Welcome to the Friday edition of The Cooler, where it’s always a good idea to get a running start when jumping to conclusions. Let’s get to it:
*Ryan Saunders has been a head coach in the NBA for 48 minutes of game time, and in that 119-117 Wolves victory he was without two important players — Robert Covington and Derrick Rose — while a third, Karl-Anthony Towns, battled foul trouble all game.
So that game isn’t going to provide us a ton of clues as to what the Wolves’ rotations will look like when fully healthy.
But we can add up some context clues so far to make some educated-guess answers at this related question: Which Wolves players stand to benefit the most — either in playing time, production, or both — from the promotion of Saunders to interim head coach?
1 Andrew Wiggins: Wiggins seemed unburdened in pouring in 40 points (including 16 of 18 from the line) and grabbing 10 rebounds in what might have been the best game of his NBA career. He had produced some strong games recently before Tom Thibodeau was fired, and he has tended to play well against Oklahoma City in the past, but it’s hard to imagine it was a coincidence that he erupted in the first game under Saunders — a head coach he genuinely seems to like.
His usage rate — possessions that ended in him taking a shot, getting fouled or turning the ball over — in the game was 37 percent. That’s Russell Westbrook territory, and well above his season average (23.8). Some of that came because of the aforementioned injured players and Towns’ foul trouble, but an involved Wiggins is an active Wiggins. Saunders seems committed to keeping that up.
2 Tyus Jones: Thibodeau never seemed fully sold on Jones’ skill set, preferring point guards like Jeff Teague and Derrick Rose who can create their own shot and score. The result when all three players were healthy this season was often Teague and Rose playing about 30 minutes while Jones got 15-20 — often with Rose as part of a second unit in which he was sometimes playing off the ball.
Saunders has more of an analytics background and might appreciate that Jones has the best defensive rating (102.8) of any Wolves regular this season and has a better real plus-minus rating than Teague or Rose. As someone who was there on draft night in 2015 and saw Flip Saunders — Ryan’s dad, of course — embrace Tyus after trading to get him in the first round, I know Flip was a huge fan. Ryan Saunders appears to be a fan, too — and I’ll be curious to see how the playing time is split up Friday night when Rose is expected to be active along with Teague and Jones.
3 Dario Saric: He’s averaging 23.4 minutes off the bench since coming over in the Jimmy Butler trade, splitting time almost evenly with starter Taj Gibson. He played 25 in Saunders’ coaching debut Tuesday and had 15 points with 7 rebounds and a team-best plus-22 mark. Saric launched six three-pointers (making two), and if Saunders really wants to play faster and shoot more threes, it’s fair to wonder if Saric’s workload and impact will increase.
4 Josh Okogie: The rookie’s role has fluctuated dramatically based on injuries this year. When everyone was healthy, Thibodeau stuck heavily to a nine-man rotation and Okogie was often an odd man out — playing sparingly or not at all. Saunders seems to be more flexible with his substitutions and rotations and has said he could use 10 guys. It will be interesting to see if he carves out a role for Okogie even with Rose back Friday — and particularly when Covington eventually returns.
*I showed you Willians Astudillo’s admiration of his winter league home run the other day, so now you should see the aftermath: The retaliation. After getting brushed back hard in a previous at bat, this happened:
*This is from a couple days ago, but check out this trick shot serve on match point!