If you’ve ever had to manage people, you might be familiar with the term “compliment sandwich” — a method of delivering constructive feedback whereby something that could be construed as negative is sandwiched between two things that are positive.
The Timberwolves, it seems, had themselves a compliment sandwich kind of weekend when it comes to star Karl-Anthony Towns.
The good news: Towns returned Friday from a 15-game absence, playing back-to-back games and generally looking like himself with a little predictable rust. And after Friday’s game at Indiana, Towns declared in rather firm terms that he is happy being with the Timberwolves and dedicated to building a winning team in Minnesota.
The bad news: The Wolves lost both games to playoff-bound Eastern Conference teams (Indiana and Toronto), looking competitive in stretches but seeing familiar deficiencies resurface.
Namely: defense, specifically when Towns is on the court.
The Wolves ranked No. 2 in the NBA in defensive rating (points per 100 possessions) at 104.0 in the 15 games Towns missed.
He talked about that on Friday, too. “All of a sudden I get hurt, we’re going around screens like the best defensive team in the world. We’re contesting every shot off the midrange,” Towns said, joking that he told his teammates they were making him look bad.
But in the two games since his return, the Wolves’ defensive rating has jumped to 115.0, No. 20 in the league in that short span.
Neither is a huge sample size, particularly the second, but both are on par with what we’ve seen for other longer stretches from the Wolves during Towns’ tenure.
For all the program-building being undertaken during Gersson Rosas’ first year as team president, two of the biggest questions that need to be answered this season are these:
1) Is Towns in it for the long run? He seemed to answer that question in a satisfying way. 2) Can he evolve into the type of defensive player who makes his team great on both ends of the court instead of one? That one is still very much up for debate, and is up to Towns to prove over the final 40 games.
• Another big Wolves question centers on the ceiling of rookie Jarrett Culver, which early this season was looking more like a crawl space.
But after some atrocious shooting numbers early, Culver has been better lately — pouring in 40% from three-point range and a much-improved 67% from the free throw line in his past eight games, providing optimism to the idea that his overall game might yet evolve beyond defense and useful drives to the hoop.
• Speaking to an Atlanta TV station, new Twins third baseman Josh Donaldson on Friday talked about what led him to sign with Minnesota and basically confirmed what most suspected: the Twins offered him the best contract, he hits well at Target Field and thinks the Twins lineup “is going to be something pretty special.”
• Impressive victory for Lindsay Whalen’s Gophers on Sunday, 72-59 at Purdue after a tumultuous week in which suspended guard Destiny Pitts announced she intends to transfer. Five players scored in double figures, led by freshman guard Sara Scalia with 18.
• File away this quote from Astros star Jose Altuve, speaking Saturday at the organization’s fan fest amid the organization’s sign-stealing scandal: “Believe me, in the end of the year, everything will be fine. We’re going to be in the World Series again. People don’t believe it, we will. We will. We made it last year, we were one game away of winning it all.”