Minnesota Timberwolves basketball is back. Albeit preseason action, the Timberwolves took to the court for a competitive fixture on Saturday night for the first time since bowing out of the 2018 playoffs.
The Wolves faced the toughest test in the hoops world to kick off their season, visiting the reigning champion Golden State Warriors. After an entertaining match-up, Minnesota ended up scraping over the line with a 114-110 victory.
With the Jimmy Butler trade saga weighing on the minds of every Wolves fan, the sight of the players grabbing a hard-earned win out on the hardwood was certainly refreshing.
Without the All-NBA and All-Defensive team member, head coach Tom Thibodeau started Derrick Rose in place of Butler. The usual suspects Jeff Teague, Andrew Wiggins, Taj Gibson and Karl-Anthony Towns rounded out the line-up.
It’s important to remember that exhibition games shouldn’t be examined too seriously, especially when a Butler trade is still incoming. However, there were certainly talking points that came from the first outing of the season.
In case you had forgotten, the flame-throwing trio of Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson are still absolutely devastating from behind the arc. The trio nailed 10-16 from 3-point range on the night, despite playing just 20 minutes each.
It didn’t help that the Timberwolves defense looked like they were still deeply entrenched in their usual form. Their lax defense allowed the Warriors to score their 110 points on solid 47.3 percent shooting, with their usual fantastic ball movement carving up the Wolves to the tune of 33 assists on 44 baskets. On the other end, Minnesota looked like the same not-pretty-but-effective squad as last season, even without first-option Jimmy Butler leading the charge.
The majority of the offense was driven by the guard play. An aggressive Teague led the team with 17 points and 3 assists in his 21 minutes, while Rose was in his usual attack mode, too. His 21 minutes yielded 16 points on 6-10 shooting.
As expected, the offensive game of Karl-Anthony Towns was sharp. The freshly-minted $190 million man finished with 12 points (5-8 from the field.) The downside is only Taj Gibson took fewer shots among the starters. This is going to be something to watch this season, especially in the absence of Butler: Will the Wolves figure out that Towns is their best offensive option, and can they execute to get him the ball?
Towns also made some encouraging plays on the defensive end, a nice sight to see early against a quality opposition. On the other hand, fellow franchise centerpiece Andrew Wiggins wasn’t overly impressive. The 23-year-old (11 points on 36.3 percent shooting) often settled for that dreaded long-two he is so fond of, and was the culprit of more than one sloppy pass or defensive breakdown.
After the Warriors starters cruised through the first half, the second and third units entered the game and Minnesota was able to stamp their authority on the evening — largely through the impressive debuts of veteran Anthony Tolliver and first-round draft pick Josh Okogie.
Tolliver, who arrived in the Twin Cities after shooting 43 percent from downtown in 2017-18, was on fire from deep. He hit five of the 10 triples he attempted. A welcome sight for Wolves fans who watched their team take and make the fewest amount of 3-pointers in the league last year. Okogie was a ball of energy in his 20 minutes, finishing with 10 points (3-5 shooting), 5 rebounds and a steal.
Minnesota’s bench was one of the biggest weaknesses of last year’s team, so Thibodeau’s new bench brigade stepping up to help get a win — even in a preseason match-up — will have plenty of ears perked up in Wolves world.
With the first win of the preseason ticked off the list, the Timberwolves will be looking ahead to their second game against the Los Angeles Clippers on Wednesday night. With all the drama surrounding the Wolves this off-season, it really does feel damn good to have basketball back.
Editor’s Note: Please welcome Jake to the Canis writing team. We’re thrilled to have him, and will be introducing some other new folks over the coming days.