Wolves (2-2) at Magic (1-4)
6:00 pm CST
The Wolves road trip continues tonight in Orlando against a young and struggling Magic team that got their first win of the season on Wednesday night in Philadelphia against a barely NBA quality 76ers squad.
Still, the Magic aren't without talent, and they are a fun team to watch in some ways. They have a bevy of young players that you can dream on despite the injury to last season's top draft pick Victor Oladipo who continues to miss time with a broken face. Elfrid Payton, the rookie from Louisiana-Lafayette is their starting point guard, and has shown NBA talent in the early going. He leads all rookies in assists and steals, though also turnovers and fouls.
Aaron Gordon, rookie forward out of Arizona, is coming off the bench for the Magic and producing 11 & 7 per 36. And he's very jumpy.
The star of the show at this point is Montenegrin center Nikola Vucevic. He's leading the team in scoring and rebounding, and we actually get a match up of Montenegrin big men tonight as Nikola Pekovic meets his countryman. Should be fun. Vucevic has a little more range than Pekovic on the offensive end and is a better shot blocker, but isn't as strong as our mountain.
The Magic feature an offense that ranks 29th in the league, mostly because they turn the ball over too much and do not get to the free throw line. Vucevic, for all his skill, does not generate contact, and has attempted only six free throws in his first five games. This has been a weakness throughout his career, though it's not been this extreme.
They have also struggled from three, starting only 32.5%. They don't have a lot of shooters; French swing man Evan Fornier has shot it well (9-21 from three), but their other marksman Channing Frye has gone 7-21 in the early going, and they don't have a lot of other options from the perimeter.
Four factors wise, they have been the exact opposite of the Wolves in the early going. They have a (slightly) better efg% than their opponents, but lose the other three factors. It's added up to a 1-4 start, which is not a surprise given how young they are.
One more note on the Magic--Tobias Harris, the combo forward who has been starting at the small forward spot for the Magic this year is someone to watch. He's co-leading the team in scoring, though with marginal efficiency, leads them in FTA, and is 2nd in rebounding. He's only 22, and will be until next summer, but is also in his fourth year in the league. The Magic will have to make a decision next summer how much he's worth to them, as he will enter restricted free agency. It's rare that a player this young hits the market.
The Wolves of course are coming off a good win in Brooklyn on Wednesday, when the starters controlled the final five minutes of the game to overtake the Nets and put the game away. It was a fun watch, as everyone on the floor made big plays down the stretch. Ricky Rubio was particularly impressive late, with three baskets in the closing minutes, as well as drawing a huge offensive foul on Brook Lopez.
Things have started fairly brightly for the Wolves, as they have been in every game late, and are 2-2 so far. Thad Young has been terrific, Kevin Martin has had a couple of big scoring games, Pek is rounding into shape, and the newly extended Rubio has shown his worth. Rookie Andrew Wiggins has shown flashes of what he could be, and has faced some tough defensive match ups that he has approached with confidence if mixed results.
Of course the 2 point jumpers might stop falling at any time, and the bench production has been spotty. It's pretty much been Mo Williams scores or nobody scores off the pine. Mo has his uses, but is probably better spending more time off the ball. That creates the difficulty of getting rest for Rubio. When he's not in there, things grind to a halt. Not sure what the solution is there.
I would like to see Chase Budinger get some extended run over a few games off the bench. He's one guy who could provide some points if he can get rolling a little bit. Robbie Hummel has also probably earned some time. Those guys getting minutes instead of Corey Brewer, who has really been struggling and lacks a clear role on this team makes sense and probably isn't too controversial. Those guys getting minutes instead of Anthony Bennett and/or Shabazz Muhammad, something I would advocate, probably wouldn't be as popular.
Back to tonight's game: The Wolves need to get a win. Things get much tougher over the next week, as they head to Miami for the 2nd night of a back to back Saturday, before facing the undefeated Rockets in Mexico City, then the Pelicans and Mavericks on the road before getting back to Target Center. Those are all going to be tough games, and they really need to beat the bad teams, especially the young bad teams early in the season.
Game thread later. Meantime, here's a link to our friends at Orlando Pinstriped Post.