5 Thoughts on a Wild, Wacky, Weird, Wolves Win
Whatever adjective you would like to apply to Monday night’s Wolves win over the Boston Celtics is probably appropriate. Chaotic? Absolutely. Unnerving? You betcha. Glorious? Without a doubt. One of the most fun Wolves wins of the season came on the backs of The Big Three: Jaylen Nowell, Nathan Knight, and Greg Monroe. It also came at the expense of the Boston Celtics (who were also quite shorthanded) which is always an added bonus because it riles up one of the most passionate and opinionated fanbases. Here are 5 thoughts on a Wolves victory.
The G-League Wolves
Quite often when a team is missing a couple of their top players we end up dubbing them the “G League Celtics” or the “G League Mavs” or something like that. It can be a misleading reference though as these teams will typically have a few starters active and a good chunk of their rotation intact. Well, referring to the Wolves as the “G League Wolves” in their win over the Celtics on Monday night seems entirely accurate.
Minnesota had approximately two (2) regular rotation players active in the game, and exactly zero (0) starters available. Their ideal starting unit is the most dangerous lineup in the league at the moment but not a single player from that group was active. The only active regular rotation guys, Beasley and McDaniels, are absolutely not fit to carry the load as more than complementary pieces. Even the Iowa Wolves head coach was called up to replace some missing coaches on the Timberwolves bench! Despite all of that, the “Iowa Wolves’ Finest” grabbed a much needed win.
The Moose is Loose
It almost seemed like a dream when Greg Monroe signed with the Wolves. Not like a good dream. More like a dystopian reality that could not possibly be real life. Well it is real… It is very real.
In Monroe’s 1st half stint it was clear his teammates (understandably) were not sure how to play with him. They knew he was a post-up big man so they made it a point to get him the ball on the block. Then they mostly spaced the floor like they have done so many times around the Big KAT.
Well they learned pretty quickly that The Moose likes to dish the ball to cutters, and he’s damn good at it! After a couple of passes missed cutters not expecting the ball (looking at you Jaden!), Greg’s teammates seemed to get the message: Cut hard and he’ll find you. In the 2nd half Monroe had 4 of his 6 assists including 2 to McDaniels for an And-1 and a big dunk.
Even more jarring than Greg Monroe’s actual performance was seeing a Wolves big man who plays that type of style and is so large. At 6'11" and 265lbs, he has to be the biggest Wolves player to see meaningful minutes in years. He has very little perimeter scoring game and is a bit of a plodder defensively, but his sheer size and dexterity allow him to gobble up rebounds and make him a handful to defend in the paint. I think it was a sight for sore eyes for many Wolves fans!
Will he stick on the team permanently? Will he ever play that well again in the NBA? There is no way of knowing. But for at least one night, it seemed like The Moose intends to keep writing his NBA story.
Emerging Rotation Players
We have to talk about Jaylen Nowell and Nathan Knight. While Monroe was/is a fun story, both Nowell and Knight have impressed in spurts this season and were the primary reasons the Wolves were able to steal this win.
Starting with Knight. Going into this game I assumed the Celtics usual starting front court of Al Horford and Robert Williams would dominate poor Nathan Knight.
Needless to say, Knight was not dominated! He did not look out of place against the very bouncy Robert Williams and used his athletic talents well when matched up against the old vet Al Horford. Knight elevated his game when the Wolves needed him most and showed some intriguing skills that could be useful on a healthy Wolves team.
Jarred Vanderbilt consistently shows how valuable a 6'8" super athlete can be on an NBA floor, especially when they play as hard as Vando. Knight is a different type of player than JV, but the energy and effort they both provide has proven to be a catalyst during their time on the court. Is it crazy to imagine Knight slotting into a semi-regular rotation spot as Vanderbilt’s backup, especially when large teams like Atlanta or Washington come to town? There is a definite need for his skills in a lot of games the Wolves will play this year.
Now to Jaylen Nowell. Much of the diehards in this fanbase knew he had a scoring outburst like this in him, but watching him grab this game by the horns and outduel Boston’s scorers was a real treat. He scored 19 points in the 2nd half and 11 in the 4th quarter as he closed down a Wolves win showing his spot up shooting, self created shots, and athletic burst.
There just has to be minutes for Nowell when the Wolves rotation is fully healthy. All season long the 2nd unit has had so little shot creating outside of D’Angelo Russell and if he was off it turned into a tire fire. Jaylen can be that microwave scorer to ease the tension on DLo when Towns and Ant sit. He can also likely ease some of the minutes load on DLo and Beverley throughout the season as they try to fend off some nagging injuries.
At this point I trust Coach Finch with my life, but I would be shocked if we did not see Jaylen Nowell in the regular rotation moving forward. He has done everything right over the past several weeks, and at some point that has to be rewarded. If both Nowell and Knight emerge from this COVID period with heightened roles, the Wolves may be much better off the rest of the season.
What to think of Boston
Where to begin. The Celtics are 16–18 and sit at 9th in the East. Basically the same spot as the Wolves! That doesn’t seem so bad, so why the despair? Well it seems like Boston has been on the same treadmill of mediocrity for several years with no real way out, and it seems like this loss to the Wolves was not entirely unexpected by the Boston fanbase.
When fully healthy, one would think they could be an Eastern Conference contender. Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown as the stars with Al Horford, Marcus Smart, Dennis Schröder, and Robert Williams in supporting roles. There are worse places to build a team from!
They have a positive net rating on the season that ranks them 11th in the league, yet they sit below .500 signaling that they have lost a lot of close games. So what do they need?
I would be hesitant to ever trade a Brown/Tatum level player. You would need to be receiving a bonafide superstar to make me feel good about it, but anyone else could/should be on the table. Basically anyone that will fetch them a legitimate point guard (they should have called the Wolves about Rubio when they had the chance!).
So in conclusion, I have no idea what to think about Boston. They will most likely make a small move near the deadline and just hope things turn around when they are healthy. After all, it is the first year of their new head coach, Ime Udoka, so some patience may be needed. However Boston fans are not great at waiting!
There is some news already that several Wolves are clearing COVID protocols as we speak. Anthony Edwards, Naz Reid, and Taurean Prince are apparently good to go and will join Patrick Beverley as players who have successfully come out the other side of the clearance process. I would doubt that any of them play in the Tuesday game against the Knicks besides Beverley who was cleared first.
And to me that is a good thing. The G League Wolves stole a win against Boston and they know it, so let them ride the momentum of that win against Boston to try to do the same against Tommy Thibs and the Knickerbockers.
Sidebar: How fun would it be to knock off ole Thibs with this group?
Then the Wolves do not play until Friday in Utah, so that offers a couple off days in a row for guys like Vanderbilt and Towns to POTENTIALLY clear protocols and rejoin the team along with the guys who have already been approved.
Suddenly the Wolves could be getting very healthy at a critical time in their season. Almost all of their key players would have gone through and subsequently been cleared of COVID protocols while the team hovers near .500 entering a 7 game stretch following the Jazz game against the Lakers, Clippers, Thunder twice, Rockets, Pelicans and Grizzlies.
Some good luck could put Minnesota multiple games above .500 at the season’s halfway point. After everything they have been through, that would spark great vibes heading into the season’s 2nd half!