Winning ugly is an art. The ability to still compete even on an off night and come out with a victory is vital to being a winning team. It separates gritty and passionate teams with playoff aspirations from the pretenders that can squeeze their way to 35 wins.
That’s what the Minnesota Timberwolves are now; a gritty team that can win ugly. And they can use this as motivation as they strive hungrily towards their second playoff berth in 20 seasons.
Where does that grit come from? Well, consider the makeup of the team.
- Patrick Beverley started his career in Russia, Ukraine, and Greece before joining the Houston Rockets at age 24.
- Taurean Prince is playing for his fourth team and has come to accept any role he’s asked to play.
- D’Angelo Russell faced off-the-court adversity with the Los Angeles Lakers and looked like a journeyman until he landed in Minnesota.
- And Jarred Vanderbilt puts his body on the line every play, whether it’s as a rebounder or defender.
It comes seamlessly together around the core scorers and players who need the ball in their hands to succeed. The Wolves have many players who will go above and beyond their role to make sure they win, no matter the cost.
Vanderbilt’s effort has brought the Wolves plenty of raw effort. He has hustled after offensive rebounds, is active in passing lanes, and has been rewarded with the creation of turnovers on the defensive end.
The constant effort from the select bunch of role players makes life much easier when the shooting starts to waver, a consistent struggle this season. The Wolves rank 1st in the league in total three-pointers attempted a game with 41.3. But they only make 14.3 a game (34.7%), which is in the bottom third of the league. That’s not exactly ideal when you have your team looking to take a lot of shots from downtown.
Minnesota’s inconsistent shooting already creates variance in their play on any night. They’re not alone.
Most teams experience inconsistent shooting. Poor shooting can make a game ugly fast, and it highlights players like Malik Beasley, Naz Reid, and Jaylen Nowell when they cannot find their shot. The Wolves of the past have seen countless games fall apart for myriad reasons – mental errors, not being able to hit free throws, turnovers, etc.
It’s not the greatest way to close out a game. But to be fair, look who is on the floor.
It’s unnecessary to dwell on Minnesota barely winning two games over a tanking Pistons team without first overall pick Cade Cunningham. All but a few top-tier teams play down to their competition. It is about how teams overcome those struggles and if they remember how to finish games. Having three potential closers in Russell, Towns, and Anthony Edwards gives them many options to get back on track in the fourth quarter. All three of those players are rarely going to have an off-night simultaneously.
The Pistons led 67-65 and 56-55 at halftime. Minnesota showed little signs of life, getting off to a slow start and not looking ready to play basketball. But the Wolves made runs in the third quarter of both games. They led by 10 by the fourth quarter and made it comfortable down the stretch so they could coast to a victory.
This year has looked like more of a collective effort than any Wolves season in recent history. They are not crestfallen after a bad half. They will pick each other up and keep the energy high into the next half and the following game. As my fellow Zone Coverage writer Chelenga Langason wrote, “This season, the ‘Pajama Wolves’ are not only vibing; they’re winning.”
Here is the support of KAT after getting his ASG nod after the win in Detroit:
Pulling out wins in games that should be a “guaranteed win” or where we are heavily favored over a tanking or injured team should not be something to be looked down upon. It is about perspective. These guys truly want to play for each other and acknowledge each other’s success, which leads to victories. The best way to keep morale high is to get wins. And getting victories through the organic growth of a team identity that is leading to the winning only helps the cause.
The Wolves have been capitalizing off teams being down a couple of players. But a win is a win. They’re doing what they can to get the 6-seed and avoid the play-in game. That is looking more realistic every day. All they need to do is continue beating up on the inferior competition and rack up easy wins.