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10 Observations on the First 10 Games of the Timberwolves Season

What should we make of a rollercoaster first 10 games of the 2020-21 NBA season for the Timberwolves?

Minnesota Timberwolves v Portland Trail Blazers Photo by Sam Forencich/NBAE via Getty Images

Nearly 300 days after a 117-111 loss to the Rockets back on March 10, our favorite team returned in the fashion in which they left us: chaotically.

After playing just one game together last season, Karl-Anthony Towns and D’Angelo Russell played two games this season before Towns suffered a left wrist dislocation. The injury left the Minnesota Timberwolves without its centerpiece, an identity, and the trust of a fan base that quickly grew tired of Towns appearance on the injury report last season as “questionable” for weeks on end with an injury to the same wrist he injured this season.

Now 10 games in, the Wolves have, fittingly, seen it all thus far: the highest of highs and the lowest of lows. With Towns in the lineup for the first two games, Minnesota looked like a legitimate playoff team that ranked 12th in offense and 8th in defense in a 2-0 start. In the subsequent six games he missed, the team dropped each game by more than 10 points, leading to rankings of 28th in offense and 30th in defense.

Thankfully, there’s plenty we can dig into, both good and bad, from this rollercoaster start to a unique, challenging NBA season. Without further ado, I bring you 10 of my key observations on the first 10 games of the season.

Oklahoma City Thunder v Minnesota Timberwolves Photo by David Sherman/NBAE via Getty Images

1. Is Karl-Anthony Towns a legit defensive anchor?

This season, we are seeing a new Karl-Anthony Towns as a person, leader, and player. He is evidently more intentional about the impact he wants to have on this team, and knew coming into this season that this team’s ceiling is capped moving forward if his defense didn’t improve. While we’ve only seen him in three games this season, the early returns are very encouraging.

Towns is having his best defensive season according to a bevy of box score advanced plus-minus metrics, such as FiveThirtyEight’s RAPTOR rating (+1.7) and Basketball-Reference’s Defensive Box Plus-Minus (+2.4). Both metrics are aimed at determining how much better a team is on that end of the floor when the player is on the court, and both average out to nearly 0, or slightly above it. Because RAPTOR incorporates more into its stat, I will use that for the rest of the article (RIP PIPM). For context, Towns’s previous season-best defensive RAPTOR rating was his +0.9 mark last season, placing him 48th in the NBA among centers. His +1.7 mark is currently 28th and would’ve ranked him tied for 31st last season.

As a team, Minnesota ranks 8th in defensive rating when Towns plays and 30th when he does not. The Wolves allow 11.1 less points per 100 possessions with Towns on the floor, while scoring 12.9 more points per 100 possessions with Towns on the floor. That’s a differential of +24.0 points per 100 possessions, which 10th in the entire league, per Cleaning the Glass. Those defensive metrics bear themselves out on the floor, too.

In this play, Towns first does an excellent job positioning himself in the paint as a dropping big to help on DeMar DeRozan’s drive in the PnR. Then, he communicates well to Jarrett Culver, Juancho Hernangomez, and Malik Beasley about where they need to be on the floor. Thanks to Towns’s position, DeRozan has no driving angle hits Aldridge at the nail. KAT perfectly closes out to him without jumping, which enables him to slide his feet, remain in legal guarding position, and cut off Aldridge’s drive before crushing it off the glass. A+ defense from a mobile big.

In an effort to junk up games against teams who struggle to shoot or are starting to find a rhythm against Minnesota’s man-to-man defense, Ryan Saunders has shown a willingness to play zone. In this zone (a 2-3 in this case), KAT is positioned in the bottom middle of the zone, protecting the rim. He is responsible for calling out rotations and ensuring there are no easy buckets at the rim, even if there are miscommunications when offensive players cut or get into the paint.

Here, Jerami Grant cuts baseline to underneath the basket, where he is wide open because Malik Beasley doesn’t call out the cutter and maintain his correct positioning. Jake Layman slides down to help and forces Grant to the opposite side of the rim, where Beasley should be to help. He’s not, but KAT jumps off his man in the short corner across the paint and deters the shot beautifully without fouling, leading to a run-out on the other end. In previous years, Towns would try to emphatically swat the ball out of bounds, which isn’t necessarily a good thing if he can keep the ball in bounds on a block, especially considering how much Ryan Saunders wants to get out and run. That’s growth from the franchise cornerstone, which needs to sustain its pace if the Wolves want to become a perennial playoff team.

San Antonio Spurs v Minnesota Timberwolves Photo by David Sherman/NBAE via Getty Images

2. NBA Star Malik Beasley has been worth every penny... at Target Center

Back on November 25th, the Timberwolves signed Beasley to a 4-year, $60 million extension after his offensive explosion following his arrival from Denver in a deadline deal last season. For a team wanting to maintain financial flexibility moving forward, the $15 million average annual value (AAV) is a significant investment considering it already has two max players in Towns and Russell and a $17 million AAV player in Ricky Rubio. Timberwolves President of Basketball Operations Gersson Rosas made a big bet on Beasley continuing his post-deadline production, and so far, it’s paying off in a major way.

Post deadline (14 games):

  • 20.7 points on 47.2/42.6/75.0 shooting, 5.1 rebounds, 1.9 assists, 0.6 steals in 33.1 minutes per game

This season (10 games):

  • 19.4 points on 45.5/39.1/90.0 shooting, 4.6 rebounds, 1.7 assists, 0.5 steals in 32.3 minutes per game

NBA Star Malik Beasley has provided clutch shooting for a team devoid of consistent three-level scoring outside of himself, Towns, and Russell, and kept the team even remotely afloat offensively in KAT’s six-game absence. Through 10 games, Beasley’s deal looks to be a steal. He is a legitimately excellent three-level scorer who can shoot flying off screens, off the dribble in the screen game, and accelerate past the first line of defense for floaters in the lane, or get all the way to the rim and finish through or around interior defenders.

What is perplexing about Beasley’s first 10 games is that he has been a completely different player at Target Center than he has been on the road.

Home (5 games):

  • 24.4 points on 56.5/51.4/100.0 shooting, 4.2 rebounds, 1.8 assists, 0.4 steals in 33.4 minutes per game

Road (5 games):

  • 14.4 points on 32.4/22.2/87.0 shooting, 5.0 rebounds, 1.6 assists, 0.6 steals in 31.3 minutes per game

Beasley is playing at a borderline discount All-Star level at Target Center, but looks like an inefficient, go-get-mine player on the road. Having Towns back in the mix should help space out defenses and make life easier for him, too.

It is worth nothing that on the road, Beasley has drawn matchups such as Royce O’Neale, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Paul George, Gary Harris, and Derrick Jones Jr., who are all very good or excellent defenders. At home, Beasley has drawn Josh Jackson, Bradley Beal, and Lonnie Walker IV, who are nowhere near the same caliber defenders as the one’s he’s faced on the road. However, Beasley has still struggled to knock down open shots. The Wolves next opponents on the road are the Hawks, Warriors, Cavaliers, and Spurs, so we’ll see if that production levels out one way or another.

Minnesota Timberwolves v Miami Heat Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images

3. D’Angelo Russell is driving more, and it’s fueling his resurgence

We’ve come a long way from where we were 10 days ago, questioning why a max player was actively hurting the Timberwolves when he took the floor. After hearing all the noise, D’Angelo Russell made a huge change to his offensive game on the fly and it has completely turned his season around.

In the first six games of the season, Russell’s offensive game was selfish, impatient, and inefficient. The All-Star PG was looking like a far cry from the player that took the Nets to the playoffs by himself. In those six games, Russell averaged:

  • 16.8 points per game
  • 42.9/39.5/40.0 percent splits on 15.7/7.2/1.7 shooting splits
  • 4.5 assists, 3.0 rebounds, and 3.7 turnovers per game

But then, beginning with the Wolves second dance with the Denver Nuggets last Tuesday, D-Lo took his game to a different level thanks to one change he made: getting to the basket more.

In that first six-game stretch, Russell averaged just 4.2 drives per game, scored 2.3 points per game on drives, got to the line zero times on those drives. In the four games that followed, Russell ramped up his aggressiveness. He drove 10.8 times per game, resulting in 7.0 points per game, and 2.5 free throws per game.

Thanks to his newfound aggressiveness, his overall numbers have increased as well:

  • 25.5 points per game
  • 43.8/41.4/80.0 percent splits on 20.0/7.3/6.3 shooting splits
  • 6.3 assists, 3.5 rebounds, and 2.8 turnovers per game

Perhaps what is most impressive is that Russell has started throwing more passes of the drive, thanks to his ability to attract defenders, but has turned it over less despite driving more. Let’s take a look at a couple of his drives I’ve enjoyed.

In this first clip, he comes around a strong screen from KAT and has LaMarcus Aldridge switched onto him. Aldridge knows Russell takes less than 15 percent of his shots at the rim, so he tries to push him up the line. To beat this, Russell utilizes his good handle and a change of pace to hit Aldridge with a crossover and get to the rim for two before the help can rotate.

There’s no reason Russell can’t do more of that, or at the very least throw a kick-out pass to a shooter in the opposite corner.

Next, Russell is given a high ball screen and makes a decisive take to the rim, splitting two defenders and laying it in for two. The D-Lo we saw in the first six games would’ve taken a step-back 3 after that inside-out dribble instead of taking it to the rack. Russell has the potential to score 25 points on any given night because of how skilled he is shooting from all 3 levels both off the dribble and off the ball. But he can be a legit 22-25 points per game scorer if he continues to stop settling for contested mid-range looks and attacks the paint. With Towns back in the lineup and the paint vacated, there’s no reason he won’t be able to.

Minnesota Timberwolves v Portland Trail Blazers Photo by Sam Forencich/NBAE via Getty Images

4. Anthony Edwards’s bench scoring punch and playmaking promise can swing games

At the time of this writing, Anthony Edwards is leading all rookies in scoring (although LaMelo Ball may have passed by now) and is seventh in the entire NBA in bench points.

The #1 pick out of Georgia has showcased the immense talent that made him the number 1 pick - his dynamic, three-level scoring and explosion off the bounce - but has also shown some maddening flashes of complacency where his game lacks the aggressiveness and sense of urgency he’s shown excellent flashes of.

Here, Edwards has a wide open driving lane with Carmelo Anthony and Enes Kanter, one of the worst defensive front courts in the entire league, both in the help. Instead of easily splitting them for a huge dunk, he steps back for 3 and misses.

Plays like this are my main critique of Edwards thus far, largely because he has already demonstrated that he’s capable of attacking the rim as well as any wing in the league because of his mind-boggling athleticism and size at 6-foot-6, 230 pounds.

Edwards is shooting 61 percent within three feet of the basket, but is taking just 34.3 percent of his shots at the rim when that share could be much, much higher. The rookie is shooting 43.3 percent of his total shots from 3, where he is shooting just 27.6 percent on nearly six attempts per game. In order to become more effective, for Edwards it starts with becoming more efficient, which means getting to the rim.

While that may sound like a tall task for some, it should be very easy for someone of Edwards’s athletic ability going against mostly bench defenders that are smaller than he is. Just give him a ball screen and let him attack over and over again. It’s really that simple.

In this play, Edwards gets a solid screen from Naz Reid and doesn’t hesitate in his decision to go downhill, split two good defenders, and get all the way to the rack for a score.

There is just no reason why Edwards can’t do this on more than half the possessions he’s on the floor with mostly bench players. When he kicks into high gear, he’s the only person that can stop himself, which is incredibly rare at 19 years old. In order for Minnesota to continue developing his game and improve his effectiveness on the floor, they need to put the ball in his hands more not just to score, but also to collapse defenses and find open shooters.

The rookie can make some pretty advanced reads and passes, which bodes very well for his development as a wing that can affect the game in every way offensively.

I will say again, just give him a ball screen or hand off and let him work. In this play, Edwards receives a handoff from Reid going to his right, hits the brakes with a behind-the-back dribble and rifles a one-handed push pass with his off hand to a rolling Reid for an easy layup.

That’s a play you rarely see from any rookie, let alone one who has never played point guard in his life.

Next, Edwards doesn’t even need a ball screen to put Rudy Gay on skates and dart through the lane before making one hell of a pass to a wide open Reid in the corner to take the lead before the end of the quarter. His awareness to know the time and situation is just fantastic on this play, but it wanes in comparison to his athleticism and ability to move that quickly through the lane while also being under control and not turning it over before making a high-level read and pass.

When you watch the Wolves for the rest of the season and Anthony Edwards is in the game, but doesn’t consistently get the ball or high ball screens/DHOs, you’ll know the coaching staff is failing him. He isn’t destined to be a spot-up shooter. He’s destined for greatness as an ultra-dynamic three-level scorer and playmaker with elite athleticism. In order to get him on the fast track to him reaching his potential, the Wolves coaching staff needs to put the ball in his hands more than they already have, especially when he’s playing with other bench players.

Edwards is capable of scoring 15-18 points per game right now off the bench as a go-to option alongside Rubio, Culver, (insert power forward that won’t have a stinky diaper after the game), and Reid. As his scoring gravity grows, the potential for him to collapse defenses will grow exponentially and create opportunities for him to facilitate and make plays for others, too. He’s lightning in a bottle and he can swing the momentum and outcome of games, but only if you consistently set him up to succeed. Whether the Wolves’ coaching staff can do that properly is a legitimate question that we need to monitor as the season goes on.

Minnesota Timberwolves v Portland Trail Blazers Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images

5. Jarrett Culver is a different player when playing with KAT

Hell, I would be more confident when I’m playing with a superstar like Karl-Anthony Towns than if I wasn’t, too.

For Jarrett Culver, his value rises when he’s deployed alongside Towns, because he’s asked to do less offensively and can pick his spots in a more spaced out, attackable defense. When Karl-Anthony Towns is in the lineup, Culver scores more, is more efficient, is a better facilitator, and makes a bigger impact defensively.

When Culver shares the floor with Towns, those lineups are 9.2 points better than opposing lineups per 100 possessions. The biggest driver of this is that the team’s free-throw rate,(26.7 percent) and offensive rebound percentage (31.7 percent), which is the percentage of missed shots result in offensive rebounds. Both rank in the 96th percentile league-wide.

Culver ranks first in the entire NBA among wings in offensive rebound percentage (9.6 percent), per Cleaning the Glass. He is able to more effectively crash the offensive glass when Towns is on the floor because Towns drags bigs away from the basket, creating opportunity for Culver to beat his man to the boards. Towns’ ability to space the floor is also why lineups he’s part of see increased free throw rates and allow players like Culver to pick his spots on the drive.

This season, Culver has been more aggressive attacking the rim largely because of his increased strength, handle, and confidence, both in his free throws and as a player overall.

This play is a great example. Culver has a bigger defender on him in Bojan Bogdanovic, but sees no in is in the paint because KAT is above the break, so he takes it strong to the rim and finishes without resistance for two.

Culver is a very strong drive-and-kick player, too. With Towns out, Culver spent more time in lineups with Ed Davis, whose presence on the floor allows defenses to pack it in and clog the lane. This made it tougher for him to drive-and-kick effectively and find shooters spotted up for easy buckets.

Here, Towns is atop the key in a five-out look. D-Lo softens the shell by attracting DeRozan, creating some added space for Culver to drive the lane. JC drives right because he knows that attacking the middle of the floor does a better job of collapsing the defense and creating open looks in the corner. Culver attracts not two, but three defenders, and hits Beasley in the corner for a wide open 3.

Even though his wrist isn’t close to 100 percent, this is why getting KAT back is such a lift to the Wolves. His mere presence on the floor makes life so much easier for his teammates and can drastically change their effectiveness in their individual roles. With Towns back in the fold, I expect Jarrett Culver to return to being the player that had us all excited in the preseason and the first two games of the season.

Minnesota Timberwolves v Dallas Mavericks Photo by Glenn James/NBAE via Getty Images

6. Naz Reid is a legitimate backup center

Perhaps my favorite development of the first 10 games is that we know Naz Reid can hoop.

Since being signed as an undrafted free agent out of LSU in the summer of 2019 (what a time), Reid has completely transformed his body, exponentially improved his athleticism, and expanded his game at all three levels offensively and in the post defensively.

This season, Reid is averaging 11.0 points on 7.5/2.6/2.6 attempts and 54.7/38.5/69.2 shooting splits, 4.4 rebounds, 1.3 assists, and 1.1 blocks in 20.2 minutes per game. Those are excellent numbers for a backup center who has at times been asked to play a role he’s not yet best suited for: starting a few games in relief of arguably the league’s top offensive center.

The two most important areas in which Reid has improved his game have been his finishing around the basket and his interior defense. His numbers from both areas within 10 feet of the basket have taken major steps forward and increased his impact as an offensive player. Numbers on the left are his 2019-20 numbers and bolded numbers on the right are his numbers this season, per Basketball-Reference.

  • 0-3 feet: 59.8 percent | 70.0 percent
  • 3-10 feet: 25.0 percent | 52.6 percent

Oh, and he’s drastically improved his 3-point shooting, too.

  • 3-point shooting: 33.0 percent | 38.5 percent

Reid’s increasing comfortability on the offensive end has also resulted in a better free throw rate too. His .218 rate from last season is up to .347 this season.

On the defensive end, Reid has showed better discipline, positioning, and timing in the post. Given the rotating door rotation the Wolves have had off the bench because of the absences of Towns and Josh Okogie, Minnesota’s defensive communication has been quite poor, resulting in Reid having to contest shots at the rim more frequently than he did last season. With Towns back, Reid will be able to settle into his true backup 5 role and continue to build chemistry with fellow bench pieces Ricky Rubio, Jarrett Culver, and Anthony Edwards.

Washington Wizards v Minnesota Timberwolves Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images

7. One of Hernangomez or Layman needs to be traded

Both Juancho Hernangomez and Jake Layman are on the fringe of the Timberwolves rotation thanks to the rise of the in-house energizer bunny Jarred Vanderbilt. Neither Hernangomez and Layman scored in the first two games of the season and they are shooting a combined 28.9 percent from 3, while only collecting 57 total rebounds in 10 games. That’s pathetic output for two players that were expected to be fixtures in the rotation this season.

To make matters worse, each player is under contract for not only this season, but next season, too. The Wolves have a legitimate depth issues at the 4, need more shooting in the backup back court rotation, and could use an upgrade from Ed Davis as a foul-trouble fill-in.

Given the Wolves’ desire to make a splash next offseason, there needs to be incremental moves made that can build a better asset chest to chase a star like Bradley Beal, Ben Simmons, or Devin Booker in the following offseasons.

While I won’t layout trade ideas here, the necessary outcome is still clear: one or both need to be traded if they don’t start producing quickly.

Minnesota Timberwolves v Portland Trail Blazers Photo by Cameron Browne/NBAE via Getty Images

8. Jarred Vanderbilt is the Wolves PF of the immediate future

He has played just 15 minutes per game, but the flashes Jarred Vanderbilt has shown on both ends have made it abundantly clear that he is Karl-Anthony Towns best available front court partner in the starting lineup.

Per 36 minutes, Vanderbilt is averaging 13.6 points, 12.7 (!) rebounds, 3.6 assists, 3.0 steals, and 1.2 blocks on 64.3/0.0/47.4 shooting splits. His defensive rebounding percentage of 28.6 is absolutely bonkers for a 6-foot-9 player.

While most think of Vanderbilt as a rangy defender that can not only rotate effectively on the back end to deter shots, he can also defend 2s and 3s on the wing because of his quickness, agility, and 7-foot-1 wingspan.

In this play, Gay thinks he has a mismatch and can beat Vanderbilt, but JV moves his feet, beats him to the spot, goes straight up without fouling, and pulls in a contested rebound.

Given how much the Wolves switch and try to junk the game up with zone, having someone like Vanderbilt, who can guard anyone his size or smaller and cover ground all over the floor, would be a massive shot in the arm for a defense looking for playmakers in addition to Josh Okogie and Jarrett Culver.

On the offensive end of the floor, JV is a solid screener and is the first true rolling lob threat the Wolves have had in years. Both Russell and Rubio are terrific lob and bounce passers in the PnR, so if Vanderbilt is open, he’ll have every opportunity to impact the game as a hard roller to the rim.

As a lob threat, Vanderbilt’s ideal pairing in the front court is a stretch big who takes defenders out of the paint. Towns perfectly completes that pairing.

As an offensive wonder that is still evolving defensively, Towns’ ideal pairing in the front court is a player who has his back on the defensive end, can cut to the basket to put added pressure on the defense, and shoot 3s. Vanderbilt checks the first two boxes, but those are more important if he and Towns are surrounded by other capable shooters.

San Antonio Spurs v Minnesota Timberwolves Photo by David Sherman/NBAE via Getty Images

Defenses would have no answer for offensive sets centered around D’Angelo Russell receiving double drag screens (two consecutive, staggered screens) from Towns and Vanderbilt. A couple variations could see Vanderbilt roll to the rim and Towns popping, or Vanderbilt setting flare screen for KAT to get an open look from 3. In both scenarios, Beasley and Okogie are spotted up as shooters in the corners, where they are both effective as shooters and great athletes who can attack close-outs and finish inside.

If the starting 5 is Russell, Beasley, Okogie, Vanderbilt, and Towns, the Wolves have three very high level offensive players that can combine for 70 points a night and two highly versatile, insanely athletic defenders who rebound exceptionally well for their size and position.

Before you think about spacing issues with Okogie and Vanderbilt offensively, remember that 1) Towns is the best shooting big in the history of the NBA who has stronger shooting gravity than arguably any player in the league and 2) that Okogie and Vanderbilt are both very good cutters who flash to the paint and either finish in traffic or draw fouls with consistent success. Vanderbilt is also a tremendous offensive rebounder, which would allow for more second opportunities if he crashed the boards in a vacated painted area with Towns on the perimeter.

There’s no doubt that Vanderbilt comes with his rough edges, such as his 47.4 percent free-throw shooting, but the value he offers on defense should far outweigh any concerns you may have about him on the offensive end. Among players with more than 100 minutes played Vanderbilt’s defensive RAPTOR rating (+7.0) is fourth in the entire league and his overall RAPTOR rating is +8.6, good for sixth in the NBA, one spot behind Paul George. Sure, it’s a small sample size, but the early returns of the Jarred Vanderbilt experiment are extremely positive and warrant an immediate spot in the team’s starting and closing 5.

Detroit Pistons v Minnesota Timberwolves Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images

9. Josh Okogie is the Wolves’ second-most important player

No, it’s not D’Angelo Russell.

You could make the argument that Okogie’s impact on the Wolves was felt nearly as much as that of Karl-Anthony Towns. In a post-game Zoom over the weekend, Russell called Okogie the “heart and soul” of the Wolves and the “quarterback” of the Minnesota defense.

Back in November, I wrote about why Josh Okogie is part of the solution in Minnesota, asserting that he is the most integral piece of the Wolves’ organizational effort to build a winning culture because of his leadership both on and off the floor, and his knack for constantly making winning plays on both ends of the floor.

At 6-foot-4, 215 pounds, with a 7-foot wingspan, he’s a physical freak that is to be reckoned with on the defensive end of the floor. Okogie can guard positions 1-4 seamlessly and is capable of consistently taking opposing elite players out of the game.

In the season opener, Okogie held Blake Griffin — who is 6-foot-9, 250 pounds — to 4 points on 1/7 shooting. The next game, Okogie held Donovan Mitchell to 3 points on 1/6 shooting. Two very different players completely taken out of the game by a simply dominant defender. Without that type of defender, the pressure on the your team’s offense exponentially increases in pivotal moments because opposing teams will exploit matchups until the cows come home. That’s exactly what happened in his absence.

San Antonio Spurs v Minnesota Timberwolves Photo by Jordan Johnson/NBAE via Getty Images

If Josh Okogie’s hamstring strain never happens, the Wolves are here 4-6 rather than 3-7. In Saturday night’s loss to San Antonio, the Wolves just couldn’t slow down DeMar DeRozan no matter who they threw at him in the fourth quarter and overtime. If Okogie plays, the Wolves win that game without issue in regulation. He’s a dynamic closer that can guard point guards, wings, or stretch bigs, which allows Minnesota to more effectively pick and choose their matchups on the defensive end.

Before his injury, the team was 8th in defensive rating. Without Okogie, the Wolves simply got shredded on defense; Minnesota was 30th in defensive rating and hemorrhaged points at all three levels of the floor.

While I could go on and on about why Okogie is such an integral player for the Wolves moving forward, I will close with this. Few teams have players who function as nightly energizers on both ends of the floor that aren’t gimmicks or end of the bench players that only play during garbage time. Josh Okogie brings his heart and soul with him every time he takes the floor and the team responds. The Wolves play with a different energy when Okogie suits up, and he can create momentum by himself. Okogie is capable of both resurrecting a lifeless team from the clutches of a blowout loss, and functioning as the gas poured on a tinder box too putting games out of reach.

That impact, in addition to his defensive firepower, has major value over the course of an 82-game season and is why Okogie is the second-most important Minnesota Timberwolf.

10. Jaden McDaniels needs to be part of Minnesota’s long-term plans

Well, that’s not something I would’ve thought two months ago I’d be typing just 10 games into his rookie season. But, I’m very glad I can say that and not sound like an idiot.

McDaniels has a rare blend of height, athleticism, coordination, and sharpened skills with the basketball in his hands at just 20 years old, and it was on full display in garbage time of the Wolves six consecutive losses of 10 points or more.

The Federal Way, Washington native stands 6-foot-10, 185 pounds, but he has the handle of a guard and a mature game attacking the basket. Because of his height, and who else he’ll likely play with in a five-out half court setup, most matchups he will draw are likely to be bigs that can’t keep up with him off the dribble.

In this play, McDaniels takes the handoff from Vanderbilt, crosses up his defender, splits the help, comes to a jump stop, throws a perfect fake, and finishes at the rim before his defender can recover. Players with his athleticism rarely possess his body control and coordination as a rookie.

He can also shoot it from distance and has good form for a player of his size and stature. McDaniels will likely need to work on smoothing out the jumper and finding a more consistent base to his shot, but the tools are there. He has soft touch, good arc on his shot, and a confident trigger.

Here, McDaniels comes off a screen from Edwards, and instead of rushing the shot, he pump fakes and uses an escape dribble to his right, which he rises out of for a 3.

That’s a veteran move that players often don’t nail down until they get to the NBA, but McDaniels already has it in his bag.

Defensively, he can guard effectively on the perimeter because of his length and quickness. More compact players won’t have a major issue going through him at the NBA level since he’s only 185 pounds, but his length is a major factor that will allow him to be an impact defender in the G-League on the back side.

In this play, McDaniels is set up in the short corner, guarding a shooter in the corner. When Antetokounmpo puts the ball on the deck, he waits and then jump stops to get into position so he can jump straight up to swat away the dunk attempt. Most rookies would be too eager to block the shot so they would jump off one foot and crash into the offensive player, but McDaniels once again puts the maturity and poise of his game on display.

Thankfully, McDaniels will be given the keys to the Iowa Wolves, who are scheduled to take part in the G-League bubble in Atlanta, which gets underway in February. The G-League squad will play 10-15 games over the course of a 6-8 weeks, with the possibility of players being called up or sent down based on the needs of the NBA club.

He likely won’t be in the rotation at any point this season, barring any games where COVID protocols call for G-League players to get called up. However, he needs to be in the team’s long-term plans because of the polish he’s already shown and the upside he possesses as an athletic 6-foot-10 wing with guard skills and a 7-foot-1 wingspan.

For more McDaniels, you can watch his rather impressive college highlights from Washington below.

After what has felt like an eternity of a three-week span, we’ve already survived injuries to Karl-Anthony Towns and Josh Okogie, D’Angelo Russell playing very poorly for a stretch, and calls for Ryan Saunders to be fired, and have also experienced legitimate belief that the Wolves could be a playoff team, all in just the first 10 games alone.

I have a hard time believing the next 10 can pack all of that into them, but here’s to hoping Towns and Okogie stay healthy, NBA Star Malik Beasley can figure it out on the road, D-Lo and Edwards stay aggressive, Jarred Vanderbilt starts and closes, and that players like Jarrett Culver and Naz Reid can build on the positives from their early returns with KAT in the rotation.

And for the positive crowd, keep in mind that the Wolves holding serve at 3-7 is far from the end of the world.

If the Wolves are 13-12 a month from now... they are on track to be right in the thick of the playoff race.

Obviously the Wolves have their sights set higher than the 9 or 10 seed, but you’ve got to start somewhere, and that somewhere is tonight at Target Center against the Grizzlies.

10 down, 62 to go.