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FIBA World Cup Day 5: KAT, NAW Remain Undefeated; Gobert, Spagnolo Sit

Timberwolves star Karl-Anthony Towns led the Dominican Republic to a 3-0 Group Stage record, while guard Nickeil Alexander-Walker helped Canada do the same with excellent 3-point shooting.

Angola v Dominican Republic: Group A - FIBA Basketball World Cup Photo by Yong Teck Lim/Getty Images

The Minnesota Timberwolves train rolled on Day 5 at the 2023 FIBA World Cup on Tuesday, as Karl-Anthony Towns led the Dominican Republic to a 3-0 Group Stage record, and Nickeil Alexander-Walker helped do the same for our Canadian friends of the north.

KAT and NAW will be joined in the second round by 2022 second-round draft pick Matteo Spagnolo. While the Alba Berlin guard didn’t play on Tuesday, his Italy squad also advanced by way of a 90-83 win over Utah Jazz guard Jordan Clarkson and the Philippines, ending a joyous run for one of the host countries, who created an incredible basketball environment in Manila.

Latvia shockingly eliminated 2019 FIBA World Cup bronze medalists France on Sunday, as Les Blues fell in their first two games of the tournament. Given that Tuesday’s game had zero consequence for France, Rudy Gobert did not play. He finished his tournament healthy, which is certainly the most important thing for Timberwolves fans to note. Gobert didn’t play particularly well in his third FIBA World Cup, averaging just 8.5 points and 8.0 rebounds across two games.

Angola v Dominican Republic: Group A - FIBA Basketball World Cup Photo by Yong Teck Lim/Getty Images

Karl-Anthony Towns (Dominican Republic)

When Towns stated his desire to play for the Dominican Republic on Austin Rivers’ podcast during the NBA season, many Wolves fans were understandably wary of that idea, given that Towns missed most of last season Grade 3 calf strain and did not look close to 100% after he returned in March.

But now, it looks to have been an incredible decision. The three-time All-Star appears to be having the time of his life representing his mother’s home country, and looks as happy as he’s ever been playing basketball. After the D.R. defeated Angola 75-67, Towns went and celebrated with fans in an arena hallway in Manila.

Following strong performances against in his first two games, Towns was in foul trouble for most of the game Tuesday, playing just 15 minutes. He scored eight points on 2/4 shooting, grabbed two rebounds, dished one assist, turned it over once, blocked a pair of shots and committed four fouls. In those 15 minutes, Towns was a +12, the second-best mark on the team.

Despite a down game, the Wolves forward didn’t let it stop him from enjoying the win with his teammates after the Dominican Republic advanced to the second round of the tournament for the third time since 2014, when the country made it to the Round of 16 — its best finish at a FIBA World Cup.

Through the Group Stage, Towns holds averages of 19.3 points on 40.0/37.5/88.9 shooting splits, 7.7 rebounds, 2.0 assists, 3.0 turnovers, 0.7 blocks and +5.7 in 27.2 minutes per game. For the most part, his offensive game has been aggressive yet composed, as the big man knows his team needs him to score efficiently and most importantly, stay on the floor.

The Wolves will need the same from Towns, who looks to be in excellent physical shape, regaining the burst he didn’t have this spring after he returned from his injury. If Towns can bring back to Minnesota the same scoring determination, willingness to let 3-pointers fly from anywhere on the court, and joy for the game and his teammates he’s displayed with the Dominican Republic, the Timberwolves will be better for it.

Towns legitimately could be one of the most impactful swing players — in one direction or the other — in the entire NBA this coming season. A revitalized KAT with the same mindset he had down the stretch of the 2021-22 season paired with Edwards could be one of the most lethal offensive duos in the league, one that vault the Wolves into hosting a playoff series next April. The fact that he and Edwards are both playing meaningful basketball and building momentum in Manila heading into the 2023 season should only excite Timberwolves fans, provided they stay healthy.

Here are Towns’s highlights from Tuesday’s win:

KAT and Team Dominican Republic will next play on Friday at a time to be determined Wednesday, against an opponent also to be determined Wednesday.

Nickeil Alexander-Walker (Canada)

We knew Canada was going to be a force to be reckoned with entering the 2023 FIBA World Cup, but they look as good as even the most optimistic believers would’ve thought. Canada blew out France 95-65, then trounced Lebanon 128-73, and rounded out their Group Stage domination tour with a 101-75 drubbing of Latvia.

Everyone expected Oklahoma City Thunder star Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and New York Knicks wing R.J. Barrett to lead the way, with Utah Jazz forward Kelly Olynyk, Houston Rockets wing Dillon Brooks and Thunder wing Lu Dort providing the bulk of the complementary support needed to win games. That has certainly come true for SGA, Barrett and Olynyk, but it has been Alexander-Walker who has been the most consistent performer beyond that headlining trio.

The Wolves rotational guard continued his excellent shooting stretch on Tuesday, connecting on four of 11 3-point attempts (36.4%) to bring him to a total of 12/26 (46.2%) for the tournament. Alexander-Walker scored 14 points, grabbed five rebounds, dropped a pair of dimes, turned it over three times, and recorded a steal in a team-high 32 minutes of play, in which he was a +21 — second-best on the team.

Throughout the tournament, Alexander-Walker has guarded ball-handling 1s, sharpshooting 2s, and bigger 3s with Dort playing only once — something he figures to do for the Timberwolves this coming season, depending on which players are available. His secondary playmaking will afford Minnesota Head Coach Chris Finch the luxury of playing either Alexander-Walker or 2023 free agent acquisition Shake Milton behind Mike Conley, or play both of them together. Both players can play the 1 or the 2, and are each big enough at 6-foot-5 and 6-foot-6, respectively, to guard wings, too.

But no matter where Alexander-Walker plays in the lineup defensively, the Timberwolves will desperately need him to connect on catch-and-shoot 3s. The Toronto, Ontario native is 8/15 (53.3%) on C&S looks so far in the tournament, while also displaying cleaner mechanics. Obviously it’s a small sample size, but he is playing a role similar to what he’ll play for the Wolves, and he looks more confident shooting the ball than he did last season.

Here are the highlights from Tuesday:

Alexander-Walker and Team Canada will next play on Friday at 8:30 AM CT in Jakarta, Indonesia, against an opponent to be determined Wednesday.