All things considered, the Grizzlies are fortunate to be sitting with a 5-6 record at this juncture. Memphis has sustained injury after injury yet find themselves within striking distance of a top-eight seed in the Western Conference. The Grizzlies have nowhere to go but up from here — once Jaren Jackson Jr, Ja Morant, and Justice Winslow return to the lineup, this already competitive Memphis bunch will be significantly more lethal. Memphis has managed to defeat respectable teams in the Charlotte Hornets and Minnesota Timberwolves, sans three of their core members, which should have rival NBA competition shaking in their boots at the thought of how this group will perform when healthy and at their apex.
In order to become more familiar with the situation of Memphis’ back-to-back opponent, the Minnesota Timberwolves, I chatted with Jack Borman of SB Nation’s Canis Hoopus. Jack is a talented up-and-coming writer with an unrivaled passion for Minnesota basketball.
Can the Wolves battle their way into the Western Conference playoff hunt once Karl-Anthony Towns and Josh Okogie fully recuperate from their injuries?
They absolutely can. The Wolves looked legitimately excellent in a nice second half comeback against the Pistons in the season opener and in their big road win at Utah. Coming into this season, Karl-Anthony Towns said he was making an effort to be much more meticulous in examining what he needs to improve upon in order for Minnesota to be a better team this season. That surely seems to be paying dividends for the Wolves; his defense has taken a huge step forward this season — and has actually been very good — which is a welcomed sight for Wolves fans that are used to seeing Towns biting at fakes, over-helping, and fouling too much.
Towns’s positively trending defensive evolution combined with the return of an All-NBA caliber defender in Josh Okogie has transformed this Wolves defense from one projected near the bottom-five of the league into one that can sit near the middle of the league. Offensively, Towns’s monstrous impact is difficult to put into words. His mere presence on the floor spaces everything out so well for his teammates and makes it so much easier for guys like D’Angelo Russell, Malik Beasley, Juancho Hernangomez, Jarrett Culver, and Josh Okogie to get easier looks at the rim. The Wolves have traditionally been a top-10 offense with KAT in the fold, but with added firepower in D-Lo and Beasley, the Wolves have no excuse to be back there again by season’s end. If they can manage to have a top-10 offense and an average-ish defense, there’s no doubt in my mind that the Wolves can run a few games off and get back in the playoff hunt.
Second-year big Naz Reid, who provides efficient scoring from inside and out and adequate rim protection, has earned a significant role with the Wolves. Do you view him as a long-term fit in Minnesota?
Naz Reid is absolutely a long-term fit in Minnesota. Since his arrival in Minneapolis after he was signed as an undrafted free agent out of LSU in 2019, he has completely transformed his body and made massive strides on both ends of the floor. At the NBA Combine, Reid had the highest body fat percentage, was slow, and largely unimpressive because he wasn’t able to blow past defenders or overpower them like he could in high school, where he was a five-star recruit. IIn the G-League, Reid flashed the raw talent he had offensively which led the Wolves to convert his two-way contract into a three-year, $4.2 million deal with a team option for the fourth year.
Today, he consistently can blow past slower defenders, back down and finish over smaller matchups, and has vastly improved his shooting at every level of the floor on offense. On defense, he has showcased better discipline, timing, and communication, which has helped prevent the Wolves second unit from hemorrhaging points when Towns isn’t on the floor. He still needs to expand his post game and work on setting stronger screens, but he has come such a long way since draft day and I am very excited for his future in Minnesota.
How would you rate Anthony Edwards’ maiden season thus far?
A sometimes messy, sometimes beautiful work-in-progress. While Edwards has flashed his tantalizing athleticism and offensive talents, especially in the pick-and-roll and dribble hand-off game, he has also shown complacency on the offensive end of the floor. With how athletic and strong he is at 6-foot-6, 230 pounds, he is capable of getting past the first line of defense to the rim almost any time he touches the ball. That makes it all the more infuriating for Wolves fans when he settles for step-back 3s, contested pull-ups, and passes when he has a much smaller (or much bigger) defender in front of him.
Perhaps what has been most surprising about Edwards’s game early on is his playmaking. He has developed chemistry with backup center Naz Reid and the two have teamed up for a few pretty special highlights in the PNR/DHO game. Edwards can make advanced passes with both hands at full speed on the drive, which is a sign that things are coming much easier to him on the offensive end of the floor than they are on the defensive end, where it is evident that he processes the game much more slowly at this point in the season.
Given that he’s just 19 years old, had a limited offseason and preseason to prepare, and has been thrown into the fire without much practice time, I’m very impressed with what I’ve seen from him. Wolves fans understood his transition to the NBA may be a bit tougher or slower than fellow top-3 prospects James Wiseman and LaMelo Ball, and they’ve gotten a taste of why his ceiling is truly limitless. As long as the Wolves coaching staff continues to allow him to play in the PNR/DHO game consistently, he will continue to grow and contribute on a team that desperately needs him to.
Malik Beasley has played out of his mind since being dealt to the Timberwolves, averaging 20.5 points across 25 games. Is he a legitimate star in this league?
I wouldn’t say he’s a star quite yet, but he’s shown flashes of being a poor man’s C.J. McCollum, in that he is excellent shooting off screens and off the dribble, and he can finish amongst the trees inside very well for his size. This season, Beasley has been a completely different player at home than he has on the road, but the player we’ve seen at home has been nothing short of incredible. At home, he’s averaging 25 points on 54.6/47.9/90.0 shooting splits, 4.5 rebounds, and 2.3 assists in 33.4 minutes per night, which are ridiculous numbers for a guy on a $16M average annual value contract for the next four seasons.
Beasley is a tremendous shooter that already has great chemistry with both D’Angelo Russell and Karl-Anthony Towns, which was on full display in Wednesday night’s Grizzlies victory. If he continues playing at this pace at home, and is able to continue it when the team hits the road, he could receive legitimate looks as a most improved player candidate, and enjoy Minneapolis media-driven All-Star buzz if the Wolves turn their season around. My favorite thing about Beasley is that he never lets anyone on the floor work harder than him on either end of the floor. On defense, he isn’t very strong for his position, but he does everything in his power to get in passing lanes, communicate, sprint back in transition, and ensure effort isn’t what holds him back. On offense, he works tirelessly without the ball in his hands to be in the best possible position for spot-up looks or feeds in the lane on cuts from the wing or corner.
He is already a fan favorite and I look forward to watching him (hopefully) become a true third star in Minnesota.
What’s your final score prediction?
With Ja Morant potentially back, I just can’t in good faith pick the Wolves after seeing 1) what he did to Minnesota in the preseason and 2) Minnesota’s epic fourth quarter collapse driven by defensive miscommunication. I think it will be another back-and-forth game, because we likely won’t likely see Towns/Russell/Beasley each score 25+ again or see Melton/Allen/Tillman score more than a third of the Grizzlies’ points. If Ja is back, I like Memphis to win, 121-115. If Ja is out again, I’ll take the Wolves, 115-109.
A huge thank you to Jack for taking the time to answer these questions thoroughly. Make sure to follow him (@jrborman13) and Canis Hoopus (@canishoopus) on Twitter for extensive Timberwolves coverage!