Last Shots: Bates-Diop thrives again, Teague and Taj step up without KAT or Wiggins

MINNEAPOLIS – Nineteen quick thoughts for the 19 minutes played off the bench by Tyus Jones in Minnesota’s 103-92 win over the New York Knicks on Sunday night.

1. Sunday night certainly wasn’t the prettiest display of basketball Target Center has ever seen, that much is for sure.

2. This wasn’t a game that many Wolves fans are going to hold near and dear to their hearts. In fact, this Sunday night game is one that may be forgotten by many. It won’t be forgotten for Keita Bates-Diop, however.

3. In Minnesota’s first game without either Karl-Anthony Towns or Andrew Wiggins since April of 2014, Bates-Diop stepped up and continued to show this franchise that he can play. He received his second consecutive start – taking Wiggins’ place in the lineup – and ran with it. Bates-Diop finished with 18 points on 7-of-12 shooting with six rebounds, two blocks, and two steals.

4. Bates-Diop was active on defense and efficient on offense. The Wolves can’t ask for much more from the 48th overall draft pick last June. If he’s a serviceable member of the rotation, it’s a huge win for the franchise.

5. So far, it’s been a small sample size, but a very good one. In his two starts the Wolves have won both games. The eye test not only tells you that Bates-Diop belongs, but it tells you that he’s been better on both ends than Wiggins.

6. The biggest difference between the two is the fact that Wiggins needs the ball often in his attempts to be successful, Bates-Diop doesn’t. So many players at the small forward across the league are high-usage players, and for good reason. Many of the NBA’s best play that spot. Of the players that played 17 minutes or more on Sunday, Bates-Diop had the third-lowest usage rate. He also had the third-most points for the Wolves. Those two things typically don’t correlate, but it’s terrific when they do.

7. “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,” interim coach Ryan Saunders said after the win. “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.”

8. Bates-Diop is all of those things that Saunders mentioned. He’s a terrific off-ball cutter, he’s holding his own for a rookie defensively, and he hit 2-of-3 attempted 3-pointers on Sunday. The Wolves couldn’t really ask for much more from him.

9. “That’s been part of my game for a while,” Bates-Diop said of being low-usage. “I’ve never been a big dribbler, I don’t have to handle the ball all the time. Like I said a lot of my game is cutting, moving without the ball, catching and shooting. I’ll never be like a high-usage player.

10. “I feel great. I feel like I’m in a good rhythm. The confidence has gone up, obviously, so I feel great out there.”
Bates-Diop is a great story of what can happen when a player – especially a young one – is shown patience and not rushed onto the floor when he’s not ready. Chances are, if Bates-Diop was forced into this role in November or December, he could have looked lost out there. Instead, he was a big reason as to why the Wolves won both games this weekend at Target Center. Yes, there were other bright spots, too, but he was the most surprising and welcomed.

11. Aside from the rookie, the Wolves got a strong night from both Taj Gibson and Jeff Teague. Those two combined for 45 points in the win. Gibson filled in for the missing Towns, who was out with a right knee injury suffered late in Saturday night’s win over Washington. He responded with his best game of the season.

12. “He’s really a stabilizer for us. You can say that in whatever role he’s in,” Saunders said. “Whether it’s him starting, him coming off the bench or him coming and having to fill basically an offensive role where he had to be more aggressive tonight. 11-for-15 with 25 points; he was really good and he was good defensively as well.”

13. Gibson has been able to be a rock for this team in good times and in bad. He’s a presence in that locker room that’s very well respected, and with good reason. He’s been around the league a long time, and it’s great for the Wolves to be able to draw upon him. The lessons he can teach will last longer than his tenure in Minnesota may. It’s no promise that the unrestricted free agent will be back next season, but this lost season still matters to him, and that matters to the Wolves.

14. As for Teague, he’s had some very forgetful nights this season, but Sunday was one of his better performances. He seems to be able to turn it on when the Wolves are shorthanded, as they were on Sunday.

15. The Wolves are 12-3 on the season when Teague has double-digit assists, as he did on Sunday with 10, and they’re 9-2 when he finishes with a double-double. The good version of Jeff Teague helps this team win basketball games. Whether it’s due to the injury bug that’s bitten him this season, or something else, that version hasn’t appeared often enough for the Wolves to be successful.

16. One of the better moves that Saunders was able to make on Sunday was severely limiting the minutes of Derrick Rose.

17. In Saturday night’s game Rose surpassed 30 minutes for just the second time under Saunders. That was something that had been a problem under former coach Tom Thibodeau. With both Town and Wiggins out, the Wolves needed to have Rose available for scoring off the bench more than usual. Luckily for them, the lead they built was enough to not need the former MVP for more than eight minutes in the win.

18. Saunders did mention that Rose was dealing with soreness and planned to keep him at around 18 or 20 minutes against the Knicks. Keeping him even lower than that is a win for the Wolves, with the hope that he’ll be good to go for the upcoming road trip.

19. The Wolves are back in action on Tuesday night in Denver against the Nuggets. Talk to you then.