Tampa Towns: 5 Thoughts on a Wolves Win

Canadian Whiskey is typically very good and consistent. I have never had whiskey from Florida, but I imagine it is not as good and can leave you disappointed. That must be how Raptors fans feel this season, like they just aren’t getting the same smooth and consistent product with the team in Florida (Ok, bad analogy but Canadian Whiskey is good). The Wolves earned a good solid win against the Toronto Raptors in Tampa, Florida. A balanced attack from the starters and solid play from the bench helped Minnesota hold off the Raptors in the end. Here are 6 thoughts from the matchup in Tampa.

 

  1. The Anthony Edwards & Karl-Anthony Towns pick and roll is quickly becoming the team’s go-to offense. Those two players have only shared a court for 7 games, and only the past 3 of those games have featured Ant more prominently as an offensive threat. They will need some time to learn how to maximize one another on offense and in pick and roll/pop plays, but the early returns are promising. The Wolves are learning quickly that a floor spread with shooters and KAT setting a high screen for Ant is one of their best offensive options. Edwards has proven to be able to get to the rim on anyone, and now with Towns he has an elite shooter that draws the eyes of the defense every time he spots up at the three point line. In the 2nd half, there was a sequence of 3 pick and pop plays between Ant and KAT (not all consecutive) that showed this duo’s potential as well as areas where they can improve. On the first, KAT set a very high screen for Edwards with Towns’ man Aron Baynes coming all the way out past the 3pt. line to defend the action. Ant saw that Baynes was too far out and blew past him for an easy finish at the rim. Later in the game, KAT came to set the pick and this time Ant was trapped hard by Baynes and Lowry to force him to give up the ball, which he did to a wide open KAT who nailed a 3. Shortly after that play, they tried the exact same play in the same spot and Ant tried to dribble out of the trap, but he turned it over. This is all part of the learning experience for the rookie. As he learns to make the simple play and eliminate mistakes, he will form a potent combination with his star teammate.
  2. Similarly to last season, Toronto was able to neutralize Towns’ effectiveness with a great scheme, but KAT adjusted this time. In a matchup against Toronto last season, they had Rondae Hollis-Jefferson matched up against him for most of the game. That should be a huge mismatch in Towns’ favor, but Toronto’s defensive length and scheme was able to keep Karl-Anthony from dominating down low and made him give up the ball. Fast forward to this season and Towns once again had the advantage against Aron Baynes and Chris Boucher, but Toronto again sent him double coverage and forced him to give up the ball to limit his scoring impact. For most of the game it worked, as Towns turned the ball over 7 times, but later in the game Towns began to figure it out. The pick and pop plays with Ant are where he was able to get open 3’s, and he found an open midrange shot where Toronto was allowing him to have more space. Towns also was noticeably more physical in the post towards the end of the game, and he was rewarded with free throws and other fouls drawn. With KAT playing so sparingly so far this season, this was a great game to help him shake off the rust because he had to use his brain and braun together to positively impact the game against a smart and physical defense.
  3. Jarred Vanderbilt started and closed the game next to KAT in the front court, and it was absolutely the right call. I wrote prior to the season that Vanderbilt may be the right archetype for a power forward that would thrive next to Towns. He is strong and versatile on defense, rebounds the ball, and can be a lob threat and finisher around the rim on offense. It would be nice if he could shoot the ball effectively, but otherwise he fits in nicely. We are finally getting to see his potential next to an offensive engine like KAT. Vanderbilt did exactly what he was supposed to do. He started the game with incredible energy as he sprinted from basket to basket. That helps the rest of the team settle into the game, without facing a large deficit. JV finished with 12 points, 7 rebounds, 2 assists, and 2 blocks in only 23 minutes. His shot chart is beautiful, as he only took 5 shots and all of them came at the rim (he made 4 of them). Defensively he brings the strength and versatility that this team has not had very often, and he is likely one of the few players in the league that can match the strength and speed of a player like Pascal Siakam. Vando still has plenty of learning to do as evidenced by his 5 fouls, but he is still only 21 years old. Throughout his short career he has flashed enough of an offensive game to see that he should be able to develop more skills there, and defensively he is already a solid player. Mix that with his NBA body and great effort every game and he could actually turn out to be a real weapon in the league. His raw game reminds me of a young Siakam, who he just played against. Pascal was this incredibly raw forward with great athleticism and flashes of skill. He also could not shoot coming out of college, but he has turned into a great scorer in the NBA. Vanderbilt is still a year younger than Siakam was when he was drafted, so he clearly has room left to grow. I hope he continues to get the opportunity to start next to Towns so we can see if he can meet his bursting potential.
  4. An awesome run of basketball in the 3rd quarter was led almost completely by 1st and 2nd year players. The Wolves went on a 17–2 run late in the 3rd quarter by playing with great energy on defense and attacking the rim on offense. The best part is that most of the run occurred while playing exclusively rookies and sophomores. How often does that happen in the NBA? Typically lineups with that lack of experience play together in the preseason, not in tough road games the team is trying to win. Jordan McLaughlin, Naz Reid, Jaylen Nowell, Jaden McDaniels, and Anthony Edwards keyed this spurt against a well-coached veteran team. Probably the most encouraging aspect was that Edwards was clearly the catalyst on offense during this period of time. We talk about hope far too often when it comes to the Wolves, but this run is tangible proof that there are bonafide good young players on this team with incredible potential for the future.
  5. The Wolves low point so far was 14 games under .500. That was after just 26 games. Minnesota will likely end the season with a rough record and will not be in the playoff chase, but it will be interesting to see if they can put together a competent stretch of basketball as a springboard into the offseason and the 21–22 season. We can use that 14 games under .500 as a low water mark for the rest of the season. If they fall significantly below that level we can probably point to many things that are failing. If they are able to maintain or even creep closer to .500, then there must be some aspects to the team’s performance that are encouraging and successful. Wolves fans should try not to judge the overall record, but for the progress they make the rest of the way. The gigantic caveat here is that the team stays mostly healthy throughout the rest of the season. Obviously that is the unpredictable part, but hopefully the team can catch a few breaks along the way.
 

-Jerry W.