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Game Thread #4: Wolves vs. Nuggets

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The young backcourts of the Wolves and Nuggets square off in the second game of the Kris Dunn starting point guard era.

NBA: Minnesota Timberwolves at Denver Nuggets Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports

Timberwolves vs. Nuggets

Target Center, 7:00 PM CDT

TV Coverage on Fox Sports North

Another game and another middling Western Conference opponent for the Wolves this evening at Target Center. This time it is (finally) a team other than the Memphis Grizzlies.

The Denver Nuggets travel to Minnesota with the same record as the Wolves after collecting one win in three games. Both of these teams entered the season with similar forecasts — young talent percolating into a borderline playoff contender.

The newest young piece added to the Nuggets this offseason is Jamal Murray who was the seventh pick in the NBA Draft this past June. Wolves fans have largely been well pleased with the pick of Kris Dunn (fifth overall), but some fans were hoping to add a player with more of a shooting pedigree.

Murray was arguably the best shooter available when the Wolves were on the clock. Murray hit 41% of his 3-pointers on a huge volume of attempts (nearly eight per game). Murray not only had a pretty stroke in catch and shoot scenarios but was particularly impressive coming off screens, as no player in college basketball even came close to delivering the accuracy he did (42/75, 56%) running off picks at Kentucky last season.

That shooting has not translated to the NBA in his first three games as he has yet to make a shot this season in 36 minutes played. Murray should see a big role tonight as he is likely to start for the Nuggets who will be without their starting shooting guard Will Barton after rolling an ankle on Monday.

Gary Harris is also out for the Nuggets and Ricky Rubio is out for the Wolves.

Expected Starting Lineups

Minnesota

PG - Kris Dunn

SG - Zach LaVine

SF - Andrew Wiggins

PF - Gorgui Dieng

C - Karl-Anthony Towns

Denver

PG - Emmanuel Mudiay

SG - Jamal Murray

SF - Danillo Gallinari

PF - Nikola Jokic

C - Jusuf Nurkic

While Wolves fans are particularly adept at identifying big white dudes who have last names that end with itch, the Nuggets are particularly confusing starting two itch-ers. To clear the debris, Jokic was the rookie last season who finished third in Rookie of the Year voting ahead of Devin Booker and Jahlil Okafor. Jokic is 6-10 and 250 pounds probably more of a center but is being started as the de facto power forward alongside the massive Jusuf Nurkic.

Nurkic measures in at 7-0 and 280 pounds. And while I think Nikola Pekovic is maybe the most unique player in NBA history, he serves as a fair comparison for Nurkic’s game. (These itches are confusing, right?)

Nurkic is a bull in the post and has impressed thus far this season. Now a starter, he has doubled his production from a year ago averaging 16 points and 12 rebounds per game. He’s Pek if Pek would have ever developed a move going left. See him baby the massive in his own right, Jonas Valanciunas, in the Nuggets last game against Toronto.

Much like the seemingly odd pairing of Gorgui Dieng and Karl-Anthony Towns in the Wolves frontcourt, the big guys for the Nuggets can cause serious problems in the paint — teams do not get offensive rebounds against the Nuggets. Denver leads the league in Defensive Rebound Percentage (85.8%).

As the Wolves know, teaming two players who more so profile as centers also can present a weakness. For the Nuggets, that weakness is the inability to slow down faster players who penetrate. Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan killed Denver last game on penetration (62 points). The itch-brothers can not move their feet in a manner that presents much of any resistance for faster opponents.

Jokic and Nurkic will likely be forced to defend the high pick and roll often tonight. Much like the Raptors used a Vallanciunas-Lowry pick and roll on Monday against the Nuggets, the Wolves will have Towns screen for Dunn, LaVine, or even Tyus Jones.

Even if the Nuggets bring in an extra defender to block penetration, the Wolves will swing the ball to a group of hot shooting wings. The Wolves have scalded from deep thus far at 41.7%, good for third best in the league.

Four Factors

A quick look at how the Wolves and the Nuggets match up in terms of the Four Factors. For those who don’t know, the Four Factors are effective field goal percentage (eFG%), turnover percentage (TOV%), offensive rebounding percentage (ORB%), and free throw rate (FTR).

Factor/Wolves/Nuggets

eFG% / .549 / .453

TOV% / 16.2 / 15.5

ORB% / 29.1 / 27.5

FTR / .355 / .405

These numbers, of course, have a ton of noise as both teams have only played three games. However, the Wolves have been elite in three of the four factors. Top-3 in the NBA in eFG%, ORB%, and FTR. The Nuggets have got to the free throw line at the best rate in the NBA.

Penetration that makes the Nuggets move on defense, again, is the key to a successful game. If the Wolves are to come away with the win it will be due to another big game from the wings. A high volume of shots and points from LaVine is a fair projection, and so too is Dunn outperforming his rookie counterpart Jamal Murray.

Prediction time: Wolves 107, Nuggets 101

The game thread is officially open. Chat it up. Go pups.