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Timberwolves’ Taurean Prince finding his rhythm despite inconsistent playing time

The 27-year-old was a starter for so long in his career, and now is in a spot where, coming off the bench, he might play six minutes, or he might play half the game. And he’s always ready for either situation.

NBA: Brooklyn Nets at Minnesota Timberwolves
Jan 23, 2022; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Timberwolves forward Taurean Prince (12) celebrates with guard Jaylen Nowell (4) during the fourth quarter against the Brooklyn Nets on Sunday, Jan. 23, 2022, at Target Center in Minneapolis.
Brace Hemmelgarn / USA Today Sports
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MINNEAPOLIS — There have been only a few occasions of late when the Minnesota Timberwolves have leaned on Taurean Prince for longer periods of playing time. And on each occasion, he’s come through.

In a Jan. 3 victory over the Clippers, the veteran wing scored 17 points to go with four rebounds and two steals in 23 minutes. In each of Minnesota’s past two games, Prince again played nearly 20 minutes, including a 15-point performance on 6-for-6 shooting in Sunday’s win over Brooklyn.

“I think we all knew he could do this. It was not a surprise to us that he goes out tonight and goes 6-for-6, 2-for-2 on threes, perfect night,” Timberwolves center Karl-Anthony Towns said. “We see it every day in the work he’s putting in at the gym, the way he’s lifting weights, he works out, he has such purpose and he has such discipline with everything, so of course when he’s given the chance to play basketball, not think, play basketball, be a basketball player, he’s going to go out there and shine. Tonight was just again him proving his worth in this league and proving why he’s so valuable to our team.”

The 27-year-old was a starter for so long in his career, and now is in a spot where, coming off the bench, he might play six minutes, or he might play half the game. And he’s always ready for either situation.

“It’s hard to kind of play an inconsistent role when you’re a veteran player. He’s really settled into doing that very well for us. And some of it is matchup driven, and some of it is just how things unfold,” Timberwolves coach Chris Finch said. “Really since the new year, he’s played well. He’s played really well, which is perfect, because at this time of the year, we’ve got to try to reduce some guys’ minutes and keep them fresh for these last couple of weeks before the (all-star) break.”

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Prince struggled to make shots early in the season. That led to a smaller, less consistent role, which took some getting used to. It seems as though he’s reached that point. Prince said he stays locked in by remaining engaged with his teammates and paying close attention to what the opposing defense is doing during games when he’s on the bench. Basketball, he noted, is “90 percent mental.”

NBA: Minnesota Timberwolves at Los Angeles Lakers
Minnesota Timberwolves forward Taurean Prince (12) shoots against the Los Angeles Lakers during a Jan. 2, 2022, game at Crypto.com Arena in Los Angeles.
Gary A. Vasquez / USA Today Sports

Those are things he’s picked up in recent years as he’s been placed in different situations. No matter what his role, Prince’s primary goal is to be a pro. By all accounts he’s achieved that. Prince has been an important leader on a relatively young team. There was a point at the end of a quarter in Sunday’s game when a couple of the Timberwolves players on the floor stopped to look at the officials and ask for a foul call. Prince stood up, waved his towel and hollered at his teammates to get back on defense.

“The good thing about it is my character has stayed high, the grind has stayed high,” Prince said. “Doubt hasn’t crept into my mind. I just continue to work, continue to put in the time and trust the work when I get out there.”

Even when things weren’t going his way, Prince, who always maintains a positive mentality, said he knew it was just a matter of time before things turned around. He credited “great teammates” and a “great work environment” to giving him the energy to come in every day and stay in a good headspace.

He’s made a point to be more aggressive in recent times on court, something Finch asked of the wing.

Minnesota aims to be a quick-decision offense, where the ball moves in a matter of moments. Prince is one of the best when it comes to that. He can hit a shot or attack opposing closeouts with drives that can break down a defense and lead to easy buckets.

“That’s what I’m trying to apply to the game, and obviously, I’ve had shots fall for me. They all feel good, and the offensive game feels good,” Prince said. “My decision-making when I get in the game still feels natural, so I feel I’m always ready when my number is called.”

And with the performances he’s turned in of late, that number could be called more frequently.

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“He’s played really well in this month. He’s played pretty consistently well,” Finch said. “We’re just trying to find more opportunities to play him.”

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