Wolves Winning Observations: 8 Thoughts From an 8 Point Win

How great does it feel to analyze a win? What a relief for Wolves fans and the team to end a long losing streak in a game where they were missing their superstar center for most of the time. The good feelings can’t last forever though as the Wolves have more work to do to dig out of an early season hole. They have a couple of days to rest up and should have Karl-Anthony Towns back for many of their upcoming games. Here are 8 thoughts after their first win of 2021:

 

  1. A win with defense is a sight for sore eyes. The Timberwolves held the Spurs to only 39 2nd half points. I do not have the exact numbers, but I assume it has been a very long time since the Wolves have held a team under 40 points in a half. The Spurs certainly did not have their “A” game, but the level of effort and attention to detail from Timberwolves players on defense was certainly noticeable. Players such as D’Angelo Russell and Juancho Hernangomez who are typically negatives on defense were engaged and making the right plays. Defensive stalwarts like Josh Okogie and Jarred Vanderbilt wreaked havoc during their time on the court. All of this culminated in a much needed victory for the undermanned Wolves in a game they simply had to emerge victorious.
  2. There is a role for Ed Davis on this Timberwolves team. Davis is certainly still working his way into game shape, but last night he was able to show his true value as an energy big man. When the lineup is fully healthy, Davis will not likely see the floor as KAT and Naz Reid have the center minutes locked up. Jarred Vanderbilt has also surpassed Ed as a reserve rotation big man. This leaves him with only one role. It will be the “spot-starting” big man when Towns is granted a day off on a back to back. Davis slotted into the starting lineup in Towns’ absence and it was clear that he had more energy than Spurs big man LaMarcus Aldridge who had played heavy minutes the night before. At this point in his career, Davis will mostly provide value on defense and rebounding, and he clearly was able to outwork the Spurs interior to grab rebounds and run the court. That is a valuable role on a team with a superstar center.
  3. The Wolves always find a way to make one opposing wing player look like a star. In the overtime loss the night prior, it was DeMar DeRozan (who is an actual star) that dominated the game for 38 points. In the Wolves win on Sunday, they allowed Lonnie Walker IV to score at-will early in the game. The hard-charging young wing was easily able to get into the lane and draw fouls while finishing at the rim. Minnesota was clearly not prepared for his aggressiveness, and Walker IV was able to rack up 17 points in the first half of a low scoring affair. The Wolves did put a stop to his parade to the basket in the 2nd half, only allowing him 8 more points, but they need to tighten the perimeter defense to begin games to discourage opponents from driving the seams to the basket.
  4. D’Angelo Russell is finding his rhythm, and he was able to jumpstart the Wolves offense. Russell was clearly not yet comfortable with his teammates on the court during the first few games of the season. A player like him who relies on game feel and chemistry with teammates needs a little more time to get used to his team than some other ball handlers. He seems to be settling into his role much more comfortably recently. DLo is doing a great job of realizing when he needs to be aggressive and when he needs to involve his teammates, and it makes for some beautiful stretches of basketball. He got the Wolves off to a roaring start with two 3pt. makes and a stunning assist to Malik Beasley for an easy layup. Those types of hot starts are key for the Wolves. Without Towns, the offense is starting to find an identity with Russell at the controls.
  5. It was a very rough shooting night for Anthony Edwards, but he showed he can still provide some value elsewhere. Edwards went 0/8 from the field overall and did not score a point in his 18 minutes. For the 2nd time this season, he has looked noticeably less effective on the 2nd game of a back to back. That is a tough transition for rookies to make, especially those who rely on athleticism to be effective. Even with the rough shooting night he still was able to register 6 rebounds (3 offensive) and 1 assist. He was also part of a strong defensive lineup to start the 2nd quarter that held the Spurs scoreless for a long stretch of time. 0 points for a scoring wing is relatively discouraging, but at only 19 yrs old Edwards was able to find ways to impact the game, and that may be more telling than his wayward shooting.
  6. Fans were finally able to see the blueprint for the closing lineup with both Ricky Rubio and D’Angelo Russell. With Rubio’s recent performances not inspiring a lot of confidence, fans were wondering if he would be a part of closing lineups moving forward. The win against the Spurs showed the value he can provide. Without Towns, the Spurs loaded up to stop D’Angelo Russell in the 4th quarter, even using a little full court pressure. Having a steady point guard like Rubio can alleviate the pressure on Russell, and allow him to move more freely to find his spots. Adding in Malik Beasley to that lineup provides another excellent free throw shooter, and all three players were provided opportunities at the line in the 4th quarter to help seal the win. If Rubio can sustain that level of play, he will prove to be a valuable closing guard to help setup the scoring of Russell, Beasley, and Towns.
  7. Jarred Vanderbilt received 19 minutes in the game, seemingly knocking Jake Layman out of the rotation completely. Even more telling was the fact that most of Vando’s time was spent at the power forward position where Jake Layman has traditionally played this season. Vanderbilt is clearly the better option right now to play next to both Naz Reid and Karl-Anthony Towns in the front court, and with Josh Okogie’s return Layman has been squeezed out completely. At the beginning of the season Layman was the starting power forward, but he has just has not shown enough value on offense or defense to warrant a spot ahead of Jarred Vanderbilt. When Towns returns, there is almost no reason for Layman to take minutes from Vanderbilt or Okogie, as their skillsets are much more valuable to the Wolves at this time.
  8. With two full days off and a winnable stretch of games ahead, the time is now for Minnesota to hit the gas pedal. The Wolves dug themselves into an early hole with a 7 game losing streak largely without their best player. KAT takes them to a different level as a team, and if he is able to play most of the games moving forward they need to get serious about winning to salvage the season. This upcoming game against Memphis is reminiscent of a matchup against the Grizzlies last season. Minnesota was 10–8 and coming off 2 straight wins. They had a home matchup against Memphis without Ja Morant and had a chance to extend the winning streak. They fell flat in a disheartening loss that day and it was a sign of things to come with a full on season collapse beginning soon after. The Wolves cannot let that happen this season. I do not believe they will, as this team is completely different than the one that began last season, but I will need to see it to believe it.
 

-Jerry W.