If Sunday night’s late-game meltdown and disappointing loss to the Pistons needed any salt in it, it was knowing that the Wolves had to immediately fly across the country and be ready to play again in Charlotte, in less than 24 hours. Thibs went Full Thibs with his rotations, burning 41 minutes of Wiggins and Butler, 39 for Teague, and 38 for Towns.
After all of that energy expended and so little time to rest, it seemed unlikely that the Wolves would play their best basketball against the Hornets.
They did not play their best basketball against the Hornets.
In the first half, everybody not named Jamal Crawford was cold shooting. The team was 1 for 14 from downtown at the break. Amazingly, they trailed by just 3 points (55-52) despite the ice cold chucking from deep. Jeff Teague had some success scoring around the paint. Crawford had a dozen points off the bench.
In the second half, the combination of Dwight Howard (25 points and 20 rebounds) and Frank Kaminsky (24 points off the bench) was too much for the Wolves; Howard against Towns and the starters, Kaminsky against Bjelica, Dieng, and the bench. The starters were able to tread water despite D12’s interior advantage — shots started to drop — and actually held a 6-point lead in the early 3rd Quarter. But when the subs came in, Kaminsky went off. That 6-point advantage was a 4-point deficit by quarter’s end. With 7:51 to go in the final quarter, Kaminsky cut in front of Dieng, caught a slip pass and slammed it home. Thibs called a timeout with his team down 10, and had to put his tired starters back in the game.
It was something of a wasted opportunity, given how hot Crawford was for much of the game. Had the bench been able to play any defense whatsoever, Thibs could’ve allowed them a bit more floor time, and maybe the tired starters would’ve performed better with fewer minutes.
Alas, that didn’t happen — the defense on Kaminsky was really bad in the 2nd Half — miscommunication or simply lack of execution, hard to say — and the Wolves were outgunned in this one.
It’s reductive to chalk this entirely up to the tail end of the back-to-back. On the one hand, recaps are all about reduction, but on the other, here are a few other jottings about this game and the recent play of the Wolves:
- Many a Wolves Twitter accounts were clamoring for more KAT shots in the first three quarters of this game. I would agree, if not for Howard overwhelming him physically (it’s hard to imagine KAT succeeding in the post with Dwight on him, if you watched every other physical matchup of theirs) and if offense was the problem. On this night, the bench defense and starters’ rebounding was the issue; not who was shooting.
- Taj Gibson — one of the team MVPs through 17 games — didn’t give them anything offensively in this game. He missed all 4 field goal attempts and scored a single point.
- Wiggins wasn’t very effective, ending the game with 11 points on 14 shots.
- Jeff Teague’s final shooting line (18 points on 7-18 shooting) belies the way that he kept them in the game for 3 quarters. He helped more than he hurt, in this one.
- Nemenja Bjelica scored 7 points in 16 minutes and played okay. Fans want his minutes to increase.
A last thing about KAT. Before the season he was projected by experts to be a Top 10 to 15 player in the league. As I and many other Wolves bloggers have cited ad nauseam, he was voted by GM’s as the player they’d choose first to build a team around. His hype was outpacing his actual ability, as a 21-year old who was still learning how to play the NBA game.
The backlash is now starting to form. Most notably, Bill Simmons just recorded a podcast that ran through the Top 20 players in the league, and he practically went out of his way to rip on Towns while not even considering him among a Top 20 that included other youngsters like Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons.
Wolves fans then get mad at Simmons and defensive of their favorite star player.
The cycle makes sense in some ways — almost no career ascent is linear or always upward. Bumps in the road, and all that.
But there is a pretty legitimate basis to question why some have rated Towns quite so high, despite his defensive shortcomings. It is not a rare occurrence to see the Wolves physically disadvantaged at the center position. Consider how expert color analyst Jim Petersen described the Towns-D12 matchup after Monday’s game:
“Of the 20 [Dwight Howard rebounds], 6 of them were offensive. It seemed like he put every one of those back, too. It was one of those deals where Karl was just a little bit overmatched. Karl is still a young player. Dwight Howard is a grown man. Karl hasn’t got that grown-man strength yet. We’ve seen this a couple times now. In New Orleans when it was two of them — it was Anthony Davis AND DeMarcus Cousins — they really beat up on Karl in the paint.”
That seems like a perfectly reasonable take, doesn’t it?
Essentially, we excuse some of Towns’s shortcomings because he’s barely 22 years old. He is going to get stronger and he is going to get better. The GM’s who voted a couple months ago would probably still start their franchise with KAT first (or at least second or third).
But you can’t make the excuses at the same time that you rank him as a Top 15 player in the NBA. That’s having it both ways. If Dwight Howard or Andre Drummond or Marc Gasol or DeMarcus Cousins present a clear-cut matchup problem for the Wolves, then we need to adjust our expectations and positions on these things, accordingly.
The next game is at home on Wednesday when the Orlando Magic come to town.