What turned into a comfortable 121-99 win over the Hornets in Charlotte moves the Wolves to 2-0 on the season. In recent years, the Wolves have struggled to beat Eastern Conference teams on the road, but they got their second straight tonight behind another monster performance from Karl-Anthony Towns.
This was a game the Wolves should have won given the lack of seasoned talent on the Hornets roster (as well as injuries to Cody Zeller and Nicolas Batum,) and after a poor start to the game, they took over and dominated, refusing to suffer a letdown after their big opening night win in Brooklyn.
The game opened poorly for the Wolves, who were out of sync offensively while the Hornets were hot from the start, building a lead as big as 15 points early. It took Towns a few minutes to find his rhythm, and meanwhile the Wolves lacked other scoring options. Eventually Towns got rolling thanks to a couple of offensive rebounds and some snappy passes, and the Wolves slowly began to exert some control over the game.
This was especially true once the second unit filtered into the game. That group, along with Towns, began forcing Hornets turnovers, which lead to some easy baskets. Overall, the Hornets would turn the ball over 20 times, 11 of which were Wolves steals. For the defense to work this year, this is obviously going to have to be a consistent strength. They have quite a bit of length and quickness that can be deployed defensively as we’re seeing early in the season.
It was the third quarter when the Wolves blew the game open, a quarter that Towns absolutely dominated. He went 5-5 in the quarter including two threes, added a couple of sweet dimes, and was generally unstoppable. It’s clear that Towns, empowered by the new coaching staff, has found another level. He’s oozing confidence with everything he does, playing both ends of the floor, and is pretty obviously determined to establish himself as one of the top players in the league. It’s magnificent to watch. He’s relishing double teams and finding cutters, he’s protecting the rim, and he’s shooting lights out. There is very little he can’t do, and though he fell short tonight, there are clearly going to be some triple-doubles in his future. Tonight he finished with 37-15-8 along with four steals and two blocks in 28 minutes. Beast. Mode.
He’s also quickly becoming a player who has real gravity on the court. His shooting and playmaking draw enormous attention, something the Wolves can take advantage of:
This is awesome action. Ryan Saunders and Pablo Prigioni’s offense is impressing the heck out of me right now. pic.twitter.com/uxkTIsvqzv— Jake Paynting (@jakepaynting) October 26, 2019
The Hornets are so concerned about Towns curling to the three point line that Josh Okogie is able to slip back door for an easy basket.
Player movement has been much improved from previous seasons so far this year, as the play above suggests. Josh Okogie and Jake Layman have both had good starts to the season thanks to their cutting and off-ball movement, which has freed them up multiple times for good shots. It’s something we didn’t see much of really since the days of Rick Adelman, and it’s a real pleasure to watch.
Josh Okogie deserves further mention, as it was his second consecutive game dominating the plus/minus category. He was a +28 tonight, and while that number doesn’t mean everything, his energy and defense is making a real impact. He still gets himself into trouble with some ill-advised drives, but he goes all out every minute he’s out there, and his mistakes are of commission not omission.
Two road wins to start the year is a pretty good feeling. The Wolves now head back to Minneapolis for their home opener Sunday against the Miami Heat. They have a real chance to build something here in the early going if they keep their focus and continue to get contributions up and down the roster.
Lets hit a few notes:
- More on the ball and player movement: The Wolves assisted on 30 of their 43 baskets, which is just great to see.
- Shabazz Napier despite not shooting well so far is a really nice player. He’s got defensive chops, and he’s good at organizing the second unit. I’ve been impressed with him.
- The Hornets mostly struggled—except for Devonte Graham, who scored 24 off the bench including six threes. For a while he was NBA Jam levels of on fire.
- Jarrett Culver has struggled out of the gate, looking tentative and unsure of himself. He’s also gotten stuffed at the rim a couple of times, perhaps not unrelated.
What ya got?