Bugged: 5 Thoughts on the Wolves Loss to the Hornets

A highly anticipated matchup between the 1st and 3rd picks in the 2020 NBA draft and two evenly matched squads turned into a fun game that went back and forth throughout. The Hornets ended with the win, proving to have too much firepower for the Wolves to slow down. Minnesota took the loss and is now on a 4 game losing streak. Here are 5 thoughts from the game.

 

  1. The first matchup between Anthony Edwards & LaMelo Ball was a glimpse of what we can expect from both players in the future. With all due respect to James Wiseman, the face off between Ant and LaMelo is the most intriguing rookie matchup. They are both ball handlers, and were both firmly in the running to be the 1st overall pick. The two rookies did not disappoint in their maiden matchup. Their stat lines are fairly similar with Ball registering 20/11/4 (pts, rebs, assts) and Edwards finishing with 21/6/3, but the ways in which they get their points are where they are differ. Ant is obviously the better isolation scorer, and he spent the evening seeking out mismatches to drive into the lane or pull-up for a three. LaMelo uses more pick and roll to either distribute the ball or get into the lane for a floater. At this point in their careers, LaMelo’s basketball IQ and feel for the game is more developed, so he found himself around the rim for easy put-backs and “clean up” baskets. He has a knack for putting himself in the right position. Ball also clearly is on the team with a better offensive structure around him. They run specific actions to maximize his court vision and get him open shots. Ant isolation plays are sometimes used as a backup plan after an initial action has failed, and he mainly needs to use his pure talent and ability to score. Both of these players are still only 19 years old. If they can continue to improve, we could look back on the 2020 draft as a strong draft that gave us two elite and unique guards that their respective franchises are very happy with.
  2. A non-shooting wing player is quickly becoming a detriment to playing offense in the NBA. Let me begin by stating that I unequivocally love Josh Okogie as a human being, and have enjoyed watching him play basketball for much of his time with the Timberwolves. With that said, NBA defenses are too smart to have a player with Okogie’s offensive limitations playing heavy minutes. If a player cannot shoot from the 3pt. line, they have to be able to do something else well on offense. For example, Ben Simmons is an elite distributor and a freight train attacking the rim. If a defense ignores him, he can often make them pay. Other non-shooters around the league are typically big men who are adept at finishing at the basket and setting screens. Okogie just does not provide any of those qualities on offense. He is a timely cutter and decent finisher at the rim, but smart defenses like the Clippers and Warriors were able to ignore him around the perimeter and recover in time to keep him from getting easy baskets. Unfortunately Josh does not have the offensive instincts and skills at this stage of his career to make teams pay for leaving him wide open. When he is on the court, the offense is essentially playing 4 on 5 basketball. This would all be excusable if Okogie was a truly transcendent defensive player, capable of shutting down any perimeter player that challenges him. While Josh is an excellent defender who does help the team’s point of attack defense, he does not add quite enough value on that end to make up for offensive limitations. Either improvement is needed for Okogie’s jump shot to become respectable, or he will need a drastic change in his role for this team’s offense to reach its’ potential.
  3. Charlotte dominated in rebounding on a night when the Wolves had plenty of size to matchup. Minnesota has often been out-rebounded this season, but without their star center they were playing much smaller than opposing teams. With Towns back in the lineup and facing the short-handed Hornets, it seemed the Wolves should have an advantage on the glass. Unfortunately that is not how it played out. Rolling with essentially 3 guards on the court at all times, the Hornets were able to finish with a 55 to 40 advantage in rebounding, including 12 offensive rebounds for Charlotte. The eye test made it look even worse, as many of the Hornets offensive rebounds came on consecutive misses on the same possession where they just seemed to fight harder for the ball. Those are the types of issues that a 6–20 team needs to avoid. The Wolves have to be the team that wants it more every night. If they simply are too small on some occasions, that is excusable, but the mostly micro Hornets lineup should not have been able to dominate this area so clearly. Hopefully this game is a good “gut-check” for the future.
  4. Scary Terry Rozier had it going versus the Wolves, and it highlighted their inability to stop a pick and roll. Rozier scored 41 points on 20 shots against the Wolves. Anytime a player scores that much on that level of efficiency, it is just obviously his night. Credit is due to Terry for the level of shot-making he displayed in the 4th quarter especially, where he buried the Wolves with late 3 contested pointers. Prior to that, life was made pretty easy for the shifty guard as he weaved past picks to get open with ease. From there he was able to shoot pull-up 3 point shots or drive hard to the rim to score. The Wolves have long had problems defending pick and rolls because it requires excellent help defense and communication, and this team just does not have the experience and continuity to do so effectively. Minnesota has the most difficulty defending quicker guards who can use those picks most effectively, which is why players like Rozier and Trae Young have consistently given them fits. Games like Rozier’s 41 points are going to happen more often to teams like the Wolves because they get plenty of easy baskets along with the difficult shots they are making. In the future, they will need to realize that it is a team effort to slow those players down.
  5. I had nearly forgotten how fun it is to watch Karl-Anthony Towns on offense. This is just a quick appreciation for The Big KAT. He said himself after the game that his head just was not in it to start because of the COVID issues on Charlotte’s side, but he still was able to score 25 points on 18 shots. When he is scoring well, it almost seems effortless, as evidenced by his 5 three pointers on only 8 attempts. He hit two enormous threes late in the game to keep the Wolves in it as well. His long range shooting is a dangerous weapon for the Wolves offense, and it is so good to have that back in the lineup for a team that desperately needs it. Out of 10 Wolves rotation players, only 4 of them made a three point attempt. That is certainly not what the front office had in mind when they built this team. It highlights the importance of Towns’ offense for this team moving forward.
 

-Jerry W.