With exactly a week left until the Minnesota Timberwolves take the court in their 2021-2022 season opener against the Houston Rockets, let’s dive into how exactly they match up against the third team in our Northwest Division Preview series: the Oklahoma City Thunder.
After finishing 14th this past season in the Western Conference standings, the Oklahoma City Thunder made it known this offseason that they are going to keep their young core for the foreseeable future, while simultaneously placing an emphasis on accumulating more draft picks.
The duo of Luguentz Dort and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (who signed a 5-year, $172 million dollar contract extension this summer) really made a name for themselves in the NBA Bubble when they played in the first round of the playoffs against the James Harden-led Houston Rockets. Since the infamous Bubble (which somehow took place only a little over a year ago), Dort has quickly established himself as one of the league’s top perimeter defenders while SGA showed off his scoring skills last season, averaging 23.7 points per game (including 50.8% from the field).
The Thunder go into this NBA season with the youngest (average) roster in the league — 23.5 years old — while the Timberwolves are the fifth youngest (average of 24.9 years old). The recent history between these two franchises is actually quite entertaining — there was the Andrew Wiggins game winner, #UntuckGate, and then this buzzer beater from D’Angelo Russell last season in Oklahoma City:
Transitioning to this season, let’s recap what the Thunder did in the offseason and some of the more intriguing matchups between the two teams.
Oklahoma City Thunder 2021 Offseason
After parting ways with Al Horford, Tony Bradley, Moses Brown, and Svi Mykhaliuk, Oklahoma acquired a lot of young talent during the offseason. For starters, they kicked off their 2020 NBA Draft by surprising a lot of people and taking Josh Giddey, who flew up some draft boards after a strong pre-draft. They also left draft night with Tre Mann, Vit Krejci, Aaron Wiggins, and Jeremiah Robinson-Earl as well.
The OKC Thunder pick Josh Giddey at No. 6 overall— NBA on ESPN (@ESPNNBA) July 30, 2021
He was the 2020-21 NBL Rookie of the Year ⚡️ pic.twitter.com/z378UU0LdG
The Celtics have officially announced the reacquisition of Al Horford in a trade that sends Kemba Walker to Oklahoma City.— Marc Stein (@TheSteinLine) June 18, 2021
Losing the services of Al Horford was big, especially when you consider he had accepted his veteran role, helping guide the young OKC Thunder with his overall leadership and experience. Moses Brown was also a significant loss, as he’s show some legit promise thus far in the NBA, averaging 8.6 points and 8.9 rebounds this past season. On the flip side, the Thunder also acquired Derrick Favors via trade and D.J. Wilson, as well as Paul Watson in free agency.
The Utah Jazz have agreed to trade C Derrick Favors and a future first-round pick to the Oklahoma City Thunder for a future second-round pick, sources tell ESPN. Jazz create some financial flexibility and Thunder grab another first-rounder.— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) July 30, 2021
The Thunder are a unique team to assess compared to the other Northwest Division Teams because of the direction they are headed. The Thunder have a lot of great young talent and special players, but as we’ve seen in the NBA, especially with Minnesota, you need to have veteran leadership and experience to be successful in the league. Where do you think the Thunder will finish this season?
Matching Up With The Thunder
The history and rivalry of the Thunder and Timberwolves is real. Every time these two teams matchup against each other, there is always some type of drama involved. Analyzing the three games that they played this past season, I looked closely at the one where Karl-Anthony and D’Angelo Russell didn’t play.
The Wolves fell behind 43-23 in the first quarter and didn’t really end up getting back into the game until the third quarter. Naz Reid led that comeback with 29 points, as Jake Layman had 16 points and Jaylen Nowell also had 15. For the Thunder, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander le the team with 31 points and Mike Muscala was the second leading scorer with 22.
Looking ahead towards the upcoming season, the biggest key to beating this young, physical Thunder team will be to see how the depth of this Timberwolves team matches up with the Thunder’s youth. OKC has a lot of offensive talent on their team as well, featuring guys like Darius Bazley, Aleksej Pokusevski, and Ty Jerome, so if the Wolves can stay locked in on defense (which will be a common theme against most opponents), as well as get easy buckets on the offensive end, they should set themselves up for success. The Wolves will also want to place an increased emphasis on getting KAT going in these matchups, as the Thunder front line (which no longer features the human mountain himself Steven Adams) now only includes Mike Muscala, Derrick Favors, and rookie Jeremiah Robinson-Earl.
Personally, I look forward to this matchup, knowing the history, but also the energy this Oklahoma City Thunder team has in them. The Wolves play the Thunder three times this season, including two games in a row. What are your predictions on what we could expect out of this Northwest Division foe this upcoming season?