After losing by 22 points at home Saturday night against what many would say is the worst roster in the NBA right now, the “momentum” surrounding the Minnesota Timberwolves was at an all-time low as they traveled east to take on the new-look and suddenly title contending Brooklyn Nets. Less than 48 hours removed from the official and undeniably worst loss of the season, it could be argued that morale among the players (and the fans!) had never been lower.
Enter the Weirdest Team Ever™
Despite their “performance” at home this past weekend, the Timberwolves looked like a completely different franchise Monday night in Brooklyn, as they went toe-to-toe with the James Harden-led Nets. Let’s recap what went down...
For anyone who follows me on Twitter, two things:
- I’m sorry
- You are well-aware how I feel about 20-year old rookie Jaden McDaniels.
In a season that will go down as one of the darkest in franchise history (which is definitely saying something), the continued progression and development of the former Washington Huskie (selected 28th overall in the past 2020 NBA Draft) has been truly breathtaking. While Anthony Edwards’ play has ebbed and flowed for most of the 2020-21 season (which is to be expected), it does seem like the player I refer to as “Gumby” is growing and gaining confidence day after day after day.
With Josh Okogie currently in the health and safety protocol, the Wolves have few defensive options to throw at their opponent’s best player, which means the 185-pound (dripping wet) McDaniels has been forced into the fire as of late. And yet, it doesn’t matter if it’s Luka Doncic, John Wall, or James Harden, the rookie just continues to flash a defensive prowess rarely seen around these parts:
While the Wolves technically do have other defenders on their roster (most notably Josh Okogie and sometimes Jarrett Culver), no other dude can simultaneously exhibit elite defensive ability while also showing the offensive skill required to be labeled a true “two-way player” in this league.
when that man's open, it's cash pic.twitter.com/nzZQhGxNfu— Minnesota Timberwolves (@Timberwolves) March 30, 2021
Again, I know Jaden McDaniels isn’t the next Scottie Pippen (at least not yet), but the difference between a young player like him and the laundry list of other young players who have come through this franchise is that McDaniels can do it on BOTH ends of the court.
As many of you know, McDaniels was considered a five-star recruit and the best power forward in the 2019 class, but his draft stock ultimately dropped after a year in the dysfunctional University of Washington program. I don’t pretend to be an elite basketball mind, but it’s clearly evident that Jaden has “it” — elite athleticism, high basketball IQ, untapped offensive potential, and a mean streak that this franchise has severely lacked since Jimmy Butler called Minnesota home. I don’t exactly know what the future holds for the former Huskie, but following his progression is going to be really, really enjoyable.
Another “good” takeaway from Monday night’s loss was the play of Anthony Edwards, but not the play you would think of when discussing the rookie volume scorer. The former Georgia Bulldog grabbed 10 rebounds against the Nets, which tied his career-high for boards in a game. Edwards continues to struggle with his outside shot (he finished 0-7 and is now 7-35 from three over his last four games), but something appeared to click for ANT in this one, as he shot 9-15 on attempts inside the arc.
Finch says Wolves are "a different team" when Ant is focused on driving to the hoop.— brittrobson (@brittrobson) March 30, 2021
As head coach Chris Finch mentioned postgame, the Wolves are a “different team” when ANT is aggressive and attacks the rim, and his teammates know it as well:
KAT says he'd like to see Ant to play more like Giannis in terms of aggressive board crashing and dominating at the rim— brittrobson (@brittrobson) March 30, 2021
You’d like to think ANT’s outside shot will eventually come around (especially after a full offseason to train and refine his mechanics), but tonight was yet another example of how dominant he can be when he attacks the rim, and how much all of his teammates benefit from that type of mindset.
The Timberwolves as a team were great at attacking the offensive boards tonight, but I especially loved the effort from Ant. Besides driving and cutting, this is another facet of the game where his freak athleticism is a major advantage to create easy 2nd chance opportunities. pic.twitter.com/guq8Y4pQJe— Tyler Metcalf (@tmetcalf11) March 30, 2021
Honorable “good” mention: Karl-Anthony Towns. KAT finished with 31 points on 13-22 shooting (including 4-8 from deep), 12 rebounds, 5 assists, and 3 blocks. I thought Towns played really inspired on both ends, which might have something to do with who was in attendance Monday night in Brooklyn:
Karl Sr. is in the building! pic.twitter.com/73EBDb3N6J— Minnesota Timberwolves (@Timberwolves) March 29, 2021
VIEWER DISCRETION ADVISED: I know some of you really hate “moral victories,” so here is your one and only chance to skip the rest of this game recap and just dive deep into the comment section. With that said, there wasn’t anything truly horrific to take away from this latest loss, the 36th one of this truly deflating season.
The Timberwolves once again got next to nothing from their bench, with all five reserves (Jarrett Culver, Juancho Hernangomez, Jordan McLaughlin, Naz Reid, and Jaylen Nowell) combining for a frigid 8-29 shooting night (Big Jelly himself didn’t even attempt a shot in his nine minutes of action). It should also be mentioned that Chris Finch rode his starters for a majority of the game, but for this team to have any chance to steal a game against a playoff team the rest of the season, they will need someone like Nowell or Juancho to get hot and provide a spark off the bench.
NBA Star Malik Beasley continued to exhibit rust since coming back from his 12-game suspension, connecting on just three of his ten 3PA’s. Malik is now 6-22 from deep since returning to the starting lineup on Saturday, which shows that he definitely isn’t afraid to come out firing, but this team desperately needs him to regain his pre-suspension stroke as quickly as possible.
Final thought — I also didn’t love the last two ATO plays Chris Finch designed for the Wolves, especially with 36 seconds left and Minnesota trailing just 108-107. Again, not a basketball expert, but I thought that was the ripe time for the team to try for a quick two-for-one, and instead the result was a tough look for ANT followed by an even tougher look for Malik coming out of the second timeout (with 10 seconds left). On the bright side, moments like this are great learning opportunities for both Malik and Edwards (as well as their teammates), so maybe they can finally use a performance like this to muster some sort of momentum as the week goes on (or not, who knows with this team).
And now, some tweets:
Anthony Edwards after tonight's loss in Brooklyn:— Dane Moore (@DaneMooreNBA) March 30, 2021
"I wasn't supposed to close this game. I was playing like shit."
Asked what he thought the main factor was in losing the game Edwards said, "I would say it's on me. I missed the free throw... I blame myself."
Finch's favorite compliment is "fearless." He uses it a lot but it is still the one you cherish if you play for him because it is his highest accolade. McDaniels got a very sincere one tonight. Finch doesn't gush but this was as close as he gets describing McDaniels tonight— brittrobson (@brittrobson) March 30, 2021
Losing obviously sucks and no fan base is more frustrated than the Wolves fan base, but 25 more games of THAT would give me real hope heading into the summer.— Kyle Theige (@KyleTheige) March 30, 2021
- Karl-Anthony Towns recorded his 61st career game scoring 30+ points and 10+ rebounds, the second most in Timberwolves history (Kevin Garnett – 64).
- With his four threes on the evening, Towns extended his franchise-high streak of games with at least one three-pointer made to 62 games.
- In a season-high 38:05 minutes of action, Jaden McDaniels tallied 13 points, seven rebounds, four assists and a career-high-tying and game-high four blocks. He becomes one of three Timberwolves rookies in franchise history to have such stat line joining Christian Laettner (1992-93) and most recently Kevin Garnett (1995-96).
- Despite all the positive things I said earlier about Jaden McDaniels, his primary defensive target (James Harden) still registered his fourth triple-double of the season (30th career) with 38 points, 11 rebounds and 13 assists. If you’re asking me, I’d lean Harden over Nikola Jokic for MVP right now, but it’s going to be a really tight race over the final month and a half.