Today marks two months until the 2022-23 season, so let’s dive into our season series previews. Up first:
The Minnesota Timberwolves and Los Angeles Lakers.
The Lakers are coming off a disappointing season, finishing 11th in the Western Conference, with a record of 33-49. This record comes after trading much of the depth that helped them win a championship in the bubble for Russell Westbrook, which had them top-three in last season’s initial power rankings.
In their season series last season, the Timberwolves won 3-1 and could have started a potential rivalry between the two teams, had Patrick Beverley still been in Minnesota.
Lakers Offseason Recap
First and foremost, Los Angeles shook things up on the sidelines. After firing Frank Vogel — who found out the news from a reporter while on the podium after the Lakers’ season finale— the Lakers brought on former Milwaukee Bucks Assistant Coach Darvin Ham, who has been an outspoken supporter of Russell Westbrook.
Perhaps equally as important, the Purple and Gold signed franchise cornerstone LeBron James to a two-year contract extension (really a one-year deal with a player option on the second year) on Thursday afternoon worth up to a maximum of $111 million, per ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski.
OFFICIAL: @KingJames has signed an extension with the #LakeShow pic.twitter.com/Es3YoXXQhO— Los Angeles Lakers (@Lakers) August 18, 2022
Looking at how the Lakers have used their offseason the last couple of summers (and especially the last two) to supplement their head coach and LeBron, they don’t seem to be looking for players that fit their team’s structure. They built their team last season with a lot of non-shooters, which is no good when your team is led by James, Anthony Davis, and Westbrook. This offseason, they made it a priority to fill their needs, especially on the defensive, rebounding, and shooting fronts.
They also younger this offseason, as Carmelo Anthony, Kent Bazemore, Dwight Howard, Avery Bradley, and D.J. Augustin are no longer with the team. Their biggest addition was Thomas Bryant, who started his career with the Lake Show in 2017. Bryant brings a solid 35% career 3-point percentage for a center, to go along with six rebounds a game across 170 career contests. The former second-round pick has been a serviceable player his whole career, so this was a rock solid addition for the team.
Thomas Bryant has agreed to a three-year, $25M deal to return to the Washington Wizards, agent Todd Ramasar (@tramasar) tells ESPN.— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) June 30, 2019
Lonnie Walker IV is another young player signed to the Lakers this summer, and one who has held his own against the Timberwolves in the past. He figures to provide a nice punch off the bench with his scoring and athleticism for the Lakers, as he averages 9.4 points per game.
Lonnie Walker IV is signing a one-year, $6.5M deal with the Lakers, sources said. https://t.co/7xBnStLWfo— Shams Charania (@ShamsCharania) June 30, 2022
Some more additions to the Lakers bench included Troy Brown Jr. and Juan Toscano-Anderson, who are great defensive additions, while Damian Jones inked a two-year deal with LA this summer and will fortify the interior with rebounding and athleticism at the 5.
Free agent Troy Brown Jr. has agreed to a minimum deal with the Los Angeles Lakers, sources tell @TheAthletic @Stadium.— Shams Charania (@ShamsCharania) June 30, 2022
Juan Toscano-Anderson has agreed to a deal with the Lakers, his agent told @kendra__andrews. pic.twitter.com/sLS6EDy7Ue— NBA on ESPN (@ESPNNBA) July 1, 2022
Damian Jones signs 2-Year deal with the Lakers, via @wojespn— Hoop Central (@TheHoopCentral) June 30, 2022
The Lakers should improve this season solely if they are healthier than last season, but there’s also a case to be made that they got better this summer. Vice President of Basketball Operations Rob Pelinka clearly wanted younger and deeper team to surround their top-three players. Comparing this offseason to last years, I would say they got better, but they are still a couple players away, and have a pair of roster spots to work with.
The key question: how do they project to match up to this year’s Timberwolves’ squad?
Matching Up With The Timberwolves
Heading into this season, I see only one goal President of Basketball Operations Tim Connelly has set this current roster with, and that is to win an NBA Championship. In order to achieve that goal, teams like the Lakers are the ones the Wolves are going to have to make a statement against. All-time, the Timberwolves are 39-83 against the Lakers, but will look to go undefeated against them this season.
With a starting lineup currently projected to include Westbrook (who still figures to be moved before the season), Austin Reaves, James, Davis, and Bryant, it’s fairly obvious that Minnesota holds the edge.
The Timberwolves have the players to be successful against an ill-fitting Lakers starting unit. Head Coach Chris Finch will likely roll out D’Angelo Russell, Anthony Edwards, Jaden McDaniels, Karl-Anthony Towns, and Rudy Gobert as his starting five.
Minnesota should be successful against lineups with two bigs, such as the Lakers, since Finch can put a perennial Defensive Player of the Year in Gobert on Davis, and stick KAT on Bryant. The Wolves can also interchange by assigning Edwards to defend Westbrook and Russell to play off-ball on Reaves, which works out nicely.
The Lakers under Frank Vogel also were top-six in the NBA in scoring in the paint last season and had their way inside when playing against Minnesota as well. This year will be different, as now we Gobert brings much-needed, elite interior defense.
With that being said, the Wolves will hold their own defensively against any team in the NBA, but teams like the Lakers who put a lot of pressure on themselves to score at the rim, will find it harder to score elsewhere, since there are also not a lot of shooters on the court as well.
Offensively, Minnesota will be in good hands, especially with a deeper bench this year as well. The additions of Kyle Anderson, Austin Rivers, Bryn Forbes, along with returners Jaylen Nowell, Jordan McLaughlin, and Naz Reid, made their bench unit one of the more high octane ones in the NBA. The Lakers were also 23rd in team defensive rating, which points to there being several ways to score against them, too.
Especially when playing the Lakers, look for the Wolves to center their offense around running action involving Bryant in PNRs, who doesn’t really come up on screens; and if he does hedge, Minnesota now has the ability to throw it up to an elite vertical spacer in Gobert at the rim. Gobert’s rim-running gravity should open up more shots from the outside when defenses sink heavy to pack the paint.
The Timberwolves played the Lakers four times last season, but will play LA three times in 2022-23, with two games coming at Target Center. Even with a healthy LeBron James and Anthony Davis, the Wolves should take the season series if they handle their business and play up to their potential.
What are your predictions on this specific matchup coming into this season and how would you grade the Lakers offseason so far?