Thanksgiving travels have put me up north in the Twin Cities of Minnesota. As I have stated in other pieces on this site, the first thing I look at when I know I will be in an NBA city is whether or not their team is in town the same time I am. Fortunately, for me, the Minnesota Timberwolves were hosting the Atlanta Hawks just hours after our plane landed. I hopped on the Seat Geek app (yes, the app that somehow sponsors every basketball podcast) and found some awesome seats for a really solid price. This was my first experience at the Target Center; so naturally, I had some observations, which you can read below.
2. Both teams starting units began the game with energy and moved the ball well. Thabo Sefolosha was in for the injured Kent Bazemore and fit right in. Atlanta’s main four (Korver-Millsap-Teague-Horford) move with a fluidity that would make even some of the league’s best teams jealous. This is their third season playing together and the pieces just fit. There is a little bit of everything an offense needs to be successful in the modern NBA. They have become a joy to watch.
3. Zach LaVine came off the bench for Minnesota and kept the offense afloat when it looked like drowning. LaVine is definitely a bit of a gunner but that second unit kind of needs him to be. He is so athletic and gets so much elevation on his jumper that he can generate shots out of nothing. Granted, some of his shots are not good ones but just the ability to get them off is a valuable trait.
4. For how good the Hawks offense looks at times, they can get in ruts where they simply get bored or lose focus. There was a stretch in the middle portion of the game where Minnesota was vulnerable and it seemed like the Hawks were about to take over but the big run never came. Chalk some of that up to the Wolves’ defense, sure, but a great team knows when to go for the knockout blow.
5. A couple more thoughts on the Hawks; it is hard to get a grasp for how quick Jeff Teague and Dennis Schroder are until you see them in person. Both guys have first steps that force the defenses to backpedal before either guy even goes into a move or uses a screen. Also, every player on Atlanta’s roster seems to have mastered the cross court or baseline pass to the shooter in the opposite corner. It’s like they have done a drill that has given them the ability to hit that corner threat right in the chest, every, single time.
6. Minnesota’s head coach, Sam Mitchell, seems to be sold on using LaVine as the backup point guard, which seems suboptimal to me. He has gotten better as a playmaker off the dribble, no doubt, but he still seems best used off the ball. This goes for the defensive side as well. Teague torched him a few times and his defensive IQ isn’t where it should be as he tries to get point guards to go where he wants them to go. Why not let Andre Miller play some of those minutes, or see what you have in Tyus Jones, and move LaVine to the two? Miller is obviously well past his prime but you can squeeze 10 or so minutes out of him. Ricky Rubio having a sore ankle during the second half complicated the rotation, so I will reserve further judgement until he is fully healthy.
7. What was truly strange, though, was how little Karl-Anthony Towns played in the second half. Towns registered just over 22 minutes for the game and did not play at all down the stretch. Instead it was Gorgui Dieng who finished the game. Dieng was solid, and made a few massive defensive plays, but it was still odd to see Towns glued to the bench. He hadn’t lit the world on fire in the first half but wasn’t noticeably struggling. Perhaps this is something to keep an eye on.
8. Andrew Wiggins and Damjan Rudez were huge down the stretch. Atlanta had tied the game at 94 before two Rudez free throws regained the lead for the Wolves. Minnesota got a stop then Wiggins made the play of the night, finishing a play as Millsap fouled him to push the lead to four. The young Canadian is already a master at getting to the free throw line and is quickly becoming Minnesota’s go-to guy.