After a tumultuous and disappointing first quarter of the season, the Minnesota Timberwolves are starting to have an identity and some clarity. The main driver of this sense of purpose is the return of Karl-Anthony Towns, who serves as the fulcrum of the offensive and defensive systems of this team. Towns opens up the spacing, the multiplier that provides gravitational pull on the opposing team’s defense.
But, there is also a semblance of structure to be found in the established absence of D’Angelo Russell. All the open questions and qualms about the defensive capacity of a Russell-Towns pairing and the heightened efficacy of the duo’s pick-and-roll are formally tabled. In their place is a hopefully resurgent Ricky Rubio, the spacing from Malik Beasley, and defensive presence of either Jarred Vanderbilt or Jaden McDaniels, and a potential superstar in the making of Anthony Edwards.
In other words, the Wolves have gone from a theoretical team whose roster construction belies frequent quandaries to one that presents a more normative roster.
That team can be frisky, which is certainly an improvement from the abject disaster we have seen this year. If Ant is rolling, he is exerting more pull on a pick-and-roll with Towns due to his ability to get to the rim. There certainly be kinks to iron out over the next month or two, but the Wolves have a chance to create continued structures that will hopefully lead to short and long-term success. We saw the beginnings of it take form in these last few games and the Wolves now need to capitalize.
Tonight, the Wolves certainly have an opportunity to build on their momentum. The Pacers started off the year hot, but have slowed down and are struggling with key injuries to T.J. Warren and Caris LeVert. The team remains solid, holding on to their traditional 4-5 slot in the Eastern Conference. Myles Turner has been one of the best defenders in the league, while Domantas Sabonis and Malcolm Brogdon have continued their solid offensive showings.
The Pacers are light on depth, going about 7-deep until Doug McDermott is able to return. When Turner is off the floor, or if Towns is able to pull him away from the rim, the Wolves should be able to attack with ease. The Wolves also have more theoretical offensive firepower than the Pacers can handle, assuming they can start to have Beasley, Towns, and Edwards scoring in a more balanced attack.
But the spotlight will be on Anthony Edwards after the best game of his career against the Lakers. It is just as likely for Edwards to have another strong showing tonight as it is for him to have a letdown performance. The rookie bumps will continue, but the Wolves will ride the wave to see if there is a superstar in the wings.
Projected Starting Lineups
(I have no idea what to make of this 3 point guard, two center Pacers lineup)
Hopefully, tonight is fun.