The Grizzlies are rebuilding and preparing for the long run, and it shows with their record and second-half play. Meanwhile, the Timberwolves are starting to put it together behind the MVP play of Karl-Anthony Towns.
We talked with Mike O’Hagan from Canis Hoopus to talk about tonight’s matchup.
1. Is Andrew Wiggins finally putting it together?
Well, he isn’t really “putting it together” in the sense that he’s going to live up to that max contract of his. He is having his best season since 2016-17, which is the season before the Jimmy Butler trade, though. The problem is that still isn’t a particularly “good” player. His TS% is still below average, and he’s averaging less than 2apg.
The rebounding has been better than in years past, and he’s taking care of the ball, but I think much of the narrative surrounding his start has to do with the low expectations we all had coming in. His free-throw shooting appears to be relatively fixed, and the last few games have seen him shoot the ball much better than the first few.
If that shooting from the perimeter continues, he could end up having a really nice season. The reason why I, and many other Wolves fans, are still skeptical is we’ve seen Wiggins have brief stretches like this before, only to revert to his old, sub-standard ways. Wiggins Island is a dangerous place. It’s best to give it more time before really letting yourself believe he’s turned into a net-positive on the floor.
2. How optimistic are you about the team’s start?
I’m very optimistic, honestly. Sure, we see teams start hot and falter almost every year, but the Wolves feel like they have a bit more staying power, mostly because of Karl-Anthony Towns. In general, it’s just exciting to see the principles that the new front office and coaching staff have been preaching in action. Minnesota lived in the stone age of basketball for a while, refusing to shoot threes or defend the three-point line. That’s all changed now, with an emphasis of getting KAT the ball all over the floor and letting him basically be the entire offense.
I’m not sure there’s enough talent on the roster beyond KAT and Robert Covington to sustain a playoff pace over the course of an 82 game season, but the team’s strong start paired with the downfall of Golden State at least opens that window a little bit. It’s been a good start for the new front office, but acquiring a legitimate running mate for Towns will ultimately define their tenure in Minneapolis. Maximizing the team throughout Towns’ contract will be priority number one.
3. What are your thoughts on Tyus Jones and his play so far?
Really, it feels like that whole situation worked out for the best for everyone involved. Tyus is a pro’s pro, and a great fit behind Ja Morant. Tyus won’t necessarily fill up the stat sheet every night, but he’s going to make your team better when he’s on the court. He knows exactly where to be at all times, and always finds the open man. He has to be one of the highest IQ guys in the league. In my opinion, that’s a great guy to have to help Ja Morant learn the ropes of the NBA.
With that said, I’m not terribly surprised by the poor shooting numbers. The free-throw percentage is alarming, but I’d imagine that will all even out over the course of the season. Shooting has always been Tyus’ big achilles heel. Everything seems to be more or less the same for him as it was in Minnesota. It may take a while, but by the end of the season I’m sure Grizz fans will appreciate Tyus the same way we did in Minnesota.
4. What matchup are you looking forward to the most?
I’m looking forward to Karl-Anthony Towns against the Grizzlies front court. In the past, mammoth bigs like Jonas Valancuinas have given Towns fits, but he’s playing primarily from the perimeter this season which should cause problems for JV. If Jaren Jackson, Jr. is able to go, that’s for sure the matchup to watch. It feels like only a matter of time before JJJ is one of the premier big men in the NBA with his versatility. His propensity for fouling could land him in trouble if he spends too much time on KAT, but that’ll be a fun matchup when they’re on the floor together.
Selfishly, I’ll go with a second homer pick and just say Tyus Jones against his old teammates. Tyus was a fan favorite in his home state, so it’ll be fun for us to get to watch him again.
5. Final score prediction:
Hmmm, I’ll say Wolves win 115-107. Towns is likely to be fired up in his first game back from suspension, and I see him giving the Memphis front-line fits. Valancuinas won’t be able to hang with him on the perimeter, and I’d expect KAT to get JJJ into foul trouble if he’s on him for too long. The matchup that slightly worries me for KAT is Brandon Clarke, who can probably defend KAT with the most versatility without fouling. If Morant is able to make a few jumpers off the dribble, that could flip this a bit, as Minnesota will struggle with guards who can pull-up out of the pick-and-roll all year given their “drop” coverage. I’d expect the Grizz to keep it close, with KAT putting the game away at the end.
Thanks, Mike, for talking with us about tonight’s game. Follow him on Twitter (@mikleohagan) for Timberwolves content.