Today I’ve been given the task of Thursday morning quarterbacking the home opener. As Vegas expected (our Kyle Ratke had Wolves -5.5 last night) and as Chelanga and I predicted on our podcast in our season preview, the Detroit Pistons are a mess. And the Timberwolves took care of business. This is especially pertinent because the Wolves’ schedule going forward is a gauntlet. They’ll be lucky to win one of their next seven (@Utah, @Lakers, @Clippers, a feisty/reinvigorated Washington, Denver, @Denver, @Portland). Don’t get your hopes up for another 10-8 start folks! Therefore, this calls for a celebration, and as such, I shall now bring you my thoughts from the game in the form of 3 Truths and a Lie.
Truth No. 1: Culver
Granted Josh Okogie covered Blake Griffin most of the night, but Jarrett Culver looked like the most feisty option guarding Derrick Rose. Rose was hot to start the game, but Culver cut off his drives a couple of times and threw him off his rhythm in the second half by picking him up full court. On offense, he made 3-of-6 quality shots. The two misses I remember were a three and a beautiful finger-roll.
Most importantly, he was 4-for-5 from the line! He is now 14-for-15 including the preseason. Sure, his lone miss had a hitch in it the size of the IDS Tower, but now that we found love, what are we gonna do?
Truth No. 2: Edwards Offense, Is He Ready To Start?
I’d like to start out with a critique. Anthony Edwards had a prime opportunity with 10 minutes left in the 2nd quarter to posterize Jahlil Okafor on a drive to the rim, but he hesitated and softly absorbed the contact, barely getting a shot off. Everything worked out because he got the points at the charity stripe, but I want to see him drive with the aggression like this:
Despite the lack of aggression at times, Edwards looks very steady around the rim. He finished 4-for-7 from two, and most importantly he made all four of his free throws. Overall, the Wolves were 24-for-28 from the line, and without the long ball falling (11-for-41 from three; Edwards was 1-for-5), this was one of the most important factors in the win.
This kid is also quickly becoming an underrated passer. He had four assists, and there were a couple of other key passes that led to easy shots/points. Ant Man’s shooting is not consistent yet, but the form doesn’t look as broken as LaMelo Ball’s for sure! My guess is that he’ll have better days from deep, and hey! He passed KAT for 3rd most points by a rookie in their Timberwolves debut!
With Jake Layman throwing up a goose egg in almost every category, what is keeping Ant Man from the starting? Blake Griffin didn’t seem to take advantage of his mismatch on Okogie enough, but when he did, JOko was getting thrown around. I saw him go 3-for-4 in his post ups on Josh and he was 6-for-8 from two in the game.
What if they integrate Edwards as the starting power forward sooner than later? In a previous article, I showed how his frame is the most power forward-like, and with practice in the post, he will never be bullied down low. Besides, Jim Petersen said he’s ready to start, and if Jim says he’s ready; then he’s ready.
Truth No. 3: KAT is Prime Chris Webber
Karl was slinging dimes. Sure, the seven assists is a flashy number, but he operated out of the high post all night with behind the back and no-look passes. He could have easily had a triple-double if his teammates were on the same page as he was, and in the last three minutes, Ryan Saunders handed the keys over to Towns in the post. They ran the same action four times in a row, which was intended to be a high post up on the right wing. All that happened was a dribble drive on the way to free throws, followed by two fantastic looks from D’Angelo Russell and Malik Beasley, respectively, and baiting Mason Plumlee into fouling to ice the game. Four possessions, TEN points. I actually credit Saunders for having the guts to go back to the same play over and over again.
Despite being one very shady game away from beating the Lakers in 2002, Chris Webber was a massive disappointment in his career, and is currently on the outside of the Hall of Fame looking in, but Towns has an opportunity here to carry on his legacy. Both have incredible athleticism, shooting touch, and elite passing ability — and both have been widely panned for putting up empty stats. So, in the interest of debunking that, here was my favorite moment from the game:
The Lie: This Win
The Pups did it. They got our second win in a row versus Detroit after a horrid eight-game losing streak head-to-head. The Wolves can even play better! But this Pistons team is a mess. Dwayne Casey only had four players returning this year, so like the Wolves, they will be a season-long project, and besides, there was plenty to critique.
First, get the ball to KAT early, middle and late. He shot the ball 10 times, and we want to see that number at 13 minimum. Saunders opened the game by finding open looks from three for Okogie and Beasley. It did not work. Once Karl got barbecuing though, the whole team was jump-started. Going forward, I hope to see the Wolves the interior to open up the exterior, rather than the other way around. Easy buckets at the rim to start the game are big confidence boosters. It seemed like LeBron James did it every game last year with JaVale McGee, and there’s a reason for that.
The biggest issue with this team, though, is transition defense. Jim Petersen brought up the concept of “floor balance” late in the broadcast. We knew the Wolves, especially with the youngest roster in the league, would struggle with this, and boy did it show.
Late in the first quarter, here we have DLo and Naz both ball watching, and yet neither of them communicates who should take the handler and who should space out. Since Russell is on Derrick Rose’s right hip, maybe I blame him for not calling the ball. This happened off of a DLo miss. You’ll notice that a lot of these easy transition buckets happen off of Russell misses or turnovers.
Next we’ve got Josh Jackson pushing the ball up the court to a wide open Mason Plumlee with 7:45 left in the 2nd, who, at 30 years of age and 254 pounds, should not be beating Anthony Edwards down the court for an easy dunk. Edwards needs to anticipate this and pick up Plumlee as soon as he begins accelerating. You’ll also notice that if DLo isn’t involved, then Edwards probably is.
This one came off of a bad Edwards turnover with two minutes left in the 3rd quarter. Someone needs to call the ball, so that the other guy can tag Josh Jackson. It doesn’t help that Culver gives up on the end of this either.
Another DLo special with nine minutes left in the 4th, where he’s justified to argue with the ref about a kicked ball on his turnover, but that doesn’t help the Wolves win. Oh, and you guessed it, Derrick Rose to Josh Jackson for the easy slam.
Here’s a multi-part-er on the ENSUING possession. Once again, Edwards gets lost in the ball and crashes for the offensive board, even though he’s the backline at this point and Naz and DLo are already there.
LOOK! We never want four blue jerseys in the restricted area. This turned into ANOTHER Josh Jackson dunk. Okay I take it back. Edwards can’t start because Saunders needs to stagger him and DLo.
Speak of the devil, no one picks up Sekou Doumbouya here. D’Angelo is once again caught looking in the wrong direction on defense.
Finally! Bad transition defense that doesn’t involve DLo or Edwards! Malik Beasley (upper-left) probably should have released sooner on the previous possession. He was wasting his time in the corner with way too much traffic between himself and the driver (Okogie).
Other than these flubs, along with a couple of missed switches and overpersuing, their 2-3 zone held up relatively well, and the Wolves were lucky to get out of Game 1 with the defensive performance they had.
Enjoy the Win, Wolves Fans! I’ll see you again when they’re 1-3.