What. A. Win.
If you missed last night's victory over the possibly-record-breaking Golden State Warriors, then shame on you. Sleeping the night before a workday is no excuse. Take the day off, go sit on your living room floor, and spend the rest of your day contemplating where your life went wrong.
The Wolves are a painfully young team. Shabazz Muhammed is 23 years old. Andrew Wiggins and Zach LaVine are 21. Karl-Anthony Towns is just 20 (!!!!!). Inconsistency is just part of the deal with youth. Sometimes they look like a million bucks. Sometimes they look broke.
Well, last night was the million dollar night. For one glorious hour of basketball, the full potential of this young Wolves team came together in a perfect storm to knock off the league-best Warriors, seriously damaging - if not completely derailing - the historic quest for 73 wins in a single season.
The full discussion of what the Wolves put on display in Golden State would be a think piece with a mile-long scroll bar. But here's a few of the biggest ones.
And fear not. Despite the title, this is not a slideshow article (yeah. I went there)
1. Towns really is The Revolution
Thing that stuck with me: How many guys can do what KAT did to the Warriors? Not sure GSW has a guy to cover him + he switches onto Curry— Ethan Strauss (@SherwoodStrauss) April 6, 2016
I was right. Yes, I'm going to be "that guy".
Heading into last year's draft, we looked at how Towns was going to be the next step in the NBA's evolution towards small-ball by being a big who would do small things while still being legitimately big. He would take what Shawn Marion and Draymond Green have brought to the post positions in 6'7" packages and do it as a 7-footer.
The most important of these skills being the ability to switch onto wings and guards in the pick-and-roll and not get blitzed. More than any 7-footer short of 28-year old Kevin Garnett, Towns has shown he is already the premier switching big man in the league. Last night, Curry was forced into his worst shooting game of the season - 21 points on 25 field goal attempts - and that was in large part thanks to KAT bricking the Warriors' screen system and forcing Curry back into help defense, or simply defending him himself.
Towns is 7', 250 lbs, can score anywhere from 2 feet to 28 feet, rebound, pass, and defend all five positions if he has to. And he's 20 years old, on a rookie contract for another three years. Unreal. You're watching the future of the NBA happen right before your eyes.
2. The new Wiggins is pretty awesome
Andrew has been on a rampage lately, and there's a couple huge reasons why.
First, he's shooting the three ball and an ever-increasing rate and making them.
The decision to keep Wiggins off the three point line early in his NBA career will be looked back on as the biggest miscalculation in his development. The failure to dimensionalize his shot selection and develop his instincts away from the ball was doing nothing but making his life more difficult and the Wolves' spacing unsustainable. Three is greater than two. Having a wing who doesn't shoot threes - particularly on a team where no one else is shooting threes - is just putting the team in a hole before the game even begins.
Second, Wiggins' overall shot selection has changed for the better. Not only is he taking more threes, he's also moving away from the left wing isolations and post-ups that have slowed the Wolves' offense and begun moving his feet and the ball. More than ever, Wiggins is moving away from the ball, finding the open spaces on the floor and making hard cuts to the basket.
It's not necessarily more offense, but it's better offense. Wiggins' path as an isolation player who spammed the free throw line was in direct opposition of Rubio's brilliance directing a moving offense and the catch-and-shoot prowess of LaVine and Towns. Wiggins still struggles with his handles (and consequently, his turnovers), but the change in his shot selection is a very good step in the right direction.
3. Shabazz Muhammed can coexist with Wiggins and LaVine - under the right circumstances
Last night, Shabazz poured in a career-high 35 points off the bench. But more importantly, he did it at the same time Wiggins dropped in 32, LaVine added 16, and all three played 40 minutes.
Late in his rookie season, Rick Adelman inadvertantly discovered a relentless post scoring force in Muhammed that made him an ideal instant offense guy off the bench. Flip then found a decent three point shooter in there last year. Sam Mitchell then proceeded to ignore all of that.
As great as Sam has been for Zach LaVine, he's been equally awful for Muhammed. Bazz has been taken out of the post and off the three point line this season, and instead been put into the uncomfortable and incompatible position of distributor. When it turned out he wasn't built for that, Sam simply stopped playing him. Bazz has slowly been fighting his way back into the rotation, and last night was a perfect reminder that the Bazz that gets to be Bazz is a valuable player.
Muhammed does three things: hammers the left block, finds the corners, and gets out in transition. Why anyone would ever want him to do anything else is beyond me. That trifecta is pretty much exactly what you want from a bench wing - and Bazz has the added bonus of getting to the free throw line at a near Kevin Lovesian rate.
What works for Muhammed is that the change in Wiggins' shot selection and LaVine's change in position opens the door for him to coexist in the middle, as he no longer has to fight for shots with them, and consequently no longer has to distribute for them. Rubio and Towns and Tyus can shoulder the playmaking roles and figure out who's in the best spot to get a bucket. That frees Bazz up to, well, get buckets.
SHABAZZ MUHAMMED— Key Sang (@Phantele_) April 6, 2016
THE WARRIORS GOT SHABAZZLED pic.twitter.com/BfFksUrBye
The other important factor here - something our friend Britt Robson has been very vocal about - is he's able to crash with the physically bigger 3/4s in the league like Kawhi Leonard, Draymond Green and Lance Stephenson. This helps take a lot of physical punishment off of Wiggins and LaVine, which is something they can't do for each other. Bazz's crushing post game and glass crashing is a welcome and vital balancing complement to the Bounce Brothers' bounciness.
4. Nemanja Bjelica still has a case for that power forward spot
It's been a difficult rookie year for Bjelica to say the least. It began with Flip's passing, robbing him of not only his coach and mentor, but they guy who had watched him closest and come to believe in his potential. Flip was replaced by Sam, who, at best, has been skeptical of Bjelly. Mitchell has seemed to have little more than a gruff, distant disapproval of Bjelica's existence (much the same relationship he has with the media). Also not helping matters is Sam's system, which is the opposite of everything that makes Bjelica valuable as a player. Bjelly excels at quick passes to moving targets and spacing the three point line. He's also been remarkably effective as a roll man n the pick-and-Rubio. But Sam still clings to the Twin Towers model of the '90s, where players post up and no one else moves or uses the three point line.
This has led to Bjelica losing his spot in the rotation to Dieng, who - while he has certainly excelled individually - has somewhat trapped the Wolves in a quirky, stop-and-go offense while leaving them extremely vulnerable on defense to mobile, shooting bigs.
Bjelica most certainly needs someone to shock him out of his hesitation of putting up shots, but his ability to keep the ball moving on offense while switching onto wings and guards on defense really makes him the most ideal choice for a Wolves team captained by Rubio and playing in the 2000s. Last night, Bjelica made a great case for himself, facilitating from the perimeter, tapping and grabbing rebounds, and playing some inspired defense.
At the very least, the ideal 4 to put next to Towns is someone like Bjelica, even if not Bjelica himself. But since there's only one Bjelica on the roster, the Wolves should really try to make it work with him.
5. Tyus Jones is going to make it
This is really more a culmination of the past two months or so. No, Tyus is not going to replace Ricky Rubio. Yes, he still has a ton of work to do and experience to gain. But he's going to be just fine.
The key here is that Jones "gets it". He understands good basketball at an instinctive level where he doesn't need to consciously think about the right play to make the right play. He just makes it, and that's why he's going to make it.
Tyus has largely been doing the same thing with the Wolves that he did with Duke: making the most of a low usage rate and taking care of the ball. Last night was his best NBA game yet, as Jones came off the bench in hostile environment against a very difficult opponent (the Warriors' bench unit turns much of their point guard duties over to the 6'5" Iguodala and 6'7" Livingston) and more than held his own. Tyus chipped in 7 points and 5 assists with no turnovers for a fantastic +19 in 19 minutes.
He rides fan homerism a ton, which I realize annoys some of you. But don't let that cloud the fact he's turning into a solid NBA player at a position the Wolves have desperately needed stability at since, well, forever. Usually we can barely scrap together a starting point guard. Having an honest-to-goodness legitimate backup too must be something we promise ourselves to enjoy.
Plus, he has Ricky's endorsement. Do not disagree with the magical unicorn.
Rubio spoke glowingly of Tyus Jones tonight (9 pts, 4-7). "That kid works his ass off."— Jon Krawczynski (@APkrawczynski) February 23, 2016