2017-18 Season

Wolves 107, Pacers 90: The Happy New Year Edition

The Timberwolves ended 2017 on a dominant note, defeating the Indiana Pacers by 17 points. It was a game that they were expected to win, not only because the Wolves are a better team than the Pacers, but because Indy’s best player (Victor Oladipo) was out with an injury. This Wolves team is unpredictable, however, so nothing can ever be taken for granted. Especially on the road, against a team with a winning record (Indiana was 19-17 entering Sunday’s contest), and playing without starting point guard, Jeff Teague.

Plus-Minus stats pretty much tell the story of how the game went.

The starters rolled in this one. They opened the game on a 17-0 run and led by 10 after the first quarter. The Aaron Brooks-involved second unit looked pretty shaky after that, but they managed to bring an 11-point lead into halftime. From there, the starters put the game away in the third quarter, outscoring the Pacers 38 to 20 and building a huge enough lead to rest for the duration; a nice little perk, knowing that they had another game (at home, today, versus the LA Lakers) in 24 hours.

Karl-Anthony Towns has been playing better defense and smarter offense. Yesterday he had 6 blocks and managed to score 18 points on just 11 shot attempts. He had 13 rebounds, 4 assists, and 2 steals. In the last couple of weeks, Towns has seemed to settle into his role on this team. Adjusting to Butler and a winning context meant a priority shift from offense to defense. And within offense specifically, it meant from shooting to passing — and passing quickly, without holding the ball too long. Month by month this season, KAT’s defense has improved, and December was great offensively as well.

KAT played a tremendous all-around game against the Pacers.

There isn’t a whole lot else to say about an easy win that reinforced a lot of what we already know, or have already discussed on this page. Jimmy Butler is amazing and racked up another big stat line: 26 points, 6 boards, 5 assists, 3 steals, (+31). Taj Gibson is sneaky-good at finishing around the hoop and made 8 of 10 shots. Wiggins continues to struggle a bit with his shooting, but did hit 2 of 4 from downtown (14 points in total) which continues better long-range accuracy of late. Tyus Jones seems to mesh well with the starters. He was (+30) and the starting lineup has never been as dominant as it was yesterday. I wrote more about Tyus yesterday.

And when the starters come off the floor, we just hold our breath. Aaron Brooks is not an NBA-caliber guard, and he doesn’t have any bigtime second unit player to alleviate pressure off of him. Jamal Crawford can get his own buckets, but he isn’t making anyone else’s job easier. Nemanja Bjelica has struggled since returning from his foot injury — he was 2-11 from the field, yesterday. Gorgui Dieng does his job, for the most part, but is what he is — and that is nothing dynamic. In the Pacers game, you could sense that Cory Joseph was trying to dominate the second unit stretches because the opportunity was there for the taking. Joseph had some success — 10 points and 4 assists in 26 minutes — but had a few possessions go awry on him (4 turnovers) and the Wolves bench was able to be not-terrible enough to allow for an easy win when the starters won by 30 points.

This will be the story until Teague returns or until Thibs-Layden, LLC signs another point guard to help out in a crisis.

Another game tonight, this time at home versus the Lakers.

Happy New Year!

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3 thoughts on “Wolves 107, Pacers 90: The Happy New Year Edition

  1. Plus Minus is a real misleading stat. Baz and Cole Aldrich were in for just barely over three minutes of mop up duty and are the same -7 as G, who played much more and was actually OK in his time with the starters. Crawford was -10 in twenty minutes of work. I would only say Belly and Brooks were awful and that their plus minus over represents their contribution to the win. If they were replaced with pre-injury Belly and Teague, we would have crushed the Pacers by more than the seventeen they spotted us in the beginning.

    Actually, since the tempo of the starters was so much better, I think the bench was able to play more and give a couple starters much needed rest. It would have been nice if KAT got a little more time off before playing the Lakers tonight, he almost played as much as the big men for LA and they played to two overtimes. I just don’t want to hear fatigue when the Lakers had to chase around the Rockets in a night game and then get on a longer flight and be here for tonight, while the Wolves flew home on a 90 minute flight in late afternoon and actually gained an hour of rest with the time change.

    It is starting to look like a trend, that we are getting turnovers and steals. Now we just have to convert more of those into points and maybe not help as much when we are guarding a three point specialist and we will see more of the bench players doing mop up. Granted Bogdanovic is not going to be confused with Klay Thompson or KD, but he can hit the three and so to leave him to help someone fighting to make a contested two is something this team does far too much. Jimmy is just as guilty as Wiggins and point guards.

  2. Not a lot to say, as Andy said, this game reinforced what we already know and wasn’t much of a challenge. Our ability to draw easy/wounded opponents continues to be an impressive advantage. This team was missing it’s best player and on to a Lakers team missing it’s starting PG and in a general tailspin. Amazing.

    One point I’d like to make is this: It’s amazing how bad the stats Tyus puts up are. But I think there is a lesson in that, because this team doesn’t miss Teague in the starting unit one iota. There are two parts to this, I think. One is that Tyus is sneaky good. He gets things done that don’t show up on the stat line, runs the offense well, challenges players more on D than Teague. Teague is sneaky mediocre. He has much less impact than his scoring and assist numbers would suggest. His assist numbers shield his actual mediocrity at running on offense and the problems with pace and ball stopping Teague led offenses are plagued by. The second part is that we don’t need a lot of what Teague’s strengths are as a starting PG. This isn’t really rocket science. When we shipped off Ricky for Teague many were mad not only because Ricky was a fan favorite and fun to watch (as well as one of the only players who kept the team from tanking territory) but because he was the type of PG that would really be good with a lineup with this much firepower. I’ve heard it described as too many scorers (or people looking to score) in the starting lineup, too many cooks in the kitchen. When you just say, “Too man cooks in the kitchen!” and demand a poorer scorer in the starting lineup it seems kind of silly. But it helps flow to have a guy more concerned with running things than scoring, and we really have more than enough scoring ability in the starting lineup. I find it quite jarring how we don’t miss Teague as a starter at all. It indicates a fundamental miscalculation. This isn’t so much a Tyus vs. Teague contest for starter (I’m getting on the Tyus ship for that) as an indication that, while Teague is a competent, skilled NBA PG, we was a poor pick for THIS team’s starting PG. His being out causes a huge depth issue, however.

    Nice that Thibs gave Cole and Bazz a few minutes. His reluctance to give bench guys minutes can get to the point of feeling more punitive than anything. And then it gets to that point, there seems to be little hope of these guys contributing even if they are forced into service. I get the feeling that it’s not so much that he thinks Bazz and Cole suck (true, they aren’t very good) as he just HATES them. But it helps to put guys like Cole and Bazz is simply to keep legs fresh and protected, when we have a big lead. It also helps us to give them some burn in case we actually need them. Thus far we’ve been been pretty lucky with injuries, but being prepared is good.

    The other thing worth mentioning is that both Wiggins and Towns are showing real signs of improvement lately. KAT is by far showing more improvement between the two and started from a more consistent, impressive plateau. But I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that Wiggins is looking a bit better on D, and as a passer and rebounder as of late. KAT’s defensive improvement has been almost shocking lately, and a bit of a dream come true. We knew he had it in him, but would it ever come out? Let’s hope he keeps it up. I’m sick of youth mirages.

    1. The other thing worth mentioning is that both Wiggins and Towns are showing real signs of improvement lately.

      Early season Butler worked hard to make Wiggins score. It showed Wiggins he could continue to be valuable to this team, scoring. As Butler stepped up his game to shoulder responsibility esp. in the 4th quarter – Wiggins scoring dipped – yet his +/- stats remained quite good sharing the floor both with Butler and with the 2nd line as well. Recently his shot went cold (free throws for example), but in the last two games he is finding his way to excel “off the ball”, assists/rebounds/defense – and all with few fouls. As his 3 point shot is falling, he has new confidence to drive the lane and his numbers are improving. Growing pains (being one of 4 scorer’s) and with Gibsons also taking a higher role in scoring, I’m impressed at their playing together.

      Just wondering – what if Jones (who looks to assist and set up the offense rather than score) stayed with the first unit more of the time (while still backup to Teague) and Teague played some with the 2nd line providing another scoring threat while he (and one other starter) were sharing the floor likely with Dieng/Bjelica/Crawford. Would this provide a more difficult lineup to defend? Would the 2nd unit provide more offense? Perhaps Thibs will experiment with this as Teague gets healthy and perhaps takes a couple games to work back into big minutes on the floor.

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