Who Should Be Closing Out Games For the Wolves?

Photo Credit: Kyle Ross (USA TODAY Sports)

Every close Minnesota Timberwolves game has had one consistent factor: the wavering success in closing those games. Shutting the door is not easy. Teams will come back from double digits with ease in the modern game. That’s why most great teams have a closer, a player who you can rely upon in these situations. Some call it the clutch gene, but it’s all about being comfortable in the most significant moments and trusting yourself.

The Wolves have a unique predicament because they have three potential closers in Karl-Anthony Towns, D’Angelo Russell, and Anthony Edwards. All three can get a bucket in their own distinct way. Ant can create off the dribble-drive from three or to the rim. KAT can easily hit the three, but he can also take it to them in the post. And DLo can get to any spot on the court he wants and create a makeable shot for himself.

Who is the Best Option?

DLo stands out based on his nickname alone. His “ice in my veins” mantra came early in his career when he proved he could calmly take the last shot, and he continues that to this day. How has it translated, though?

Here is how Russell’s clutch time stats have developed year to year over his career. NBA defines clutch time as any game time when the score is within five points in the final five minutes of the fourth quarter or any overtime period.

D’Angelo Russell Clutch Time Stats

Since arriving in Minnesota, Russell has been the team leader during clutch time in points and assist percentage. Keeping the rock in his hands is the winning strategy. Russell’s ability to create his own shot at average to above-average shooting percentages compared to his normal stats sets him apart. Many others numbers tend to drop off in these scenarios.

DLo takes these situations into his own hands, takes pride in his decisions, and that manifests in his late-game play.

KAT and Ant

Russell has delivered in the clutch this year, but have Towns and Edwards? KAT is the best big-man shooter in the league. Of all-time? That’s a discussion for another day.

Edwards is an uber-athletic wing who is quickly becoming a top of his class scorer in the league. KAT and Ant can get a bucket when they want, but they fit even better off the ball when DLo has the rock.

It is all about how the pieces fall together, how it is set up, and gaining chemistry within each other’s skill sets. All three players do not lack confidence.

KAT excels in the high pick-n-pop because he is one of the best shooters in the league from above the break. That is the perfect complement to DLo coming off the screen. Russell can use his playmaking and decision-making to see KAT if he is open or depend on KAT’s gravity to find others.

Edwards is an elite rim-attacker and has shown the ability to be a spot-up shooter this season. He’s shooting 40% in catch-and-shoot situations on 3.3 attempts a game. Ant’s time will come to dominate these late-game situations, but his end-of-quarter/shot clock shot selection still needs work. Fortunately, he’s in a favorable situation where he can develop his offensive game outside of clutch time.

Tertiary Pieces

Minnesota’s late-game success isn’t just about how DLo, KAT, and Ant. They also need to put the right players around them. It comes down to Chris Finch’s ability to consider the nightly matchups by playing to players’ strengths. At times this season, we would even see Finch do an offense-defense substitution pattern with DLo to get an upgrade defensively when the Wolves had to get a vital stop. Sometimes Finch just goes with the hot hand, like when he went with Jaden McDaniels instead of Jarred Vanderbilt against the Memphis Grizzlies.

Having McDaniels, Vanderbilt, Taurean Prince, Patrick Beverley, and Malik Beasley surround Ant, KAT, and DLo allows for multiple scenarios. That is valuable scoring when you have a player having a hot shooting night and want to keep them on the floor.

Ultimately, closing out games comes down to having a plan. If the ball gets too stagnant, so does the off-ball movement, leading to difficult shots. If there can be continuous movement and less hero ball, multiple options can open up the best look for the team in the scenario they face. Then it just comes down to the shots falling in.

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Photo Credit: Kyle Ross (USA TODAY Sports)

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