Injuries stink. Mild, minor injuries, announced minutes before tip-off to 2 of the team’s best 3 players also stink.
The Wolves were without Kevin Garnett (who won’t play the latter end of many back-to-backs), Ricky Rubio (sore knee), and Andrew Wiggins (sore knee), and that makes it hard to really get into the nuts and bolts of tonight’s game. Is it fair to look at the Wolves as a whole, when 3/5 of their starting lineup is temporarily sidelined, and should all see the floor as early as Thursday?
In some ways, yes. The Wolves had a season-worst 22 turnovers, 14 of them coming from Zach LaVine and Kevin Martin, the typical bench backcourt filling in for the starting 5.
Statistically, if you look away from the turnovers, LaVine put up a stat line similar to the final month of his rookie season; the month that earned him a spot on the All-Rookie Second Team a year ago.
As our own William Bohl pointed out in yesterday’s piece on LaVine’s journey as a point guard project, there’s still a great learning curve to what he’s doing as the primary ball handler. One thing he has struggled with has been turning the ball over on set plays. He has tended to force the pass for the sake of finishing what was drawn up. Even if the pass is forced a bit.
It’s plays like this that he’s struggled with, and have triggered talks with Sam Mitchell. Not to scold the youngster, but to tell him “It’s okay, just slow down,” as he said on the sideline early on tonight.
Defensively, both Kemba Walker and Jeremy Lin had nice nights, and had an easy time weaving into the paint, but it’s hard to pin that completely on LaVine. With the exception of Karl-Anthony Towns, the pick and roll defense was not great in regards to containing the ball handlers.
There were things LaVine did well on offense. Excluding the turnovers (which, frankly, is hard to do), he played a fairly decent first half, and he did have a plus net rating all night. Amidst his 8 turnovers, he did get some assists, which means he was looking to pass a LOT, all while notching 20 points on 9-19 shooting.
It’s impossible for Zach LaVine to fill Ricky Rubio’s shoes, offensively or defensively, so he’s in a hard spot. He’ll be happy to have Rubio back (hopefully) on Thursday.
And hey, let’s not forget that LaVine can do this. This is fun. We still like fun, right?
Martin and LaVine struggled to keep the possession arrow in Minnesota’s favor, but the Wolves struggled with it as a whole, too.
The Wolves got called for traveling 6 times tonight. Six. I don’t think I’ve ever seen that in a basketball game before.
This isn’t all that uncommon for Nemanja Bjelica in his young NBA career, though. In just 7 games, Bjelica has shown promise, but has struggled to get an offensive rythym going off the dribble, in part because he gets called for traveling so often on one particular play.
Pump fake and/or jab step -> dribble move towards the hoop. It’s happened several times this year, and it happened again tonight.
Part of his problem is they likely don’t call that travel as often in Europe, part of it is the league trying to crack down on traveling, and part of it is Bjelica is simply shuffling his feet. It was his only turnover of the night, but it’s one we’ve seen several times before. His overall game shows lots of promise, but this play was a microcosm of the Wolves’ problems tonight.
What kept the Wolves within single digits all night was Karl-Anthony Towns, who once again played like he was 27 and not still a teenager. He shot the ball well from mid-range, hit from the foul line, and scored in the post.
Most impressive, though, was the defensive effort he put forth on Al Jefferson. Wolves fans know Big Al well, and know that his ability to get shot blockers off the ground is a trademark of his, with his full arm extension pump fakes. Jefferson went just 3-9, and those pump fakes weren’t working on KAT.
The Wolves looked lost without three of their starters, but Towns was able to carry them to a certain degree, an awesome feat for a guy who has yet to vote in a presidential election.
No, this game wasn’t as fun as the past games. Ricky Rubio, Andrew Wiggins, and Kevin Garnett are absolutely vital to what the Wolves have done to start off as surprisingly well as they have. No one in the locker room would use that as an excuse, but it’s hard to win games with players thrown into bigger roles last-second.
All things considered, this game went according to what most expected. Some high points from the young guys, some very low points for the new guys, and some nice production from an early Rookie of the Year favorite.
Regardless, it’ll be nice to have the whole crew back together again, and it’d be especially nice to get them back by Thursday. The champs are coming to town.