The Wolves have played three down-to-the-wire games under Ryan Saunders, winning two. While that is a small sample size, the games have given us a few clues as to what to expect going forward.
1. Things revolve around Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins even more than they used to. This was a natural evolution after the Jimmy Butler trade, but Saunders has accelerated it. Wiggins had a monster 40-point game in Saunders’ debut, while Towns has 57 combined points the past two games.
Their usage rates — possessions that ended in them taking a shot, getting fouled or turning the ball over — are 28.9 (Towns) and 27.8 (Wiggins) in the past three games, a few ticks higher than their season marks.
2. Tyus Jones is playing with confidence and has Saunders’ trust. Jones logged heavy minutes down the stretch of both victories, with starter Jeff Teague getting ejected from one and injured in the other.
Jones was a combined plus-24 in those two games and a combined 3-for-7 from three-point range (after making just five three-pointers in all of December). Derrick Rose didn’t play in either of those wins, meaning Jones was used only as a point guard. It will be interesting to see how minutes get divvied up when everyone is healthy.
3. The Wolves will let it fly. Minnesota shot 39 three-pointers in Saturday’s win over New Orleans — including eight each by Towns, Wiggins and Josh Okogie. The Wolves made only 11 of those attempts, but they did grab 15 offensive rebounds in the game.
Saunders wants them to shoot, which should benefit bench players such as Dario Saric and Anthony Tolliver.
4. Everyone should be ready to play. Before Saturday, veteran Luol Deng had played in four games all season — all blowouts — for the Wolves.
But he was summoned in the second quarter of a two-point game against New Orleans and delivered five points during a 4:30 stint, leaving with the Wolves up 11 after a 13-0 run that changed the game.
Saunders figures to be far more flexible with his rotation and playing guys for short bursts as he sees fit.
Special teams coach Mike Priefer was not a Vikings fan favorite because of the team’s kicking struggles and his 2014 suspension stemming from homophobic remarks made during a special teams meeting.
With Priefer having moved on to the Browns, though, it is worth noting that the Vikings ranked in the top 10 in Pro Football Focus’ special teams grades in each of the past four seasons under Priefer, including No. 3 in 2018.
Never count them out
In early December, the NFL’s Patriots lost to the Dolphins on a miracle play — sparking a two-game losing streak that left them at 9-5 and with plenty of doubters.
Also in early December, the NBA’s Spurs lost to the Lakers and fell to 11-14, causing plenty of doubts as well.
Those two franchises are among the gold standards of prolonged success in men’s pro sports. Never count them out.
The Patriots are undefeated since those losses, including a 41-28 rout of the Chargers on Sunday. The Spurs are 14-5 since that start and are firmly back in the playoff picture.