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Timberwolves at Grizzlies: Game #1

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The season gets underway tonight against a Western Conference rival. Let’s have a great season.

NBA: Minnesota Timberwolves at Memphis Grizzlies Justin Ford-USA TODAY Sports

Wolves at Grizzlies
7:00 pm CDT
FS North

Opening night is finally here. The Wolves are in Memphis to take on the Grizzlies tonight, and while one game won’t answer our questions, we will begin to see how the team is taking shape early on. We all hope this season will be a major step forward for the young Wolves under new coach Tom Thibodeau.

The Wolves did improve by 13 games last season, going 29-53 after an injury riddled 16 win campaign in 2014-15, but in truth it felt like a bit of a lost year, as Sam Mitchell was a place-holder coach following the death of franchise president and coach Flip Saunders. Now the Wolves have a new regime in place, led by Thibodeau, and we look forward to real progress, especially on the defensive end where the team has struggled so badly for years.

The Grizzlies come in with significant injuries. Free agent signing Chandler Parsons is out, as is defensive ace Tony Allen and backup big Brandan Wright. Still, this is a great test for the Wolves to start the season, as the Grizzlies are a veteran team with a lot of playoff experience, and, as we wrote about earlier today, are one of the teams the Wolves probably need to surpass in their quest for a playoff berth. They feature Marc Gasol, a supremely talented two-way center who is always tough to deal with, and tough point guard Mike Conley, who will be a handful for Ricky Rubio. We’ll see what changes in playing style are afoot under new head coach David Fizdale.

One of the great things about this blog is how often others do my work for me. Instead of writing about what to look for tonight, I’ll let Suspicious Sal (from the thread linked above) take it away:

What I’ll be Watching for Tonight Besides the Defense:

1. Minutes distribution: We know what the 10 man rotation is going to be. The question will be which starters will Thibs lean on to play the most minutes. In preseason Dunn and Bjelica were the first substitutions. Will Thibs limit Rubio and Dieng to around 30 minutes or less to give Dunn and Bjelica more time? One of the biggest stories of the year will be the Rubio-Thibs-Dunn love triangle. Will Thibs get frustrated with Rubio’s clanked jumpers and gambling tendencies on defense? Will Dunn improve his decision making? Will Thibs play Dunn big developmental minutes even if he struggles? Can either Rubio or Dunn shoot a decent percentage from 3? I’m going to spend way to much time worrying about these things and projecting from them who the point guard of the future is going to be.

2. Exotic lineups. My guess is that we won’t see anything too crazy because Thibs seems to have 10 players that he wants to play and it would be hard to get them all in the game if Dunn is playing the 2 or if Shabazz were playing the 4. We are likely to see each of the bench players backup one starter.

The more unknown lineup tendency to look for is how much the starters and backups get mixed. If Towns, LaVine, and Wiggins are stretched to 35+ minutes it will be easier to mix 1 or 2 of them with bench units.

3. Pace. Thibs teams have historically been slowish, but Ricky, Dunn and LaVine are best at playing fast. Pace will be hard to judge for one game, especially when the Wolves opponent has a history of playing slow, but has a new coach who wants to play fast. I’ll try to look at how often our shots come from transition or semi-transition compared to how often they appear to call a play. The same goes for the defensive end. Hopefully with Thibs we see more opponents stuck in their half-court offense.

4. The alpha-dog dynamic between Wiggins and Towns. Early in the preseason Towns had games where he appeared to be very passive and he wasn’t getting the ball that often. Then in his final two games when Wiggins was out, the Wolves appeared to be focusing on getting the ball to Towns and letting him to try crazy shit. Last year Wiggins had a much higher usage% than Towns, but Towns can easier get his shot in the flow of the offense while Wiggins opportunities can seem more forced—isos or post ups. I’ll look for who gets the ball more often in iso or post up situations when everyone is standing around on offense.

That’s great stuff, and will inform my watching as well. I’m particularly interested to see how the minutes get distributed early in the season; that should give us some clues about how Thibs sees the team developing.

This is it. Our six month odyssey that is the Wolves season begins tonight. We’re excited to get started. We really hope to bring you the best Wolves coverage and encourage the best conversation in Wolvesdom, and thank you for coming along with us. It’s gonna be an exciting year.

Expected Linups

Grizzlies

Mike Conley
James Ennis
Andrew Harrison
JaMychal Green
Marc Gasol

Wolves

Ricky Rubio
Zach LaVine
Andrew Wiggins
Karl-Anthony Towns
Gorgui Dieng

Our blogging buddies for the night are at Grizzly Bear Blues. Be Excellent.

No pics, no gifs, no links to illegal streams.

Enjoy the game. Chat here. Go Wolves.