Timberwolves 123, Magic 107: When You’re Alone and Life Is Making You Lonely

To paraphrase Jerry Seinfeld’s riff on car rental places and apply it to the Timberwolves this season, they know to to get a lead, they just don’t know how to hold a lead. Before tonight’s game against the Magic in Orlando, the Wolves had played five games and held a double digit lead in the first half of three of them, yet had only won one of those games.

In Orlando, they showed that while they hadn’t learned entirely how not to fritter away a lead in the third quarter (they were outscored 30-23), they figured out that if they just run up a giant enough lead in the first two quarters, it will be okay.

A lot of that scoring came from Andrew Wiggins, who scored 19 in the first half on 5-for-7 shooting from the field, including hitting both his 3-pointers and going 7-for-9 from the line. On offense, Wiggins’ game doesn’t look drastically different than last season — it’s not as if he’s suddenly making a lot of cuts (just 2.8% of his plays), although he is handling the ball more in the pick-and-roll (19% of his plays).

14.7% of his plays are isolation plays, 14.7% are spot ups and 13.3% are post ups, which looks a lot like last year, except — and especially in the last couple games — he’s just making his shots. Against Brooklyn and Orlando he was 23-for-47, or 48.9% from the field, including 8-for-11 from the arc.

This has made for an excellent complement to Zach LaVine’s 3-point shooting, which was at 41.7% heading into tonight’s game and will go up after a 7-for-9 night from the arc that contributed mightily to a game high 37 points. That mark matches the high from April 11 of his rookie season when he had 37 against the Golden State Warriors.

As a whole, the team shot 56.5% from downtown against the Magic, which means that as of this writing the Minnesota Timberwolves lead the league in 3-point percentage at 41.4%. Tell me that’s not the most shocking thing you’ve heard in the last 24 hours. Of course, they’re 26th in 3PA per game, but they’re making them.

What this all leads to is: What if the Wolves are the 3-point shooters they’ve been waiting for?

Last year, they were 29th in 3PA per game and 25th in 3-point percentage and one of the major things everyone said they needed to add was shooting. I wouldn’t pin Minnesota’s comparative success so far this year to Ricky Rubio’s injury, although he certainly doesn’t help the bottom line on field goal percentage when it comes to his own shooting. Kris Dunn is 3-for-7 from the arc (42.9%) and Tyus Jones is 4-for-13 (30.8%), so they’re fine, but the real heroes are Zach LaVine (22-for-45, 48.9%) and Andrew Wiggins (14-for-22, 63.6%). Even Towns is 10-for-23, while Brandon Rush (who they brought in at least partially for his shooting) is 3-for-11 and nominal stretch-4 Nemanja Bjelica is 4-for-17.

If the Wolves can actually get decent 3-point shooting out of their starting wings and half their starting frontcourt, the need to go out and get shooting on the free agent market or through trade is diminished, and that could be huge for the team.

Although shooting is of course just one facet of the game, in this case it’s what kept the game out of reach for the Magic. The Wolves outrebounded them on the defensive glass 35-28, but otherwise the Magic had more fast break points, an equal number of points off turnovers and more points in the paint. Many of those came from Nikola Vucevic, who was about the only Orlando player to really eat Minnesota’s lunch. He ended up with 24 points and 14 rebounds.

Another thing to note here is that Thibodeau shortened his bench considerably for the game. Only Tyus Jones went 20+ minutes off the bench (31 total) and Shabazz Muhammad played 19 and had the most Shabazz stat line possible: 13 points, 1 steal, 1 rebound, 0 assists. Aldrich had 5 rebounds in 12 minutes, but otherwise the bench was a non-factor.

I doubt that Thibs is suddenly going to only be playing seven or eight guys regularly, but it is interesting to see what the team looks like when he reins it in and it’s also worth noting that Jones was a major contributor off the bench after his 12 point, 5 rebound, 7 assist, 5 steal game against the Brooklyn Nets. Since day one I’ve felt that Jones smarts and guts will keep him in the NBA if he can leverage them off the bench, so this is encouraging.

This weekend the Wolves come home for a back-to-back you would normally see on the road as they face first the Los Angeles Clippers and then the Lakers. We’ll see if LaVine can work up some of his usual L.A. magic for the occasion.

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7 Responsesso far.

  1. pyrrol says:

    Dunn started, but our real starting PG the last few games is Tyus. He’s done well in the role. Yes, he has flaws, but until Rubio comes back he’s viable in big minutes. Dunn isn’t. I feel good for Tyus (and MN proud) but I wish Dunn was coming along better.

    LaVine had another really good night after a slight slump. Wiggins… I’m proud of the guy. He decided not to play for Canada to work on his game and you can really see it. His ball handling it a bit better. He passes a bit more. He hits shots more efficiently. And most notably, he’s hitting some threes. I don’t expect him to hit them at this rate all season, but he’s much improved, that’s for sure. He still needs to finish strong and really explode when going to the rim. He’s athletic enough, but likes lazy finishes too much. But he really has made a jump forward, overall.

    Let’s be clear–Tyus is a decent shooter, and Dunn is better than Rubio. But Dunn’s three point rate will not continue to hold (it hardly matters because he can barely stay on the court due to a variety of current weaknesses). In other words, our 3 point shooting will look just as good, maybe better with Rubio back, particularly if Tyus plays Dunn’s backup minutes. Even if Rubio knocks down our percent slightly, I’ll take it as all the good Rubio brings will outweigh this fault.

    This game was just what we needed. We looked a lot better, got a road win, got a win on the end of a back to back, survived a third quarter with a lead… Maybe more importantly, we looked more cohesive. Quite frankly, our D didn’t have a big task and looked only nominally better. Orlando has some problems with offense. Their D doesn’t look hot, either. I used to not think much of Oladipo, but he gets under our skin wherever he plays and Orlando does not look the same without him. Ibaka should feast on the east, but he looks bad on this team so far. It looks like a bad deal for Orlando early. But anyhow, the Wolves looked much better on O. We took better shots. Guys moved around. With Tyus we even saw minor pick and roll. Ball movement was way better and more consistent. Maybe that’s the number one thing I took away–our improved ball movement.

    What was the difference? Can’t really say–young teams with a new coach are mercurial. I can’t help but feel that the main visible difference is Tyus’ increased minutes and being played in crunch time. As noted above, Thibs probably felt we needed to stop the bleeding and played a short bench and often had starters weaved in with the bench guys. This is not sustainable but a good way to break a losing cycle. One piece he might consider from tonight is weaving in a starter with the bench guys at nearly all times. That will help the bench get it’s confidence up.

  2. gjk says:

    What a difference it makes for them defensively when the other team can’t design a lot of 3 point looks or hurt them with shooting from more than 2 offensive positions. Orlando just doesn’t have enough shooting to really stress their defense, and their transition defense on makes last night was atrocious. Watching LaVine hit 3s makes me imitate Kevin Harlan: “Zach LaVine is a flamethrower!”

  3. gjk says:

    Also, the title of this post makes me think of Groundskeeper Willie singing karaoke: “DOONTOON!”

  4. sportsbygreg says:

    Great job! I’ll be honest that I was expecting a loss last night because it was a back to back against a young feisty energetic team that does have a few nice young pieces. I wasn’t able to watch the game but did track it on my phone and was happy with the result. It showed that the Wolves competed for 48 minutes and obviously played with a needed attitude of desperation. If Wiggins, LaVine and Towns can “bring it” like that every game, and get some consistent bench production from at least two players, the Wolves will compete for a playoff spot. I know those gaudy numbers will be hard to duplicate every game… but the AGGRESSIVE attitude must never leave. Superstars bring it every night, and they affect the game in other areas (defense, rebounding, assists). Very proud of those guys last night for showing a lot of HEART. Now, don’t give in to the Clippers before the game even starts and come with a positive confident attitude Saturday night. It’s starts with “relentless” defensive energy and consistent execution on offense for an entire game. Also, attacking the basket and trying to get a very aggressive DeAndre Jordan in early foul trouble. And please make Chris Paul expend energy on defense.

  5. sportsbygreg says:

    Oh, and obviously Dieng has to show up.

  6. bhiggum says:

    …the Minnesota Timberwolves lead the league in 3-point percentage at 41.4%. Tell me that’s not the most shocking thing you’ve heard in the last 24 hours.

    Thanks for making me laugh!! That was great.

  7. Tom says:

    I think the wolves are one of the best up-tempo teams in the league and that is why when they face the big guys for Memphis, Denver and the Nets they falter in half court. Collapsing to help our bigs, gives the other team some room to hit uncontested threes, which has cost us the games and huge leads. Even last night, Orlando made a mini run because we gave them wide open threes protecting the paint. Offensively, when they move the ball, they are a thing of beauty. Especially with all the hard work Wigs and Zack have put into their 3 point shooting. Defensively, I was hoping that Cole was going to be the big that can push back against the bigger bigs like: Gasol, Lopez and Nurkic, but he has played very soft so far this season. I was also thinking Dunn and Rubio would prevent guards from getting inside, which has caused foul trouble for G and KAT as well as dunks for the opposition.

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