The Minnesota Timberwolves continue their road trip in Phoenix tonight on a back-to-back against what looks like will be a full-strength Phoenix Suns team. The Timberwolves just stole both games against the Golden State Warriors to extend their win streak to seven games, something they haven’t accomplished since March of 2003. The Timberwolves feel very real right now, but this will be a great test of how legitimate and dominant their defense can actually be.
- Who: Minnesota Timberwolves (8-2) at Phoenix Suns (4-6)
- When: 8:00 PM CT
- Where: Footprint Center
- TV: Bally Sports North (Michael Grady, Jim Petersen and Marney Gellner)
- Radio: Wolves Radio App, KFAN FM 100.3
- Line: Timberwolves +6, Total: 224 (courtesy of DraftKings Sportsbook)
Updated as of 7:15 PM CT on Wednesday:
- Jaylen Clark (right achilles tendon rupture rehab)
- Jordan McLaughlin (right knee MCL sprain)
- Leonard Miller (G League assignment)
- Wendell Moore Jr. (G League assignment)
- Devin Booker (right calf strain)
- Eric Gordon (left shoulder soreness)
- Bradley Beal (lower back spasms)
- Damion Lee (right meniscus surgery)
What To Watch For
Healthy Suns for the First Time
(Editor’s Note: Beal was a late scratch with less than an hour left until tip.)
For the first time since the preseason, we should get our first look at what this Suns team looks like when all three of their stars are playing. Kevin Durant has played every game this season, but Bradley Beal missed their first seven (has played in the last three) and Devin Booker has only played two games so far (missed the last five).
To say Durant has been playing well would be putting it lightly. Durant is currently averaging 30 points, 7.1 rebounds, 4.6 assists, and 1.2 blocks on 49.8/42.9/85.1 shooting splits. Additionally, the Suns have a net rating differential of +22 when Durant is on the court compared to when he is off, which ranks in the 92nd percentile per Cleaning the Glass. When Durant is off the court, the Suns’ offensive rating is 95.1, which is almost 10 points lower than the worst offense in the league.
The whole point of assembling this triumvirate was to ensure that there would be at least one, if not two, offensive stars on the floor at all times. Like Durant, Booker has held up his end of the bargain when he’s played. The pairing has yet to find their groove when they play together, mainly due to defensive issues which have resulted in a defensive rating of 126.9 compared to a substantive offensive rating of 121.9, but Booker has thrived when he’s the only star on the court. In those instances, the Suns have a net rating of +24.8 (100th percentile) and an offensive rating of 131.8 (100th percentile).
Conversely, Bradley Beal has yet to find his stride. Beal is averaging 17.3 points, 5.3 rebounds, and 3.7 assists on 39.1/33.3/68.8 shooting splits. When him and Durant share the floor, the Suns have a net rating of -6.4 and an offensive rating of just 108.1. When Durant leaves the floor, their net and offensive ratings plummet to -16.6 and 93.4 respectively.
The sample sizes for both Beal and Booker are small, so there could be a significant swing after one really good or bad game. However, the Suns are very much Booker’s franchise and he’s consistently proven why. Regardless of who he or Durant have played with in their careers, they’ve consistently figured out how to impact winning. Beal has yet to do that. With the return of Booker, Beal will likely slide even more into an off-ball role which could help him find his rhythm. If the Timberwolves defend like they did against the depleted Warriors and fail to navigate screens, defensive rebound, and communicate, they could be the catalyst that spurs this Suns’ triumvirate into finding their groove.
Beware of the 3
Aside from their three stars who can get hot at any moment, the Suns have four other players who are shooting at least 35% from three. Eric Gordon (a career 37% shooter) and Jordan Goodwin are shooting 35%, Yuta Watanabe is shooting 40%, and Grayson Allen is shooting 48%. This could be the game where the Timberwolves’ 3-point defense takes a hit.
The Timberwolves currently have the best 3-point defense in the league allowing opponents to shoot just 31.6%. Some of that is their length, athleticism, and ability to contest shots, but a lot of it is also luck. Opponents are shooting 40.9% from the corners but just 29.3% on non-corner 3-pointers.
The Suns take 8.8% of their shots from the corner and make 37.8% of them. They also take 27.3% of their shots above the break and shoot 36.5% on them. Overall, the Suns rank 12th in 3-point shot frequency and 12th in 3-point shot accuracy. That’s with Booker playing only two games and Beal playing only three and not finding his groove yet.
On the second night of a back-to-back and the second to last game of a five-game road trip, the Timberwolves’ legs may be tired. If they are, it wouldn’t be shocking if they gave up a lot of long offensive rebounds, second chance points, and were late on rotations. This game could give us a great look at how real the Wolves’ 3-point defense actually is.
Pressure the Ball
The Timberwolves’ defense ranks eighth in the league with an opponent turnover rate of 15.7%. They disrupt passing lanes, have quick hands, and consistently put opponents in a bad spot. Tonight’s game shouldn’t be any different.
As a team, the Suns rank 28th with a turnover rate of 16.6%. The reinsertion of Booker should theoretically help, but Booker has only had one season with a turnover rate under 10%. This is one of the prime areas where the lack of a point guard on the roster is really hurting this team.
When we look at it on a player-by-player basis, only Keita Bates-Diop has a turnover rate under 10%, and only him and Jordan Goodwin rank above the 60th percentile at their position. Durant’s turnover rate is 14.7%, which ranks in the 16th percentile of forwards. Booker and Beal have a turnover rate of 16.5% and 14.3% respectively, but they haven’t played enough to warrant a specific percentile ranking among combo guards. However, Gordon’s turnover rate of 10.6% ranks in the 57th percentile at the same position. Additionally, Jusuf Nurkic’s is 15.6% (38th percentile), Drew Eubanks’ is 20.3% (9th percentile), Grayson Allen’s is 15.2% (16th percentile), Josh Okogie’s is 11.1% (45th percentile), and Yuta Watanabe’s is 19.6% (2nd percentile). The Suns’ ball security has been abysmal this season. If the Timberwolves can pressure without fouling, run shooters off the line, and force them to make even mildly difficult passes, they should dominate the turnover margin and potentially feast in transition.