Just like that - they are right back in it. What changed?
What almost feels like a few days ago, the Wolves were on a tail end of a early 6 game losing streak - falling to 4-9 on the season. Things already began looking meek for this team and almost as if they were playing back into their old Timberwolves routine of not finishing games and the team was slowly losing chemistry on the court. However, since then - the Wolves just won their 3rd straight game vs the Grizzlies in a dominating fashion. Now gearing up for the 3-13 New Orleans Pelicans tomorrow - they have an excellent chance to get back to within 1 game of .500. What changed for this team? What flipped the switch? I have watched every second of every game closely within this 3 game win streak and I have clearly seen a change in almost everything. So I will go over all of them.
Chris Finch inserting Jarred Vanderbilt and Patrick Beverley in the Starting 5 has been great so far.
When Chris Finch decided to roll the dice and start Jarred Vanderbilt and Patrick Beverley, we were all intrigued but puzzled. Vanderbilt has been a work horse with his energy but his lack of offense somewhat damaged the team for a bit and we have seen how having another point guard next to D'Angelo Russell didn't work in the past. However, kudos to both Beverley and Vanderbilt for playing their hearts out and changing the entire dynamic of this starting 5.
Because most of the offense is going to be ran through Karl-Anthony Towns, D'Angelo Russell and Anthony Edwards - Beverley is somewhat used as a fail-safe scoring option when the defense keys in on all 3 of those guys. Beverley has not disappointed with his timely scoring in spurts. He also has done a very good job at facilitating at the top of the key whenever Finch wants to run Russell off the ball. With Beverley's aggression on both ends it keeps the other team on their toes now that the starting lineup has a 4th weapon.
As for Vanderbilt, enough can't be said about his contributions. Even being just a little small at the 4, he makes up for it with his insane relentlessness on the glass and outstanding aggressiveness defensively. The Wolves have an overwhelming high offensive rebound percentage due to Vanderbilt's hellacious effort.
D'Angelo Russell is VERY quietly having an MVP season, believe it or not.
Yes I said that right. DLo's numbers don't exactly pop off the screen - averaging almost 19 points on just a little below 40% shooting. From that standpoint, you would have thought Russell was having the worst season of his career outside of his rookie year. What if I told you that his impact has been so greater than what the numbers are suggesting to the point where he might be having a super small MVP season?
Let's go over some outside numbers. Russell is currently tied in 2nd with Nikola Jokic in plus/minus average among players who play over 30 minutes a game - trailing only Stephen Curry. He is also top 10 among guards in defensive efficiency and rating. The Timberwolves are also +12 with him on the court and -11 with him off the court (in retrospective - the Wolves are 25 points better with Russell on the court). Now you may just look at those numbers and call them baseless with no real meaning at all. Keep in mind Stephen Curry is leading in plus/minus average so it can't be too meaningless. If you watch the Wolves when Russell is on the court, everything just seems to be running smoother and his defense...YES his defense has been so much better than expected that it is changing the dynamic of the Wolves team.
If DLo can keep this up for the entirety of the season, as Anpherknee once said: "Scary hours are coming when DLo is on."
KAT and Ant are simultaneously taking over at the best times.
Moving over from D'Angelo Russell to the other two stars. During the losing streak I criticized KAT for his lack of aggressiveness and Ant for his lack of ball movement. Since then both have seemingly taken over the scoring load when they need to and they have done it within the flow of the offense. Edwards is now reeling his shots into more of rhythm shots which greatly impacts the Wolves offense to keep going to him instead of him over dribbling and taking any shot he wants.
The same is going for KAT too who appears to be reducing the amount of flailing he does when he goes to the basket which is very unnecessary for someone as skilled as him. Turnovers still appear to be an issue for Towns mainly because a huge number of his pass attempts are homerun passes that either have too much heat or too much unnecessary flare. But nonetheless, it has been very encouraging to see these two play within the flow of the game.
The Bench has been trusted more - and now they are showing up
For a while it seemed that the Timberwolves had some issues with their bench. Players were not really getting looks outside of Malik Beasley and even if they did they weren't hitting even open shots. During this 3 game win streak, a lot of positives has come from the bench unit. Despite low shooting percentages still from Malik Beasley, he has came in and hit timely shots and has even looked good defensively. Naz Reid and Jaden McDaniels have started to show big signs of life offensively and they both have not missed a step defensively.
The biggest contribution off the bench has to be coming from Taurean Prince who has looked outstanding during these last 3 games. What appeared to be a lost season for him - losing his role to Josh Okogie, he has stayed ready and his defensive intensity has been very important to the team. He has also been hitting open shots which was a problem for him to start the season.
What makes this bench unit so fun is also the 3rd stringers as well. You still have Jordan McLaughlin who despite a rough start to this season can still come in and keep the offense under control. We are all very excited to see Leandro Bolmaro at some point and apparently good things seem to happen when Jake Layman and Nathan Knight are in the game.