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Playoff Game Preview #1: Wolves at Nuggets

Karl-Anthony Towns takes the Timberwolves into Denver looking to steal Game 1 from Nikola Jokić and the Nuggets

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

Game Info

Injury Reports



  • Rudy Gobert — Back Spasms
  • Jaylen Nowell — Left Knee Tendinopathy


  • Jaden McDaniels — Right Hand Fracture
  • Naz Reid — Left Scaphoid Fracture


Nothing to report

What To Watch For

Denver Nuggets v Minnesota Timberwolves Photo by David Berding/Getty Images

Transition Defense

The Timberwolves’ transition defense has been one of the worst things to watch in all of the NBA for years. They consistently fail to pick up assignments and even give up layups after made baskets. Unfortunately, this entire series could be determined, or at least heavily influenced, by the Nuggets’ transition offense.

According to Cleaning the Glass, the Nuggets rank third in the league in points per play (PPP) with 1.321. They also rank ninth in frequency with 15.8% of their possessions coming in transition. Where the Nuggets really thrive in transition is off of live rebounds. In these situations, they are scoring 1.301 PPP, which ranks third in the league. In these same situations, the Timberwolves’ defense is allowing 1.224 PPP (18th). The Timberwolves have done a better job of limiting the frequency opponents are able to push off of rebounds (26.8% which ranks 6th), but they have yet to prove much competency in actually limiting points when opponents do push in transition.

When we think of the Nuggets’ transition offense, first thoughts likely go to Nikola Jokić outlet passes, Aaron Gordon grabbing-and-going, and Jamal Murray eagerly pushing. The biggest threat, though, is actually Michael Porter Jr. This season, Porter ranks in the 86th percentile of transition scoring, per Synergy. He’s shooting 55.2% overall, has an effective field goal rate of 71.2%, a true shooting percentage of 73.5%, and is shooting 50.5% from three. Even more impressively, Porter is scoring 1.42 points per shot, which is 0.27 points higher than expected based on his shot quality. So, not only is Porter incredibly efficient with his transition scoring, but he’s also making a lot of shots that others struggle with. If the Timberwolves can’t pick up and limit Porter in transition, things could get ugly.

Denver Nuggets v Minnesota Timberwolves Photo by David Berding/Getty Images

Attack the Rim

One of the Wolves credos this season has been to attack the rim. They rank fifth in at-rim shot frequency and ninth in at-rim shot accuracy. Thankfully for the Timberwolves, the Nuggets have almost zero rim protection. Their defense ranks 16th in at-rim shot frequency but 29th in at-rim shooting percentage. Opponents are shooting 70.6% at the rim against them.

When looking at it from an individual basis, there isn’t really a bright spot for Denver either. Among players who actually get minutes, Zeke Nnaji is the only player with a defensive field goal percentage under 60% within six feet, and his is 58.8%. Everyone else on the team is over 60%, and the Nuggets’ two main centers, Jokić and Thomas Bryant, are at 65.2% and 68.8% respectively.

The only sneaky wild card is rookie Peyton Watson. Watson has barely played, and it would be surprising to see Michael Malone entrust playoff minutes to someone with so little minute share, but his defensive upside is scary. He has a block rate of 3.3%, which ranks in the 100th percentile of forwards. Watson also has the highest frequency of at-rim shots defended at 52.6% and the 3rd best defended field goal percentage inside six feet of 61%.

New Orleans Pelicans v Minnesota Timberwolves

Spam the Pick-and-Roll

Feeding off of the last section, the Timberwolves need to run the pick-and-roll relentlessly. This hasn’t been a staple of Minnesota’s offense all season, but they need to lean on it a little more heavily in this series as the Nuggets really struggle to defend it. Overall, the Nuggets rank in the 10th percentile defending the pick-and-roll, and they allow the fourth-most PPP to the roller in the league.

This shouldn’t be too much to ask from the Wolves either. This season, Mike Conley ranks in the 93rd percentile in the pick-and-roll including passes, and Rudy Gobert ranks in the 73rd percentile as the roller. Even Anthony Edwards’ pick-and-roll game has improved as he now ranks in the 62nd percentile as the pick-and-roll ball-handler including passes.

By continuously going to the pick-and-roll, the Timberwolves can more effectively target the weak points in the Nuggets’ defense. It will allow them to spread the floor more, force the defense to collapse to free up shooters, ignite more scramble scenarios for Minnesota to attack, get lobs at the rim, and try to exhaust/frustrate Denver.