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Wolves at Hawks: Building Momentum

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The Wolves energetic rookie makes his return home tonight

NBA: Sacramento Kings at Minnesota Timberwolves Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

Wolves (29-31) at Hawks (20-41)

6:30pm CST

FS North

More than any other game, these road games against bottom-of-the-conference teams scare me. Minnesota has made a habit the past few years of losing games very similar to this one.

Recently, Atlanta has begun to play better, going 4-6 in their last 10. Obviously, that isn’t great, but it points to a much better pace than their current overall record would suggest. They just gave Houston a run for their money on the road. The Hawks, if nothing else, are competitive now.

The driver for Atlanta’s recent improvement has been Trae Young. Ten years down the road, the Hawks may be kicking themselves over the Young for Doncic trade, but it’s becoming more and more clear what they saw in Trae Young.

Young got off to a terrible start to the season shooting the ball, but has really started to figure it out of late. Over his last 15 games, the Oklahoma product is averaging 21 points and 9 assists while making over 41% of his threes. To be clear, his passing is still his best attribute.

The jumper has finally started to come along now, as well. His game against Houston was by far the best game of his career, which included 36 points and 8 threes, all of which were absolute bombs.

It’s mentioned in Dane Moore’s thread above, but the truth really is that Minnesota’s number one priority tonight has to be controlling Young in the pick-and-roll. They have been suspect at best against ball-handlers who can pull-up out of the PnR this year, and Young is going to test that. To combat the Trae Young/John Collins PnR, Minnesota has a few options.

They could hedge hard against Young coming off the screen, although that makes me nervous about Collins rolling to the rim and/or which ever shooter the Wolves would inevitably end up leaving open in the corners.

They could try to switch the PnR and see if KAT and/or Taj Gibson can hang with Trae Young on the perimeter. This at least wouldn’t leave anyone open right away of the screen, but would also leave Minnesota with mismatches all night long.

Another option, which has been deployed frequently by Minnesota, is drop coverage. This could be an okay option tonight when Tyus is in the game, because he would actually fight over the top of the screen and force Young into the paint, where he scores much less efficiently. If the guard does fight hard to get over the initial screen, though, this would end up with Young just pulling open three after open three.

As you can see, there’s no perfect option against a PnR threat like Young. In the ideal world, you probably hedge and trust the players on the back end to rotate, but the Wolves give up so many corner threes that I just don’t. Personally, I’m more in favor of just switching the screens and figuring it out from there. KAT has typically shown the ability to hang with guards when switched out on the perimeter.

While containing Young in the PnR will be the priority as it pertains to the Hawks, if the Wolves come out engaged and play basketball the way they did against Sacramento, they should be just fine. Atlanta is one of the worst defensive teams in the league, with a defensive rating that is better than only the Suns and the Cavs.

Karl-Anthony Towns should have, at a minimum, 20 FGA tonight. There is not a single guy on the Hawks roster who can hang with him. John Collins is a nice offensive player, but he has no shot guarding KAT on the block. Maybe he was just amped to play against his college roommate (Willie Cauley-Stein) on Monday, but he showed how dominant he can be. It’s unfair to expect 30/20/5 on a regular basis, but there’s a decent shot he could approach those numbers again tonight.

One player who will definitely be amped for tonight’s game is Josh Okogie. Not that he ever needs extra motivation, but his parents will finally get to see him play an NBA game today!

Lastly, I hope to see more Luol Deng than Andrew Wiggins tonight. Deng has an on-court net-rating of +10.7, and Minnesota’s net-rating with Deng off the court is -1.6. The Wolves have a net-rating 12.3 points better with him on the court. He should play as much as his body can handle.

This is also the beginning of a surprisingly important road trip. After tonight’s trip to Atlanta, Minnesota heads to Indiana and Washington. They absolutely have to win tonight and at Washington. A win at Indiana would be icing on the cake, but that will be a tough game regardless.

Anyways, the Wolves need to stack wins now. For the Wolves to have a realistic shot, they need to be in control of the 8th seed with about 8 games to go. That may seem aggressive, but take a peak at the last 8 games for Minnesota.

Yikes. The time to stack wins and make a run is now.

Bet of the night

I’m in no way saying that you SHOULD make these bets. I’m not betting them. It’s just a fun extra thing that I’ll be tracking for the remainder of the season. All lines via Bovada.

In our latest attempt to be winners, we fell flat on our faces. The last pick was Minnesota under 107.5 points against the Bucks. That pick lost in the third quarter, dropping us to 5-6 on the season. Tonight, we get back to .500.

The pick: Wolves -5 (-105)

This might be a sucker bet, especially considering the issues that Trae Young can cause in the PnR and the Wolves track record in these games. I’m taking it anyways. Watching Karl-Anthony Towns dominate the Kings on Monday was amazing, and it has reinvigorated me with hope for this team. The Wolves have to know how important every game still is if they want to make a legitimate push. That starts tonight.

Projected Lineups

Wolves

Jeff Teague/Tyus Jones

Josh Okogie

Andrew Wiggins

Dario Saric

Karl-Anthony Towns

Hawks

Trae Young

Kevin Huerter

Tauren Prince

John Collins

Dewayne Dedmon