It’s been a very interesting couple of weeks or so for the tallest players on the Minnesota Timberwolves.
For starters, the Wolves have been without their franchise center Karl-Anthony Towns for 9 consecutive games due to a knee injury, which resulted in a plethora of unwatchable basketball and a handful of really bad losses. To add insult to injury (literally and figuratively), there were “rumors” about Towns being “unhappy” with his current situation in the land of 10,000 lakes, despite being locked in to the first year of a five-year deal.
With Plan A unavailable, Ryan Saunders has been forced in recent weeks to downshift to Plan G, with Gorgui Dieng stepping in admirably in the absence of young Mr. Towns. The Louisville product has done a commendable job of trying to fill Towns’ size 20 shoes, averaging 14 points and 11 rebounds per game, while also anchoring the Wolves backline en route to a three week stretch of a top 5 defensive rating.
But on Thursday night in downtown Minneapolis, the Wolves once again demonstrated their ability to be flexible, scrapping Plans A, G, and all other letters, and instead pivoting to simply playing Naz-ty. Led by the far less touted and much less expensive big man Naz Reid, the Wolves pushed their season-high home winning streak to a blistering two games Thursday night, displaying an energy and togetherness that had been severely missing during the holiday season.
Doing most of his damage in the first half, Reid continued to exhibit the greenest of green lights from beyond the arc, connecting on 3-of-6 threes en route to his third consecutive double-digit scoring performance. In addition to being a human flamethrower, the former LSU Tiger also showed that his offensive skills far exceed that of just a standstill shooter:
And then he does stuff like this. This dude. Let's play. pic.twitter.com/ZDqyrWHJji— Kyle Ratke (@Kyle_Ratke) January 3, 2020
In addition to Big Naz-ty, the Wolves also got significant contribution Thursday night from Robert Covington, who tallied his first double-double since all the way back on November 8th, scoring 20 points and grabbing 10 rebounds, while also swatting 2 shots and swiping 2 steals. RoCo’s strong performance against the frisky Golden State Warriors provided a much-needed reminder of just how important his two-way game is to this team if they are ever to truly right the ship going forward.
Finally, no recap from Thursday night is complete without mentioning yet again how important Shabazz Napier was to the Wolves end result. Once again starting in place of the injured Jeff Teague, Napier showed why he was a fan favorite of LeBron James coming out of college, perfectly orchestrating Ryan’s fast-paced offense while also pouring in 20 or more points for the third straight night. Since sliding into the starting lineup this past Monday, Napier has been shooting 59% from the field, including a smoldering 9-of-17 from three (52%).
After the game, Napier discussed how getting his shot to fall has impacted his decision making as of late:
“I’m more impactful when I’m making shots, anyone is more impactful when they’re making shots. Making long-range shots is who I am. I have always been an aggressive guard, but it makes everything else easier. I have been trying to get other guys involved, and I have been very fortunate to make great passes and have other guys make shots.”
As a midwest transplant now living in Portland, I got to witness a good amount of Napier games during his stint with the Blazers, and his ability to hit shots while also providing a stable influence as a mini floor general has made me a big fan of his game. It’s no secret that this summer will be a major turning point for Rosas & Co., but I do hope they seriously consider bringing Napier back on a long-term deal, as he’s shown the ability to be the perfect pairing alongside Andrew Wiggins in the backcourt.
The Wolves will now have a couple days off before taking on the Cavaliers Sunday in Cleveland. While it’s hard to tell whether or not the franchise actually cares about chasing a playoff spot, it should be mentioned that Minnesota is only 1.5 games out of the 8-seed as of Thursday night. With the cavalry (hopefully) expected to return soon, the Wolves may finally be turning the corner after weeks of unwatchable basketball.
Full Game Highlights
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- Kelan Martin had 12 points and eight rebounds in his third start of the season. He is averaging 10.3 point and 6.5 rebounds over the last four games.
- After being shutout in the first 24 minutes, Jarrett Culver finished with 10 points, all of those points coming in the third quarter, accounting for his 14th double-digit game of the season. Yes, it wasn’t nearly as exciting of a night as his previous performance against the Milwaukee Bucks, but Culver did continue to show more confidence in his jumper, taking the second most amount of 3PA’s on the team (albeit, he only connected on one of them).
- Tonight represented the 100th game in franchise history that the Timberwolves have led by 17 points at halftime. They’ve now won 96 out of those 100 games (stat of the night!)
- Minnesota knocked down 13 triples against Golden State, and have now connected on 10+ threes in 30 games this season (which seems like a fairly important trend to monitor as the season progresses).
- For the first time since the 2004-05 season, the Wolves won the season series against the Warriors (2-1).