The Minnesota Timberwolves have effectively been out of the playoff hunt for about a month now.
On Feb. 25, the Wolves defeated the Sacramento Kings, 112-105, at the Target Center. That pulled them one game closer to their fellow playoff hopefuls. That put Minnesota in a tie for 10th in the Western Conference. They were just three games behind the San Antonio Spurs and two behind Sacramento. Wolves fans would’ve been forgiven for holding out hope for one last playoff push.
Instead, Minnesota has gone 4-12 since, falling 10 games adrift of eighth. Despite this, Karl-Anthony Towns continues to turn in outstanding performances. A bevy of injuries have resulted in more minutes for some unheralded players.
The Unsung Heroes
Tyus Jones has started 15 games this year, with seven straight heading into Friday night’s game against the Golden State Warriors. Even with the heavier workload, his game hasn’t diminished. As I’ve mentioned previously, Jones doesn’t run point similarly to Jeff Teague or Derrick Rose, allowing for a change of pace when either of those floor generals go for a rest. Jones can also slide into a two-point guard lineup fairly easily.
During his last seven starts, Jones has 48 assists and seven turnovers, good for a 6.9 assist-to-turnover ratio. That’s slightly better than his season-long ratio of 6.5, the best in the league.
Is this to say that Jones can be a full-time starting point guard for a playoff contender? Probably not – but his unique skill set makes him a valuable piece for any NBA team, particularly those who lack back court depth. When you consider his restricted free agent status, and the fact that he’s carved out a solid role in Minnesota over four years, it’s likely that Jones will return for 2019-20.
Another player worth mentioning is Josh Okogie. The rookie has notably improved throughout the season, thanks in part to an increased role. Under Tom Thibodeau, there were several games where Okogie garnered a DNP-Coach’s Decision in the box score. There were also eight games that saw Okogie play less than 10 minutes.
Thibodeau’s firing was closely preceded by an injury to Robert Covington, which has also factored in to Okogie’s minutes increase. Wolves fans have longed for an effective 3-and-D player to complement Towns’ game these past few seasons. They may now have two.
Covington has averaged 0.96 defensive plays per foul, which ranks 21st league-wide this year. Okogie has also played tremendous defense, notoriously giving James Harden fits in February. The fact that he’s averaging 0.69 defensive plays per foul as a rookie is encouraging, especially since Okogie seems to be filling a role that Minnesota has badly needed for some time.
The final 20-something games of the Wolves’ season may feel meaningless, and in the big picture, perhaps they aren’t. Minnesota is still playing competitive ball, and Jones’ and Okogie’s contributions haven’t gone unnoticed during this late stretch of the season.
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