The Minnesota Timberwolves are back in action on Friday night, this time to kick off their 2023 NBA In-Season Tournament run with a primetime matchup with the San Antonio Spurs. The game will mark the first time the Wolves battle with 2023 No. 1 overall pick Victor Wembanyama.
If you want to read a comprehensive explainer of what the tournament is, how it works, and everything you need to know from a Wolves perspective, please click here.
- Who: Minnesota Timberwolves (5-2) at San Antonio Spurs (3-5)
- When: 7:00 PM CT
- Where: Frost Bank Center
- TV: Bally Sports North (Michael Grady, Jim Petersen and Marney Gellner)
- Radio: Wolves Radio App, KFAN FM 100.3
- Line: Timberwolves -7.5, Total: 224.5 (courtesy of DraftKings Sportsbook)
Updated as of 5:15 PM CT on Friday:
- Jaylen Clark (right achilles tendon rupture rehab)
- Luka Garza (two-way contract)
- Jordan McLaughlin (right knee MCL sprain)
- Leonard Miller (G League assignment)
- Wendell Moore Jr. (G League assignment)
- Charles Bediako (two-way contract)
- Sidy Cissoko (G League assignment)
- Sir’Jabari Rice (two-way contract)
What To Watch For
A “Proud Dad” Moment for Rudy Gobert
That was the term the Rudy Gobert used in the locker room following the Wolves’ win 122-101 win over the New Orleans Pelicans to describe what it’s been like to watch his fellow Frenchman play in the NBA.
Gobert has long been a mentor for Wembanyama, who is just 19, and knows him as well as anyone in the league. Beyond the pair sharing an agent and both serving as Nike athletes, they are both prominent members of the French National Team system and spend plenty of time together for offseason workouts back home in Paris.
The four-time All-NBA selection’s experience should certainly help the Wolves, who are one of teams best equipped to slow down the 7-foot-4 Wembanyama, who is averaging 18.8 points on 44.1/29.3/79.1 shooting, 8.5 rebounds, 1.8 assists to 3.5 turnovers, 2.4 blocks and 1.1 steals across 29.1 minutes per game in eight appearances (all starts).
His best game of the season came on November 2, when he dropped 38 points on 15/26 shooting, grabbed 10 rebounds, and blocked a pair of shots in the Spurs’ 132-121 win over the Phoenix Suns.
Wemby has struggled recently in the Spurs’ last two outings against the New York Knicks and Indiana Pacers, scoring 27 points on 7/26 shooting (26.9%) and registering more turnovers (five) than assists (two). A key reason why is because both squads have excellent defensive centers (Mitchell Robinson and Myles Turner, respectively) with the athleticism, strength, and massive wingspan required to slow down such a unique talent.
San Antonio’s coaching staff has understandably prioritized Wemby’s perimeter development as a way of reducing the wear-and-tear that comes with the physicality playing in the paint demands. He plays much more like a stretch 4 than a 5, as Zach Collins has done most of the dirty work inside so far this season. But that doesn’t mean Wembanyama won’t mix it up in the paint. The Spurs have gone to him on the block against smaller opponents in the flow of the game, and really made an effort to play through him inside down the stretch of close games. San Antonio has been involved in plenty of them to this point of the season, including two overtime games, a last-second regulation game, and a fourth quarter collapse in their opener.
Between Rudy Gobert, Karl-Anthony Towns, Kyle Anderson and even Jaden McDaniels, the Wolves have plenty of options when it comes to matching up with the rookie forward, so it will be interesting to see whether Defensive Coordinator Elston Turner assigns Towns to get physical with Wemby, Gobert to match his size, or McDaniels/Anderson to match his length and perimeter skills.
A Different Kind of Defensive Test
No team isolates less in the NBA than the Spurs (3.2% of possessions) on offense, per Synergy Sports. Friday night will be a bit of a change for the Wolves, who have played four of the top 13 most isolation heavy teams in the league so far in the Boston Celtics (8.0%, eighth), Toronto Raptors (7.7%, 10th), Atlanta Hawks (7.4%, 11th) and Miami Heat (6.8%, 13th).
This game is the first of five straight against teams in the bottom nine in isolation, so we’ll get a chance to see how the Timberwolves look against teams that are more capable of moving the defense around with better ball and player movement.
San Antonio ranks 17th in offense and has scored at least 115 points in five of their eight games thus far. But the good news for Minnesota is that the Spurs take the seventh-most mid-range shots in the NBA (34.2% of their total field goal attempts, per Cleaning the Glass). The Timberwolves rank fifth in the league in opponent field goal percentage on mid-range shots (38.6%) largely as a result of all the length they have available to contest shots in drop coverage.
Beyond the mid-range battle, it’s strength on strength at the rim; the Spurs are shooting 71.5% at the rim (third in the NBA), while the Wolves are fifth in the league in opponent field goal percentage at the rim (59.9%). Beyond Wemby (72%), Devin Vassell (85%), Keldon Johnson (74%), Tre Jones (73%) and Cedi Osman (73%) all shoot at least 70% at the bucket, so it will be a good test of the Timberwolves’ interior defense.
Can Karl-Anthony Towns Keep Trending in the Right Direction?
The last time Karl-Anthony Towns matched up with Zach Collins as his primary matchup in San Antonio, he dropped a career-high and franchise-record-setting 60 points on 19/31 shooting (7/11 3PT, 15/16 FT) and grabbed 17 rebounds in a 149-139 win back on March 14, 2022. And the last time the Wolves played the Spurs in Texas, they set a franchise record with 151 points.
When you combine that history with the fact that the Spurs have allowed opponent offensive ratings of 134 or higher in each of their last two games — and rank 29th in defense this season (121.5) — this is a great spot for Towns to stack a good performance on top of his 23-point night on 9/12 shooting on Wednesday.
San Antonio ranks 23rd in opponent shooting at the rim (69.1%), 22nd in the mid-range (45.5%) and dead last beyond the arc (41.2%). Beyond Collins, Charles Bassey is the only other big man on the roster, so Towns should have no problem getting going in blended lineups where he plays the 5. That, of course, assumes that Wembanyama will play off Gobert in his free safety role on the back end of the defense.
If he can put forth another good showing on Friday, hopefully that will build some more momentum heading into a favorable schedule. Towns will then face twice in a row a small Golden State Warriors team he has played well against in the past, and a Phoenix Suns team with a very poor defensive front line.