Andrew Wiggins, Karl-Anthony Towns, Dominate Sixers in 110-86 Victory
The highly-anticipated matchup between Karl-Anthony Towns and the Minnesota Timberwolves against Joel Embiid and the Philadelphia 76ers Thursday night turned out to be a dud, one witnessed by a national audience on TNT.
The game disappointed, in part, because Embiid and Towns were rarely matched up against each other, with the Sixers electing to defend Towns with Ersan Ilyasova and Dario Saric and the Wolves defending Embiid with Gorgui Dieng.
More importantly, the matchup was disappointing because the game was never truly competitive, with the Wolves leading virtually the entire game on their way to a 110-86 rout.
The Wolves used an 8-0 run to start the second quarter and extend their lead to 14, and for all intents and purposes the game was over then. The Sixers never got the game back to within 10 points from there on out. Philadelphia’s largest, and only, lead of the night was 3-2 after a Gerald Henderson three-pointer. Minnesota’s largest lead was 66-33.
Tom Thibodeau‘s surprisingly-effective offense came through, with the Wolves scoring 110 points and shooting 50.6 percent from the field. The 1.22 points per possession the Sixers yielded was their worst defensive performance of the season, per basketball-reference.
The Wolves were led by a magnificient 35-point performance from Andrew Wiggins. The former #1 overall pick and Rookie of the Year winner finished shooting 14-20 from the field, making three-pointers fadeaways, and drives to the hoop at ease, and against virtually any defender the Sixers threw his way. Wiggins, who is now averaging 27.4 points per game on the season, also finished with 10 rebounds and 4 assists in one of his more complete games of the season.
Second-year big man Karl-Anthony Towns won the marquee matchup of the night, finishing with 25 points and 10 rebounds on 12-18 shooting from the field, with some jaw dropping highlight-reel plays mixed in for good measure. The Wolves were +33 in Towns’ 38 minutes of play.
The Sixers starting unit of Rodriguez, Henderson, Covington, Ilyasova, and Embiid never stood a chance.
Towns’ counterpart, Joel Embiid, finished with 10 points (4-9 shooting), 10 rebounds, and a blocked shot in 22 minutes of play. The Wolves effectively kept the ball out of Embiid’s hands more than any team has to date, with the Sixers’ prized rookie finishing only 25.7 percent of the Sixers’ offensive plays while he was on the court. It’s the first time this season Embiid had a usage rate below 30 percent.
Minnesota came into the game one of the worst teams in the league at defending the three-point line, but you wouldn’t know it by watching last night’s national television afair. The Sixers connected on just 9 of their 32 three-point attempts, with the starting unit shooting just 2-16 from deep.
The Sixers played the previous night in Philadelphia, a 109-102 victory over the Washington Wizards. They looked like a tired team, both physically and mentally. It wasn’t a competitive game, and it was evident right from the beginning.
Still, as frustrating as that was, especially because it was on national television, it’s important to remember where the Sixers are in their rebuild. The Sixers and Wolves could provide an interesting comparison for the next decade because of the Towns vs Embiid matchup, which becomes even more interesting once Ben Simmons is back in the fold to counter Andrew Wiggins as another high-level prospect for the Sixers.
But Towns, who has been competing in FIBA competitions, at Kentucky, and now in his second year in the NBA, has been playing high-level basketball year in and year out for quite some time, whereas Embiid is 8 games back from a 2.5-year layoff, and Simmons, Wiggins’ counterpart, is out of the lineup. The upside may one day prove to be similar, but the current progress is not.
It is sometimes worth putting Embiid’s progress in perspective. Below are two graphs on how Towns and Embiid performed through November 18th of their rookie seasons.
That, of course, does not mean that Embiid will progress in the same manner that Towns has, just to remind you that Towns wasn’t the same player a year ago that he is now. That experience will be crucial for Embiid to become a more complete, and consistent, player.
* Nik Stauskas continues his good play, at least offensively. Stauskas shot 4-8 from the field and 3-6 from three in his 24 minutes off the bench, finishing with 13 points on the night. Stauskas is now shooting 51.3 percent from the field and 40 percent fro three-point range on the season. He had no chance of slowing down Andrew Wiggins, though.
* Robert Covington continues to be brutal offensively, shooting 1-12 from the field and 0-7 from three-point range. He’s now shooting just 26 percent on the season and 24.7 percent from three, and he’s missing more open shots than he ever has. Shooters slump, especially shooters who have little margin for error because they don’t get many easy looks, but Covington’s lack of a diversified offensive game shines through when his shot isn’t falling, making his slumps even more damaging than the typical shooter.
* Sergio Rodriguez is another player in a big offensive slump. Rodriguez finished 0-4 from the field and was held scoreless on the evening, and is now shooting 35.2 percent from the field and a woeful 25 percent from three-point range on the season. I speculated before the season whether Rodriguez’s push shot could be extended to NBA three-point range, and so far the returns have not been great. Rodriguez’s offensive struggles combined with his defensive limitations means the Sixers are suffering from well-below-average point guard play once again.
* Joel Embiid never really got into a rhythm offensively, but he did make his presence felt defensively. Towns scored on Embiid a couple of times — Towns will do that, he’s incredible — but Embiid played him well positionally in the few times the two were matched up. Embiid also successfully cut off a couple of Andrew Wiggins drives to the hoop. It will be great once Embiid is fully unleashed.
* While the Sixers started the season off 0-7, the team was competitive on most nights, with the exception being the 32-point blowout loss to the Hawks in the second game of the season. That hasn’t been the case of late, however, with three of the Sixers last four games being blowout losses. Two of those came against tough matchups in the Hawks and the Rockets, but it’s a disturbing trend.
* Bless Dario Saric‘s hustle, but he has no chance of defending Karl-Anthony Towns successfully. Still, it was good to see Saric not get frustrated and continue to play with effort despite his struggles, and Saric did finish with 16 points (6-11 shooting) and 4 rebounds off the bench, his second straight solid performance since being moved out of the starting lineup.