The Wolves played their second of seven preseason games tonight on the road against the Charlotte Hornets. The Wolves were coming off a big win in their preseason debut against the Heat on Saturday, a game in which the starters played heavy minutes, and only a 10-man rotation saw floor time. It was a different story tonight, with the starting unit seeing significantly fewer minutes and coach Thibodeau doling out playing time to several players who did not play any minutes on Saturday.
Again, this game was not televised, although I was able to view the matchup via an online stream. I should preface my recap by noting that the stream was not tippy-top quality. The feed was pretty choppy, which made the more minute nuances quite difficult to evaluate, particularly on defense.
The Wolves’ offense came out of the gates shaky, beginning the game with a pair of awkward Andrew Wiggins post-ups, both of which were disrupted by Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (first a steal and then a block). This was followed by two consecutive long jumpers from Rubio, both off by a mile. Sloppy start.
Things picked up for the offense pretty quickly though, as Zach LaVine started getting touches and breaking hearts just over three minutes into the game. His first shot was a swoosh 25-foot three pointer. The shot was a thing of beauty with a smooth stroke and a high release, and LaVine’s confidence in his shot would not waiver after that first make. He would go on to finish the first quarter 5-6 from the field and 2-2 from deep, and then make all four of his attempts in the second. LaVine cooled off a bit in the second half, although he finished the game 13-20 from the field and 4-6 from behind the arc for a total of 30 points. Despite the 20 shot attempts, he somehow did not attempt a free throw in the game.
LaVine’s performance felt like the formula for the type of player that everyone hopes he can become. He has a lot of confidence as a secondary ballhandler, and in several instances brought the ball up into the halfcourt even when sharing the floor with Kris Dunn or Tyus Jones. His handle also looked improved taking defenders one-on-one off the dribble. He also snagged four rebounds in the game, including a soaring putback off a Gorgui Dieng miss. Another board came from crashing the defensive glass hard and jumping out of nowhere to secure possession. I think rebounding specifically is a category that LaVine has the athleticism and skill to significantly improve as he matures as a player, and wing rebounding is a desperate area of need for the team.
Karl-Anthony Towns had a pretty quiet night, finishing with only four points (2-6 shooting, 0-3 on threes) and six rebounds. Towns was overall pretty inactive. He did not attempt a shot until about nine minutes into the game, and seemed invisible at times. He ended up playing 21 total minutes, although about half of that came during a horrific third quarter stretch on both ends for the starting unit cumulatively (more on that later).
Ricky Rubio also had a very silent outing, finishing with only three points (1-6 shooting), five rebounds, and two assists. The numbers aren’t as skimpy when considering he only played 15 minutes due to early foul trouble. He was subbed out of the game for Dunn after 8 minutes and did not return until the third quarter, and quickly tallied up to five fouls before heading to the bench for the rest of the game. His haircut looked pretty good though. A well-kept hipster side part wavy bangs thing.
Nemanja Bjelica was first off the bench into the rotation (along with Dunn) with about four minutes remaining in the first. Bjelica looked overall pretty good, although his shooting was not as hot as we saw on Saturday. He ended up 3-8 from the field and only 1-4 on threes, although he seemed to have more confidence in taking the open shots, which is a good thing in my book. He missed a couple of open threes, but they were open catch-and-shoot attempts that he took with no hesitation, and that’s exactly what I want to see from him right now. He also showed some confidence in his handle, identifying a clear mismatch against Spencer Hawes who he was easily able to drive around for an easy layup and on another instance drive at for a foul. He finished the game with nine points, three rebounds, two assists, and a steal in 20 minutes.
The other bench player to log big minutes was Dunn, who finished with 26 minutes (tied with Wiggins for second most on the team behind only LaVine). This was not a great night for Dunn, who really looked like a rookie out there. He seemed lost at times leading the offense, getting caught at the top of the halfcourt and having to pass up the ballhandling. He also had a terrible shot selection, several times choosing to just dribble up the court and jack a deep three without ever looking for the halfcourt offense to develop. He missed all five of his three pointers. He also couldn’t make anything at the rim, and finished 2-12 from the field overall. The bright spot in his stat line was three steals, although one of them came on a horrible pass that fell right into his lap. It was tough sledding for Dunn tonight, but it’s totally expected for a rookie and I don’t think it reflects on his skill level or expectations. He’s just going to have some good nights and some bad nights while he learns the NBA game.
After a strong first half led by LaVine’s torrid shooting, the 3rd quarter was a slop-fest for the Wolves, and Charlotte started hitting threes. A lot of threes. After going 6-17 in the first half, the Hornets came out firing hot, going 5-9 from deep in the third. The Wolves had the opposite second half results from deep, going 1-13 in the third and fourth quarters. It’s probably a good thing that they are taking 26 three point attempts, but the execution was ugly.
I’m not even going to talk about the fourth quarter. Most of the minutes went to Hill, Payne, Jones, Butler, and Bazz. The results were exactly what you would expect out of that lineup.
In the end, it was a sloppy game that is most likely attributable to being on the road and growing pains for a team with a lot of young and new players under a new coach working out the kinks of rotations and chemistry. They are a better team than they looked like tonight.
Other quick notes on a few of the players:
- Gorgui was invisible. He had a couple of blocks and one really nice turnaround baseline jumper to beat the shot clock, but was otherwise a ghost. He only played 19 minutes.
- Wiggins just couldn’t get it going, especially attacking the basket. He finished 3-13 from the field and didn’t seem to have much of an effect in the non-scoring aspects of the game. He also did not get to the line much, with only 4 FTA in the game.
- Cole Aldrich also played 19 minutes as the backup center. He looked pretty slow on the offensive end and didn’t seem to be much of factor defensively at the rim. He did look great as a rebounder though. He was always in position to try for the boards, and finished with nine total rebounds (three offensive boards).
- Brandon Rush was not a factor at all. He did not attempt a three pointer.
- Shabazz had a nice first half doing typical Shabazz stuff. In the first half he had 11 points on 3-4 shooting, but would miss all nine of his attempts in the second half. He finished with four offensive rebounds too.
Jordan Hill, Tyus Jones, Adreian Payne, and Tour’e Murry all saw some minutes. None of them did much. Tyus led that pack with 11 total minutes, but was wildly overmatched trying to defend Kemba Walker and also had a couple of ugly turnovers.
The Wolves play again on Wednesday against the Nuggets. The game will be played at Pinnacle Bank Arena in Lincoln, NE and tips off at 7:00 CST. As far as I know, the game will not be televised by either team, but we will keep you posted if there is live game coverage.