By Sloane Martin
MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — While Ricky Rubio’s departure was a sore spot for some Timberwolves fans, his replacement Jeff Teague has transformed the point guard position in Minnesota.
On Sunday night, Teague posted his fourth double-double in the past five games, helping lift the Wolves to a 7-3 start and their first five-game win streak since January 2009. He finished with 18 points and 12 assists using a mix of everything from pull-up transition three-point shots, drive-and-dishes and pick-and-rolls en route to a 112-94 win over the Charlotte Hornets at Target Center.
“We’re asking guys to make a lot of sacrifices for each other and put the team first,” head coach Tom Thibodeau said. “Jeff is very unselfish, he wants guys to get shots. He tries to make the right play if he needs to score. He shot when he should shoot, he was in the paint making plays. I thought he played a terrific game.”
Teague was passive to begin the season, but has been looking for his own shot more during the Wolves’ win streak.
“He’s been playing his tail off,” star guard Jimmy Butler said. “We need him to be like that where he’s not only scoring, he’s getting everyone involved and whenever he’s playing at a high level like that — it’s so much easier for everyone to follow. He’s been doing that all year long, passing the ball, scoring the ball, getting out, getting steals. He’s crucial for us on both ends of the floor. He sets the tone and when he’s playing like that we’re going to be a really, really good team.”
Teague and power forward Taj Gibson signed with Minnesota this offseason because they recognized potential in a team that has stumbled for too long.
“It’s still a work in progress,” Teague said. “We’re still trying to figure out each other. I think we’re playing well, we’re just trying to win games, but we can still be a lot better and we all know that. We’re starting to get in a little groove. We’re still miles away.”
The win over Charlotte was balanced and positioned the Wolves in second place in the Western Conference — side-by-side with the reigning champion Golden State Warriors. Six players scored between 13 and 20 points.
While Sunday’s win highlighted Teague, the Wolves are talented enough to have a different player step up each night. Against the New Orleans Pelicans on Wednesday, Karl-Anthony Towns scored just 2 points in a win; the next game he scored 31. Andrew Wiggins led the way Sunday with a tidy 20 points on 12 shots.
“We just want to win, however that happens — if somebody scores 30, great; if they score 50, even better; if you can score more than Kobe’s 81, do that too. We just want to win at all costs,” Butler said.
Up next is a three-game road stretch. Minnesota is 3-2 away from Target Center, but this road trip starts off with the Warriors. Thibodeau says the margin for error is smaller on the road.
“The big thing is not to change, to concentrate on the improvement,” Thibodeau said. “We have to put the work into this. We want to keep getting better all season long. I think that if you start taking short cuts the results aren’t going to be good and obviously there’s a lot of work to be done.”