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Wolves at Grizzlies: Rookie Showdown

Minnesota heads to Memphis in a battle featuring several high-profile rookies

NBA: Charlotte Hornets at Memphis Grizzlies Justin Ford-USA TODAY Sports

Wolves at Grizzlies

7:00 pm CST

FS North

Riding a two-game winning streak, the Timberwolves enter play tonight with the good vibes flowing as much as they have in quite some time. Karl-Anthony Towns is still questionable (knee), and while they’d love to get him back as soon as possible, they’ve been in good hands recently with Gorgui Dieng.

That’s a somewhat crazy statement, but seriously, Dieng has been the best player on the team over this recent stretch. It’s hard to overstate how important his contributions have been on both ends.

For one, G has proven himself to be a reliable threat to shoot from the perimeter. That addition to his game has made him much more playable, and has in fact made him quite good on the offensive end of the floor. Alternatively, he’s been crazy good defensively.

Defensive analytics are always a bit wonky and all that blah, blah, blah. Gorgui has been awesome, specifically at playing drop coverage against the pick-and-roll. Hopefully KAT has been taking notes. (I’m skeptical they’ll play two bigs together, but the KAT/Dieng pairing should be given another shot).

Shabazz Napier also looks to continue his hot stretch of play. I kind of feel bad calling it a “hot stretch,” as opposed to just pointing to the fact that Shabazz Napier is a good point guard. Maybe LeBron James was right all those years ago? I kid, I kid, but it would be wise for Minnesota to find a way to lock him up as their backup PG for the future.

While acknowledging the standout vets contributing to Minnesota’s rebuild, we’d be remiss not to acknowledge the play of Jonas Valencuinas for Memphis. He’s been awesome, and like Dieng has extended his range to the three-point line. He’s always been a good player, and it’s great that he’s thriving again in Memphis.

While these vets have played key roles on their teams, it’s the young guys who will be the star attractions of tonight’s game, especially if KAT is out again.

Ja Morant has become the runaway favorite for Rookie of the Year, and for good reason. He’s sensational as a passer and driver, but I think the biggest surprise has been his shooting. He was looked at as an above-average-ish shooter coming out of school, but he’s hitting 40.3% of his threes on the year. They’d probably like to see him attempt more than the 2.3 threes he’s currently taking per game, but either way the percentage is good.

While Morant has been outstanding, there’s a case that he isn’t even the best rookie on his own team. That designation may belong to Brandon Clarke. I realize that sounds strange, but it shouldn’t to anyone who’s been paying attention. There’s definitely some shooting regression coming, but Clarke is currently at 12.6/5.6/1.4 on 63.7/43.2/76.9 shooting splits in his 21.3 minutes a night. Per basketball-reference, Clarke has a +16 net-rating. He’s posting a TS% of 68.4%.

All of that is frankly absurd, but not quite as absurd as the fact that Memphis scooped up Clarke with the 21st pick in the draft when many intelligent draft minds had Clarke as a top-5 pick. This is a legendary draft class for the Grizzlies, which, paired with Jaren Jackson, Jr. will springboard their rebuild.

Oh, yeah, the Timberwolves have a rookie too! Jarrett Culver is starting to look like Jarrett Culver, how about that! Seriously, there are still concerns, but he’s starting to look a lot like the do-it-all swiss army knife we were promised. For a while, it was a struggle to watch Culver because he was struggling so much. Now, he’s starting to come into his own. Things are looking up for our sweet prince.

Lastly, please, I’m begging the Wolves to keep Dillon Brooks from looking like Steph Curry tonight.

Projected Lineups


Shabazz Napier

Jarrett Culver

Andrew Wiggins

Robert Covington

Gorgui Dieng


Ja Morant

Dillon Brooks

Jae Crowder

Jaren Jackson, Jr.

Jonas Valencuinas