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Wolves 119, Kings 96: Towns Takes Over

In this Season of Karl-Anthony Towns Criticism, there has been a main plot and a couple of subplots. The main plot is that his poor defense is not yet improved and no longer flying under the radar. Surrounded by a legitimately good roster of players for the first time in his career, it sometimes seems like his deficiencies on that end are a weak link of the team — of the starting unit anyway. A related subplot is that Tom Thibodeau is yelling at him more than most coaches yell at superstar players. Their relationship is being analyzed. The other subplot is the one that brings us to Thursday’s game against the Sacramento Kings. This one is that there have been more than a few nights this season when KAT seemed physically overwhelmed by his opposing center. This has included Steven Adams, Andre Drummond, Hassan Whiteside, DeMarcus Cousins, Dwight Howard, and DeAndre Jordan. While Towns has decent size and will get stronger as he ages, he simply isn’t as big as most top-tier centers. Perhaps more than in prior seasons, those physical disadvantages have seemed highlighted on this year’s team.

Against the Kings, he had no such disadvantages. Whether checked by Kosta Koufos, Willie Cauley-Stein (his college frontcourt mate at Kentucky), or Skal Labissiere (who for whatever reason, started the game on KAT) Towns was physically superior than his Sacramento opponents and he came out of the gates fully prepared to go to work. Early in the game, he was more assertive than usual as a scorer, taking and (usually) making some difficult shots. As the game wore on, he went with the flow, kicking the ball out to open shooters, crashing the offensive glass for second-chance points, and just doing an all-around job of kicking ass. The Wolves led by 10 after one quarter, stalled a bit in the second (led by 9), and then blew the game open in the third quarter behind the scoring and passing of Towns. He ended the game with 30 points on 11-16 shooting (2-4 from three), 14 rebounds (5 offensive), 5 assists, and 5 blocks. He tied Gorgui Dieng for a team-best (+22).

This is the sort of performance that builds KAT’s reputation as a first-tier young talent. After the game, Thibs anticipated a KAT-centric set of questions, and mentioned that he needs to be consistent for the full 48 minutes. Then he did as he often does and passed on some general praise to Taj Gibson and Jimmy Butler. Thibs is obviously not satisfied with where Towns is at right now — nor should he be. Developing KAT into an MVP should be a top priority and constantly challenging him to be better is part of the job. But it would be impossible for Thibs to miss what a dominant performance his young big man turned in against the Kings. It was the primary reason that the win came so easily.

What else in this lopsided affair?

Hmmm…

In the first half, Zach Randolph provided some wrestling entertainment for people interested in a retro post-up battle. On one possession, he and Taj Gibson had so many body parts tangled up that the ref just gave up and whistled both of them for a foul. When Gorgui took a turn on Z-Bo, he was shoved out of the way before the pass (and officials’ eyes) could arrive, and caught the entry feed for an easy lay-in. Randolph is getting a little overweight in his advanced age and conditioning clearly played a part in his diminished performance in the second half. But for a minute there, he looked like Memphis Z-Bo and an easy Wolves win wasn’t a foregone possibility.

Jimmy Butler was an all-around stud in this game. As he often is, I suppose. His stat line does a pretty nice job of summarizing things: 21 points on 10 shots, 7 boards, 9 assists, 2 steals, and even 2 blocks. In the middle of the third quarter, after KAT set the tone, Butler took over for a few minutes to continue expanding the lead.

Andrew Wiggins found his three-point shot, for one night anyway. Wig was 3-4 from downtown against the Kings, increasing his three-point percentage back up over 30 (31.2). One interesting detail about this was that Wig hit a pair of corner threes in the first half. In his first three NBA seasons, Wig shot corner three totals of 32, 30, and 31. Through 29 games this season, he’s attempted 20 treys from the corners, suggesting a significant uptick. If that continues, it would be reasonable to eventually expect a higher overall shooting percentage.

Before we get too far into this, the Wolves have a new 9th man!

That’s right folks. Marcus Georges-Hunt has finally cracked the rotation, replacing the Shabazz Muhammad slot that went empty for many recent games. In his effective Timberwolves debut, MGH played just fine. He mostly stayed out of the way on offense, but did connect on a corner three (and attempted another) and scored on a drive to the basket. What was perhaps more significant (and what was pointed out by an approving Thibs, post-game) was that he did a solid job defending Buddy Hield, who was playing with Sacramento’s second unit during most of MGH’s minutes. I think we can expect to see more of Georges-Hunt in the future, as long as he continues to play decent defense and mistake-free offense. Thibs has a short leash on bench players and MGH would be wise to keep that in mind with his offensive decisionmaking. Thibs specifically mentioned that he liked MGH next to Crawford as a pairing, which makes some sense, given how much of an initiator-dribbler Crawford is, and how MGH figures to be more of a stationary shooter and defender. He played 17 minutes against the Kings, scoring 5 points on 2-3 shooting in (+5) action.

The Wolves made shots against the Kings. As a team they were 46-82 (56.1%) from the field, but more importantly for their purposes they were 10-21 (47.6%) from three-point range. There will be more than a few nights like Tuesday versus Philly when the three ball won’t go down for this team. It isn’t a strength of their wings and it isn’t a consistent part of their point guard’s shot tendencies. On those nights, winning will be a struggle. But when they get a reasonable number of perimeter shots to go down, everything else falls into place for a team that has so many players who (Thibs voice) put pressure on the rim.

The Kings aren’t good and the Wolves were expected to win. The betting lines were between 10.5 and 11. But crushing inferior opposition has not been a theme of this early season, so this win was a promising one. The Wolves will have a great opportunity to build a winning streak on Saturday night when the Phoenix Suns visit Target Center.

Until then.

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4 thoughts on “Wolves 119, Kings 96: Towns Takes Over

  1. Finally, a game that went how it should have. Better team gets early lead at home, then explodes in the third quarter and holds the poorer team off until they quit. The team played well on both sides of the ball most of the night (we still need to stay with three point shooters and not let them get comfortable out behind the arc.)

    Thibs actually played a ninth player and the world didn’t come to an end. He almost gave everyone but Baz run tonight, and there was a Cole Aldrich sighting as well. Baz must really be in the doghouse, but if it makes him concentrate on other parts of his game besides shooting, maybe he can give us a third wing to sub in for and some more small options for Thibs to ignore. Belly was also dressed,but didn’t play for the 11th straight game. He’s sneaking up on playing again, maybe against Phoenix he will get to the scorers table and then go back to his seat.

    Lastly, if KAT could just pretend he was playing former KY teammates every night, he would be an all-star defender. He and Wiggins both played great games and Jimmy was back passing and doing all the great veteran stuff he was doing earlier. Sadly, this team was missing against Philly. Otherwise, we would be on another win streak. I think Jimmy needs to keep this role, it seems to balance the team better.

  2. Thibs definitely needs to give Towns some more love when he plays well. A good coach praises his player in public and criticizes in private. Thibs should expect a lot out of Towns, but he seems like a flat out jerk most of the time.

    Great team win and our guys didn’t play 40 minutes a piece.

    Tyus only played 18 tonight. Should’ve gotten at least 22-25.

    Fire Thibs.

  3. Huuuunnnnntttttt!

    This was a good win for us. It was one of those nice feeling games where everything clicks, and nothing seems to for the opponent. I have a few thoughts on it:

    -It really seems like KAT and Wiggins don’t get the level of sustained effort that being great in the NBA takes. I don’t mean to condescend them… just when it seems like they convince me that they are just struggling because of talent weaknesses they pop off a great performance under suspicious inspiration. Wiggins has become notorious for it at this point–against Cleveland, nationally televised games, etc. Tonight you could just see it—KAT went nuts whenever he was paired up against his ex teammate WCS. It’s such a childish almost sibling rivalry type thing. I only bother to complain about it, because you can see what KAT can fairly easily do on both sides of the court when he’s putting in his full effort. Why is motivation so hard for these guys? There’s thousands of fans, cameras, cheering, long NBA rivalries, player rivalries… I’ve met guys who could barely limp off of a the court after pick-up game at the Y because they are just that competitive.

    -That said, forgetting motive or frequency, when KAT is locked in he’s quite the talent and quite the show! I was impressed totally, but his lift he gave us on defense was so encouraging. The only ‘but’ other than the motivation thing above, is that clearly this was against a team that doesn’t include KAT’s main weakness–husky talent at C.

    -Which makes me wonder again about position. Would it not be easier for KAT to be playing against PFs? He can’t control who guards him, but he could at some point defend PF’s. On offense, he’s basically a PF already and if he ever does make a position change, I wouldn’t suggest he work less down low. But he spaces like a PF, and frankly he’s built like one. It flips the script; even at a gangley 6’11” 245 we hear complaints about him being undersized at C. While on some level that’s not true, the results in front of us clearly say that strength is a real problem for KAT at that position. But a 6’11” 245 lbs PF is no longer undersized at all.

    -I don’t want to get all ‘there, I told you so’ because it was just fun to see a guy get a chance to play and contribute. Hunt was clearly excited for the chance and did well with it. But it is pretty hard to not at least say, ‘was that so hard?’ I mean, we aren’t looking at much here. Just a few minutes from the guy… maybe 5-7 a half, in which time the sky won’t fall. It’s one game, but Hunt showed he could hit spot up threes, grab a few boards, keep the ball moving, and most importantly defend with energy and basic awareness. Not sure why we have to wait weeks on the edge of our seat to get a little bench wing play (and more than 8 man rotations). I don’t say that sarcastically–I have no idea why such a basic move would be held off for so long. Not the first clue. It did look like a legit thing that might happen again, though. Hopefully.

    -Looks like Butler is finally at the level we assumed he’d get to here. It’s a nice fall back, something to lean on every night. Because who knows when Wiggins and KAT will bring it. KAT tries harder and his type of talent makes him a more consistent threat than Wiggins thus far. But he’s still so easy to throw off the trail. Wiggins… I just don’t think he’s going to get that much better, be more than a 3-5th best player on a really good team. He doesn’t have the fire. And he’s not consistent even when he’s trying. He’s worked on his shooting a lot, but he’s a very inconsistent 3 point shooter and probably always will be to some degree. Tonight everything was clicking, including his 3, but major offensive stars in the league tend to be better long range shooters than I think Wiggins will be, not even factoring in the lack of intensity. He’s not Butler in training, he’s a guy who’s never going to be Butler, inside, and is coasting while Butler does what Wiggins was supposed to do on a high level, coming into the league. I’ve called their size/skill sets redundant. The reason it kind of works is because so many of Wiggins skills need to be backed up or taken over.

    -I realize that SAC is a bunch of over the hill guys mixed with a bunch of super young guys of questionable talent, but why are they this bad? It’s pretty gross. WCS is kind of a tough case in that he’s too thin to be a C but not skilled enough to be a PF. He seems to have effort and focus issues, all the way from moment to moment in game, to long term learning and building of new skills. It’s holding him back. Heild just isn’t a good enough shooter and scorer for his player profile and size. Fox might be good sometime, I still like him as a pick. I guess that’s not a good crop when you consider that Hill is massively overrated, Z-Bo is ancient and out of shape (and doesn’t seem to care much)… But it’s just such a thrown together roster. Jim Pete said they have some good young pieces (polite?) but they are looking at an almost total retool or rebuild still because the pieces are both not good enough and do not compliment each other well, including the vet infusion they chose. We should beat teams like this hard, and we did. Lets to it to the Suns, too.

  4. I especially enjoyed some of the first quarter offensive plays that I hadn’t seen before. KAT starting at high post and then getting to the opposite low block off two back screens for a nice low post shot and his seal off PR with Jimmy giving him a nice pass and layup.

    The whole night it seemed like Thibs was going to do everything we have been begging him to do and the team responded with a solid win. I hope he continues this when the schedule gets harder and the defense is a lot better. Not all of KATs scoring last night can be done against bigger and better C, but it looked like he was playing strong down low and bullying SAC big men all night. Hopefully he fills out and has that same night against top big men like boogie and brow soon.

    We should be looking hard at the Buddy Hields and Skai Leboussier of the league. They aren’t complete players, but they Shouldn’t get paid big dollars and could be the type of players you could get for bench players with one needed skill in a trade or exemption type of free agents. It is sad that Sac town has fallen much like the wolves did after Garnett left. They need the process like Philly and some drafting luck go there way.

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