MINNEAPOLIS -- Four players currently unable to rent a vehicle or order a beer at a local bar (legally) took the court for tip-off on Wednesday night at Target Center.
That included Andrew Wiggins and Zach LaVine for the Timberwolves and Jabari Parker and Giannis Antetokounmpo for the Bucks, which marked the first time in NBA history that four teenagers played in the same NBA game.
Each player is 19 years old, ripe with potential but guaranteed nothing in a league that changes faster than John Wall played during his rookie season in Washington -- he went 100 miles per hour almost every time the ball touched his hands because he didn't quite understand that mixing speeds, shifting between 50 and 75 or 75 to 100, was his lottery ticket to stardom.
Wall eventually learned how to harness his incredible first step, he discovered how to use his top-end speed, mixed with a more calculated approach, to throw opponents off and take his game to a whole different level. This was a critical part of his evolution.
I bring up Wall because the four teenagers that started on Wednesday night possess all the talent in the world, but each of them remain in the early stages of their development. Wiggins must learn how to become assertive throughout the entire game rather than picking individual quarters, most commonly the third quarter early in his rookie season, to aggressively attack his opponent; to use his step-back jumper to crush the souls of defenders; to make opponents think twice before rising to the rim to contest his shot.
LaVine's development on the other hand will ultimately hinge on shot selection, decision making and his ability to affect the game in a positive manner if he isn't scoring the ball. Against Brandon Knight, I thought LaVine played the best game of his rookie season, even with a rough 6-minute stretch to finish the game. You can analyze the box score as long as you'd like, but it probably won't paint an accurate picture.
Milwaukee led the game by one point with 6:57 remaining, 84-83. At that point, Knight was 1-9 from the floor with 2 points, 2 rebounds and 2 assists, playing almost exclusively against LaVine in his 30 minutes. Entering the game Knight was averaging 18.2 points, 5.1 rebounds and 6.5 assists in 33.5 mpg; a frontrunner for the Most Improved Player Award. But to get back on track, his general ineffectiveness through the first three and a half quarters was a direct product of excellent defense by LaVine.
Knight couldn't handle the UCLA rookies combination of speed, athleticism and length. He really couldn't do anything until the Wolves got foul happy midway through the fourth. Then, he took over the game. Knight scored 13 fourth quarter points, fueled by eight free throw attempts (all makes) and two critical turnovers by LaVine. It was a rough finish for him, but that doesn't mean the game was a net negative.
Is LaVine a point guard? Absolutely not. But that was already clear. He's playing the position out of necessity with Rubio out nursing his ankle injury, and moreover poor roster construction -- if you list a player as the third point guard on the depth chart perhaps that player should be comfortable, and able, to set-up an NBA offense and execute various sets. So don't be mad at LaVine, it's really not his fault, blame the architect instead and let's give the 19-year-old rookie some credit for his defensive work on Knight, who was invisible through three quarters.
To be honest, I have high hopes for LaVine as a wing scorer down the road but I came away from this game impressed with his work defensively more than anything. He had lapses late in the game, but his defensive effort was inspiring as a whole.
As for Parker and The Greek Freak, I'll leave it up to the writers over at Brew Hoop to discuss the areas in their game they must improve if they want to reach their peak. In the end, all four of the 19-year-olds announced as starters in this game remain in basketball infancy, armed with incredible talent but a limited amount of NBA experience. The flashes of positive play are there, the size and raw skills are too, now it's time to sit back and see how each player develops, or doesn't, through the next few years.
Aside from the four teenagers that highlighted this game it was fairly obvious the Wolves weren't going to win before it even started. Mo Williams was battling strep throat and pink eye and a pre-game IV wasn't enough to combat his illnesses. Thus, LaVine was thrown into the fire again while Corey Brewer was forced into the backup point guard role. "I just play. I don't even think about it. Just trying to get us a win. We ended up falling up short though," Brewer said after the game. When asked when he last played point guard he responded with his signature smile and said "back in college, it was about 8 years ago."
For the seventh straight game the Wolves used a different starting lineup
Outside of the San Antonio Spurs, I'm not sure any team in the league could overcome this kind of turbulence. Still, it was a tight game for most of the night even as the Wolves deployed some absurd lineups like Brewer, Budinger, Muhammad, Bennett and Hummel. Yes, that's correct, BREWER WAS PLAYING POINT GUARD WHILE HUMMEL PLAYED CENTER AT ONE POINT IN THE GAME. THIS WAS A REAL LIFE OCCURRENCE.
"It's tough. We were still playing hard. We still gave ourselves a chance," Brewer said. "If we don't make those stupid fouls at the end when they're in the bonus, we still have a chance to win. But we're short-handed... I don't care what anybody says. We played our butts off and that's all you can ask with this young team."
In the end, given the circumstances, the score (103-86) wasn't surprising. The starters were gassed and the lack of depth, due to a neverending saga of injuries and illnesses, eventually caught up with the Wolves.
Game Notes (via @Twolves_PR):
These notes were written exclusively by the Timberwolves PR department. I did not write any of these. All credit goes to them. I wanted to include them because I think there's great stuff here. They really do incredible work and make it incredibly easy on bloggers like myself to get all the access and information possible. This is my personal thank you to them for their excellent work -- if you're not following them on twitter, click the @Twolves_PR link above. You won't regret it.
- Tonight was Minnesota's seventh consecutive game with a different starting lineup. The Wolves have now used nine different starting units this season, matching the most in the league (New York, Philadelphia).
- Forced into playing some minutes as the team's backup point guard, Corey Brewer scored a season-high 19 points, adding six rebounds, three assists and three steals. Brewer is now averaging 13.9 points per game over his last nine games.
- Andrew Wiggins recorded season highs in rebounds (8) and assists (4) while matching a season high with two blocked shots. He added 14 points, his fourth consecutive double-digit outing and eighth in his last 10 games. Wiggins is now averaging 12.6 points per game this season, the most by any NBA rookie.
- Anthony Bennett finished with 12 points, four rebounds and two blocked shots off the bench tonight, his fourth double-digit outing in his last five contests. Bennett is now averaging 11.6 points per game over his last five games, shooting 27-for-51 (52.9%) during the stretch.
- Shabazz Muhammad tallied his fifth double-digit scoring outing of the season tonight, finishing with 13 points on 5-of-9 shooting. Muhammad had four 10+ point games as a rookie last season.
- Minnesota finished with 11 steals tonight, the team's fourth double-digit steal outing of the season. All five starters had at least one steal, led by Brewer's three.
- Milwaukee closed the game on a 19-3 run over the last seven minutes of the game. The Bucks outscored the Wolves 31-16 in the final frame, led by Brandon Knight's 13 points in the quarter.
- Tonight was the sixth time this season the Bucks have limited their opponent to under 90 points, improving to 6-0 in such games. Milwaukee is now matched with Portland this season for the most games with opponents held under 90 points. Last year, the Bucks only had seven games where opponents were limited to under 90 points.
- Entering the night as the second-highest scoring reserve unit in the league, Milwaukee's bench scored 39 points tonight led by Ersan Ilyasova's 12 and Khris Middleton's 11.
- Larry Sanders finished with 15 points, seven rebounds and a season-high five blocked shots. Tonight was Sanders' 20th career game with 5+ blocks.