How do we know when a game is an aberration? An abnormality divorced from the rest of the season that provides no indicator or demonstrative explanation for deep-rooted problems? After all, the preordained champions of the NBA, the Golden State Warriors, are 2-2 this season with their own odd losses. Last year, they were blown out in their season opener many months before they went on to win the title.
I do not know the answer, but I am pretty sure that it is not after four games.
This Wolves team certainly had some problems going into the season that we discussed ad nauseam. The wing depth was incredibly scarce (welcome to the starting lineup Shabazz Muhammad!), the team was devoid of three-point shooters (team ranks 23rd in the NBA in three-point attempts), and we had way too many big men (sorry Gorgui Dieng that your playing time got cut by 20 minutes a game).
Not to mention, how was an offense going to work with some many players who wanted the ball in their hands at all times? How would Jeff Teague fit in? Would Andrew Wiggins and Karl-Anthony Towns finally put everything together on defense?
After four games, our results are anything but conclusive. But with a season that lasts 82 games, there is certainly a lot more time for the team to figure these things out.
As for tonight, the Wolves have their first back-to-back challenge of the season. Normally we would be concerned about the team having tired legs, but that implies that they were, you know, running in the previous game (self-high-five for the sick burn).
The Pistons are, if anything, a worst-case “Ghost of Christmas Future” for the Timberwolves. The team has a high-profile Head Coach/President of Basketball Operations in Stan Van Gundy that has made questionable roster decisions, a few rising young stars in Reggie Jackson and Andre Drummond that have stalled out in their development, and an overfilled roster that has no cap space or room to grow. They are, essentially, mired in the NBA no-man’s-land were they can’t blow it up and start from scratch nor can they truly compete against the top teams.
However, in a depleted Eastern Conference, this is a team that is looking to make the playoffs. One of the main reasons for optimism for this team is the growth of Tobias Harris as a scorer. Harris has increased his scoring average from 16.1 points per game to 21 points per game so far on a scorching 50 percent shooting from the field. He has bumped up his three-point attempts from 3.8 per game to 5.8 per game and is still making them at a 39 percent clip.
Reggie Jackson and Andre Drummond are the core of the offense and the duo were once the most feared pick-and-roll compatriots in the league. The Wolves certainly will be tested tonight, as Jeff Teague and Karl-Anthony Towns have been less than stellar in their defense thus far.
An interesting wrinkle so far this season, Drummond has been making free throws 83.3 percent of the time. This is 44.7 percent improvement from last year and is likely unprecedented in NBA history.
Thankfully, judging from last night, the Pistons play at a relatively slow pace, 20th in the league, and more prone to try to run half-court sets. The wildcard on this team is the new addition, Avery Bradley, who will certainly be hounding Andrew Wiggins all game long. After a rough night, Wiggins will have to work hard to improve on his efforts.
For the Wolves, this night is all about picking back up where they left off after the victory over OKC. So many things were working right that game, from the ball movement to a more focused defensive effort.
Last night has to be an anomaly. We saw a lot of problems that were ever present last year, particularly on defense, and this team simply has to be better. Let’s hope that last night was simply a bump in the road.
Projected Starting Lineups
Injuries: Jimmy Butler Out (Respiratory Infection), Justin Patton Out (Left Foot)
Prediction: Wolves 102, Pistons 98
Wolves bounce back with a big game from Karl-Anthony Towns.