Winning Wolves: 6 Thoughts on a Blowout in New Orleans
Where did that come from? A 135–105 shellacking of the Pelicans certainly boosted the spirits of Wolves fans everywhere, and started the 2nd half of the season with good vibes. Minnesota was down by double digits in record time as they worked their way back from the All Star break, but when they decided to show up they took over the game in a way that fans have not seen yet this season. Here are 6 thoughts for 6 Jaylen Nowell three pointers.
The Washington Huskies officially own The Smoothie King Center, that’s the rule. Jaden McDaniels and Jaylen Nowell have known each other for a long time, so it makes sense that they would both scorch the nets in the same game for the Wolves. Starting with Nowell who was pressed into backup ball handling duties with the point guard shortage. He finished with 28 points, 5 rebounds, and 6 assists on 11–13(!) shooting from the field. That is a player who is in the zone. He has always claimed he is not an “off ball only” scorer. He likes to have the ball in his hands and run the pick and roll to pull up from 3 or drive to the rim. Jaylen received his opportunity to run the 2nd unit against New Orleans, and he did not disappoint. It seems like the All Star break benefitted him more than most. His scoring efficiency was dipping near the end of the season’s 1st half, but he looked refreshed and rejuvenated to start the 2nd half of the season. His younger UW Husky counterpart, Jaden McDaniels, was equally as impressive with an all-around winning performance. Jaden was everywhere defensively collecting 2 steals and 3 blocks, and uber efficient on offense with 20 points on 8–9 shooting. His defense continues to be incredibly encouraging against some of the league’s best offensive players. He has the length to contest a jump shot of a scorer like Brandon Ingram, and the timing and instincts to bother a prodigious player like Zion Williamson. A truly awesome night from both of the young Huskies led the Wolves to a win.
The Wolves dominate on a night when Karl-Anthony Towns had pedestrian numbers. That is not to say that KAT had a bad game, but he just did not have the scoring numbers that we are accustomed to. That is probably an encouraging sign, as Towns will not have 16 points on 19 shot attempts very often. He is one of the most efficient scorers in the league, and his shot will fall most nights. The fact that Minnesota could win a game so convincingly without leaning so heavily on their star big man portends better days ahead in my opinion. Players like Anthony Edwards, Jaylen Nowell, Jaden McDaniels, and Naz Reid were able to see how their contributions directly impacted winning. Instead of a win coming from an amazing Towns game with support from others, it was a full team win with contributions from players up and down the roster. There will be nights when the Wolves need Towns to take over and be the best player, but he could tell that a few of his teammates had it going against the Pelicans, and he was perfectly capable of being the supportive teammate en route to a blowout win.
Sometimes Anthony Edwards lives up to his superhero nickname. The 1st quarter started rough for the 19 year old as he went 0–4 from the field and only scoring 2 points off a couple of free throws. He seemed like he took a little extra time to come back from the break as he showed some lackadaisical play on offense and defense to start. Then he came back in the 2nd quarter, and a switch was flipped. He was decisive with the ball, active on defense, and playing freely which is exactly what Coach Finch wants him to do. Ant shunned pull up 3 point attempts and instead drove to the rim with abandon to collapse the Pelicans defense. Suddenly it was halftime, the Wolves had a lead, and Edwards had 15 points. It’s amazing how quickly a game can turn around for a player, but with the talent and physical attributes that Edwards possesses he becomes an awesome player with simple effort and engagement. He finished with 27 points, 4 rebounds, 2 assists, 3 steals, and one HUGE smile after the game. It is important that Anthony realizes the parts of his game that impacted winning, and continues to build on those areas. His teammates and coaches will hold him accountable, but it all starts with Ant getting himself engaged.
I could watch Zion Williamson play offense all day long. There is not another player in the league like Zion. I am not convinced he is any taller than 6’5″, but his strength, coordination, and agility make him nearly unguardable. If a defender takes one step out of position, as Vanderbilt did early in the 1st quarter, Zion takes a free lane to the rim for a dunk. Even when a defender is in good position to defend, as Towns was on a post up, Zion just works his way around to lay the ball up with incredible touch and finesse. His otherworldly athleticism is used so functionally on a basketball court. Williamson does not just dunk on guys all over the place. Rather he uses his quick twitch jumping to get himself to an easier layup. While Anthony Edwards is not quite the athlete that Zion is, it would be prudent of Ant to study a little bit of Zion’s game to improve his at-rim finishing. Athletic players do not always have to dunk. They can use their prodigious hops to get themselves an easy layup past the reach of rim protectors. Ant will eventually learn that skill, but for now Zion Williamson is one of the most fun offensive players in the league.
SOMETHING is there with Naz Reid and Karl-Anthony Towns sharing the floor. We only caught a glimpse of this duo sharing the floor together against the Pelicans, but it seemed to jumpstart the Wolves offense nearly immediately after they had been bogged down in the 1st quarter. It should not come as a surprise that this pairing can work. As Jim Peterson said on the broadcast it is usually a good thing to have two of your best offensive players on the floor at the same time! Without Beasley and Russell in the lineup the offensive firepower surrounding Towns can be lacking, and although he is a center Reid’s floor spacing and unique ability to drive and score actually fits very well next to Karl. Against teams like the Pelicans where size on the interior is a must-have, Naz and KAT are definitely playable and even showed they can thrive together. Each player has the size and skill to punish smaller players in the post, they can space the floor for one another, and are good enough passers to move the ball out of double teams. In the right matchups, it would be great to see these two continue to play together. After all, Naz is too valuable to this Wolves team to only receive 14–16 minutes per game as KAT’s backup. Also we cannot forget who is coaching this pair. Chris Finch is one of the main reasons that Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins thrived together in New Orleans. KAT and Naz are certainly not the duo that Davis and Cousins were, but their skillsets are unique and polished enough for Coach Finch to work his magic. It will be interesting to see that pair grow on the court together!
There is something freeing about having the worst record in the league. Don’t get me wrong, I would prefer that my favorite basketball team be one of the best teams in the league, but around here we make lemonade out of the lemons we are given. We can take pleasure in winning some of these games against teams that are supposedly several tiers above us. Losing to these Wolves brings existential questions to any fanbase, and losing to the Wolves by 30 at home is certain to send a fanbase into a dark spiral of disgust with their team. As Wolves fans, we know those feelings all too well, and misery loves company. If nothing else, we can enjoy watching Towns and his group of Young Cats surprise opponents with hot shooting or wondrous athletic plays to leave opposing fanbases wondering where it all went wrong. Let’s all sit back and just enjoy watching the current team. It’s supposed to be entertainment, after all!