Good morning, friends. I hope you’re all on your second cup of coffee by now and enjoying your morning.
Since the Minnesota Timberwolves 124-121 victory over the Dallas Mavericks on Monday evening, I’ve been trying to figure out how to put into words the general feel of the team. That game had everything. The Wolves went up huge early, with quite literally everyone playing well. Anthony Edwards was attacking the rim, Jaden McDaniels was swarming Dallas’ star-studded backcourt of Luka Dončić and Kyrie Irving, Rudy Gobert was playing with a noticeable edge, and Mike Conley and Kyle Anderson were connecting all of it together.
Then, as things began to unravel, I believe we saw the true personality of this team emerge, or at least the one that can take them places beyond where there talent should get them.
Make no mistake, it was a tough final stretch to close out the game. The Wolves helped give away a massive lead that was as large as 26 points in the third quarter. Turnovers and poor shot selection gave the struggling Mavericks a glimmer of hope, which is all that players as good as Irving and Dončić need. Irving tallied 26 points in the fourth quarter with a mix of dazzling ball-handling and jaw-dropping shot-making, giving the Timberwolves a true run for their money until Edwards and McDaniels put together one of the most marvelous defensive possessions of the season, for any team.
Still, a saw a team show a rare combination of confidence and humility that can be infectious.
Nobody would have blamed Rudy Gobert for being unhappy that he was on the bench in crunch time after a dominant performance, but that was just what the situation called for. Dallas was going to play five guards, and while that doesn’t always need to mean that Gobert has to sit, this Wolves roster does have the flexibility to take him off the floor and play that type of game.
On a related note, nobody would have blamed the Wolves at all if they had fouled up three to take away any chance that the Mavericks would have of making a game-tying three in the final seconds. Heck, it’s what I would have done. But Minnesota Head Coach Chris Finch had confidence in his players, and the players had confidence in each other to get one stop.
Anthony Edwards and Jaden McDaniels just put on one of the best defensive sequences I have ever seen in my entire life.— Kyle Theige (@KyleTheige) February 14, 2023
The Timberwolves’ 2020 draft class is special.
Chalk that one up as a win. Beyond the final score, though, there are lessons there that the entire team can take.
If Gobert has the humility the take watching the final minutes of the game from the sideline in stride, so can anyone else. This is a Wolves team that, particularly once Karl-Anthony Towns is back, should have a real competitive advantage in today’s NBA — the ability to throw a ton of different looks and lineup combinations at their opponent depending on the situation. Their depth is a legitimate weapon and Finch needs to be empowered to utilize it like he did on Monday.
Sometimes, they may want to go super big, with Kyle Anderson closing for Mike Conley. Other times, it might be necessary for Anderson or Taurean Prince to close for one of Towns or Gobert. Their depth is a legitimate weapon and Finch needs to use it, like he did on Monday. It’s just going to happen given the makeup of this team, and for Gobert to at least set a precedent for taking that in stride is important.
Gobert (2/2): "But, we have a lot of talent on this team and sometimes I got to trust coach and what he does.”— Chris Hine (@ChristopherHine) February 14, 2023
While McDaniels and Edwards are likely locks to play in closing time, they can put the team above themselves in different ways.
For McDaniels, it’s really about guarding without worrying about his touches on offense or the whistle he gets. He’s a special defender, and that’s what he can do to take this team to new heights.
For Edwards, it’s going to be about trusting his teammates. He’s gotten better at handling doubles and aggressive schemes this season, but “better” is a comparative word that isn’t necessarily synonymous with “good.” Ant is a breathtaking offensive talent, but also one who is maximized when he gets off of the ball early and remains engaged the rest of the possession, knowing that Conley or Anderson — and even Towns — will likely find him in a better spot than the one he gave it up from in the first place. As he plays into that more frequently, the Wolves offense will not just look better and better in crunch time.
Maybe — just maybe — even good.
While humility will be important, this team also clearly can derive an edge from the confidence Ant bestows upon the rest of the team.
Ant: "Man, they got hot at the end of the game. We had to try and calm them down. Me and Jaden, coach asked did we want to foul, I said, 'man, let's get a stop'. This what me and Jaden out here for; we out here to get a stop. So put us on the best two players and see what we do."— Dane Moore (@DaneMooreNBA) February 14, 2023
The ability to instill that belief of “we’ve got this” is maybe Edwards’ greatest superpower as a teammate. It’s clear that he believes it, and his teammates do too. As everyone fully buys in for a final push into the postseason, channeling that confidence and swagger will be as important as anything. We saw how much that elevated last year’s team against a Memphis Grizzlies squad whose confidence and swagger was its best skill.
Jaden needs to have the confidence to take any defensive matchup, but also to punish teams who attempt to hide a defensive liability on him. He’s got too much wiggle, too soft of a touch, and too much ferocity above the rim to do anything else.
If Ant can find Rudy just a tad more often in the pick-and-roll, maybe that instills a confidence in Gobert to be more consistent and decisive around the rim. He’s more frequently trying to pass to the opposite wing/corner off the roll and when he catches it in the lane on seals, which may be evidence of a growing confidence. That alone would raise the floor and ceiling of this team quite a bit.
The point being, this is a team that has a rare mix of confidence and humility. A balance of belief and self-awareness, and one that can make this roster greater than the sum of its parts if properly nurtured.