ATLANTA – There is a theme beginning to emerge for the Timberwolves since the All-Star break: Whether they win or lose coincides with whether guard Mike Conley has a decent to good night scoring.
Conley scored 21 points in Minnesota's 136-115 victory over Atlanta on Monday, and the Wolves cruised to an easy win. In the second half when Atlanta was trying to chip away at the Wolves' lead, Conley hit a few key baskets — a layup, a floater and a three — to make sure Atlanta didn't sniff a comeback.
"The more I've gotten to know the team and what they want from me, it seems more evident I got to be more aggressive and be looking to shoot more and looking for my offense," Conley said. "Whether I make or miss shots, it's about me being assertive and aggressive. I think it opens up stuff for other guys. I'm going to continue to do that."
The Wolves tend to be more successful when he does.
In the last three Wolves wins, Conley has averaged 19.7 points per game while shooting 61%. In the last three Wolves losses, he has averaged 8.7 points per game while shooting 27%. Sandwiched in those games is an outlier against the Clippers, whom the Wolves defeated despite Conley scoring just six points on 2-for-8 shooting.
Numbers like these aren't lost on Conley, who has realized he needs to be more aggressive in looking to score than he thought he might have been when he first came to Minnesota at the trade deadline. The Wolves brought Conley in to be more of a facilitator than D'Angelo Russell was, but with Karl-Anthony Towns still out of the Wolves lineup, the Wolves are lacking a significant scoring punch alongside Anthony Edwards, who was thrilled to see Conley do what he did Monday.
"Mike was hooping," Edwards said. "Be aggressive, be more aggressive anytime you're on the floor. They know I'm gonna be aggressive. We need other people."
Conley still had six assists on Monday — it's not as if he is suddenly looking to score all the time — but he now has a feel for what the roster needs, and it needs him to score more.
"I thought it was like they need the ball to move more, and I tried to get that going," Conley said. "I was that for Utah this year for the first half, a facilitator, and now I understand more this is who I need to be. I just got to be aggressive as much as I can and the guys really feed off that and makes the game easier."
Coach Chris Finch had no doubt Conley would bounce back after struggling recently in losses to Philadelphia and Brooklyn.
"Such a blessing to have him because of games like this that he really can go out there and keep everything under control," Finch said.
Those kinds of moments have been Conley's best in a Wolves uniform, like when he hit a clutch three to seal a win over the Lakers, or hit two free throws to ice a win in Sacramento. The Wolves got Conley more for his passing, for his ability to "connect" the offense. But at least until Towns returns, they need Conley to keep getting baskets, especially late in games.
"On this team you expect Ant to have the ball, expect that late in the game and sometimes we need to have different guys handling, different guys initiating and not putting so much pressure on him," Conley said. "... I can do the same thing, given those opportunities. I got to take those opportunities and be aggressive."