Three Observations From The Wolves' Win Over New York
There have been more exciting victories in Wolves history than Minnesota’s trouncing of the league-worst New York Knicks on Sunday night, but nevertheless the team completed a sweep of their back-to-back homestand over the weekend. A lot of Wolves players had good nights, led by Taj Gibson, Jeff Teague and the red-hot Keita Bates-Diop. Outside of those individual performances though, there were a few things that stood out in the Wolves’ victory…
The Wolves stole the ball 13 times from the Knicks. New York isn’t exactly known for playing low-turnover basketball, but that’s still an impressive number that’s a good indicator of the Wolves’ activity level on the defensive end. Nine Wolves players had at least one steal and rookies Bates-Diop and Josh Okogie had three and two, respectively.
There were other positive numbers on the defensive end as well—Minnesota held New York to just 43 percent shooting from the field and forced 17 total turnovers. They also blocked 10 shots. The Wolves also didn’t allow the Knicks to score over 30 points in any quarter.
New York is not a great team so reading too deeply into these numbers would be a mistake, but there has been undeniable improvement on the defensive end as of late as players settle into the rotation and gain increased familiarity with one another.
The Wolves’ bright future was on full display Sunday night. While franchise cornerstones Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins both sat out with injuries, the Wolves’ two rookies, plus 10-day contract signee Cam Reynolds all played valuable minutes.
It’s incredibly obvious that the Wolves got a steal in the 2018 draft with both Okogie and Bates-Diop. Both undeniably have long NBA futures ahead of them. Bates-Diop has blossomed lately—our very own Kyle Ratke wrote at greater length about his play here—and Okogie has managed to overcome his weaknesses and be a real contributor for the team. His shooting remains an issue (he was just one-of-six on Sunday), but he simply finds ways to impact the game. Okogie was plus 13 against the Knicks. You won’t find many players who have such good plus/minus numbers with such bad shooting and the fact that he can do that indicates his importance as a defender and a disruptor on the defensive end.
Getting the type of minutes that Okogie and Bates-Diop have, both as rookies who right now don’t have a great ability to get their own shot, is not something that happens every day, and their development has been a huge bright spot in a Wolves season that has been marred by injury to several key players. Both of these players (and Reynolds, for that matter), have real futures in the league and with the Wolves.
The last time the Wolves won both games of a home back-to-back was during the 2011-12 season. On Saturday and Sunday, the Wolves took care of business in two very different games—a close OT victory over the Wizards and a wire-to-wire dominance of the Knicks.
It was encouraging to see the Wolves keep the pressure up and maintain a lead on the second night of a back-to-back. The Wolves led by as many as 20 points in the game and didn’t allow the Knicks to gain the lead after the midpoint of the second quarter. That’s how you take the energy out of a team on the road.
The Wolves have looked a lot better on the court lately. While making the playoffs is still a distant goal, the Wolves are developing a culture of winning and showing their young players that they are capable of performing at a high level. This team expects to win and, in an era where it seems like many teams give up late in the season, that’s refreshing. Interim Head Coach Ryan Saunders has done a great job of maintaining that despite the adversity the Wolves have faced throughout this season (and there has certainly been quite a bit), he believes in his team and expects them to execute. The Wolves are showing that they are bought into that message.
The Wolves face a tough test on the road on Tuesday taking on the Nuggets at 9:30 p.m. CT.