- Who: Minnesota Timberwolves (2-0) vs. New York Knicks (1-0)
- When: Saturday, October 14th at 6:30 PM CT
- Where: Madison Square Garden
- TV: NBA TV
- Radio: Wolves Radio App
- Line: Wolves +3.5 | Total: 217.5 (via DraftKings Sportsbook)
As of 9:20 AM CT Saturday
- Jaylen Clark (achilles)
- Jaden McDaniels (left calf strain)
Jaden McDaniels will not play tonight against New York because of a minor left calf strain that has kept him out— Jon Krawczynski (@JonKrawczynski) October 14, 2023
practice this week, team sources tell @TheAthletic . He will be re-evaluated in a week and a half.
The Timberwolves open the regular season in Toronto on Oct. 25th, right up against that timeline.— Jon Krawczynski (@JonKrawczynski) October 14, 2023
- Josh Hart (rest)
- Ryan Arcidiacono (rest)
What To Watch For
How Will the Offense Look Against New York’s Defense?
The offense looked like a well-oiled machine through Minnesota’s first two preseason games in Abu Dhabi, both wins over the Dallas Mavericks. The preseason is designed to give teams time to get on the same page before the regular season begins. However, the Timberwolves looked like a group playing together all summer. The team didn’t overhaul the roster as they did two summers ago when they brought in Rudy Gobert. The Wolves remained relatively the same roster-wise, as Shake Milton and Troy Brown Jr. were the two lone additions to the rotation.
That said, we must take the fluid offense we saw in the first half of both games with a grain of salt. The defensive makeup of the Mavericks could be much better. At any rate, both games against Dallas served as a good warmup.
Now, the Wolves will have their hands full in the Big Apple.
Over the last two seasons, the Tom Thibodeau-led Knicks team has relied on their defense. New York has some solid wing and paint defenders, such as RJ Barrett, Quentin Grimes, and Mitchell Robinson. If you are going to thrive playing under Thibs in New York’s big market, taking possessions off on defense is out of the question.
Chris Finch is starting the second half with Moore Jr., Milton, Brown Jr., Anderson, and Reid.— Charlie Walton (@CharlieWaltonMN) October 7, 2023
Assuming the starters are done.
Great performance from the big three:
Towns: 14 pts, 3 rebs, 2 asts, 4-9 fg
Edwards: 13 pts, 3 asts, 4-9 fg
Gobert: 7 pts, 5 rebs, 3-3 fg, +16
Last Saturday was our first look at Minnesota’s big three since the team was eliminated in the first round of the NBA Playoffs against the Denver Nuggets. In April, Gobert was not 100% healthy after suffering a knee injury in the 2022 EuroBasket Tournament. Karl-Anthony Towns had to try and figure it out on the fly after missing 52 games in the middle of the season due to a calf injury. Jaden McDaniels (broken hand) and Naz Reid (broken wrist) missed the entire postseason. And Anthony Edwards was doing his best to keep the team’s head above water.
So far in the preseason, everyone looks as close to 100% as they can be. Towns and Edwards shared the workload offensively pretty much equally, and Gobert was being used more as a safety valve in the dunker’s spot and not clogging the paint — allowing the offense to flow much more smoothly. When the ball moves through those three, things seem to come naturally to everyone else.
Minnesota shot the leather off the ball in Abu Dhabi, especially during the second game (43.3% from the floor and 45.2% from deep). I could say those numbers will eventually come down, but that’s not what the preseason is for! This is a time for overreactions and walking away with the mindset that your favorite team is making a championship-level run. Regardless, I’m very interested in how the team will fair offensively against a projected Playoff team in the loaded Eastern Conference.
Will the Rotation Change?
The starting five is locked in place. When healthy, Minnesota’s preferred starting five are Mike Conley, Anthony Edwards, Jaden McDaniels, Karl-Anthony Towns, and Rudy Gobert. There hasn’t been any conversation or speculation on that front. Where questions have come from revolves around the bench.
Finch went with a 10-deep rotation in the first half. He's clearly trying different things, like McLaughlin and Conley running the backcourt together.— Charlie Walton (@CharlieWaltonMN) October 5, 2023
I've been open about this -- I'd love to see a longer rotational leash during the regular season. https://t.co/nq9TXJvohW
Last season, Head Coach Chris Finch leaned on a nine-man rotation consistently. The hope with that decision was to keep the chemistry high amongst his starters and rotational players. With that being said, Finch didn’t have many other options. The Wolves didn’t receive much production from certain bench players they brought in, assuming they would contribute to winning. Also, the lack of health killed the team all season. When a coach goes through prolonged adversity, they must improvise with lineups, player combinations, and game-to-game rotations.
Right now, and when fully healthy, the Wolves have 10 players who deserve to play regularly. Finch did state that he should have gone deeper into his roster at specific points last season, but with the lack of production he got toward the end of the bench, who can blame him for wanting to keep some sort of sustainability on the floor at all times?
Thus far in the preseason, Minnesota’s coaching staff has been rolling with ten guys off the bench in the first half (after halftime, the bench has been emptied in both games).
- During the first two preseason games, the Wolves were either without Edwards or McDaniels, so Nickeil Alexander-Walker stepped up into the starting five. Overall, here is how the bench part of the rotation shook out in both games:
- Shake Milton
- Kyle Anderson
- Troy Brown Jr.
- Naz Reid
- Jordan McLaughlin
Of course, the minutes there aren’t worth mentioning, as the games entered garbage time after halftime. However, it’s evident that Finch, at least so far, is going five-deep off the bench. He’s also staggering the minutes between Reid, Gobert, and Towns. As we continue deeper into the preseason and into the regular season, I would keep an eye out for Reid to be paired more with Gobert than he would be with KAT.
“The way he [Rudy] plays is kind of the opposite to how I play,” Reid told the media after the team got back from Abu Dhabi.
“Learning how to react to how he moves, and vice versa, knowing where he’s going to be and where I should be. Obviously, that’s the opposite of him (Naz spacing/attacking while Gobert is down low). And not getting in each other’s ways. That’s easier than being in the position where I am with KAT, which we can do, but we do the same things. It’s a little bit weird. With both of us playing with Rudy, it’s like day and night.”
As we inch closer and closer to the regular season opener on October 25, the starters and key rotational pieces should be playing more. Finch has experimented with certain lineups, but overall, when fully healthy, his first five players off the bench seem apparent. It will be interesting to see how/if any changes will be made between on and opening night.
Keeping New York Out of the Paint
To close things off here, I wanted to quickly touch on how New York’s offense operates. I get it; these games are exhibition and have no impact on standings. However, determining specific strategies on both sides of the ball during the preseason can be crucial once the regular season begins.
Watching the Knicks-Celtics game this evening to prep for Saturday's Wolves game.— Charlie Walton (@CharlieWaltonMN) October 10, 2023
NY's offense is simple. They rely on the PnR w/ Brunson and Robinson/Randle. This opens up corner triples when the defense collapses.
Keeping them out of the paint is key.pic.twitter.com/NcJWu8UBTM
The Knicks have played just one preseason game entering Saturday, that coming this past Monday at home against the Boston Celtics. I decided to tune in to see Nate Knight with his new team and get my first glimpse at how New York looked this season.
Thibs relies heavily on pick-and-rolls, primarily between Jalen Brunson, Julius Randle, and Mitchell Robinson. With Randle being New York’s primary scoring option, the ball finds him down low often. Because the Knicks pump the ball inside, defenses are forced to collapse, which opens up corner triple opportunities.
I get that preseason games don’t count toward anything, but I will look to see how well the Wolves defend New York’s PnR attempts. They have the defensive artillery, such as Gobert, McDaniels, and Edwards in the starting five. However, the Knicks gave Minnesota trouble last season, especially during their lone game at Madison Square Garden. Randle finished that game with a jaw-dropping 57 points on 65% from the floor, and Bruson tacked on 23 points and 10 assists on 50% from the floor. The Wolves won that game, 140-134, but it was a nail-biter. If Randle hadn’t run out of juice in the fourth (credit Thibs for pushing him too hard in the first three quarters), I doubt Minnesota would have won.
(Editor’s Note: I miss Taurean Prince already)
Of course, Saturday’s preseason game won’t have that high of completion, but, as I said, the Wolves are matching up with a formidable opponent, and gaining a leg-up now can help them when they face off later in the regular season.