As the NBA enters it’s final week of the regular season, approximately half of the league’s franchises are amping up for the first round of the 2019 playoffs, while the remaining half are rolling out lineups similar to those in the 20th year of a “Franchise Mode” in NBA2K. For the top half of the league, the only mantra right now is “win win win!” while the white board for the bottom half simply states “lose lose lose!” Each team, depending on their record, has a clear and precise strategy for these last couple of weeks.
Well, except for the Minnesota Timberwolves.
Entering Wednesday night’s matchup against the Dallas Mavericks, the Wolves possessed sole-ownership of the 10th worst record in the NBA, a half game “ahead” of the Los Angeles Lakers. If the Wolves had managed to lose the remaining 5 games on their schedule (at Dallas, Miami, Oklahoma City, Toronto, and at Denver), they could have moved all the way up to the 8th worst record, improving their odds at a Top-4 pick by approximately 12%. But as many of you are strongly familiar with by now, this is the Minnesota Timberwolves we’re talking about, so strategy, long-term planning, and even common sense are not things we associate with our local professional mens basketball team.
Led by future All-NBA Third Team Center Karl-Anthony Towns, the Wolves marched into Big D Wednesday night and secured their third win in six games, a feat that has occurred only one other time since the All-Star Break. After a few semi-human performances, KAT was back to his superstar self against the Mavs, pouring in 28 points (12-of-15 shooting), 13 rebounds, 3 blocks, and a few NSFW monster dunks:
Aside from Towns, the other key bright spot Wednesday night was the (continued) play of one Andrew Wiggins, who (STOP ME IF YOU’VE HEARD THIS BEFORE) is starting to string together a couple weeks of really strong performances. The man referred to by some as Maple Jordan tallied 19 points against the Mavs (including six more trips to the FT line), and matched a season high with 7 assists.
Listen, as a longtime property owner on Wiggins Island who has seen a vast majority of my neighbors move back to the mainland, I know what you’re all thinking — this is just another short tease of enjoyable weather that will undoubtably be followed by prolonged stretches of ugly droughts. I’m the crazy one, not you.
But... but... it really is worth mentioning that over his last eight games, Wiggins is averaging 22 points on 46% shooting while also grabbing 6 rebounds and dishing out 4 assists. Is that enough to justify $25 million dollars this season? Hell no. But... but.. it really is a small sliver of hope for a team that, for better or worse, has their future tied to not only Karl-Anthony Towns, but Andrew Wiggins as well. For all the talk about what the Wolves can and will do going forward, the simple answer is that as it currently stands, their highest ceiling still involves somehow, someway getting Wiggins to “flip the switch” and become a more efficient and well-rounded player. This team simply does not possess enough capital to attach multiple assets to Wiggins’ contract to unload it, so getting the 24-year old to even remotely turn the corner is a major storyline that should be monitored closely as we enter the offseason.
As for the home team on Wednesday night, this is your daily reminder that Luka Doncic is a bonafide dude who is going to dominate the NBA for the next 15 years:
The 20-year old from Slovenia finished the night with 27 points, 12 rebounds, and 6 assists, flashing all of the skills that make him a young superstar, including a video game step-back jumper and elite playmaking ability:
Transition alley-oop? Yes please. pic.twitter.com/4YWV2ErLoi— Dallas Mavericks (@dallasmavs) April 4, 2019
Regardless of what happens with the whole Kristaps Porzingis situation, the Mavs are in great hands as they transition from one face of the franchise to the next.
Full Game Highlights
- Contract-year Tyus Jones continued to ball out on Wednesday, racking up 15 points and 6 assists, while turning the ball over just as many times as you, me, and Jim Petersen combined (zero). Similar to Wiggins, Tyus has strung together an extremely strong stretch of play over his last 8 games, averaging 13 points and 7.5 assists, while turning the ball over just 1.3 times a game. During this stretch, Stones (a career 33% three-point shooter) is also connecting on nearly 48% of his 3PA’s. Like Wiggins, the argument here is that it’s just a two-week stretch in what is becoming meaningless basketball games, but these types of performances show why Tyus has so many supporters inside and outside of the organization.
- Dario Saric continues to struggle from the field, connecting on only 5-of-14 shots in 30 minutes on the floor. Similar to a flaky high school girlfriend, every time I try to fully give my heart to Dario and trust that he’s coming around, he goes out and clanks countless three-pointers while looking flat-footed on defense. I’m old enough to remember a time when all Dario needed to increase his production was a promotion to the starting lineup, but as of now it seems like The Homie may need a few meetings with HR (or a sports psychologist) to find the talent and consistency that made him such a highly-touted draft prospect back in 2014.
- As I tweeted during the game, not having to attach 14 first-round draft picks to unload Gorgui Dieng’s contract is becoming a pleasant development for the Wolves. While his box score numbers may not pop out at you, G’s overall confidence and demeanor on the floor has shifted the last few weeks, and his enhanced production is massively important for this team going forward, one way or another. While moving Dieng this summer should still be a top priority for whoever takes over Scott Layden’s job as GM, showing that he wasn’t secretly attacked by the MonStars is a noteworthy storyline as the season winds down.
- Josh Okogie is going to be a lot more than a defensive specialist:
- I hope you’re sitting down for this last one — did you know that Trey Burke is a Mav?! Whoa. Anyway, the 9th pick from the 2013 draft made a couple nice plays against the Wolves, ending the game with 12 points and 4 assists, which is 5 assists more than Shabazz Muhammad had in his career in Minnesota.