- Who: Minnesota Timberwolves (31-32) vs Los Angeles Clippers (33-30)
- When: 9:00 PM CT
- National TV: TNT (Brian Anderson, Stan Van Gundy, Chris Haynes)
- Radio: 830 WCCO-AM
- Line: Wolves +6.5 | Total: 233 (courtesy of DraftKings Sportsbook)
- Rudy Gobert - Illness
- Jaylen Nowell - Left Knee Tendinopathy
- Karl-Anthony Towns - Right Calf Strain
- Wendell Moore Jr - G-League Assignment
- Josh Minott - G-League Assignment
- Ivica Zubac - Right Calf Strain
- Brandon Boston Jr. - G-League Assignment
- Jason Preston - G-League Assignment
What to Watch For
Dealing with Kawhi Leonard
So, it turns out that when Kawhi Leonard plays, he’s still incredibly good. So far this season, Leonard’s on/off net rating differential is plus-12.6, which ranks in the 97th percentile, per Cleaning the Glass. Their offensive rating is 11.3 higher with him on the court than off, and their defensive rating is 1.4 lower. There’s been plenty of grumbling about Leonard’s sporadic involvement with the team, but he’s clearly ready for this stretch run of the season.
Over his last five games, Leonard is averaging 31.5 points, 6.5 rebounds, 3.5 assists, 1.3 steals, and 1.3 blocks while shooting 59.2% from the floor on 19 attempts, 59.3% from 3 on 6.8 attempts, and 90.9% from the line on 5.5 attempts. These numbers are completely bonkers. Leonard isn’t just playing well; he’s playing like an MVP candidate.
When Leonard is playing at this level, the Clippers become almost impossible to defend. If you double him, then he just kicks it to Paul George who will either score or subsequently kick it to Norman Powell, Terance Mann, Marcus Morris, Bones Hyland, or any other capable scorer on the team. Over this same five game stretch, the Clippers have an offensive rating of 122.9 and are shooting 41.8% from three.
Jaden McDaniels is a brilliant defender, but he’s going to have to be so much more in this matchup. If he gets in foul trouble, the options to slow down Leonard quickly become unappealing. It will have to be a full team effort.
Where Does the Offense Come From?
Since the Timberwolves traded D’Angelo Russell, their offense has fallen off a cliff with an offensive rating of 108.6. This would be the lowest offensive rating in the league this season. Russell had his flaws, and Mike Conley is a better long-term fit, but the absence of Russell’s career best shooting season is sorely being felt.
Since the trade, the Timberwolves’ most used lineup consists of Conley, Anthony Edwards, McDaniels, Kyle Anderson, and Rudy Gobert. To say this has been a disaster would be putting it nicely. In their 114 possessions, they have an offensive rating of 104.4 (14th percentile), defensive rating of 117.9 (29th percentile), a net rating of -13.6 (14th percentile), and an effective field goal rate of 46.8% (5th percentile).
Outside of Edwards, there is no one on this team who can consistently and reliably get their own shot. Everything is currently dependent on the actions, decision making, and gravity of a 21-year-old. This isn’t a knock on Edwards but an illumination of the serious issue with this team’s roster construction. We saw against the Warriors how easily Edwards can be taken out of a game. He doesn’t know how to move off ball yet, and the rest of the team is incapable of generating quality shots. Whether it is more Conley/Gobert pick-and-rolls, McDaniels’ being more active with cutting, or Jaylen Nowell breaking out of his funk, someone on this team desperately needs to step up on offense.
A New Small Ball Lineup Nightmare
It’s only been two games, but the Clippers have yet to find their best lineup with Russell Westbrook. So far, the Clippers’ net rating is -6.8 with Westbrook on the court (18th percentile). While that is less than ideal, their offensive rating with Westbrook on the court is a gaudy 120.8 (93rd percentile) with an effective field goal shooting clip of 64.9% (100th percentile). Their defensive rating, though, is 127.6 (1st percentile).
While the sample size is still miniscule, the Clippers’ third-most used lineup with Westbrook could provide significant issues. The Clippers adore going small when Gobert is on the floor, and they may have found an even deadlier small-ball lineup than before. When Westbrook, Powell, George, Nicolas Batum, and Leonard share the floor (28 possessions), they have a net rating of 18.3, an offensive rating of 132.1, and a defensive rating of 113.8. These are horrifying numbers for any opponent, let alone one like the Timberwolves who is currently rostering five different centers, most of whom are not known for their defense.
The Clippers have been able to play Gobert off the floor for years, and this lineup could do the very same thing. Aggressively sagging off of Westbrook is the easy solution, given that he isn’t the shooter that Mann is, but that also gives Westbrook a much more prominent lane to the rim. It also means that he’s surrounded by numerous capable shooters, all of whom are at least decent passers who can find him when he floats around the interior. Westbrook clearly isn’t the player he once was, but this new small-ball lineup where he can (and has) take a backseat to Leonard and George feels tailor made to run the Timberwolves out of the gym.