HOUSTON – Houston is home for Timberwolves President Gersson Rosas.
That’s not just because it was where Rosas’ professional life blossomed during 17 years in the Rockets organization.
That’s because it’s where his family immigrated to when he was 3, where he went to high school and college before finding his way to the NBA with the Rockets.
So over the roughly 30 hours the Wolves were in Houston, Rosas had a lot of faces he wanted to see and hands he wanted to shake.
“It’s full circle,” Rosas said before Saturday’s game. “It puts in perspective for me specifically why you do what you do, what you’re passionate about. The opportunity to know where I started and where I grew up and helping this organization over those last years, it really puts it in perspective. For me, it’s a lot of memories.”
When it comes to the Wolves, Rosas said he has been happy to see the team’s defensive improvement over the past 12 games. The Wolves have the second-best defensive rating in the NBA over that stretch (101.4 points allowed per 100 possessions), and he is pleased to see how some of the younger players have responded to the challenge of missing Karl-Anthony Towns because of a left knee sprain. He also said coach Ryan Saunders and associate head coach David Vanterpool “deserve a ton of credit” for that.
“It’s what we’ve been preaching,” Rosas said. “A lot of times when you have more losses than wins, you lose focus of the big picture, which is that we’re building character, habits, identity, and that has to be done day in and day out.”
As it relates to Towns, Rosas has said the team wants to be careful.
“You want to be safe,” Rosas said. “You want to make sure that we’re not looking at just today or tomorrow, but we’re looking at the next three, four, five years of a player’s career. He’s coming along well. I think he’s close, but the reality is, we don’t need to cut corners anymore.
“When you want to build a sustainable model, you have to make hard decisions and you have to be able to do things in a way where the big picture is a little bit more important than today and tomorrow.”
Towns also sick
Towns, who missed his 13th consecutive game Saturday, has been traveling with the team despite his knee injury. But he did not make the trip to Houston because of an illness, Saunders said. Towns joins a growing list of Wolves afflicted by illness in recent weeks, including Andrew Wiggins, Treveon Graham and Shabazz Napier. Saunders also said Towns is close to returning.
Working way back
Graham was sidelined three games because of the illness, but even after he was available to play, he sat the next two games.
He finally got back on the floor Thursday against Portland in part because the Wolves had Kelan Martin in Iowa. Graham played 14 minutes, 38 seconds against Portland, scoring three points.
Graham has started 20 games and was playing major minutes at the beginning of the season thanks to his defense. His shooting has lagged off his career numbers (35% from the field, 24% from three-point range). Saunders said the decision to not play Graham in the two games before Thursday was a mix of Graham working his way back from illness and a coach’s decision to sit him.
“I’d lean more towards that being my decision for the simple fact that Kelan had played well at the time,” Saunders said “Treveon, he hadn’t done much for a while there, so that played a factor with the conditioning and getting him up and down the floor.
“I can’t say enough good things about Treveon, the way he’s always ready no matter what.”
Chris Hine's three-pointer
1. The Wolves got Josh Okogie back on Thursday. There was nothing physically wrong with Okogie, but he wasn’t playing like himself over the past few weeks before Thursday’s victory over Portland. In his 12 games before Thursday, Okogie was shooting a miserable 26% from the field and 10% from three-point range (3-for-31). He wasn’t himself at either end of the floor. But Okogie had an impact Thursday. He had two blocks, two steals and hit the only two shots he took, both three-pointers. He looked like his old self again. “Man, I’m glad I started playing like this,” Okogie said. “Just let my defense kind of take over and then let everything else follow suit. I did a good job being active.”
2. One of the biggest questions for the Wolves will be: Can their defense maintain its current levels of production when center Karl-Anthony Towns returns to the lineup? Towns’ defensive rating this season is 114.5 points per 100 possessions, the worst on the team. It was the absence of Towns and Andrew Wiggins that caused some soul-searching for the Wolves on that end of the floor, and they hope they can maintain their improvement. “We can’t outscore everyone,” forward Robert Covington said. “We’ve got tremendous talent, but you have to be able to get down and get stops. … We’ve got the talent. We’ve got the athleticism to where can do a lot of things. How committed are we?”
3. Another story line to monitor when Towns returns will be the role of Gorgui Dieng. Dieng has filled in capably with Towns out. Over the past 12 games, Dieng had averaged 13.3 points and 9.3 rebounds per game. But more important, Dieng has been a big reason the defense has played as well as it has. He has been an effective communicator on the back line, helping to direct the defense. “I learned that early in my career,” Dieng said. “[Kevin Garnett] was doing it, and I think he taught us how to communicate better. That helped us.” Perhaps coach Ryan Saunders will consider a lineup that includes both Towns and Dieng, instead of just slotting Dieng back into bench minutes again.
AROUND THE NBA: Rolling, not rebuilding
After trading Paul George and Russell Westbrook over the summer, many pegged the Thunder to be in rebuilding mode, with a treasure trove of draft picks they acquired in those deals. But nearly halfway through the season, Oklahoma City is in line to make the playoffs at 22-16 entering Friday. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, the best current player Oklahoma City got back in the George trade, is averaging 19.8 points in his second season, while guard Chris Paul has improved his shooting from 42% to 47% after arriving from Houston in the Westbrook trade.