At 2-3, Minnesota has had a rocky start to the season and will look to right the ship tonight against Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Bucks. Milwaukee is off to a stellar 4-0 start, mostly thanks to the changes that have come with the addition of Head Coach Mike Budenholzer.
For a few years, Milwaukee was a team with massive potential that always failed to live up to that potential. A few things stick out under this new regime. The Bucks have mostly ditched the mid-range game that they used to love, in favor of a higher amount of three-pointers. This has been particularly good for Khris Middleton, who is off to the best start of his impressive career. Middleton is averaging 24ppg on 51% from the field and a sizzling 58% from three.
While Middleton has been the player to shine the brightest relative to his expectation so far, all of the bucks key players have thrived in Budenholzer’s system. Giannis looks like a legitimate MVP candidate thus far, and he looks to start the season with his fifth straight 25-point 15-rebound game. He is also averaging an abusrd 2.74 points per assist, which tells you that when Giannis is driving, the defense is collapsing and he is finding his teammates on the three-point line.
Offseason addition Brook Lopez has been another beneficiary of the Budenholzer hiring. The Stanford Cardinal has had solid three-point range for a while now, but is being allowed to fire away with Milwaukee. To put his “firing away” in perspective, the 7-footer launched 11 threes in their last game, making five.
Budenholzer has empowered his players to shoot the three, something that has been missing in Milwaukee, and the early returns have been outstanding. They are playing the brand of basketball a team with that much length, athleticism, and shooting should be playing in 2018. Here’s a quote from Giannis from their game against the Knicks which makes it obvious that the entire team has bought in to what Budenholzer is preaching.
3rd quarter:— Eric Nehm (@eric_nehm) October 23, 2018
Knicks 8-for-9 from mid-range. (I thought they were 8-for-8.)
Bucks 1-for-13 from 3pt.
We've all discussed the Bucks desire to shoot 3s and force other teams to shoot mid-rangers. In that quarter, that plan went against them.
I asked @Giannis_An34 about it: pic.twitter.com/Ahuapvyw50
Essentially, Milwaukee is doing all of the things we’d like to see Minnesota try and do. Can you imagine how fun it would be to see Karl-Anthony Towns launch 11 threes in one night?
Speaking of KAT, he has to be the focus for Minnesota tonight. For a multitude of reasons, Minnesota’s fourth year stud has not looked like himself thus far, with the exception of the fourth quarter in Dallas. He had mostly looked just shaky, but Wednesday’s game in Toronto was very concerning. Towns looked somewhere between disinterested and completely checked out mentally for the entirety of the game. The easy way to explain this is that the toxicity from Butler and Thibs has taken a massive toll on KAT. That may be an oversimplification of the situation, but, Occam’s Razor, right?
It will be paramount for the Wolves to get KAT going early and often tonight to attempt to get his confidence back up. Towns is surely not without blame in this whole scenario, but the reality of the situation is Butler is still in town, and KAT needs to go out and produce to help the Wolves win games.
Another thing to watch for tonight will be the status of Andrew Wiggins. He is officially listed as questionable, so it will be worth monitoring his status throughout the day. If he does play, it’ll be interesting to see how Thibs divides the minutes up among the wings. It used to be simple, play Wiggins and Butler as much as possible and use the bench to give them a break. Now, though, Josh Okogie has earned regular minutes, so Thibs has a decision to make on where those minutes will come from.
Jimmy Butler is also questionable to play due to a reported illness. If both Wiggins and Butler are unavailable, we could see some new lineup combinations debuting tonight.
As a whole, Minnesota will need to rebound and defend the three-point line tonight if they want to have a chance to win this game. Giannis will undoubtedly get his points at the rim, but if Minnesota is able to contain the shooters that Milwaukee will plant around him, they will have a considerably better chance at winning.
Giannis is a matchup problem for just about anyone in the NBA, so Minnesota can only hope to make him work hard for his points. If they can keep Giannis from going nuclear while controlling the Bucks from the three-point line, they give themselves a shot at winning.
Injuries - Minnesota - Andrew Wiggins: questionable (quad), Jimmy Butler: questionable (illness)
*interesting time for Jimmy to have an illness, eh?*
Prediction: Wolves 113 Bucks 107