How quickly things can change in the NBA. After Thursday night’s beat down at the hands of the Philadelphia 76ers, along with the resulting suspension for Karl-Anthony Towns, had spirits around the Minnesota Timberwolves at a season-low.
The Wolves had begun their season in awesome fashion before the Sixers game, winning their first three games, but it seemed like the fortune had run out. Without Towns, there were genuine questions about whether this team could compete with even the worst teams in the league.
However, after disposing of the Washington Wizards in a 131-109 blowout, some of those qualms have been put to rest. Minnesota was brilliant in this one, with their 131 points and 32-point win both accounting for a season-high.
So, without further ado, let’s take a look at some of the brightest talking points.
The story of the night in this one was undoubtedly the return to the rotation and to form for Gorgui Dieng. The Senegalese big man is fourth in franchise history for games played, but he has found himself watching the majority of the games from the sidelines this season.
When Karl-Anthony Towns was wiped out by the league, it looked like Dieng would reenter the rotation in some capacity, but it was a shock when he was announced as the starting center prior to tipoff. Dieng has an intriguing set of skills, but it had been quite a while since he was able to consistently string them together for an entire outing.
Then there was tonight’s effort. Dieng finished with 18 points (7-9 FG, 2-2 3PT), 8 rebounds, 2 steals and 3 blocks. All of that in just 24 minutes of playing time. Without their star man and offensive linchpin, Dieng stepped up admirably and ensured the Wolves didn’t lose too much punch.
Offensively, he was involved in a bunch of dribble hand-off action and two-man game. He was rolling hard and with a purpose toward the rim. And he looked more comfortable than ever shooting from long-range.
Defensively, he was a deterrent at the rim and a pick-and-roll pest who communicates with his fellow defenders as well as any on the roster. The steal and block numbers were reward for effort, but there were plenty of little things Dieng did well defensively that won’t show up in the box score.
It’s unclear whether Dieng will go back to riding the pine when Towns is back, but the fact he is making it an interesting conversation is a credit to the big man. Staying ready and being able to contribute when called upon is a vital skill for veterans.
While it may have been the feel-good story of the night, Gorgui Dieng wasn’t the only one who took their game to another level in Towns’ absence. In fact, every core piece on the Wolves roster had one of their better outings of the young season.
Andrew Wiggins put together one of his most balanced and well-rounded performances of his polarizing career. The 24-year-old was often tasked with running the offense via pick-and-roll or isolation plays and he did a commendable job. Not only was he searching for efficient shot zones, but he was also making the right pass to open shooters time and time again. When the final buzzer rang, he had 21 points (7-16 FG, 4-9 3PT), 5 rebounds, 6 assists and a block.
Jeff Teague, the other offensive mainstay who needed a big night, was great as well. Teague was assertive and relentless in attacking the mismatch he had on Ish Smith and Isaiah Thomas, finishing the night with 15 points and 13 assists while registering a team-high +32.
There were a plethora of other contributors, too. Robert Covington (20 points and 2 blocks), Jake Layman (14 points) and Josh Okogie (9 points, 4 rebounds, 4 assists) were the picks of the litter.
There was another standout, but he deserves his own subheading ...
While most of the roster has had a solid individual beginning to the season, Jarrett Culver couldn’t relate. He’d looked out of his depth during the first four games, which was beginning to get a little bit worrying for Wolves faithful that has witnessed far too many lottery picks fail to reach their lofty expectations.
In what was satisfying win for many reasons, watching an unchained Culver find his rhythm was one of the highest highs. He looked more comfortable than ever, which is hopefully a sign of things to come.
The 20-year-old finished with 20 points on 8-17 shooting while pulling down 5 rebounds. He looked aggressive attacking the rim and maneuvering his way into the paint off screens, but most importantly, he looked cozy with his jumper.
He wasn’t hesitant to let them fly and the results were splendid. He splashed 4 of his 9 attempts on the night, including this step-back trifecta that, if he could hit regularly, would become a powerful weapon in his arsenal.
This is such an awesome sight. Culver looked way more confident in himself tonight and his numbers backed it up.— Jake Paynting (@jakepaynting) November 3, 2019
Finished with a career-high 20 points and 5 rebounds while shooting 4-9 from deep.pic.twitter.com/O98eTJJSkk
Flourish on, rook.
Admittedly, the Wizards’ offense was a steaming hot pile of garbage last night, but that doesn’t mean the Timberwolves’ defense should be devoid of credit.
Washington has shown they’re capable of getting hot offensively, no more so than when they dropped a stunning 158 regulation time points on the Houston Rockets less than a week ago. With that in mind, keeping them to 99 points on 38.9 percent shooting from the field and 34.3 percent from deep was a praiseworthy effort. Their 94 defensive rating wasn’t half bad, either.
As usual, it started with perimeter prison guards Robert Covington and Josh Okogie, but their influence trickled down the entire roster. Even substandard defenders like Teague and Wiggins looked like a better version of their usual selves.
Minnesota will face the reigning MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo and his band of offensive forces in their next game, so it will be crucial they keep up this kind of defensive cohesiveness.
Hot From Deep
Over their first four games, Minnesota had been a pretty poor shooting team. Like Gersson Rosas and Ryan Saunders’ vision, they were getting them up, but they had struggled to actually tickle the twine.
In game number five, they finally caught fire. Washington’s perimeter defense was poor, which may have been one of the chief reasons, but you still have to hit them. Minnesota finished the night shooting 17-39 (43.6%) from deep. While Wiggins led the way with his 4 long-range makes, it was a team effort with six players contributing multiple makes.
In what is such a 3-point driven era, it’s almost stunning when you consider that this is just the sixth time in franchise history that Wolves have made 17 or more triples. So far in 2019-20, they rank fourth in 3-point attempts per game, so expect more games like this.