Wolves 112, Bulls 105: Things that are working
The Wolves have won 2 games in a row for the first time since December.
In a season with story lines mostly of the negative variety, last night’s game was one where the big-picture narratives mostly stayed in a positive light.
The most constant of these, of course, is the look into Karl-Anthony Towns’ rookie year and the bewilderment that typically follows. He’s having a historic rookie season, putting up first-year numbers that get him mentioned with names like O’Neal, Olajuwon, and Duncan.
Last night, he kept it up, putting up 26 points, 17 rebounds and 3 blocks in 40 minutes of action. Keep in mind, this is 2 points short of his season high against the Bulls this year (he dropped 28 the second game of his career).
The most interesting thing may have been the way he played off of Gorgui Dieng, who had his best game of the season, and may his career. Sam Mitchell was very complimentary of the way the two of them played together, and the level of chemistry they’re starting to build.
“I think Karl and [Gorgui] together, 50 points and 30 rebounds, those two guys are just… they play so well together,” Mitchell said after the game. “Gorgui is passing the ball, he’s scoring, he’s rebounding, he’s anchoring our defense and he’s teaching Karl along the way and it allows Karl to make some mistakes defensively that don’t really hurt us because Gorgui is behind him.”
That was an interesting take, because it often seemed like Towns was the one bailing out the defense, but there were certainly takes on screens in last night’s game where Mitchell’s point was true.
But as a whole, in the duo’s 450 minutes on the floor together, the Wolves actually post a worse defensive rating (108.5) than they do an offensive rating. If you look at just the last month, where the chemistry has supposedly developed, the rating actually gets worse (109.7).
At any rate, last night was an outlier. The two of them covered each other’s asses, and played some great basketball against a very skilled Bulls frontcourt.
Like the KAT/Dieng duo inside, certain metrics suggest Andrew Wiggins has a lot to work on. He’s struggled to put together “complete” games statistically this year, aka in the rebounds/assists department, despite his frequent handling of the ball.
But overall, it’s always important to see the big picture with Wiggins, and to remember the things that are working are just as noticeable.
Last night, he started off 0-4 from the field. But instead of caving and letting the bad start get him down, he made 8 of his final 13 shots, hit 5-6 free throws, and had 6 key points down the stretch of a very close game.
Making shots in clutch moments have happened sporadically all season, including each of the past 2 nights. If this keeps up, and continues to turn into a good perimeter defender (he guarded, and subsequently shut down Derrick Rose in the game’s final minutes), it will become easier for him to then work on other parts of his game. It’s good to see, in the time being, that other things are working right now.
What hasn’t always worked with just about anyone this year has been Mitchell’s rotations, especially as it pertains to the use of Zach LaVine. But, to Mitchell’s credit, LaVine has come off the bench, first, in replacement of Tayshaun Prince the last two games.
Yes, he’s playing shooting guard WITH Ricky Rubio on the floor, in the first quarter of games.
Mitchell said he’s wanted to get LaVine time with Rubio early in games, but this is really the first time we’ve seen this on any sort of consistent basis all year. The discussion of Prince’s value as a starter has been a discussion more than once, but I’m okay with LaVine off the bench. Prince remains a plus player on the floor, and as long as LaVine/Shabazz continue to get bigger minutes and finish games, there isn’t any harm in some defensive stability to start the game.
It’s crazy how “stable” a 2-game win streak feels right now in Minnesota, but there are good things coming with it. Towns remains in his “holy crap he’s only 20” mode, all while learning to play with Gorgui Dieng. Wiggins is scoring more efficiently and finishing games in big, important ways. Zach LaVine is finally being used correctly. Of course, it’s much easier to find the things that are going right when the team is winning. With that, how all this stands for the remainder of the season is just as interesting as what’s happening right now.