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Preseason Game Preview #1: Wolves vs Mavericks

The Timberwolves have gone international, as Anthony Edwards leads Minnesota against Luka Dončić and the Dallas Mavericks in the first of two preseason games in Ahu Dhabi.

Dallas Mavericks v Minnesota Timberwolves Photo by David Berding/Getty Images

Game Info

Injury Report




  • Jaylen Clark (right achilles tendon rupture rehab)
  • Anthony Edwards (left ankle sprain)



  • Tim Hardaway Jr. (right hamstring soreness)
  • Derrick Jones Jr. (Illness)
  • Mike Miles Jr. (Illness)

What To Watch For

2023-24 NBA Globals Games All Access Photo by David Sherman/NBAE via Getty Images

The Rotation

The Timberwolves will suit up on Thursday night local time in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, some 7,220 miles from home in a much different place than when they first took the floor in Miami to open the preseason last October.

Rudy Gobert is 100% fully healthy. Mike Conley is the starting point guard. Anthony Edwards is unquestionably the No. 1 guy. Naz Reid is back with a three-year contract. Kyle Anderson and Nickeil Alexander-Walker have been stamped as cult heroes coming off big stretch run performances last spring. Taurean Prince, Jaylen Nowell and Austin Rivers are gone, with Shake Milton and Troy Brown Jr. taking their place. And, to top it all off, there is a real argument to be made that the Wolves have the deepest and most talented team in franchise history.

The first question we’re all probably wondering is, ‘So how does this all fit together?’ Today will be the biggest step yet in answering it. We can presume that the Timberwolves will — on some level — stagger their two All-Star centers, so finding out which players spend most of their minutes playing Towns or Gobert will be insightful.

The best two-man pairings with Towns after the All-Star break last season:

  • Nickeil Alexander-Walker, +17.4 net rating
  • Taurean Prince, +14.6
  • Jordan McLaughlin, +12.3
  • Mike Conley, +11.8
  • Naz Reid, +10.7

The worst (more than 30 minutes played) was Gobert.... at +4.8.

The best two-man pairings with Gobert after the All-Star break last season:

  • Karl-Anthony Towns, +4.8
  • Jaden McDaniels, +3.6
  • Anthony Edwards, +3.4
  • Jordan McLaughlin, +3.3
  • Kyle Anderson, +3.1

The worst (more than 30 minutes played) was Alexander-Walker at -15.3.

I would imagine Finch will try to keep Gobert and Anderson together as much as possible given that those two recorded the highest net rating (7.1) of any Timberwolves duo that shared the court for at least 700 minutes last season. Selfishly, I need to see more of the Towns/Reid pairing, as that pair was a wrecking ball in their (clears throat, yelling small sample size) 37 minutes across three games together after Towns returned from injury and before Reid broke his wrist.

With the front-courts set, you can go in just about any direction from there. Stacking perimeter defenders in the KAT lineups that may switch or play more at the level makes sense to me (Alexander-Walker, Edwards, McDaniels), while Gobert/Slow-Mo groupings may call for more spacing on the perimeter (Conley, Milton, Edwards).

No matter what happens, it’ll be interesting to see where Finch’s mind is at in terms of those two and three-man groups that NBA coaches so often work to over the course of a game.

Minnesota Timberwolves v Denver Nuggets - Game Five Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images

Which Defense(s) Do the Timberwolves Deploy?

Minnesota is uniquely equipped to play just about any style of NBA defense given their stable of long, disruptive perimeter defenders and capable big wings that complement both Gobert, one of the best rim protectors of all-time, and Towns, who has been an excellent defensive rebounder for his entire career.

They can switch in lineups or at the level of the screen with either KAT or Gobert at the 5; a deep drop is also in the cards with Alexander-Walker or Edwards at the point of attack, McDaniels as a free safety roamer (think how Giannis Antetokounmpo plays) and Gobert at the rim; and finally, zone is certainly a possibility, too, given that they have plenty of length:

  • Edwards (6-foot-9 wingspan)
  • NAW (6-foot-10)
  • Brown Jr. (6-foot-11)
  • Milton (7-foot)
  • McDaniels (7-foot)
  • Anderson (7-foot-3)
  • Naz (7-foot-1)
  • KAT (7-foot-3)
  • Gobert (7-foot-9)

I’ll be taking note of the lineups they decide to utilize each defensive concept against, as it will be indicative of 1) what they are trying to install first and 2) what their strategy might be against two dynamic stars on the floor at the same time in Dončić and Kyrie Irving, as well as what will happen when just one of them is out there.

Dallas Mavericks v Minnesota Timberwolves Photo by David Berding/Getty Images

Will Jaden McDaniels Get Anyone Ejected?

McDaniels is no stranger to frustrating opponents to no end, especially the Dallas Mavericks.

Last December in Minneapolis, Slim took not one, but two victims with his play. Both Dončić and Head Coach Jason Kidd ducked out of the game early to find respite from the hellacious experience that is trying to run offense while McDaniels is guarding the lead initiator.

Honestly, I can’t blame either one of them. I wouldn’t be able to dribble the ball once without McDaniels taking it the other way for a dunk. Not to mention, Jaden doesn’t say anything while he ruins your day, which would bother me even more than someone who’s talking smack while carrying out crimes against ball-handlers. That’s the beauty in McDaniels’ game — he won’t make a sound while his game (and opponents begging for calls) are as loud as can be.