The NBA never disappoints, does it?
Even without Jimmy Butler in tow, there was still a ton of bad blood between the Minnesota Timberwolves and the Philadelphia 76ers, as well as a blowout win for the hometown Sixers.
The game ended 117-95, but it was the fireworks between Joel Embiid and Karl-Anthony Towns — two of the premier big men in the league — that stole the show. Both on and off the hardwood. While the substandard game will obviously never be the real talking point, there was still plenty to take from the Wolves’ first loss of the young season.
Let’s take a glance.
Taking A Stand
Plenty has been made of the big-man brawl already and news, including potential suspensions, won’t stop trickling down the turnpike for at least a few days, so let’s get this out of the way early. Fighting is never the answer, but one of these days Karl-Anthony Towns was bound to stand up for himself.
With the unfair narrative of being soft constantly surrounding him, Joel Embiid isn’t the first opposition player to try and intimidate Towns. This time, it seemed like the Western Conference Player of the Week was fed up. In case you somehow missed it, the entire kerfuffle can be seen below.
EMBIID VS. TOWNS RING THE DAMN BELL pic.twitter.com/Y7glrNEA8x— Joel Wobiid (@WorldWideWob) October 31, 2019
Afterward, the pair took to social media to engage in a NSFW back and forth, which is probably more entertaining and petty than the original scuffle. It also ensures that Jimmy Butler’s departure was not the death of this rivalry.
Towns wasn’t in the wrong to defend himself and make a stand against Embiid and his on-court trolling. And perhaps he was even in the right to take it off the court after Embiid insulted his mother. However, the potential forthcoming suspension could be a brutal blow for a Wolves squad that needs their leader every night.
Immaturity reigned supreme in this one.
Offensive Garbage Fire
Coming into the Philadelphia disaster, the Wolves were humming offensively. They marched into the Wells Fargo center with their chin’s up and a 111 offensive rating (4th in the NBA) to buoy them. The new scheme put in place by Ryan Saunders and offensive coordinator Pablo Prigioni was working like a charm, with Karl-Anthony Towns steering the wheel of a well-oiled machine.
No more than three hours later, they trudged out of the City of Brotherly Love with the scars of a genuine contender’s defense emblazoned on their lifeless bodies. As it currently stands, Minnesota ranks 20th in offensive rating with a 104.8 mark. It’s a tiny four-game sample size, so the fluctuation isn’t as crazy as it seems, but it’s a good indication of how much they struggled last night.
They finished the night shooting an eye-burning 39.5 percent from the field and 28.6 percent from the 3-point line. Even when Towns was still on the court, the offense was a disaster. Pick-and-rolls were constantly breaking down, the jack-em-up 3-point system was painful to watch and Embiid and Al Horford were like a brick wall at the rim.
With their size and defensive versatility all over the floor, it’s not surprising that Philly matches up with the small-ball Wolves so well. Still, Ryan Saunders and his coaching cohorts will need to find a better way to make their offense click against teams with similar roster personnel.
Over the first three games of the season, Minnesota’s bench has looked terrific. Last night, it was the polar opposite. Overall, they shot 12-33 from the field and 3-12 from long-range, which was on par with the aforementioned shooting struggles of the entire squad.
Shabazz Napier, Jake Layman and Noah Vonleh have all been exceeding expectations thus far, so a backslide was always on the cards. Unfortunately, they were joined by Josh Okogie, who had been the bench’s lifeblood early on, and Jarrett Culver, who is still yet to find his feet in the big leagues.
Hopefully, the bench mob can bounce back against Washington, especially if Karl-Anthony Towns is watching from the sidelines.
Ring The Bell
With Towns in the locker room preparing for a social media onslaught with Embiid, Jordan Bell was the next man up in Ryan Saunders’ rotation. Unlike the majority of his teammates, he actually put in a pretty decent shift.
In his 12 minutes, he hit a couple of driving layups, including one where he busted out a behind-the-back crossover on Al Horford and took him all the way to the cup and finished with his off-hand. He did have three turnovers, though, which hurt in a game that Minnesota was always behind the 8-ball in.
Defensively he was solid, too. He is an elite lateral and vertical athlete who can switch effectively and swat shots from the weak side, so he really should excel as a defender. He finished the night with a 93.3 defensive rating, a number that was only bettered by Jarrett Culver (89.7) and Treveon Graham (72.3).
Bell is currently stuck behind Towns, Robert Covington, Noah Vonleh and Jake Layman on the depth chart — all of whom have been in good form before the Sixers loss. If Towns is to miss games, Bell will have his chance to show why he should move above them and he needs to take it. Last night was a decent start.