December was a long month. COVID ravaged the NBA as the virus ran rampant through teams across the league. The NBA postponed some games, but the Minnesota Timberwolves were not so lucky. They had to forge on as they waited for players to be released from the protocols while hoping that no one else had to enter them. The Wolves managed to stay afloat through it all, going 3-4 since Anthony Edwards entered COVID protocols on Dec. 17.
But what, if anything, have we learned from this stretch of basketball?
Greg Monroe should be in the NBA
I’ve bestowed the nickname Monrokic upon Mr. Monroe. The name is a nod to his passing exhibition against the Boston Celtics. His distribution from the high post was a masterclass in big man passing. The performance was impressive and reminded me of the best passing big in basketball, Nikola Jokic. Thus, Monrokic was born.
But if he’d like to stick with the name “Moose,” that works for me — especially on a roster that already has an Ant and a Big KAT. His time in Minnesota is almost up. But some believe that the Wolves should consider signing him to a contract for the rest of the season.
Monroe’s re-debut in the NBA showed that he can still be a low-post beast. He’s an old-school back-to-the-basket big who can score without his feet leaving the ground. His game has never relied on athleticism. Instead, he leans into his technique and strength. So it’s no surprise that he can still pull off all his old tricks. But the post passing is an extra element that he’s added, which makes him a more viable option to play off the bench. His time with the Wolves was an audition tape for the rest of the league.
By no means am I suggesting that he should be a staple of any NBA rotation, but he certainly has a place in this league. Last season, Minnesota’s third-string center was Ed Davis, who gave the Wolves almost nothing when he played. There is no doubt that Monroe could provide an NBA team with a quality option in case of injury or just trying to give their opponent a different look.
Leandro Bolmaro Needs More Time
It was pretty telling that Bolmaro played only 23 minutes over this seven-game stretch, including two games in which he did not play at all. A string of games with a depleted roster usually is the perfect opportunity for a rookie to show what he’s got. Unfortunately for Bolmaro, it seems like Finch may not have confidence in his game. It’s far easier to justify playing him next to other starters and rotation players because of his defensive ability. But Bolmaro hasn’t shown much on the offensive end of the floor. Therefore, his value on the court diminishes when he takes on a more primary role.
Were the Wolves not in a tight playoff race in the Western Conference, I would bet that Bolmaro would have been given a much bigger opportunity during all these COVID absences. The fact is that every game matters for the Wolves. Two-and-a-half games are the difference between the ninth-seeded Wolves and the fifth-seeded Denver Nuggets.
There is a legitimate chance for the Wolves to play well enough to make the playoffs outright, skipping the play-in altogether. There is no guarantee that the Timberwolves will make it out of the play-in if they land somewhere between the seventh to 10th seed. Bolmaro hasn’t earned a rotation spot yet, nor is he particularly close. He’s shown some intriguing flashes, and his defense should keep him on the fringe of the rotation. Change happens fast in the NBA, so I would not be surprised if he begins to show improvement before the end of the season.
Jaden McDaniels Has Some Juice
McDaniels impressed with his extra playing time to end the month. He averaged 33 minutes a game to finish December, scoring 13.4 points per contest along the way. His compelling combination of skills is exciting. McDaniels has got great length and defensive ability with a knack for blocking the ball in emphatic ways. The question, especially this season, was whether or not he would be able to contribute on the offensive side of the floor.
Last season McDaniels shot 36% from the 3-point line, which was an encouraging sign of things to come for him. This year, he has not managed to find his stroke, shooting just 26% from three. We saw an important development from Jaden over this stretch, though: He was able to attack the rim off the dribble.
McDaniels had the ball in his hands much more often during his time at the University of Washington. He was a monster in transition, using his speed and athleticism to slice through opposing defenses.
In the NBA, we’ve seen that McDaniels frequently stops short of the rim and relies on a floater to score off the dribble. It’s like he forgets how long and athletic he is and settles for a worse shot instead of using his physical gifts to take advantage of the defense. Jaden has converted 85% of his shots at the rim during this run, per Cleaning the Glass. That type of efficiency at the rim is unsustainable, but his willingness and fearlessness attacking the rim are not. It looks like McDaniels has a little more offensive juice than I thought, so long as he maintains the right mentality.
D’Angelo Russell and Karl-Anthony Towns should be returning to the lineup soon, but it was nice to see that the Wolves can show promise, even without their best players. They likely won’t make the playoffs without the big three playing, but the role players were able to get some extra time.