Wolves 109, Hornets 74: A Dominant Preseason Finish

This is generally how Thibs looks on the sidelines, even as his team leads by 40 points.

The Timberwolves played their second home, and final preseason game on Friday night at Target Center. Much like their first home game on Wednesday night against the Memphis Grizzlies, they built up a huge lead (41 points, at different times). Unlike that game, however, the Wolves kept their separation from the visiting Charlotte Hornets in this one. With their third string playing out the final minutes, the Wolves won 109-74.

The game itself — as that lead suggests — was never very competitive.

The Hornets’ Marco Belinelli made a few Marco Belinelli shots in the opening minutes and Charlotte actually held a small lead, but the Wolves took control of this game before the first quarter was over, and never looked back. They led by 5 after one, 17 after two, and a 36 after three. It was steady domination and — from a game-recap perspective — even by preseason standards — not very interesting beyond the fact the Wolves looked really, really good.

With that in mind, it’s probably best to just go down the line.

Ricky Rubio turned 26 years old today and celebrated his birthday in style. After a quiet first half, Ricky got on a hot streak of highlights in the third quarter. It began with a cool no-look pass to Nemanja Bjelica for a fast-break layup, and then sort of took off from there. Ricky chucked one of his famous shove-ahead passes to LaVine for a streaking layup. Then he whipped a cross-court assist to LaVine for three. Then he corralled a defensive rebound and hit Gorgui Dieng way up ahead for another dunk. He started throwing behind-the-back passes after that.

Rubio, in these last two preseason games, has shown off the full arsenal of Transition Weapons that could make this Timberwolves team dangerous. Against the Grizzlies he was forcing secondary transition opportunities and rewarding KAT for trailing hard and filling lanes. Against the Hornets, he looked up the floor for running teammates. This is going to lead to easy baskets (as it did late last season) and also deter opponents from crashing the offensive glass against the arguably undersized front line of KAT and Dieng. Rubio hit a high gear tonight. Happy Birthday, Ricky.

Brandon Rush started for the Wolves in Andrew Wiggins’s somewhat strange “allergies-related” absence. (Note: Wiggins participated in pregame workouts, dressed for the game, and by all indications will be suited up for the season opener.) Rush was a perfect role player in this game. He made smart decisions and knocked down all 4 of his corner three attempts. His jumper from that spot looks robotically automatic. “He fits with the starters. He fits with the bench,” Tom Thibodeau said about Rush. “The biggest thing is his intelligence. He knows when to shoot. He knows when to pass. He plays smart. He’s a very good team defender and we need the spacing for Karl, Andrew, Zach and Ricky.” That about captures what Rush looked like in this game.

Shabazz Muhammad returned to action tonight after missing the Grizzlies game, and played his role of insanely-energetic scorer/rebounder guy as well as can be expected. Bazz’s stat line probably looks worse than his performance — he had 4 turnovers and only 2 rebounds — but he was undeniably helpful due to all of the pressure he put on the Hornets defense and on the glass, pursuing offensive boards the way Wolves fans can just imagine him doing, if they didn’t see the game. He scored 17 points in 19 minutes of +10 action, and developed some nice fast-break chemistry with rookie Kris Dunn in the second half.

Karl-Anthony Towns abused Frank Kaminsky in the game’s opening minutes. He put back a rebound dunk over Christian Wood that didn’t seem human. It certainly wasn’t fair. He took the ball coast to coast for a scooping layup, and he drove hard to the hole to draw contact and finish with a soft touch. Towns somehow racked up 5 fouls in short order which ended his night prematurely. But in just 15 minutes of action he produced 15 points, 9 rebounds and 2 assists. (*performs basic math calculations*) That’s really good.

Towns has the look of an absolute killer right now. When he screamed, “GIMME THE BALL!” while posting up recent-defensive-player-of-the-year Marc Gasol on Wednesday night, and promptly received the pass, drop stepped, and drew a foul on Gasol, I took that as a sign that this man means business. I mean, I sort of already knew that from watching him last season, but that sort of “statement play” suggests a player who isn’t interested in his opponent as much as his own destiny. We’re going to enjoy KAT this year.

There were other good things in this game. (How could there not be, when the Wolves built a 41-point lead?) Gorgui looked solid and posted all-around numbers in +20 action. Zach LaVine shot a low percentage (6-17) but looked engaged on defense — disruptive at times, even — and played a nice floor game. He was +27. Nemanja Bjelica was a whopping +39 (!) and chipped in 14 points with 2 assists. He looks more confident and Thibodeau mentioned that he’s almost like a point guard out there, which suggests coach trusts player. Cole Aldrich made defensive plays and grabbed 10 rebounds in just 17 minutes. For fun, he tried a full-on hook shot that looked like something from the 1950s. It didn’t go in. He was +22.

Finally, rookie Kris Dunn busted out of his early-career funk with a nice performance. Dunn had 4 steals, some of which were of the “imposing defender” variety, where he looked a little bit too big/strong/athletic for the opposing guard, and just took the ball away. He made better decisions with the ball when he handled it. Dunn ended the game with 8 points, 6 rebounds and 4 assists in +16 action. I’m sure he feels a lot better now than he did 24 hours ago. Just in time for the real games.

Thibs made a great first impression to the home crowd, blowing out the Hornets two nights after (effectively) blowing out the Grizzlies. He is a crazy person during these games, just like many of us expected and hoped he would be. Thibs never sits down and he never shuts up. He barks at his players during the action and he barks at the officials during dead balls. I laughed during the Hornets game when he was yelling at Gorgui to keep his hands up (to not commit a foul) and then when Jeremy Lamb decided to drive baseline with LaVine on him and Gorgui in position to trap, Thibs just started screaming “GO GET HIM GO GET HIM!” The defensive mindset of Thibs reminds of that famous Lawrence Taylor clip talking about going out there “like a bunch a crazed dogs and have some fun!”

Thibs is insane.

And I think we’re going to love him for it.


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4 thoughts on “Wolves 109, Hornets 74: A Dominant Preseason Finish

  1. Thoughts…

    –Life is brutal without Jim Pete.

    –Dunn played better and actually looked like a potential NBA player. He hounds the ball without Rubio’s natural instincts, but with a more physically imposing presence. I think he literally scared a steal right out of Kemba. The thing about Dunn is that I think he has a lot to prove to me because of the situation he walked into. I would have rather us picked someone else, not a PG, and gotten a good vet backup PG. It’s not time to challenge Rubio with an inheritor, rather it’s time to see what Rubio can do with a young, athletic team and good coach (finally). I was nervous about how bad Dunn has looked in preseason and his summer league stuff was obviously stuff that’s not going to fly in the everyday NBA. This performance helps calm me down a little. Still, it makes me nervous, too. He may play good enough to tempt folks to go away from Rubio while in reality not being nearly the plus player (nor as fun to watch). Oddly, they do some of the same things. Their main scoring method was drives to the rim tonight (Rubio did this quite well). They both are energetic and talented defenders, though Dunn doesn’t have the instincts and experience of Rubio on D and it shows. So far, Dunn is redundant–his strengths are similar to Rubio’s but without nearly the sophistication. For instance, Rubio and Dunn both have not been good shooters so far. But Rubio has always offset this with ability to hit free throws and get to the line. Dunn doesn’t yet know this craft, and is not a good free throw shooter. Dunn will never be the passer Rubio is, but has a bit of a flair for it. Rubio’s ability to lead an offense was better right when he entered the league than Dunn. I do project Dunn to be someday better as a scorer than Rubio, but he’ll likely be inefficient and marginally impressive in this aspect at best. So, maybe I’m too hard on Dunn. But I just hope we have a good back up in the making with him and we can see if he proves himself beyond that role. For what it is worth, I think Thibs is biased toward Dunn because he picked him and doesn’t want to be wrong. He speaks glowingly of Dunn’s defense already, even though it still needs a lot of work. We all see the potential, of course. But that’s different than waltzing on the court and being a D plus every game. On the other hand, he has to be losing precious hair over Dunn on offense most nights, and Rubio has been putting on quite a show of all he does for a team (and his budding chemistry with the players) night after night and a smart guy like Thibs has to be absorbing this to some degree…

    –Bjelica looks really good out there. He scores off the drive, muscles it in in the paint, hits threes, gets steals and tough rebounds. He can do a little of everything you want a PF to do. He’s a major asset and looks way more comfortable. And the refs are past their Euro hatred of him and don’t call him for breathing out of his mouth anymore.

    –Shabazz is the same old personality but looks much more integrated into a sane, usable player. He’s a big scoring/energy punch off the bench. His decision making is notably improved and he no longer biffs on D every possession. I like the guy and his odd, passionate style so it’s exciting to see him develop into a useful player.

    –LaVine looked good again. Not red hot LaVine, but he has been really streaky so far in the NBA. It seems like a ‘cool’ night for him is pretty darn good now, while still getting red hot at times. He’s a starter on a good team type talent.

    –Wiggins looked puffy. Glad he’s OK and look forward to seeing him play. Our depth is such that it seems like no biggy that he was out two games. It’s preseason type line-ups etc, but we crushed both teams in this time…

    –Aldrich can really block! He has a thirst and a natural timing for them. His sky hook was out of the YMCA, but he doesn’t need to score.

    –Dieng looked good again. He’s really eating up this new coaching. I love it. His numbers were not great, but be plays less spastic out there–his strengths and the things he’s added to his game are still there, but he is more in control and in the right places. He’s always looking to learn, to add things and it shows. At this rate, I’m going to get more attached to him being on the team for a long time.

    –Our ball movement looks good (esp with Rubio in). We do the extra pass a lot now. We generate honest to goodness open 3 looks often! Like a normal NBA team! Rush looks really good, playing within himself (he’s not a star) yet doing a bit of everything… and hitting 4 of 4 threes. The guy can shoot, but it is hard not to notice the good looks we are getting our guys.

    –K A T

  2. Go Wolves – games start for real – rotations/injury/bench/attitude starts to count for the team, for the fan, and for your own future. Careers are built not only by the super star – but by those who quietly do their job away from the camera, the sports writer, the cheering crowd. It is going to be something special to be a part of this group – 11-13 players are likely to remain each new season, work hard to stay with that group and achieve success together.

  3. We finally see what everyone is talking about with Kris Dunn’s talent. He wasn’t forcing his shot or trying to be the star, just playing loose and in the flow with his teammates. I can see Thibs moving Tyus soon to a team needing a back up point guard (Philly, Sacramento, etc). As a third point, he is going to be wasted here. They can keep LucasIII for a lot less

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