SALT LAKE CITY – Timberwolves coach Rick Adelman chose the simple solution when backup power forward Dante Cunningham tested out his hamstring before Wednesday’s game in Los Angeles against the Clippers and determined it was too sore to play.
He played starter Derrick Williams more, like every moment of the first three quarters until Adelman sat Williams and three other starters the entire fourth quarter during a 111-95 blowout loss.
Williams started the season itching for more playing time behind Cunningham and then Kevin Love when Love returned to play for six weeks in between breaking his right shooting hand twice.
On Wednesday, he didn’t get a break for three quarters. “He’s young, he can handle it,” Adelman said. “He wants playing time, so there you go.”
Williams turned those 36 uninterrupted minutes into a 13-point, 10-rebound night, his eighth double-double this season.
Love won’t play again this season after undergoing arthroscopic surgery to remove scar tissue in his left knee on Wednesday.
Love’s three-month, season-ending absence has given Williams the time and space to better find his way during his second NBA season than he did in his uneven rookie year.
“You never want to see a player, especially a great player, get hurt, but it has been good for me,” Williams said. “I think this time really did help my game. I’m just trying to find my game, adjust to the NBA game. I can get better. Everybody in this locker room can get better.”
But does that growth continue next season when Love presumably returns healthy, if indeed both players still work for the same team? Or will Williams again find himself behind a two-time All Star and perhaps the game’s best power forward?
“I really can’t answer that until we get Kevin back next year and we see who we are and what we have,” Adelman said.
Adelman remains hopeful that Williams will be able to play more small forward as his career progresses. That would allow Love and Williams to play more together, as would playing Love at center.
“That’s something we’re still going to look at,” Adelman said, referring to Williams’ possible future at small forward. “I think he can play there, but it’s about understanding what you have to do at each position. If he’s playing small forward, he has to be aggressive and go to the basket and post up.
“He’s a young player. He has only played two years. He’ll find his way.”
The process doesn’t stop four games hence with Wednesday’s season finale at San Antonio. It will continue with a long summer of workouts at home in Los Angeles.
“Heading into summer, I want my game to take off even more,” Williams said. “I’m not necessarily worried about anything else. I want to get myself better. I want to be a better player coming into next season. I’m not really looking at who’s going to be here, who’s not going to be here. I want to be one of the guys on this team who’s a go-to guy. Whether it’s Kevin or me or whoever it might be, I want to be one of those guys.”
Long season, tired legs
Wolves point guard Ricky Rubio has shot 3-for-31 from the field in his last three games, including a 2-for-8 night against the Clippers on Wednesday. Adelman says he sees a player with tired legs and a flat shot. Rubio agrees with the legs part.
“Well, yeah, I feel it in the legs,” Rubio said, “and I have to work on it this summer to get stronger, so I don’t get too tired at the end of the season.”