MINNEAPOLIS — By the current preseason’s standards, Mo Williams had a quiet night in Tuesday’s 107-89 exhibition win against Indiana.
The backup point guard’s 13 points, nine assists and two steals lingered in the shadows behind another mammoth performance from Anthony Bennett, Chase Budinger’s much stronger left knee and an efficient evening from starting one-man Ricky Rubio. But that’s exactly why the Timberwolves signed Williams for one year and $3.75 million this summer — to serve as mortar, not a cornerstone.
“I don’t have to try to fit in or do this and that,” Williams said. “(Coach and president Flip Saunders) allows me to be me, and not only that; the guys allow me to be me.”
That wasn’t always the case on the 31-year-old’s many and varied NBA stops, he said. In Utah, he was an adjusting rookie and almost a decade later, a No. 1 point guard. Last year in Portland, he was a role guy asked to shoot 3s and mentor Damian Lillard. Two full seasons in Cleveland saw him become LeBron James’ sidekick. And the 2010-11 season can almost be thrown out, because he was traded to the Clippers midway through and had to transition from the Rust Belt to the West Coast.
But in the confines of the Target Center, Williams is allowed to unleash his entire arsenal.
He’s a leader. A scorer. A facilitator. And a free, comfortable man.
“I’m able to bring everything out of my package,” said Williams, who will turn 32 Dec. 19 and is in his 12th NBA season. “Some situations, I was just more of a spot-up guy. . . . Some situations, maybe just a distributor. Some situations, just score. I’m able to kind of do everything — run the team, play off the ball; everything that I can do well, I’m able to kind of bring it all out.
“It gives you a kind of fountain of youth.”
Saunders brought him on for all those reasons. They’re the tools for the prototypical backup for Ricky Rubio, something Minnesota hasn’t really had since he came over from Spain.
Appearing in all of the Wolves’ exhibition contests and averaging 14 points and 5.3 assists per game, Williams has been “everything and more,” Saunders said.
“I just thought that he would be a perfect match for us,” Saunders said, “to have a guy that can play both positions, have another ballhandler that can play on the floor, that can make plays for himself or other people.”
Williams did more of the latter Tuesday night, carving up the Pacers (2-4) defense for a preseason-high nine helpers. Leading the second unit as he likely will in the regular season, he frequently drew in defenders and set up Bennett (17 points, five rebounds) and Budinger (12, 2 for 2 from 3-point range) for easy looks.
Williams did have six turnovers, mostly the result of errant alley-oop attempts to Gorgui Dieng and Zach LaVine.
It was the second strong home showing in as many preseason tries for Bennett, who’s now averaging 10.8 points and 6.5 rebounds per game. Budinger, meanwhile, has shown no lingering issues from the two meniscus surgeries that cost him the majority of the past two seasons.
He attacked the rim with vigor and went 4 for 8 from the floor Tuesday. The hesitation and heaviness in his legs that plagued him last year is gone.
And even Rubio shot well, recovering from a 1-for-5 start to finish with 16 points on 4 of 8 shooting.
Defensively, Minnesota used a mix of man-to-man and the zone schemes Saunders has implemented recently. The Wolves held Indiana to 42.3 percent shooting, kept it off the scoreboard for the second quarter’s final 4 minutes and put together a 19-0 run spanning the middle two quarters.
Those are all promising signs as Minnesota continues its three-games-in-four-nights stretch to close the preseason. The team hopped on a plane bound for Milwaukee shortly after Tuesday’s victory.
There is one thing that makes Williams a bit queasy, though; the thought of playing a back-to-back this early in the campaign.
“They’re good for the rookies,” Williams deadpanned. “I’m not looking forward to a back-to-back, I’ll tell you that.”
Wiggins sits: Timberwolves forward and 2014 No. 1 overall draft pick Andrew Wiggins dressed but didn’t play in Tuesday’s game. Saunders said afterward Wiggins “probably won’t be able to go” Wednesday, either.
Wiggins took a tumble Sunday against Oklahoma City and landed hard on his backside. Some swelling and soreness led Saunders to sit him out this week, the coach said.