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With Three Starters Out Wolves Look Towards Youth

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Up next for the Wolves: a tough three game stretch without Rubio, Young or Pekovic, and a starting lineup littered with first and second-year players. It begins tonight at Target Center against the New York Knicks.

Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

After a 12-day road trip that saw one win, five losses, and a season-altering ankle injury to Ricky Rubio, the Wolves begin a four game homestand tonight against the New York Knicks. While it's probably nice to return home, things certainly aren't getting any easier. At least not for the next three games.

In addition to missing Rubio from the starting lineup, the Wolves will be without center Nikola Pekovic and power forward Thad Young until early next week.

Second-year players Gorgui Dieng and Anthony Bennett will likely start in place of Pekovic and Young over the next three games -- the Knicks tonight, Spurs on Friday, and Kings on Saturday -- while Zach LaVine will continue to start at point guard in Rubio's absence. Andrew Wiggins and Kevin Martin will round out the starting lineup, giving the Wolves an ultra-young and inexperienced starting five for the time being; basically a lineup you could see in the Rising Stars Challenge (minus Martin, of course).

During the next three games it will be particularly interesting to see how the minutes at power forward and center shakeout. If Gorgui Dieng gets into foul trouble who will play center? He's the only healthy one available to play (Ronny Turiaf is also out with a hip injury). And even if Dieng manages to stay out of foul trouble, what happens when he needs a breather? Surely he can't play all 48 minutes.

Look for Anthony Bennett to log some minutes at center and perhaps even Robbie Hummel in a super small-ball lineup with Shabazz Muhammad manning the four next to him. In any case, the lack of big men creates a gigantic hole and Flip Saunders faces an uphill battle this next week in managing a rotation with little flexibility. He has one backup point guard in Mo Williams, one backup power forward (sort of) in Hummel and zero backup centers. If you thought last week's 0-3 showing was bad, it could get even worse.

For that reason, it might be a better idea to look at individual production throughout the next few games rather than the actual result.

Wolves vs. Knicks | Four Factors

Tonight's game will set the tone for the rest of the homestand. Will the team fight through adversity and put up a good fight, or will they show more of the disinterested and flat team we saw in Dallas and New Orleans last week? This game should give us a good indication for how the rest of the week will play out.

Speaking of last week, the team's defensive effort was terrible. The guards and wings couldn't keep anybody out of the paint, the rotations were habitually late, there was never a consistent level of help defense, and the rim protection was seriously embarrassing. If the Wolves want to compete they'll need to show more effort on the defensive end. That much is clear.

From an individual perspective, this game gives Wiggins another tough test defensively. Through his first nine NBA games he's already guarded a collection of the leagues top wings; from Jimmy Butter and Joe Johnson to Dwyane Wade and James Harden. But there's only one Carmelo Anthony and Wiggins will have his work cut out for him. What happens when Melo takes him to the low block, throws his weight around, and basically tries to outmuscle the rook? That should be interesting (which loosely means: I really hope he doesn't get abused by Melo).

While the Wolves are seriously outmanned it's not like the Knicks are anything special to begin with. They have severely underwhelmed under first-year head coach Derek Fisher and as of today sit in the Eastern Conference cellar at 3-9. Only the tanking 76ers have a worse record in the conference (0-10). They're also coming off a loss to the Milwaukee Bucks last night, 117-113. After the game Fisher said:

"They wanted it at times a little bit more than we did," Knicks coach Derek Fisher said. "It wasn't until the third quarter really started to get out of hand that we started to put the right mindset into playing with a sense of urgency."

Let's look at the Four Factors in tonight's matchup:

Wolves Knicks
eFG% 47.2 50.1
FTA Rate .333 .208
TO Ratio 16.2 14.7
OREB% 28.5 26.7
Opp eFG% 55.9 52.0
Opp FTA Rate .242 .366
Opp TO Ratio 15.0 15.8
Opp OREB% 22.9 27.9
  • Knicks are last in the league in free throw attempt rate at .208. They attempt a league-low 17.1 free throws per game. Vice versa, this is a strength for the Wolves (8th in the NBA in FTA Rate).
  • Minnesota ranks 5th in the NBA on OREB%, tied with Portland (28.5), while the Knicks rank 4th worst in opponent's offensive rebound rate (27.9). Without Young or Pekovic active the Wolves are incredibly thin at power forward and center, losing some of their offensive rebounding advantage in the process, but Dieng and Muhammad are both advanced offensive rebounders that could take advantage of the Knicks on the glass with increased playing time.
  • Wolves currently rank 30th in opponents effective field goal percentage (opp eFG%) at 55.9 percent. Knicks are 24th. I'm going to assume this will be a high scoring game.

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