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Wolves at Thunder: What to Expect in Saunders’ Debut

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Ryan Saunders makes his head coaching debut in Oklahoma City

Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

Wolves (19-21) at Thunder (25-14)

7:00pm CST

NBA TV

The Ryan Saunders era kicks off tonight with a road battle against one of the top teams in the West. This is certainly not the easiest way to kick off your coaching career, but nonetheless, we’ll get a look at some of the tweaks and changes Saunders wants to make to this team.

It sounds like Saunders wants to get this team to play at a quicker tempo offensively, as well as incorporate some more modern basketball principles into this team. If those things are to happen, there’s a few things I’d expect to see tonight.

First and foremost, I’d expect to see more Tyus Jones minutes and less Jeff Teague minutes. This is nothing against Teague who has actually been very solid since returning from injury. It has much more to do with the fact that Teague seems to be more comfortable in a half-court setting, while Tyus is more apt to push the ball up the floor. If engaged (big if), this could really benefit Andrew Wiggins by allowing him to use his athleticism in the open floor more often (plz dunk).

Additionally, Saunders’ comments suggest that everyone may get their wishes and see some more switching from the Wolves defensively. They’ve switched defensively more this year than in the past, but there is definitely some room for growth in that department. The comments also suggest that there will be a prioritization of the three-point line on both ends of the floor.

Lastly, I’d expect to see some changes to the rotation. I wouldn’t necessarily expect the players in the rotation to change that much, although I could see it expanding to include Tolliver more often. I would expect to see the substitution patterns change, though. One would imagine there will be no more 18 minute stints for Andrew Wiggins, and there could be more Dario-KAT minutes together.

With all that being said, I’d like to temper expectations for tonight. It’s very possible that this change will light a fire under this team, but they have had essentially no practice time to make the aforementioned changes. They’re also squaring off against one of the very best teams in the entire NBA.

Saunders’ can draw up whatever he wants to offensively, but Oklahoma City’s top-ranked defense is going to make everything that much more difficult.

I would expect to see the Wolves combat this, mainly Steven Adams, by moving KAT around more often around the perimeter. Adams give KAT problems in the paint, but there’s no doubt that he can use his athleticism and shooting ability to neutralize Adams interior/physical advantage.

Sitting 2.5 games out of the playoffs, the time is now for the Wolves to pick up some big wins. Two of the three teams ahead of them are struggling (Utah, LAL), and nobody knows what to expect from Sacramento as far as the playoffs go.

It definitely won’t be easy, but a win tonight in Oklahoma City would do wonders for the Wolves playoff chances. I would just ask that we try not to take too much from this game if it goes poorly due to the limited time Saunders’ has had to implement his own stuff. If it goes really well? Fire up the hot takes and let the overreactions ride!

Projected Lineups

Wolves

Jeff Teague

Josh Okogie

Andrew Wiggins

Taj Gibson

Karl-Anthony Towns

Thunder

Russell Westbrook

Terrence Ferguson

Paul George

Jerami Grant

Steven Adams

Check in with our friends at Welcome to Loud City for the Thunder perspective.