The Minnesota Timberwolves have lost a lot of games this year, but that doesn’t mean they’re a guaranteed win for the Spurs tonight. Despite their 14-27 record, there’s a lot to be optimistic about in Minnesota.
The Wolves have a young and inexperienced core, but those recent high draft picks are long, talented athletes. They have the past two Rookies of the Year in Andrew Wiggins and Karl-Anthony Towns and one of the league’s most electrifying players in Zach LaVine.
Quick feet and long arms are the perfect raw ingredients for a top defense. Emphasis on the word raw. Tom Thibodeau has always been a defensive-minded coach, and he has struggled a bit this season in his goal of molding these young players into the defense they can become.
They rebound the ball well on both ends of the floor and play a grind it out pace, and their versatility allows for a defensive scheme with a lot switching and rotations. Like anything else it has taken time to learn, and it seems to be yielding results of late. Over the past month, Thibs’ team has the seventh best defensive rating in the NBA.
This young group is near the bottom of the West, but they have a lot of talent and compete against the best teams in the league. In the past week, they ended the red-hot Rockets’ 9 game winning streak and shut down the explosive Thunder. James Harden and Russell Westbrook each performed well in these games, but the T’Wolves limited their respective supporting casts.
Karl-Anthony Towns averaged a dominant 26 points and 17.5 rebounds in these two games, only a bit over his season averages. He has notched 30 double doubles in 41 games, the third highest total in the league behind only Harden and Westbrook.
Towns is a basketball unicorn, a 7 footer with guard skills that not many teams are equipped to defend. He doesn’t just take what the defense gives him either, he bullies guys like Steven Adams in the post and hits contested three pointers. There may not be a more complete center in the league, Boogie Cousins included.
Four Things to Watch
Who guards Karl-Anthony Towns?
The 22 year old KAT has a long career as a matchup nightmare ahead of him, and it seems unlikely that Pau Gasol will be able to keep him from getting to the rim or defend the agile big man in space. Spurs head coach Coach Popovich may put the sturdier, quicker LaMarcus Aldridge on Towns, or find more minutes for athletic center Dewayne Dedmon whose defensive versatility has been a pleasant surprise off the bench.
Kawhi vs. Wiggins
While it remains to be seen who will draw the primary assignment on Towns, Kawhi Leonard will most likely bother Andrew Wiggins for most of the night. It should be fun to watch these complete wing scorers and solid defenders go at it on both ends, but Kawhi should have the advantage in this matchup.
How do the Spurs deal with Minnesota’s length and athleticism?
The Spurs lost to a team much like these Timberwolves just a week ago. The young, long athletes of the Milwaukee Bucks caused problems for the Spurs as they tried to create and move the ball on offense. Even in spread pick and rolls, the long arms of defenders always seemed to be in passing lanes. San Antonio might go with a more isolation heavy attack and let Leonard and Aldridge go to work in favorable one on one matchups tonight. They could also try to fight fire with fire and use guys like Jonathan Simmons and Dewayne Dedmon more.
Point Guard Matchup
Tony Parker and Ricky Rubio are both underrated contributors, and whoever gains the advantage in this matchup may tip the scale for their team. Rubio is a classic pass-first point guard, and despite his limitations in other areas he does a superb job of setting up his teammates. Parker is at his best when he penetrates and scores, which will be difficult against these big Minnesota defenders.
Karl-Anthony Towns will eat in this game, scoring between 25-35 points and pulling down upwards of 15 rebounds. However, Kawhi Leonard will limit Andrew Wiggins to below 15 points while scoring at least 25, and the Spurs bench will set them apart in a 110-95 San Antonio victory.