What does it feel like to lose again? Someone help me I genuinely can’t remember.
In all seriousness, it has been an awesome start to the season for the Minnesota Timberwolves. So far they have fought off Kyrie Irving and the Brooklyn Nets, cruised past a listless Charlotte Hornets and gave the Miami Heat a Butler-less beating.
It’s been a fun ride so far and last night was no different. So let’s take a deep look at the home opener.
We’d be remiss if we didn’t start off with the herculean effort that Andrew Wiggins produced in this one.
During the first three quarters, it looked like it was going to another disappointing night from the former Rookie of the Year. Over the opening 36 minutes of the game, Wiggins had just 9 points and 3 turnovers, including a third quarter where he failed to bother the scorer’s table in seven and a half minutes.
Then, something clicked. In his own words, it was the accountability that coach Ryan Saunders is instilling in his max contract player.
“I wasn’t playing like myself, I made a lot of dumb decisions, and we told each other to keep me accountable.” he told the Pioneer Press’ Jace Frederick amongst other reporters post-game. “If I do something wrong, make me pay for it. He did that. I feel like that woke me up, too. I’ve got to be better.”
Saunders yanked Wiggins from the game after two sloppy turnovers in the second quarter. A tactic fans have screamed for to help light a fire inside the polarizing Wiggins. And spark an inferno it truly did.
Wiggins went gangbusters in the final period. A wide-open 3-pointer from a pinpoint Robert Covington skip pass broke the cold streak, before a pair of free throws and a layup drenched in defenders really got him going. After that, a trio of long-bombs capped off a 16-point, game-winning bonanza.
Fill your heart with the entire run below:
14 straight from Wiggy?— On The Prowl (@ontheprowl_MN) October 28, 2019
Yeah, that’ll play. pic.twitter.com/cprFmEmQDs
We know better than to expect this sort of brilliance from Wiggins on a consistent basis, but it’s fun to appreciate it when it does happen.
Trouble in Towns
Karl-Anthony Towns just won the Western Conference Player of the Week. Despite already being one of the best bigs and players in the entire league, he has somehow taken it to another level. He is even playing the best defense of his career. With that in mind, it’s probably harsh to have any criticism of his three-game stretch.
He struggled outside of the first term when faced with Bam Adebayo and the third-year center’s improving defense, but he did finish the game with 23 points, 11 rebounds, 4 assists, 2 steals and a block, so you can’t really fault him for his game.
The one thing that has been disappointing thus far is his free throw shooting. Towns has shot just 17-27 (63%) from the line, one of the strangest trends in this exciting beginning to the season. The two-time All-Star has never converted less than 81.1 percent from the charity stripe, and that was in his rookie season.
There is little doubting the big man will get back on track, but it’s a worrying tendency for the time being.
With all the hoopla around Andrew Wiggins and his game-winning theatrics, Jeff Teague’s eight-point run to kick start the Wolves’ fourth quarter run was left in the shadows. It was just as important, though.
It started with a hoop and harm floater, followed by another little flip shot after meandering through the lane. After a flurry of bricks from both teams, Teague nailed his first triple of the season at the most opportune of moments. The long-bomb brought the Wolves back within a point, and a minute later they took their first lead of the second half.
The $19 million point guard had been quiet to start the season, averaging just 9 points and 4.5 assists in his first two games. But he was in bounce-back mode against the Heat, finishing with 21 points (5-8 FG) and 8 assists.
With Shabazz Napier consistently impressing, Teague will have to keep up his hot streak to warrant his starting position.
Over the course of the preseason, Noah Vonleh looked out of place in Ryan Saunders’ new system. He was lost on offense and a negative on defense. Now, he looks to be the prime example of why one shouldn’t make sweeping declarations after the exhibition season.
In the three-game winning streak, Vonleh has looked an exceptional role player. During his last season in New York, the combo big was given free rein on the offensive end, often jacking unwarranted shots and trying to do too much. When he entered the Timberwolves fray, there were genuine fears he would continue to play an unchained style of play.
Those fears have been eased. He has quickly morphed himself into a low-usage, high-IQ role player, capable of doing his job on both ends of the floor. Offensively, he keeps the rock moving and is effective in post-up situations — as he was again in the home opener where he hit all four of his shots.
Defensively, he is the glue that holds together the second unit’s pick and roll defense. As per defensive coordinator David Vanterpool’s system, Vonleh is dropping deep when ball-handlers come off screens then forcing them into tough shots with his huge 7-foot-4 wingspan and quick reflexes. He often backs up his good defensive work with a strong rebound, too.
Minnesota’s bench has been a bunch of fun in the early knockings of the 2019-20 campaign, and Vonleh has been a huge part of it.
This is nothing new, but it’s just fun to talk about. Josh Okogie plays like a kid on a sugar high and it makes for must-see basketball. Sometimes the results can be a bit chaotic, but when he hones that vigor into the right places, he can light up the game and completely change momentum in an instant.
During game two in Charlotte, he was the key to yanking the Timberwolves out of their early slump. And in their first game in front of the home crowd, he was brilliant again. Okogie, who is quickly becoming an ideal defensive-minded sixth man, finished the night with 8 points, 6 rebounds, 2 assists and 2 steals in just 20 minutes.
So far in the tiny sample size we have to examine, Okogie’s 76.4 defensive rating is second among all players who have played at least 50 minutes and his +34.5 net rating sits him on top of the pile. Talk about instant impact.
He is still out of control at times and his 3-point shot is as erratic as ever, but Okogie’s trademark hustle and heart have gone up several notches.