An elite Big 3 – led by a 40-point machine – a dunkaholic and a second-year coach, who has cushioned his offensive background with a relentless approach on defense, has the Minnesota Timberwolves at .500.
The 20 wins this season are a mini-milestone for coach Chris Finch. It marks just the third instance Minnesota has dodged a losing record through its first 40 games since Kevin Garnett’s departure in 2007-08.
Only the teams coached by Rick Adelman in 2011-12 (21-19, .525) and Tom Thibodeau in 2017-18 (24-16, .600) fared better.
The 2021-22 Wolves are currently penciled in as the No. 8 seed in the NBA’s Western Conference, trailing the Lakers by one game and leading the Clippers by the same margin.
Minnesota’s latest ascent – an active four-game winning streak dating to Jan. 3 – has been buoyed by four electric … er … historic starts and a few monster individual efforts.
The Timberwolves have opened a lead of at least 20 points in four straight contests, a feat the franchise didn’t accomplish in the last quarter century (since NBA play-by-play stats became available in 1996-97).
The usual suspects – Karl-Anthony Towns, Anthony Edwards and D’Angelo Russell – have been instrumental to Minnesota’s recent success but other guys are finding areas to make an impact.
Perhaps no other role player has popped off the statsheet more in the past four games than power forward Jarred Vanderbilt. The fourth-year Kentucky product has strung together back-to-back double-doubles and set career highs in points (21) and rebounds (19) in Sunday’s win over Houston.
In his last four outings, Vanderbilt has averaged 11.3 points and 14.3 rebounds. He practically lived at the rim in Sunday’s 141-123 win, collecting half-a-dozen offensive boards and racking up eight dunks, the most by a Wolves player since Dean Garrett slammed seven times versus Boston on March, 16, 1997.
We’ve come to expect Vanderbilt’s trademark two-handed jams – he’s touched the basket on 54.1% of his field goals, the fifth-highest percentage in the league – almost as frequently as greatness from Towns.
Minnesota’s All-Star and All-NBA center, who is averaging 24.5 points per game, dropped a season-high 40 on the Rockets – and tied Kevin Love for most 40-point games in team history (10) – pacing one of the league’s top triumvirates, which accounted for 81 points.
Two nights earlier against the Thunder, Russell staked his claim as one of the game's most proficient players. The 25-year-old guard sank 11 of 12 shots, including 4 of 5 from behind the arc.
Russell's red-hot stroke prompted Finch to call him one of the best shooters in the league.
Consecutive 20+-point evenings has lifted Russell’s 2021-22 scoring average to 18.7 points.
Meanwhile, Edwards has averaged 23 – a small step above his season average of 22.2 – and four 3-pointers per game during the Wolves’ win streak.
Here’s some trivia that might catch most fans slipping: Minnesota is one of three teams this season that boasts a qualified trio of players averaging at least 18 points per game. Also making the cut is Milwaukee’s trifecta of Giannis Antetokounmpo (28.4), Khris Middleton (19.1) and Jrue Holiday (18.4), and the threesome of Miles Bridges (19.5), LaMelo Ball (19.4) and Terry Rozier (18.1) in Charlotte.
Based purely on the numbers, Edwards, Russell and Towns are the highest-scoring Big 3 in Timberwolves history. And, they’re making their case as one of the best Big 3s in the NBA.
Statistics courtesy Sportradar, basketball-reference.com