Wolves 106, Blazers 105: Are We Seeing It?
The Wolves won again last night.
They’re now on a 3-game win streak, which includes a pair of wins against top 5 teams in the Western Conference.
At late points of every regular season, glimmers of hope seem to start taking form for young, improving teams. Zach LaVine had his best months statistically last season in March and April. Andrew Wiggins was already on a good path, but looked more comfortable.
This year, that seems to be happening again. KAT has been meowing on the league all year, but the rest of the rookie crop is starting to hit their stride as well (Tyus has become mostly competent offensively, and Nemanja Bjelica’s last 2 games have arguably been his best so far).
But most exciting, the team is starting to gel. LaVine looks comfortable as the catch-and-shoot freak shooting guard, Wiggins as the slashing scorer, Rubio as facilitator, and Towns as jack-of-all-trades young superstar. Last night’s win, specifically on the last play, was a microcosm of the Wolves’ overall development.
But, the Wolves nearly blew this game. They played neck and neck with Portland for a majority of the game, but a four point play given up (on evil assassin Damian Lillard’s late three pointer), along with a couple defensive miscues made this game more interesting than anyone wanted to see.
But then, Sam Mitchell drew up a play that worked beautifully.
With fewer than 10 seconds to go, Wiggins and LaVine both cut towards the hoop, suggesting a pass to one of them, but it was ultimately a decoy to give Towns all the space he needed to win the game.
The key here wasn’t the shot, and not even the play, really. It was that Wiggins and LaVine have become such strong scoring threats this season that their defenders had to follow them, and couldn’t return to help if the pass did indeed come to Towns. While LaVine was mostly quiet offensively last night, Minnesota’s 2nd and 3rd options are still good enough scorers on their own merits that they needed guys to hover on them.
All this time, Rubio stood by the 3-point line, but Damian Lillard had to stay on him. Remember, Rubio has proven he can make the clutch three-pointer if needed.
Of course, this is all small sample size. Yes, the Wolves are 6-4 in their last 10 games, but overall, the Wolves will lose over 50 games for a second straight season. Overall, this wasn’t what the players wanted from their season, whether fans/writers expected it or not. For as many good games as the Wolves have played this season, their have been just as many, if not more, duds to overshadow it. But this time around, it doesn’t feel like a fluky end to a mostly disappointing season. Not to me, anyway.
Through this season, highlighted by yet another efficient night in Portland a night ago, Karl-Anthony Towns has proven that he has the makings of a full-on superstar. Superstar, as in “I will be able to get you to the playoffs, with even a mediocre roster around me” levels of good. Is it early to say that? Maybe it was a few months ago, when he was first hitting his stride. Now? I think it’s safe to say he’s going to be absolutely amazing. He is already.
But here’s the most exciting part to me: his supporting cast probably isn’t going to be mediocre. Andrew Wiggins, for all that he has to work on, is a dynamic slashing scorer with great instincts. Zach LaVine is going to have a rough night from time to time (his April figures aren’t good), but he’s going to be a great scoring spark off the bench at absolute worst right now. It looks like he’s going to be more than that, too. And we already know the positive impact Ricky Rubio has on the Wolves.
In some cases, where bad Wolves teams have looked good to close seasons, I haven’t looked too much into it. But this year, I can’t help but think in a more hopeful light. These wins may not mean much by themselves, but it’s impossible to watch Rubio, Towns, Wiggins and LaVine and not see a future. A real future. Are we seeing a glimmer of what this future in Minnesota? Are the Wolves’ woes a year or two away from ending? From actually ending?
Maybe it’s too early to be at this point mentally. The Wolves need lots of things to start sniffing the playoffs again. They need a real bench. They need to continue developing their young talent. But, man, a few of these guys are going to be good. I’m pretty certain of it.