- Who: Oklahoma City Thunder (0-0) vs Minnesota Timberwolves (0-0)
- When: 7:10 PM CT
- TV: Bally Sports North (Michael Grady, Jim Petersen and Katie Storm)
- Radio: 830 WCCO-AM
- Line: Wolves -10.5 | Total: 227 (courtesy of DraftKings Sportsbook)
What To Watch For
The Minnesota Timberwolves are set to host the Oklahoma City Thunder in arguably the franchise’s most anticipated season opener of the millennium when Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Josh Giddey and the Thunder roll into Target Center tomorrow night.
Last season, there was nothing better for the Wolves than seeing “Thunder” on the schedule. Minnesota won all four matchups with Oklahoma City, while scoring 125.8 points per game and registering an average win margin of 26.3 points. And yes, for those wondering, Gilgeous-Alexander played in all four contests.
The outlook for these two teams entering 2022-23 could not be more different. The Timberwolves expect to push for a top-four seed in the NBA’s vaunted, reloaded Western Conference, while the Thunder figure to headline the Victor Wembanyama sweepstakes ahead of the presumptive No. 1 pick in the 2023 NBA Draft’s arrival to the league next season.
Above all else, there are three things I’m eager to see play out on Wednesday.
Let’s Try This Again
After a rocky debut together in Friday’s preseason loss to the Brooklyn Nets, the Timberwolves’ All-NBA front-court of Karl-Anthony Towns and Rudy Gobert will get another crack at it on Wednesday. The pair combined for 31 points on 10/18 shooting, 17 rebounds, six assists, and four steals — a collective performance they undoubtedly would like to improve upon tomorrow night.
Towns reiterated the team’s mission of fully optimizing Gobert’s offensive impact while stating his belief that the Utah Jazz “underutilized” the three-time Defensive Player of the Year on offense.
“I want to utilize him. I know I’ve said multiple times up here that he’s a generational defensive player. But he’s pretty damn good when he’s around the rim. I want to utilize that maximize it as much as possible,” Towns said postgame on Friday. “It opens up different holes for us on offense. It gives us different looks and it helps our team win.”
How much Towns and D’Angelo Russell will look to get the ball into Gobert on the block remains to be seen, but the frequency is anything like it was in the dress rehearsal, taking the over on Gobert’s points prop (14.5) may be a prudent decision.
The No. 1 and No. 2 overall picks in 2015 fed their new star teammate on seals down low and in standard post-up situations against smaller defenders more than a handful of times, helping get Gobert to the line for 10 free throw attempts. Gobert achieved that feat 12 times a season ago.
Defensively, it will be about positioning for Towns and Gobert. The latter alluded to Towns sinking too deep into the paint when guarding a 4 in the weak-side corner from the main ball screen action, leading to opposite kicks for wide open looks from 3. If KAT shores that up and puts together a more efficient shooting night, Minnesota should breeze to an easy win.
All-NBA Centers vs Rent a Center
While the Wolves are set to embark on a revolutionary experiment that will challenge the permeating perimeter-centric NBA game we know today, the Thunder are set to open the season without a true center on its active roster. Jeremiah Robinson-Earl — a 6-foot-9 forward — is projected to start at the 5 for head coach Mark Daigneault’s group, who will be tasked with picking and choosing how they will defend Minnesota’s multi-pronged offense.
Between Towns, Gobert, Russell, and Anthony Edwards, Oklahoma City will have their hands full assigning matchups that make sense defensively. I’d expect to see Gilgeous-Alexander — who is set to make his season debut without a minutes restriction after missing the entire NBA preseason with a sprained left MCL — match up with Jaden McDaniels, Giddey on Russell, wing stopper Luguentz Dort on Edwards, Robinson-Earl on Towns, and Aleksej Pokusevski on Gobert, if that’s how OKC starts.
Putting Poku in the pick-and-roll while expecting Robinson-Earl to stay with Towns on the drive and on the block, is a tough ask, but it’s probably the best Daigneault can do given his barren roster.
With that in mind, don’t be surprised if the Thunder are forced to play zone, something the Nets did not do on Friday, but could be an interesting curveball to throw a starting lineup of players that doesn’t have many reps alongside one another.
Wolves head coach Chris Finch said before Friday night’s game he would try to play Towns and Gobert together as much as he could; during the preseason, Finch and his trusted assistant coach Micah Nori confirmed the suspicion that Minnesota would try to stagger their All-NBA centers in order to get 48 minutes of dominant play at the 5.
I’d expect Edwards and Towns to see most of their minutes together, while Russell and Gobert make sense as a pairing.
From there, Jordan McLaughlin makes sense as a table-setting point guard alongside Ant and KAT, who both love to get out and run in transition, with Kyle Anderson and Taurean Prince. Jaylen Nowell would be fun alongside Russell and Gobert as a score-first guard, especially when flanked by a defensive specialist in McDaniels and a floor-spacing 4, whether that is Prince or Reid.
No matter how the initial rotations shake out, we should see some good run from Denver Nuggets imports Bryn Forbes and Austin Rivers, as well as Nathan Knight and preseason darling Luka Garza, if the primary rotation mainstays take care of their business against one of the worst teams in the NBA.
- Eric Paschall (left ankle/achilles tendinosis)
- Chet Holmgren (right foot surgery)
Like I did last season, I’ll be giving out a pick before every Wolves game this season. I went 34-37 in 2021-22, so we can only go up this year.
As I mentioned previously, the Wolves are going to get Rudy Gobert involved as best they can. Even when they don’t find him in the half-court, Gobert should feast on the offensive glass. He averaged 15.8 points and 16.3 rebounds per game in his four matchups with OKC last year, eclipsing the 14.5 bar three out of four times.
Expect to see it happen again in his first official NBA game as a Wolf.
The Pick: Rudy Gobert o14.5 points (courtesty of DraftKings SportsBook)