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Good, Bad, or Ugly: 6 things about the Wolves with KBD, Players Only, and a Euro Step

Once again, Good, Bad, or Ugly returns with six things about the Minnesota Timberwovles from the past week. This time we dive back into Keita Bates-Diop’s impact, Karl-Anthony Towns’ knee injury, late-game execution, and more.

Here we go…

KBD – Low usage, high reward

The Wolves spent the last three games without the services of Andrew Wiggins due to a left thigh contusion. Wiggins hasn’t been very good this year, in fact, he’s been mostly bad, that’s no secret.

In Wiggins’ absence, Keita Bates-Diop has been inserted into the starting lineup. The rookie has exceeded any expectations that may have been placed on him entering a season that was looked at as mostly a redshirt year.

What has made his success in that role even more appealing is the way he operates. He doesn’t need to ball in his hands to thrive all the time, where Wiggins has the third highest usage rate on the Wolves (24.1 percent). Bates-Diop plays a style that’s more reliant on cutting, and less reliant on dribbling and isolating. His usage rate over the past three starts of his ranks 10th on the Wolves at 16.2 percent.

What was most striking about the way Bates-Diop has played may have been the quote that interim coach Ryan Saunders had in regards to him this past weekend.

“Keita was another guy who was efficient and the thing that you have to like about Keita is that he’s a low-usage player,” Saunders said after the win against the Knicks. “And at that small forward position, there’s a number of obviously stars at that small forward position, but there’s a lot of really good teams who do have low-usage guys in that role that are active cutters, good defenders, they can make an open three, things like that. Seeing him start to fill that kind of role for us I think is something to be excited for.”

What makes it interesting is that Saunders will never take a dig at Wiggins – he shouldn’t, either – but there’s no doubting that these two players play the same position but do it in entirely different ways. There are a number of high-profile guys in the NBA at that spot with high rates of usage. Wiggins isn’t good enough to justify that. The Wolves might not have as much pure talent on the floor when Wiggins isn’t out there, but there’s no denying they’ve looked better with both Bates-Diop and Luol Deng filling into his role while he’s missed time for various things.

End of regulation vs Wizards

How the Wolves have approached end of game situations offensively this season has left much to be desired. They’ve struggled to get the ball into the hands of Towns in winning time. This isn’t about that, however.

Against the Wizards the Wolves were able to do things mostly right on the offensive end to close out the game – save for a couple missed free throws – but defensively they screwed things up.

Washington’s Bradley Beal knocked down a buzzer beater from 3-point range to send the game to overtime. He was put in that position because the Wolves intentionally fouled him with 01.8 seconds left in regulation.

I’m all for fouling when up by three late in order to keep the opposition from getting off a potential game-tying shot. Unfortunately, this was the Wolves foul to give and the Wizards weren’t yet in the bonus. That meant all the foul did was put the Wizards with the ball out of bounds on the sideline. Washington was able to reset, call a different play, and set up Beal for an open look to tie the game.

The Wolves still found a way to win the game in overtime, but it shouldn’t have come down to that. This is a minus for Ryan Saunders and his staff. The Wizards had to go the full length of the court in under three seconds and find a good shot to tie the game. Force them to do that in order to tie the game. It’s more difficult than a side out of bounds play with 1.8 seconds remaining.

Transition Euro Step!

Yes, this is the second time in this column that Keita Bates-Diop has been mentioned in this column.

Yes, the 48th overall draft pick and seldom used (before the last three weeks) deserves two mentions.

In Saturday night’s game against the Wizards he went coast-to-coast after collecting a rebound thanks to a blocked shot by Towns. Bates-Diop took the ball the length of the court before hitting Beal with a terrific euro step and laying the ball in off the glass.

Seeing the rookie do things like this can be really enticing for what he could potentially turn into. He’s done quite a few fun things on the court with his opportunities, but this might be the most fun.

Side note: credit to Taj Gibson for very slyly shielding Jabari Parker from making an impact on the play. Veteran move.

Karl’s knee

Towns left the game Saturday night against the Washington Wizards with a knee injury suffered in the final minutes of regulation. The Wolves avoided a scare as he’s been back on the floor since, only missing the game against the New York Knicks on Sunday night. It could have been much, much, much worse than it was.

Towns’ knee injury serves as a reminder for what the worst-case scenario of this franchise is. If they lose him for any extended period of time, things would get bad. Really bad. He’s the most important person in the franchise. Every decision moving forward needs to be made with him in mind.

While in some senses it might make sense to shut him down to avoid any further injury, the bigger picture says that’s not wise. Keeping the franchise’s relationship with Towns as strong as possible should be the primary objective of the Wolves. They don’t want to have a situation similar to what the New Orleans Pelicans are dealing with in regards to Anthony Davis a couple of years from now.

Having to pay Towns extra because he could make an All-NBA team this season is worth it, the Wolves are giving him the opportunity to go for it, and that’s exactly how it should be.

Players Only

A few times throughout the course of the season, TNT will broadcast nationally televised games with a “Players Only” twist. That means that every member of the on-air cast is a former NBA or WNBA player. The lack of a traditional play-by-play talent is notable, names are often messed up, and the conversation is far from that of a typical NBA telecast.

On Tuesday night when the Wolves played in Denver, that all happened. The biggest issue with the broadcast was when Isiah Thomas opened his mouth.

“You ain’t Kevin Durant, you ain’t Steph Curry. You’re not LeBron James,” Thomas said in regards to Towns’ upcoming contract extension. ”In order to be at that level and make that kind of money, you need to be one of those kinds of players… You’ve gotta win.”

Yikes.

It’s one thing to ridicule the shortcomings of the Wolves as a franchise. That’s completely understandable, and obvious to most. What’s also obvious to most is that Towns is one of the league’s best young players. Just because the Wolves aren’t going to qualify for the playoffs this year – and by the way, neither is LeBron – doesn’t mean that Towns isn’t more than deserving of as much money as possible.

Thomas even mentioned the fact that he was once the President of the NBPA, from 1988-1994, and wants the players to get their money. This was a take that said just the opposite.

The other members of the broadcast – Jason Terry, Brendan Haywood, and Dennis Scott – seemed to defend Towns on the matter. The big man then had a pair of ferocious dunks as the Wolves closed out the first half trailing the Nuggets 58-48 when Thomas opened up his mouth again.

“I go back to my point, [the Wolves] are down 10 right now.”

Doing the opposite of what the failed former President of Basketball Operations of the Knicks is probably in the Wolves best interest, anyways.

KAT’s Crossover

It’s been no secret that Towns and Denver’s Nikola Jokic seemingly have an on-court rivalry that has stretched back a couple of seasons at this point. It’s been back and forth, with both players having victories in the rivalry to date.

Towns got a minor win on Tuesday night. Despite the fact that Denver beat Minnesota, Towns unleashed a lethal crossover on Jokic during the third quarter.

That one had to feel pretty good for Towns, and the knee looked fine, too.





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