So We’re Not Hitting the Panic Button? Or Are We?
I think the biggest thing to take out of the first seven games of the season is how damn reactionary everything gets on a game-to-game basis, full stop.
Yes, when exciting yourself about the Minnesota Timberwolves’ record out of the gate in the middle of July this year, how much context did you really have? Were you aware that the starting unit would have roughly 20 minutes together on the floor before game one due to an illness, and EuroBasket? What about the idea that the “tanking” Utah Jazz would start as one of the NBA’s biggest surprises, or that the San Antonio Spurs would be 5-2 in large thanks to the Wolves?
I rolled over in sadness on Sunday as well, as the Wolves were out-classed for the second time in a week by a short-handed Spurs team, and got killed by Doug McDermott. But there’s an even keel that can be found in zooming out. I think the tough thing right now is that the good feels just OK, while the bad feels preventable and gut-wrenching.
Through time, the floor that feels like it’s currently collapsing will elevate. But expectations are high, which is why even a small comment about Popeyes chicken sandwiches are getting flagged and season-ending team chemistry bombs just a couple games into the season.
Ignoring all context that surrounded the isolated quote which softened the ACTUAL situation and caused everyone around the team to not think much of it, PopeyesGate 2022 was spawned from the Wolves not caring on the court and pretending like they did off of it. That in itself might be the reason graves were starting to get dug, and the proceeding back to back wins meant nothing after a similar Sunday night effort.
It needs to change. I think it will, and through everything I direct you to the creative blown leads at the beginning of last year (Orlando Magic, Memphis Grizzlies, Los Angeles Clippers), and the same questions asked. The talent level was different, but so was the context of on-court chemistry. The talent has unquestionably flashed. So has the scariness of the starting unit still not getting acclimated to their respective roles in polished, winning basketball.
The Evolution of Taurean Prince
I think Taurean Prince is the most underrated story in the Timberwolves rise over the last calendar year, and it’s not close.
We covered it on our YouTube channel; if you think about it, path of Prince in the last 365 has been pretty similar to the Wolves, and maybe a little more impressive. In the first 14 games of last season, Prince collected 2 DNPs and shot 7.5% from 3. 7.5. It’s clear now that he may have been experiencing lagging affects of his ankle injury that previously plagued him, but it doesn’t take away from his integral role in the second half of last season, and now this one coming off the bench. In seven games, he’s shotting 62% from the field, a whopping 57% from three, and filling in the gaps on defense, including a LeBron assignment last Friday down the stretch after Jaden McDaniels fouled out.
Feel like Taurean Prince deserves the game ball tonight. He did every little thing perfectly for the Wolves. Tremendous role player.— John Meyer (@meyerNBA) October 29, 2022
The three point numbers won’t be sustainable, but the energy and effort will need to be. The team currently lacks it, if it can coincide with winning, may not be a role that’s as much of a gaping need when the Wolves go deadline shopping.
Gobert Seeing 20/20
For the first time since KAT did it in 2019, a Timberwolf pulled together a 20-point, 20-rebound game, and it came in the form of Rudy Gobert against the Los Angeles Lakers last Friday.
One quick side note: during the 2018-29 season, KAT had seven 20-20 games, and four came between January and March of 2019 (one of those included a 27-27 performance against Anthony Davis and the New Orleans Pelicans). Pretty incredible stretch on a team that was otherwise losing a lot of games.
Speaking of KAT, there does seem to be a semblance of chemistry forming between the bigs. As has been the theme, consistency is what is warranted.
Rudy Gobert has made 27 assisted FG this season; here are the Wolves’ leaders in assists to Rudy Gobert:— Timberwolves Clips (@WolvesClips) October 31, 2022
1. Karl-Anthony Towns - 15 AST
T2. Jaylen Nowell - 4 AST
T2. D’Angelo Russell - 4 AST
4. Jaden McDaniels - 2 AST
T5. Jordan McLaughlin - 1 AST
T5. Anthony Edwards - 1 AST
Memory lane aside, Gobert has been both a bright spot and someone who clearly needs to ease into things a little more. Sunday night against San Antonio was a great example, when he was underwhelming on offense around the rim, and posted a -4 in the fourth quarter when he and KAT were called back into action with a deficit of just a couple possessions.
The Week Ahead
If 4-3 against the opening stretch of teams doesn’t cut it for you, this week doesn’t get any easier. The hope would be that the parallel between this year and last year’s teams is that this one continues to get up for big games, and the first chance at that would be back to back nationally-televised games on the road against the Phoenix Suns and undefeated Milwaukee Bucks. The Suns game will be on TNT. If the Big 3 doesn’t get up for that one, Shaq and Chuck may not be too kind...