Another Wolves exhibition game, another Wolves exhibition win. Minnesota continues to rattle off wins in the games that matter little, but in doing so have shown some impressive flashes of offensive execution and defensive cohesion. The Clippers were missing some of their top players including Paul George, Reggie Jackson, Marcus Morris, and Kawhi Leonard (out for a while) but they hung around to start the game. The Wolves flexed their muscles a bit in the 2nd quarter and went into halftime up 10 before grabbing a stranglehold on the contest in the 3rd to cruise to a 128–100 win. Let’s go through some thoughts on the game!
1. Naz Reid.
Naz Reid. Apparently Naz is “Giannis-lite?” Just kidding, but he was a stat sheet stuffer in only 20 minutes of game time. Naz ended with 13 points, 5 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 steals, and 2 blocks. The big man showed off impressive open court skills on one of his assists by leading the fast break to find D’Angelo Russell with a nifty pass in transition. That is an unimaginable scenario during Naz’s first dozen games of his career. This guy has come so far in terms of skill, athleticism, and basketball IQ.
But the major development was watching his minutes alongside Karl-Anthony Towns. The pair of big men played about 4 minutes together in the 2nd quarter and only allowed the Clippers to score 5 total points in that span. It was clear the Wolves suddenly had the size and length advantage while also maintaining enough quickness to fly around defensively. It was a good showing for a pairing that fans hope to see deployed often this season. Naz Reid is just too good to be relegated to backing up Towns for 14–16 minutes per night, especially with this team’s dearth of frontcourt size. Keep it up, Finch!
2. Leandro Bolmaro, showing a little more each game.
With injuries to several of the Wolves guard/wing players there was some optimism in Wolves-fan land that we may see some 1st half minutes from Bolmaro. That did not happen, but he did get in the game later in the 3rd quarter… And he was worth the wait!
Right off the bat he made an outstanding cut offensively and immediately threw a behind-the-back pass to a wide open Vanderbilt under the rim. Unfortunately Hartenstein swooped in for the block, but the fact remains that Bolmaro was thinking 2 steps ahead and is clearly finding more comfort to be himself.
Each game it seems that he shows another facet of his skillset. In game 1 it was his PNR passing. Game 2 he showed his grit on defense, and in this game it was all of that combined with a scoring punch as Bolmaro nailed a corner 3 before dribbling in to an elbow jumper off a PNR. It is so clear that he just knows what he’s doing on a basketball court. Sometimes his ridiculous hustle on defense gets him into trouble as he was beaten on backdoor cuts a couple of times, but more often it will lead to plays like this:
There are not many players in the whole league who would sprint from the opposite side of the court to pickup the ball handler in transition and get the steal at the rim. Once Leandro works his way into the rotation he may never leave it again as his energy and connective play will keep him in the league for a long time.
3. The Core Four round into shape.
For our purposes here at Ball Eyes North, the Core Four consists of KAT, DLo, Ant, and Jaden. Smart people can disagree whether Jaden is a “core” piece or just a decent young player, but I throw him into the core. This was the 1st of the preseason games where all four of those guys played well and their games complemented one another.
D’Angelo Russell seemed comfortable as he masterfully orchestrated the offensive attack and pushed the pace. He oscillated well between deferring and moving more off the ball with the starters to creating more for himself and others with the ball in the 2nd unit. That is exactly what the Wolves will need from him.
DLo’s buddy, Karl, took a distributive approach to his 1st shift before asserting his dominance in the 2nd on his way to 4–6 shooting in the quarter. He looks like he wants to attack off the dribble more from the top of the key, and did so successfully several times against the Clippers. In doing so, KAT looks lighter and more agile giving credibility to his proclamation that he is down a bunch of weight this season. When he gets going he is such a destructive offensive force.
Jaden and Ant both had bounce-back games as well. Jaden connected on 3 of his 4 3pt. attempts and shot 6–8 overall. Combining the efficient scoring with his stellar on-ball defense made him a force to be reckoned with in his 20 minutes. Ant still seems to be struggling with his jump shot at the moment but was 6–8 on 2pt. shots and was nearly unstoppable going to the rim. The 2 sophomores need to be ready to hit the ground running this season to insulate the DLo/KAT duo, and if the Wolves get them firing on all cylinders together this team will be successful.
4. Los Angeles Clippers should be a dark horse pick for the 22–23 NBA Champs.
Notice that is 22–23 and not 21–22. Without Kawhi Leonard for most or all of this year, this team is not winning a championship. With Paul George, Marcus Morris, and Reggie Jackson they are probably a playoff team and I could see a 1st round exit this year. But Kawhi being out and likely a decent rest plan for Paul George they are going to open up TONS of minutes for some of the interesting young players on the roster.
Terrance Mann (newly extended) is the most intriguing of the bunch. He was only 6–15 for the game, but we saw him attempting stuff that very few NBA fans would assume he could do. Mann is already a wicked defender with a decent 3pt. shot, but add in pull up jumpers, getting to the rim to score, and a little bit of offensive distribution and he could be an awesome player for LA. He should be able to spend this season developing those traits in real games.
If any one of the Clippers really young guys like Boston, Johnson, Coffey, or Preston pop this season then they could be really well setup heading into the 22–23 season. A healthy Kawhi, PG, Jackson, Zubac, Morris, Mann, Bledsoe, Kennard, and others is a great team with a good coach in Ty Lue. For a team with almost no 1st round draft picks moving forward, I like their future!
5. Jaylen Nowell is trying to force Finch’s hand
In the Wolves 1st preseason game against New Orleans I was a little disappointed to see that Jaylen Nowell was buried in the rotation beneath 11 other guys. It makes sense, especially for a team heavy on guards that lean more offensive, that Nowell was not in the top 5 in the guard rotation. He was going to once again have to prove himself.
The finishing flurry in Denver earned him 6th man minutes in the game against LA, and in my opinion he did not disappoint in that role. In fact, he showed an impressive skillset that the Wolves can use. We know Jaylen is a microwave scorer with the ball in his hands, but he showed off a proclivity to find his teammates for chances ending with 5 assists. Further proving he may be a viable PG option was the fact that he also had 0 turnovers in 21 minutes. Playing mistake free basketball mixed with the ability to stretch the defense from 3 and attack the paint is going to earn him minutes.
6. Jarred Vanderbilt needs to spend time next to Naz Reid
We all saw the preseason game against Denver with Vanderbilt starting. Something was just off. The offense was not smooth, and Vanderbilt’s frenetic defense did not seem to pair with the relatively volatile Towns very well on that end. I think in time those two could work well together, but right now the most consistently cohesive big man pairing is Vando and Naz.
This thought dates back to the end of last season when Vanderbilt played plenty of his minutes next to Naz. They just seem to balance one another very well with Naz’s calm, steady, expressionless demeanor and Vanderbilt’s nonstop flailing and flying around the court. The two seem to be comfortable with each other just being themselves. Vando flies around trying to plug every single defensive hole at once (and often succeeds) while Naz directs the show from behind him. It just seems to work.
Unfortunately a dearth of power forwards means you cannot likely just tie those two big men together. One of them is going to have to spend plenty of time next to KAT. And that is fine! Everyone’s net ratings are going to be better next to Towns, he’s the team’s best player. But I will enjoy watching Vando and Naz be each other’s missing puzzle piece throughout this season.
7. Vibe Check
Vibe= PJ’s on a red-eye flight!
Yes it’s silly. No 3–0 in the preseason does not matter. But it’s all relative. This is a team that stated last season they did not know how to win, and they proved that many times! There is only one way to change that. You have to actually win things. The coach has to coach like he wants to win and the players have to go out and make it happen. If they plan to build any type of success this season they need to build the habits that lead to winning every single day, and that includes winning in the preseason.
The PJ’s are awesome, and this is a group of guys that is becoming easier and easier to root for.