Minnesota Timberwolves: 5 takeaways from the season openerby Pierre Monceaux October 25, 2019 0 comments
It had been six months since the last regular season game of the Minnesota Timberwolves. After a summer of drafting, recruiting, summer league, and creating a brand new culture in the locker room, the Timberwolves rewarded their patient fans with a season-opening overtime win over the Brooklyn Nets, 127-126.
Here are five takeaways from the game.
After a rather rough preseason, the Timberwolves actually had a really decent first game. Sure, the ball didn’t move very well and some players looked a little winded at the end of the game, but the stats look really good for a first game when a certain level of sloppiness is to be expected. Of course, these stats include five periods instead of four quarters, but 127 points puts Minnesota as the second-highest scoring team after two days of regular-season basketball. The Timberwolves had 13 turnovers, which is on par with their 2018-19 average (13.1). They grabbed 52 rebounds, which tops last year’s average of 44.8 by 7.2. They also gathered 23 assists, only 1.6 down from last year. As a team, the Wolves shot from beyond the arc nearly 50% of the time (43% three-point vs. 46% two-point), a huge increase over last year when they 28.7% of their shots were three-pointers; this is a very positive sign for things to come. They unfortunately only made 30.2% of those threes and 42.6% of twos. Once again, all of this is unexpectedly good after what the Wolves showed during their final two preseason games.
Despite the Nets having two worthy centers in Jarrett Allen and DeAndre Jordan, Karl-Anthony towns showed that he is 100% ready to play ball at a high level. In 39 minutes, he scored 36 points (second-highest in the NBA Day 2), including seven of 10 from three, 14 rebounds (tied with Larry Nance, Jr. and Rudy Gobert for sixth-best rebounder), and three assists. He also played really good defense, not only blocking three shots but also containing his counterparts, with Allen and Jordan scoring six and two points, respectively. He did commit five fouls in the process, but his defense was crucial to disrupting the Nets’ scoring and pulling off this somewhat unexpected win.
New haircut, same Wiggins
Andre Wiggins’ performance during this inaugural game is in no way going to settle the debate surrounding his value as a player. As is customary for him, Wiggins made a couple of critical shots when it was do or die, which helped seal the team’s victory. The issue is the team would not have been in this situation if Wiggins hadn’t missed so many shots and lost so many balls in the first place. Wiggins took 27 shots and made 10 of them for a total of 21 points. He scored one of two from the free-throw line, zero of four from three, and registered zero assists, blocks, and steals. Worse, he took (and missed) several long two-point shots, something coach Ryan Saunders has been trying to erase from his game because he is no DeMar DeRozan. On the brighter side, Wiggins did drive to the basket several times. Wiggins will need to continue to do a lot of that and not be afraid of contact when he does.
A good start for starters
Overall, the rest of the starters performed more or less as expected, or at least as needed. Jeff Teague went five of eight from two and 0-for-1 from three, good for 14 points along with three rebounds and four assists. Robert Covington, who started at power forward, scored 15 points, shooting 54.5% in total and 50% from deep (three of six). He went on to corral nine rebounds, confirming his preseason form in that area. Starting at small Forward was Treveon Graham, who didn’t exactly shine on offense, making 30.8% of his shots on 13 attempts and going 0-for-3 beyond the arc in 35 minutes. What he did well was the so-called little things. With six rebounds, four assists, and one steal, Graham was a disruptive force, adding a healthy dose of defense to the starting five. Should the starters continue to gel and get chemistry, they could soon earn some respect from the rest of the NBA.
An efficient bench
Five players came off the bench and all of them got on the board. Backup center Noah Vonleh (14 minutes) put up two points, four rebounds, and one assist, and more importantly showed the willingness to bang around the paint that will be expected of him this year.
Also playing 14 minutes was shooting guard Josh Okogie. He managed a rather disappointing 2-for-5 line from two (40% on field goals) and was one of four from three, but was his usual pitbull self on defense, harassing players and contesting shots, including Kyrie Irving’s would-be-winning shot at the last second. He finished the night with no actual blocks, but three rebounds and three assists.
Rookie Jarrett Culver looked somewhat intimidated at times, but did drive to the basket on several occasions and was rewarded with four points and two rebounds in 16 minutes.
Shabazz Napier had big shoes to fill trying to take Tyus Jones’s place on the bench and in the fans’ hearts. He didn’t quite live up to it in his first game, but proved to be a capable floor general as evidenced by the seven assists he recorded in 21 minutes. He topped that performance with five points and one rebound.
Finally, one true bright spot for the Timberwolves was forward Jake Layman. Although he only scored 10 points in 23 minutes, he shot them in rapid fire, sparking the Wolves back to life in the second quarter, and he did so with a 57.1% success rate.
A mix of effective defense and offense from the bench allowed the Wolves fight back in the game, a drastic contrast from the past couple of seasons.
Don’t sleep on the Wolves
They have a long way to go before they start playing with the fluidity of the Golden State Warriors and Houston Rockets, but the Timberwolves showed a better-than-anticipated cohesiveness, along with a respectable performance on both sides of the court. This surprising on-the-road upset and first regular season win surely warmed the fans’ hearts, shocked an unsuspecting viewer or two, and certainly bodes well for the rest of the season.
Maybe Karl-Anthony Towns actually had a good reason for warning fans not to continue sleeping on the Timberwolves.