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Timberwolves at Knicks Game Preview: Top Rookies Face Off

A matchup of the two best rookies this season, as well as two teams headed in the wrong direction.

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William Hauser-USA TODAY Sports

Last night, the Wolves had the opportunity at home to take advantage of a team on the 2nd night of a back to back, but couldn't, falling to the Nuggets and looking so bad in doing so that coach Sam Mitchell hinted at lineup changes in his post-game presser. Most of us are hoping to see a change to Zach LaVine playing the shooting guard mostly, if not exclusively, as he did for the 2nd half last night, but we'll see.

Tonight, the shoe is on the other foot, as the Wolves will be the team playing on the road and on the 2nd night of a back to back. They are in New York to take on the Knicks, who similarly got off to a promising (8-6) start, before losing 8 of their last 11 to fall to 11-14 on the year. They were riding a four game losing streak until the won a close on in Portland on Saturday, which was the last time they played, so they will be well-rested for this one.

The Wolves have now lost seven of their last eight following a promising start to the season.

On the surface, these are similar teams. Both are getting outscored by about 2 points a game. Both are a little below average both offensively and defensively, but not on the extremes. (Knicks are 19th and 16th respectively, Wolves 15th and 20th). Neither team takes or makes a ton of threes, and both struggle to shoot efficiently (27th and 22nd in efg% respectively).

The Knicks do a better job contesting shots (5th best efg% against in the league), but the Wolves (surprisingly) are a better defensive rebounding team and force more turnovers. Both teams get to the line well, but the Wolves are 1st in the league in FT/FGA.

Both start Spanish point guards who are long time teammates on the Spanish national team--Jose Calderon and Ricky Rubio. That should be a fun little match up.

On the wing, Andrew Wiggins get to match up with a player he's often compared to: Carmelo Anthony. Melo continues to carry a 30% usage rate for the Knicks, but appears to be declining from his best days, as his 2P% is down as is his FTr. He's taking more threes than ever (and hitting them at a career average 34.5% rate), but getting to the rim a lot less (barely 20% of his shots are within 3 feet compared with a 34% career average), and converting there at a career low 50% (59% career). It seems clear that his athleticism has diminished to the point that it's affecting his ability to get to the basket and finish.

The headliner tonight though is the match up between Karl-Anthony Towns and Kristaps Porzingis. These are by far the two best rookies in the league this year, and both have impressed observers with their variety of skills at such young ages. Towns is a bit ahead of Porzingis in the Rookie of the Year race (I think), but Porzingis has been much better much earlier than I anticipated.

He's struggled a bit the last few games, culminating in an 0-6, zero point outing against Portland, but perhaps a few days rest will see him rejuvenated for this one.

He's averaged 18 and 11 per 36 minutes with 2.4 blocks added in. He's shot the three well (over 35%), but his 2P% is a poor 46%.  Still, he's been very impressive doing a variety of things including hitting the offensive glass, making three pointers, making free throws, and being a positive force for the Knicks at age 20. He looks like a star.

We all know what Towns has been doing: Playing terrific ball in all facets. The players actually have quite a few statistical similarities. The big differences are that Porzingis takes a lot more threes, but Towns is way more efficient with much higher raw fg%, efg%, and TS%.

Here, let's try to embed some comparisons from Basketball-Reference:

Hopefully both players are motivated to show off their talents tonight against each other, though they will not likely be matched head to head very much, as Porzingis starts at power forward for the Knicks at the moment, along side Robin Lopez. Still, it will be fun to watch two of the future stars of the NBA on the court against each other tonight.

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