Finally, it’s happening.
For months Wolves interim coach Sam Mitchell has been encouraging his team to pick up the pace. For weeks point guard Ricky Rubio has talked about the need to run.
“We’ve been on ’em and on ’em and on ’em,” Mitchell said. “And now, for whatever reason, they’re doing it.’’
Over the past six games the Wolves have started to run, getting more easy baskets, a must for a team that struggles at times to shoot well. It’s a natural progression for a young, athletic team. But, as Rubio said, there is still another step to take.
“I think we’re finding our rhythm,” he said. “It was a matter of time. We’re using our weapons. Now we have to close out games.”
Is the team making baby steps? The Wolves have been in all of their past six games, winning two while showing a bit of pluckiness against both Cleveland on Monday and Oklahoma City on Wednesday. But remember, the team had won just once in the 13 games before that.
And the offense is, relatively speaking, humming.
The Wolves have averaged 107.6 points per game in their past six compared to 92.1 points in the 10 games before.
In their most recent six-game stretch, the Wolves have shot 50.2 percent from the field and averaged 25.3 assists, 13.5 turnovers and 17.2 fast-break points per game. Compare that to season averages of 45.3 percent, 22.1 assists, 15.1 turnovers and 12.1 fast-break points.
So the Wolves are moving the ball better, playing at a faster rate and turning over the ball less.
It is a style that suits the team. The Wolves have young big men who can run in Karl-Anthony Towns and Gorgui Dieng to go with athletic players Andrew Wiggins, Shabazz Muhammad and Zach LaVine.
And it’s a style that suits Rubio, who has 50 assists and 13 turnovers over the past six games.
“I think once we had some success and some easy baskets, they realized it was a fun way to play,” Mitchell said. “With all our young guys, it just makes us better. And, until we become a better shooting team, this is the pace we need to play. We need to get into seams, creating opportunities, getting to the free throw line. There are times in a game you have to grind. But there are times you can get out in transition.”
Mitchell joked that he’s been telling Wiggins all season that it’s more fun to score on the break than to get pounded by double- and triple-teams in the half-court. “I tell him all the time, do you want to pick yourself up off the floor eight to 10 times a game for 82 games?” he said.
The key now, according to Mitchell, is to focus on transition defense, make sure the players maintain balance on the court so teams can’t run the ball back at them easily.
Rubio agrees. “It’s fun to play that style,” he said. “But we have to be patient. We can run that pace but be under control. I think we’re learning that now. We had eight turnovers [Wednesday] night. That’s a pretty good sign. And we didn’t take bad shots. That’s another thing we’re learning.”
Now the team has to learn to win. After a stretch of playing five of six games against teams currently in the playoff picture, the Wolves embark on a four-game road trip that starts Friday in Utah and continues with games against Portland, and the Clippers and Lakers in Los Angeles. Of those opponents, only the Clippers are currently higher than eighth in the Western Conference.