and then staying in front of him on the drive. Then Jaden switches on to SGA (one of the best isolation scorers in the league) where he mirrors his footwork and keeps his body completely in control on the drive. Finally hecaps it off by noticing the cutter that SGA dumps it to and keeping his body in position to swat the shot and grab the rebound. Goodness.
Defensive possessions like this are somewhat routine for the young wing from the Pacific Northwest. This is all well-within his defensive capabilities. His real standout performance on Friday night came on the offensive end.
The numbers are not eye-popping. He ended with 16 points and was 3/7 from the 3pt. line. What made him standout was the confidence and freedom he appeared to play with while his 2nd year counterpart, Anthony Edwards, rests his knee.
Jaden McDaniels clearly feels more empowered in the offense lately. You can tell simply based on how many dribbles he takes in a game! He is also looking to attack the basket more often when the Wolves are in transition or semi-transition. With his length and finesse around the rim, that is a simple yet valuable way that he can help this Wolves offense.
The 3pt. shot is only getting better as well. Over the last 20 games, Jaden is hitting on 39% of his 4 attempts per game beyond the arc. His confidence in his own 3pt. stroke seems to be increasing by the week. When Jaden is splashing 3’s it has to be very difficult for defenses to know what to do when they are already trying to take away so many other facets of the Wolves offense.
Friday night gave us a glimpse at what a fully realized McDaniels can be fairly soon in the NBA. Those will be scary times for opposing teams.
Bolmaro & Knight work double-duty.
Friday was a very fun day for Wolves fans and it was capped off by both Leandro Bolmaro and Nathan Knight getting a chance to dominate in the Iowa Wolves G League game early in the day, then check in to the Timberwolves NBA game at night. Just like when I used to get both JV and Varsity minutes in the same day (of course mine was in my senior year of high school, so not quite the same).
There has been some conversation in the Wolves Twitter world about the “plan” with Leandro Bolmaro or whether he is even in this team’s plans moving forward. It has caused me to think about how he fits into this team’s future.
Ultimately, the short answer is: Yes, Bolmaro is in this team’s future plans. He is in the 1st year of his rookie deal and was always going to need time to adjust to the game here in the United States.
Right now, the best way to do that is by playing big minutes in Iowa. So far in his 15 G League games, Bolmaro is averaging 13/5/5 with just over a steal during his 31 mins/gm. He is being afforded opportunities to run the offense for most of the games, but is getting experience playing off the ball as well. I would say he is right on track for where he should be at this point.
In my opinion, the “Plan” with Bolmaro is to spend up to 2 seasons in development mode. Then, as the Wolves make the transition from young team with less expensive players to a really good team with big contracts (it’s coming sooner than you think!) they have Bolmaro waiting in the wings with a couple of inexpensive seasons left.
This is what the great organizations that sustain success have done. The Spurs are the most successful example with guys like Danny Green and Patty Mills. Toronto has done this for years with their shining star being recent All Star Fred Van Vleet.
One of the best and most relevant examples here though may be Gabe Vincent with the Miami Heat (you know Gabe, he took that “charge” while Anthony Edwards was planting him under the basketball hoop). Vincent is currently one of the major keys to the Heat being able to sustain an excellent record through tons of injuries, absences, and poor play from their guard rotation. He has played in 55 games, and started 22.
Vincent also spent 2 seasons in the G League before finally cracking the rotation. He was honing his skills, learning the system, and waiting for his opportunity. The Heat have needed his skills and abilities, for sure, but they also really appreciate his relatively small contract as they have developed into an older and very expensive group. Being able to replace key rotation minutes with a guy who knows the system and culture is very valuable to a veteran team.
So that is my guess at what the Wolves are hoping with Bolmaro. On this current Wolves team, he is a luxury, not a need. But next year’s team, or even the 23–24 team may need him to step into the rotation full time or to competently replace injured stars. That is when we will see his true value.
An outsider’s view of the Thunder.
I’m not going to judge the Thunder based off this game. Half (or more) of that rotation is not going to be in the NBA much longer. They were missing key pieces like Josh Giddey, Lu Dort, and Kenrich Williams among others. What I will say is that Shai Gilgeous-Alexander is ridiculously good.
There was no one around him on Friday night. I don’t mean that figuratively… I mean there was not a single starting-caliber player that was on the court with him at any point. So of course he goes for 33/5/7 in 30 minutes on 66% shooting.
I don’t even want to heap too much blame on the Wolves defense for that. They tried! He was guarded by McDaniels, Vanderbilt, and Beverley for most of his time on the court. Those are really, really, really good individual defenders. They stopped him or forced a pass a fair amount of times, but mostly Shai was just too wiggly, too precise, and too skilled. Cheers to SGA.
So how does it come together around him? Well, I love Giddey. He’s going to be at least a REALLY good connecting piece in a starting lineup. Dort fills a valuable role as well. I thought Isaiah Roby looked like a real rotation piece as a PF or backup C. I’ll even shoutout Tre Mann who at the very least seems like he will be elite at creating his own shot. They just need more skilled big men, and that is where the draft comes in.
This season’s successful tank job should land them near the top of the draft. I’m not a huge draft guy, but I know there are some outstanding big men at the top of this next one. If they can grab one of those guys, I think they should lean into one final season of development next year. Then, it’ll be go time!
Are more blowouts ahead?
I don’t want to get out over my skis here, but yes, more blowouts are coming. The next 2 games are home against Portland. You may look at the standings and say “hey they could catch the Lakers/Pelicans for the play-in.” They do NOT want the play-in. They want those draft lottery balls. I mean look at their injury report:
Immaculate. The recently acquired Josh Hart has actually been playing recently, so they decided he better sit as well. This is going to look a lot like the OKC game on Friday night — Anfernee Simons trying to do everything he can surrounded by a lot of guys that would not be in a regular NBA rotation. I assume Monday’s game against Portland will be the same.
Side note: Wolves fans, isn’t it weird being on the OTHER SIDE of these games against historically competent teams like OKC and Portland. It’s a nice feeling.
After 2 games against what is left of that Portland team, OKC comes to town. By that time, some of the injured guys may be back, OR they may have decided to shut down SGA! You truly never know.
Then comes the final game of this soft spot in the schedule when the Wolves travel to Orlando to take on the Magic. This is the one I am worried about. They are actually getting some guys healthier, and their size makes them a terrible matchup for the Wolves. That game should be interesting, but a healthy Wolves team will still be favored by plenty.
Overall your Minnesota Timberwolves could be between 8–10 games over .500 heading into a Saturday, March 12th showdown with Gabe Vincent and the Miami Heat. As a Wolves fan, it doesn’t get a whole lot better in the regular season than that. Enjoy it, celebrate it, and Go Wolves!