Who: Minnesota Timberwolves (27-38) vs. Washington Wizards (41-24)
Where: Target Center — Minneapolis, Minnesota
When: 7:00 pm CST (TV coverage on Fox Sports North)
Last week I went onto iTunes and searched “basketball podcasts” and the first podcast that came up was hosted by NBA legend Clyde Frazier. Naturally, I had to listen. To my surprise, Frazier had brought on two guests that one could only assume were nerdy white guys. Forty-five minutes flew by and all of sudden THE CLYDE FRAZIER was adamantly posturing that the Minnesota Timberwolves have a way higher ceiling than the 41-24 Washington Wizards.
I had to head to my laboratory to investigate this assertion. Which is, of course, basketballreference.com and youtube.com. The first commonality I found between the two teams was a young core of three potential stars. Baby Big Threes as one of those nerdy white guys called it. We know a great deal about the Wolves babies, but their Eastern Conference counterparts we only see twice a year.
The East-Side Baby Big Three
John Wall: 23.1 ppg, 10.8 apg, 4.5 rbg, 31.7 3P%
First of all, did anyone else know that John Wall’s nickname, according to Basketball Reference, is Optimus Dime? That can’t be real.
Anyways, the “baby” distinction may not be fair for Wall who is 26 years old. It’s safe to say Wall is, now, firmly in his prime. His scoring has upticked 3.2 points per game this season from last and he is having his most efficient shooting season of his career. Wall is also one of the best distributing point guards in the league, only trailing James Harden in assists per game this season. Offensively, much like the Wolves starting point guard, three-point shooting remains an issue for Wall where he is shooting 31.7 percent on 3.5 attempts per game.
A misconception with Wall, according to his Defensive Real Plus-Minus is that he is an above average defender. Wall is having his worst defensive season in three years, again according to DRPM. He has actually been a negative asset on that end with a DRPM of -.37. For context, that is worse than all three of the Wolves point guards.
Like many of the other “elite” point guards (and Karl-Anthony Towns), Wall appears to have swapped defensive effort to succeed more on the offensive end. But the offensive end is oh so very sweet for Wall. He knows how to utilize his speed and passing ability in the pick and roll so as to not need to rely on his jump shot.
Bradley Beal: 23.2 ppg, 3.6 apg, 3.1 rpg, 40.9 3P%
Okay these nicknames are out of control. Beal’s is Big Panda.
Well, the 23 year-old Big Panda is legit. Most importantly he has played all but four games for the Wizards this season after having missed 81 games over the previous four seasons. A healthy Bradley Beal is a good Bradley Beal. His scoring has rocketed this season up to a team-high 23.2 points per game, up from 17.4 last season.
Every season of his career Beal has shot better than 38 percent from deep and this year is his best yet. Shooting 7.3 threes per game Beal is converting 40.9 percent from deep. Only Beal, Kyle Lowry, Nick Young (?), Kemba Walker, Ryan Anderson, and Klay Thompson are shooting 6-plus threes per game and making 40 percent of those attempts.
I was surprised to see that Beal is also having a below average defensive season. Amongst players listed as shooting guards, ESPN has Beal as the 49th best defensive two-guard in the NBA according to DRPM (-.65). That’s bad. For context, Brandon Rush is a positive .35.
Beal’s new found usage as also a ball handler and not exclusively a spot shooter has expanded his game. The Wizards often use Beal at the point with the second unit where Beal now is effectively operating as the point of the pick and roll.
Otto Porter: 14.2 ppg, 6.6 rpg, 1.5 apg, 45.5 3P% (!!)
Okay Porter’s nickname is Bubba, has to be fake.
Porter is probably the least known of the Wizards trio. His game and statistics are often over shadowed by the Wizards backcourt, but the three-point effectiveness (45.5 percent) is getting hard to ignore as the sample size grows. Porter is first in the league in three-point percentage. The next closest player who has started 50-plus games and shoots four-plus threes per game is C.J. McCollum at 42.2 percent.
Unlike Wall and Beal, Porter stacks up very favorably in DRPM at a positive 1.26. Of small forwards who have started more than 30 games and average more than 30 minutes per game, Porter only trails Robert Covington, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Andre Roberson, Jimmy Butler, and Trevor Ariza in DRPM.
Porter has become the league’s ideal small forward, a player who locks up on defense and can knock down threes consistently. If you are thinking he is simply a wait in the corner for wide open threes type of player, you are mistaken. Porter has graduated to the shooter who is not afraid to take a contested transition three. He now knows he’s good and he is in a great spot alongside Wall and Beal.
Expected Starting Lineups
PG - Ricky Rubio
SG - Brandon Rush
SF - Andrew Wiggins
PF - Gorgui Dieng
C - Karl-Anthony Towns
Injuries: Zach LaVine (knee) and Nikola Pekovic (ankle) are OUT.
PG- John Wall
SG- Bradley Beal
SF- Otto Porter
PF- Markieff Morris
C- Marcin Gortat
As we always do in game previews, let’s take a look at how the Wolves and Wizards match up using the Four Factors. Reminder, the Four Factors are effective field goal percentage (eFG%), turnover percentage (TOV%), offensive rebounding percentage (ORB%), and free throw rate (FTR).
Factor / Wolves / Wizards
eFG% / 51.0% (18th) / 52.8% (6th)
TOV% / 14.7 (21st) / 14.1 (17th)
ORB% / 27.5% (3rd) / 24.1% (11th)
FTR / .283 (12th) / .252 (25th)
It should be noted that the Wizards come to Target Center on game five of a five-game road trip. Like the Wolves, Washington played a back-to-back on Friday and Saturday. Both of those games were overtime wins for the Wiz against Sacramento and Portland. Fatigue is a factor for all teams at this juncture of the season, but Washington should be especially tuckered out. However, do not expect a let up, the Wizards are mere percentage points ahead of the Celtics for the two-seed in the East. A hot finish could conceivably see Washington as the one seed. They are only two games behind the Cavs.
This is all to say there is a great deal on the line tonight for both teams. The Wolves are, again, in a position where games are almost must-wins. Denver has not let up for the eight seed, now 3.5 games ahead of the Wolves. This game may, again, come down to late-game execution by Andrew Wiggins and the rest of the Wolves.
Prediction: Wolves 101 Wizards 100
Take a break from your bracket. Let’s chat about our still playoff-relevant Wolves.