Timberwolves coach Ryan Saunders doesn’t put too much emphasis on who starts a game.
To Saunders, it’s more important who finishes a close game.
In Saturday’s 100-98 loss to the Suns, Saunders used someone who has played at the end of games only in mop-up duty when he’s been healthy enough to play at all: Jordan Bell.
It has been a rough start to the season for Bell, who had a strained calf during training camp, then strained a shoulder in a game against Golden State on Nov. 8.
But he made his biggest impact as a Wolves player on Saturday, when Saunders tabbed him for 17 minutes in the loss.
Saunders put him in during the first half when the Wolves needed a spark. He provided that with sheer hustle and was a bright spot, as was Keita Bates-Diop, who scored 22 points.
“I missed most of training camp with injuries, so I don’t expect anything to be handed to me,” Bell said. “I got to earn everything and people are playing good. [Gorgui Dieng] is playing good. Noah [Vonleh] is playing good. Keita came up and is killing it. … When your teammates are doing good, you cheer for them.”
They got to cheer for Bell on Saturday. He didn’t score much (just three points), but he did grab nine rebounds and was credited with two blocked shots. The Wolves were a plus-eight when he was on the floor.
“We all knew what he’s capable of,” center Karl-Anthony Towns said. “I’m very proud of him coming out and showing what he can do when he’s given an opportunity. Jordan was fantastic, his energy was contagious, and his enthusiasm for the game drove us all to have a chance to win this game.”
Bell said he fell behind on some things when he was hurt through training camp, like picking up certain plays, but it wasn’t all that hard to figure out the Wolves’ style of play given his skill set.
“It’s still basketball at the end of the day,” Bell said. “Obviously it’s a new culture and different things to run so far as offense and defense, but I think people always use me the same way, I’m just an energy guy. Go out there, play hard, rebound and defend. Score around the basket, things like that.”
Bell said his stay in Golden State, when his playing time was sporadic, helped prepare him for what he faced early in the season. The message from such players as Draymond Green, Kevin Durant and Andre Iguodala was always to stay ready. Bell has carried that to Minnesota.
“You could either not stay ready, go out there and look [bad], or stay ready and go out there and produce,” Bell said. “We still get paid at the end of the day whether we’re playing or not, so we got a job to do.”
And, Bell said, he has learned how to play with tall players who can shoot, such as Durant and Towns. The key: Don’t interfere.
“I don’t think I’ve ever been the best player on the team or the best scorer on the team,” Bell said. “I just get out of the way.”
On Saturday, he finally had the chance to do that in a meaningful spot.