Last Shots: On KAT’s new intensity, Okogie’s development, and Bates-Diop belonging

MINNEAPOLIS – Twenty-two quick thoughts for the 22 3-pointers attempted by the Minnesota Timberwolves in the 131-120 win over the Oklahoma City Thunder on Tuesday night.

1. It’s starting to become difficult to efficiently describe the level at which Karl-Anthony Towns is playing currently. Tuesday night was another example of him continuing to improve his game and ascend towards the superstar tier of players in the NBA.

2. Against Oklahoma City Towns shared the floor with a former MVP in Russell Westbrook and a current MVP candidate in Paul George. It wasn’t a stretch to say that Towns was the best player on the floor for the majority of the night.

3. Don’t let those words be misconstrued. Towns isn’t better than either of those two overall, but on Tuesday night he was.

4. Despite spending much of the first half in foul trouble, Towns racked up 41 points and 14 rebounds against the Thunder. He set the high-water mark for the most points in a five-game stretch in franchise history. The previous record was held by Kevin Love with 175 points over five games set back in 2014, Towns surpassed it with 182 points. His blistering hot averages of over 36 points and 16 rebounds in that stretch continue to show just how good he can be.

5. The question is, how much higher can Towns go?

6. “Just trying to find every single possible way to get us in the playoffs. I said it after the game, at All-Star I talked to Bron [James] and just everything. Just like he talks about, ‘I’m gonna settle into my playoff intensity earlier than usual,’” Towns said after the game. “Well, sh—I can do the same thing, too. I made an effort to show I can do it. Recently I’ve just been going out there every single day with that kind of intensity.”

7. Towns has ramped up his intensity lately. That much is undeniable. Whether or not this is a playoff intensity is up for debate. Things change in the playoffs, as the Wolves learned last season. What’s not up for debate is that Towns has raised his game. He’s playing the best basketball of his career.

8. “Just greatness, we’re all witnessing it,” Josh Okogie said. “I think the last five games it’s the stretch with the most points in Timberwolves history or something like that – that’s big and it speaks for itself, especially for a guy like him who works extremely hard and is extremely talented with a lot of God-given abilities. It’s a credit to him.”

9. Okogie is right, the Wolves haven’t had a guy quite like this in a long time. The next step is to ensure that they’re not wasting just how great he can be, but that’s a different story for a different day.

10. With each performance that Towns puts on mirroring this one, he grows closer to making an All-NBA team and earning more money this offseason. For Wolves fans, Towns is the reason to watch this team down the stretch. Speaking about the playoffs as a realistic goal is relatively silly, but watching Towns isn’t.

11. One of the other things to watch in these games is the development of young players. Okogie has been able to continue to develop throughout the year and is a reason to be optimistic for his future with the team. He was a plus-20 against the Thunder while having to guard Westbrook for the majority of his 30 minutes on the floor.

12. That’s a tough ask, but Okogie answered the call. Westbrook’s stat line of 38 points and 13 rebounds shows that his game was strong, and it was, but the Wolves and Okogie forced him into shots they should be comfortable with him taking. He’s a 27-percent 3-point shooter and made five of his 10 attempts from deep tonight. That’s something the Wolves will have to live with.

13. “They have very talented scorers,” interim coach Ryan Saunders said. “Russell had 38 points, but I thought Josh did a good job of making him work for it in a number of different ways. Josh being a +20, plus-minus wise is a very, very good thing for us.”

14. Okogie brought energy to the floor, as he tends to do. That’s something that noticeably was missing from the Wolves over their last winless road trip. Not from Okogie specifically, but team-wide.

15. The Wolves got a solid effort from Keita Bates-Diop, too. The rookie has been injected into the rotation since Luol Deng went down the with a sore left Achilles last week. He’s looked comfortable on the floor after spending much of the season sitting and watching.

16. Tuesday night represented his toughest ask as a pro. He had to spend time guarding George. Bates-Diop held his own while the two were matched up. The Wolves have hopes for him as part of this team in the future, and showing up in moments like this one can be big for the development of a young player.

17. “I think we’re learning a lot more about Keita, too, as he gets more minutes, in terms of what he can guard, his length. I like the job he did on him,” Saunders said. “The more days that go by the more opportunities that Keita gets. We feel more comfortable with him and we look at him as a big part of our future.”

18. Bates-Diop was the 48th overall pick in the 2018 NBA Draft by the Wolves. It’s not often that guys drafted that late pan out as success stories. The Wolves being able to develop him into a legitimate rotation player would be a massive win for this franchise and its player development staff. It’s fair to say he probably wasn’t ready for a moment like this in November or December, but was in March.

19. Andrew Wiggins was the other member of the Wolves that spent a good deal of time on George. He too did a fine job on the MVP candidate, forcing him into some tough shots as George returned from a shoulder injury that cost him a few games.

20. Overall, Wiggins had a good game by his standards of late. He had 18 points and six rebounds on 15 shots. More importantly he was more clued in defensively than he has been lately.

21. “Andrew did a nice job on him (George) as well, who’s a tough cover, whoever you put on him,” Saunders said.

22. The Wolves are back in action on Wednesday night in Detroit against the Pistons. Talk to you then.