What To Watch For
Tonight is a prime opportunity for D’Angelo Russell to prove why Minnesota Timberwolves’ former president of basketball operations Gersson Rosas was justified in saying he wanted that point guard after acquiring the All-Star, microwave guard from Golden State at the 2020 trade deadline for Andrew Wiggins and a 2021 first-round pick that became Jonathan Kuminga.
The Golden State Warriors roll into Minneapolis knowing they will be without both Stephen Curry, who injured his hand in Friday night’s blowout win in Chicago, and Draymond Green, who is back in San Francisco rehabbing from a calf injury.
Those key injuries open the door for Wiggins and Kuminga to play important roles on both ends of the floor on the heels of excellent performances from the Warriors swingmen. Wiggins turned in 21 points on 8/11 shooting to go with six assists, four rebounds and zero turnovers, while Kuminga led the Dubs in scoring with 25 points on 10/12 shooting, in addition to three rebounds, three assists, three blocks and a steal.
Here is a look at Jonathan Kuminga's night in Chicago: 25 points, 3 blocks, 3 nice assists.— Anthony Slater (@anthonyVslater) January 15, 2022
First the assists, then the blocks, then the points. It's an impressive highlight package. pic.twitter.com/z7WTOQhk0A
That duo will fuel the Warriors with two of the Western Conference’s most explosive scoring guards in Jordan Poole and Klay Thompson, who will be playing his fourth game back from a 2.5 absence due to ACL and achilles tears. Minnesota’s attention to detail off the ball defensively will have to be much better than it has been of late if they want to successfully protect against a 3-point barrage from a pair that can heat up at a moment’s notice.
Wolves head coach Chris Finch won’t be able to hide Russell or Anthony Edwards off-ball, either, because of the kinetic nature of Steve Kerr’s offense. Golden State makes their opponents work for everything on the defensive end, from closing out to tagging rollers to cleaning the glass. The Warriors pass more than any team in the league and create the second-most catch-and-shoot opportunities in the NBA, which sets up a good litmus test for a Wolves defense that embraces flying around to close out shooters and prevent easy drives.
Beyond the Russell vs. Wiggins/Kuminga storyline is the long-awaited chance for Karl-Anthony Towns to respond, with his play, to these emphatic dunks from Wiggins that have not only become highlights played constantly in the Warriors’ locker room, but also a useful method through which Curry reminds Wiggins to be aggressive on offense.
Andrew Wiggins on which dunk he liked more: "I don't know. I like them both. They were both on KAT. That's my guy...He got me last year so I got him back." pic.twitter.com/47Ljo0ZGv6— Ballislife.com (@Ballislife) November 11, 2021
Towns has been on a terror of late, averaging 30.3 points on 60.3/43.8/70.0 shooting splits, 8.7 rebounds, 5.0 assists, 2.7 stocks, and 3.0 turnovers per game over a three-game stretch where he is shooting nearly 20 shots a night, a nice bump from the 17 shots he has averaged this season.
He’ll face a slow big tonight in Kevon Looney, who will be anchoring a lineup likely to feature three guards and a small-ball 4. There will be a mismatch Towns can exploit no matter who is guarding him; if he can be decisive with the ball, leave his elbows and push-offs for the birds, and keep his emotions in check, the Wolves should be victorious.
Minnesota’s Big 3 is coming off an incredible performance in which they combined for 84 points on 31/56 (55.3%) shooting — including 13/28 (46.4%) from 3 — yet fell short because they got received next to no help in the scoring department from the rest of the team. The rest of the team shot 10/40 (25%) from the floor and 2/20 (10%) from 3. Only one other Wolf (Jarred Vanderbilt, eight points) had more than four points.
That issue should be remedied on some level with Jaylen Nowell returning to the lineup tonight after a one-game absence due to a left ankle sprain suffered against the Pelicans.
Nowell has been a steadying force off the bench that has developed into an indiscriminate scorer capable of playmaking in pick-and-roll as a hybrid combo guard who can play in mostly starters or mostly bench lineups seamlessly.
It’s no surprise the bench offense tanked without him, and he’ll need to step right back in and pick up the slack. He has played extremely well at home in his last three contests, averaging nearly 19 points per game on 55.3/47.1/85.7 shooting splits, plus 4.0 assists per game.
Given that most of Golden State’s bench reinforcements will be forced into playing with their starters, Minnesota will need to dominate the bench minutes of the game if they want to walk away victorious.
Plus, Minnesota does have one variable that Golden State doesn’t: Ant. There’s no doubt that he’ll have the juice tonight playing against the Warriors, even without a fellow Klutch client (Green) on the other end to talk smack and get him going. The last time Edwards took the floor against the Warriors, he delivered the best game of his young career. Behind a 16/27 shooting night, Edwards turned in 48 points to go with six rebounds and five assists.
When he gets it going early at home, especially against elite teams, there’s no telling what might happen next.
I have a feeling that tonight will be one of those nights.
“I’m wearing this to the game tonight. I’ll be like Muhammad Ali comin’ out.”— Jack Borman (@jrborman13) January 16, 2022
- Anthony Edwards, while wearing a custom Versace robe
(via c_hines33 / IG) pic.twitter.com/vo6jw3z9B3
- Jordan McLaughlin (health and safety protocols)
- Stephen Curry (left hand soreness)
- Draymond Green (left calf soreness)
- Gary Payton II (back tightness)
I’m giving out a gambling pick before every Wolves game this season. So far, I am 22-19 (54%).
Tonight’s play: Jarred Vanderbilt O7.5 points
- He has gone over 7.5 points in four straight games
- GS struggles to defend roll men in PnR without Draymond Green
- Wolves’ (and Vanderbilt’s) PnR frequency has ticked up in January
- GS is 21st in turnovers (14.0 per game) in their last 10 games, while shooting 34% from 3 (17th). Plenty of opportunities for Vanderbilt to get out and run in transition