Big Buck Hunters: Wolves Take Down the Defending Champs
The people’s Minnesota Timberwolves have shocked the world! Ok, an early regular season win against the Bucks missing 2 of their starters probably does not qualify as shocking the world, but even the most cynical group of Wolves fans would admit that it was an encouraging win filled with gritty performances up and down the roster. Leading by as many as 20 earlier in the game, the Wolves withstood a few flurries from the reigning champs while also witnessing a herculean effort from the current best player in the league, Giannis Antetokounmpo. These are games the Wolves just have not historically won, especially on the road. But here we are! Let’s talk about some thoughts from the game.
So that’s what happens when you share the ball!
4 assists. That is all the Wolves managed in the 1st quarter of their previous offensive stinker against New Orleans. Those 4 assists led them to a 19 point opening quarter and set the tone for a dreary night offensively.
Cut to the next game, and the Wolves rattled off 44 points against the defending champs in the 1st quarter notching 8 assists along the way. Now, 8 assists is not a ton when you score 44 points in a quarter, but you could tell just watching that the ball was pinging around just a little quicker as the Wolves continued to gain confidence in their offense.
D’Angelo Russell was the main catalyst in the opening segment. Along with his scoring outburst to start the game, he also managed 3 assists in his first 10 minutes.
Anthony Edwards said the Wolves need to get other guys involved outside of himself, KAT, and DLo. Although the 1st quarter saw only 9 points from the rest of the team, the “other guys” were still involved whether it was screen setting, cutting, or moving the ball quickly. They will not score 44 in many more quarters throughout the year, but some of the offensive principles established in that opening period should be taken forward.
THAT Jarred Vanderbilt changes the formula for the Wolves.
Let me just present the stat line in case you missed it. 10 points on 4–6 shooting, 2–2 on free throws, 13 total rebounds, 6 offensive rebounds, 3 assists, 1 steal, and 30 minutes played. Fantastic.
This is the idealized version of Jarred Vanderbilt. The guy touted as one of the best prospects in the nation coming out of high school, and the player the world would see if only he could stay healthy. If this is the guy the Timberwolves get, or even 80% of this performance, it changes the game for Minnesota.
This version of Jarred Vanderbilt in the Wolves starting lineup every night unlocks opportunities all over the court. He is a defensive menace able to guard the opposition’s best wing, pester opposing big men, and switch on to most guards. In doing so, he protects the team’s best player, KAT, from foul trouble and allows Jaden McDaniels to be the game-wrecking help defender that he is meant to be.
The question will always be: Can the offense be proficient enough when Vando plays big minutes? Well it was against the Bucks. Finch used JV to set screens, move the ball quickly, and lurk on the baseline to be a bothersome offensive rebounder. Against teams that are not enormous (the Bucks without Brook Lopez are not enormous) he is a rebounding weapon. He secured 6 offensive boards and those seemed to constantly lead to timely 2nd chance points.
Vando had a few rough offensive games to start the season, but his defensive effort and superior rebounding ability never wanes. If he keeps up this type of fit in the Wolves offense it changes a lot for the Wolves.
Karl-Anthony Towns is so ridiculously efficient as a scorer.
Through 4 games, Karl-Anthony Towns has 112 points on 72 field goal attempts. The big man is averaging 28 points per game with a true shooting percentage of 69%. That level of TS% is typically reserved for the paint-prowling behemoths that only shoot the ball within 3ft. of the rim.
KAT is doing it on high volume and creating much of his own offense. Absurd. He has scored 25 or more points in all 4 of his games, and 2 of games he has needed 15 shots or less to do so.
Can he keep up this insanely efficient scoring? KAT is currently shooting 52% from the 3pt. line which will definitely regress and settle around 40%, but his 2pt. shooting percentage is right in line with career averages and he is shooting less free throws than past seasons. So his 3pt. shooting will come back to earth, but the free throw rate and 2pt. % should stay the same or improve, especially as the Wolves continue to learn how to play off one another better offensively.
The way it’s going, it seems like KAT is headed towards exceeding even an optimist’s expectations on the offensive end.
DLo & Ant complemented one another perfectly.
D’Angelo Russell started the win against the Bucks like a man with something to prove. Straight from the start he attacked and made the Bucks pay for soft defense on him by hitting his first 5 attempts of the night. By the end of the 1st quarter DLo had 13 points and 3 assists to jumpstart the Minnesota offense.
Anthony Edwards was also able to notch 11 points in the opening quarter, but DLo’s attacking mindset really spurred on the offense. Ant then faded a bit during the 2nd & 3rd quarters scoring only 5 combined points as Russell and KAT kept the offense moving. That is OK though, Ant would be needed later.
The 4th quarter is going to become Ant’s time. When crunch time comes, he has that extra gear that neither DLo or KAT possess. Both of those players have made clutch shots and are “tough shot makers,” but neither player has the ability to just decide to get to the rim during the most crucial parts of the game.
Anthony Edwards showed that ability against a great defensive team. While being guarded by All Star Khris Middleton, Edwards went around him two separate times within the last 5 minutes to convert And-1 layups. Then he knocked down 2 free throws when the Wolves were up only 2 to extend the lead to 4 and essentially seal the win.
That can be a winning formula for the Wolves. It doesn’t have to go the same every time of course, but when you have special offensive players you can rely on one or two of them to orchestrate the offense throughout the game, then give the ball to Ant in crunch time and let him go get the win.
Pat Beverley is a giant.
Patrick Beverley is listed at 6'1" and 180lbs. He is commonly the smallest guy on an NBA court (unless JMac happens to be present) but he is an absolute giant when it counts. His defensive intensity combined with propensity for making impossible plays at the most crucial times has made him a valuable piece for good teams in the NBA for years, and it is no different here in Minnesota.
Bev will be a God-send for this young Wolves team in crunch time this season. He is steady and relishes the opportunity to make life difficult for the opposing team. In my opinion, he made the play of the night.
With just under 6:30 left in the game, the Bucks were starting to make their move. A Towns turnover led to a fast break opportunity for Milwaukee. George Hill dished it to a streaking Middleton, and Pat Bev knew exactly what to do. He left his man to burst in front of Middleton to secure the steal, then immediately pushed it up to Towns who hit Edwards for a slam. Instead of the Bucks creeping closer and snatching momentum, the Wolves got points going the other way and forced a Milwaukee timeout.
Plays like that are a far cry from what we have seen in past Wolves seasons. When the momentum starts to head the wrong way, Minnesota crumbles. Well, Patrick Beverley decided not to let that happen. This will not be the last time we will sing his praises after a big win.