Well, Chris Finch and the Minnesota Timberwolves managed to do it again. The list of complete team wins that the Wolves have thrown together this season is already rivaling some of the best that we have seen in the last decade. The win against the Miami Heat was impressive. But that two-overtime win against Joel Embiid, the NBA Referees, and the rest of the Philadelphia 76ers on their home court was equally groundbreaking.
Most of the time, Wolves fans look at post-game box scores to try and figure out what went wrong. It has been a nice change of pace to open the web browser and find mostly positives about the team’s performance. D’Angelo Russell single-handedly put the team on his back. He finished with 35 points (13-of-25 FG, 6-of-10 3pt), 27 of which came in the fourth quarter and OT, in what was arguably his best game as a Timberwolf. Anthony Edwards was inefficient (8-of-21, 19 pts) but showed up big in the moments that mattered and had the game-sealing block on Embiid. Karl-Anthony Towns was his usual efficient self with 28 points on 11-of-16 from the floor in 37 minutes, despite finding his way onto the pre-game injury report with a bum right index finger.
Outside of the Big 3’s performance, there was one significant positive change in the rotation that more of the die-hard Minnesota fans have been clamoring to see. Leandro Bolmaro made his first non-garbage time appearance of the season and played fairly substantial minutes for a player just looking to get his feet wet in this league. The early results were positive.
For a player of Bolmaro’s caliber playing his first meaningful minutes, one may project him to make a couple of late-quarter cameos for 5-to-10 minutes per game. But he was the first sub of the game for Finch on Saturday night. Bolmaro played a whopping 17 minutes and posted three points, three rebounds, and an assist. It wasn’t exactly an eye-popping stat line, but Bolmaro was able to make his presence felt on both ends of the floor.
Offensive rebounding has been the key to Minnesota’s success this year, as has been demonstrated by Jarred Vanderbilt. As seen above, Bolmaro’s ability to work the offensive glass in limited action is huge for a Wolves team that is, in Finch’s words, “not getting a lot out of [the backup PG] position right now.” Leo’s lanky 6’6”, 200-pound frame certainly helps mitigate all of the defensive inefficiencies that otherwise come with playing the current third-string PG, which is 5’11” Jordan McLaughlin.
Bolmaro also started to show some flashes of offensive confidence. His lone bucket of the game came with just under two minutes left in the second quarter. It required a tight dribble through traffic as Bolmaro got past Seth Curry and finished over Tobias Harris with a tough layup. Bolmaro was also fouled on a turnaround jumper on an earlier possession which resulted in free throws. He crossed over Tyrese Maxey, then started to drive to the cup before ultimately running into Matisse Thybulle in the paint, which forced him to settle for the tough shot. Bolmaro should settle down a bit as he gets more accustomed to his role with the senior Wolves team, and the smarter looks will become more frequent for him.
As the Timberwolves become more of a legitimate playoff contender in the West, the idea of giving McLaughlin regular playing time over Bolmaro becomes increasingly more untenable. I wrote about McLaughlin a few weeks back and ultimately concluded that any team with aspirations to be over .500 has no business giving a player of McLaughlin’s caliber regular minutes. He has been good for the Timberwolves in the past, but his cult status as a folk hero has transcended his actual on-court product. Bolmaro’s prospective ascension could very well spell the end of McLaughlin’s benefit-of-the-doubt playing time.
Perhaps this opening for Leo’s playtime doesn’t come without an extremely unfortunate injury to Patrick Beverley. However, so long as Bev is out, Bolmaro has the chance to capitalize on this opportunity and avoid going back down to Iowa. He is a high-IQ player who knows his role, can knock down shots, and adequately guard 1-3s. The Timberwolves fanbase is teeming with excitement for the young Argentinian, and rightfully so. He was excellent for Barcelona last year and has the potential to blossom into a capable role player for a young and hungry Minnesota squad.
The role that Bolmaro played off the bench is a far cry from what his ceiling is in the NBA. Getting him these meaningful minutes now will ensure that his development is not stunted in favor of an inferior player. With a new (and thankfully) shortened nine-man rotation from Finch starting to take hold, the reserve ballhandling duties are there for the taking for Bolmaro. It’s finally time for Leo to shine. If and when he finds success, the Timberwolves will be set up for a great deal of future success.