The Minnesota Timberwolves are looking to rebound after a rough 2019-20 season. Below are five questions about the team that need to be answered.
1. Who is in the Timberwolves’ starting backcourt?
Timberwolves’ head coach Ryan Saunders has not kept his desire to frequently employ a two lead-guard lineup a secret in the build-up to the 2020-21 season. In fact, that desire was a major factor in the team re-uniting with point guard Ricky Rubio on draft night despite former All-Star D’Angelo Russell already being on the roster.
It would not be a surprise to see both Rubio and Russell in the starting lineup on opening night splitting time as the offense’s primary initiator. (That being said, Rubio did mention that he is open to coming off the bench if that helps the team win during his first media availability back in Minnesota.) If Rubio is pushed to the bench — a distinct possibility as Saunders has mentioned the desire for “48 minutes of playmaking” at the lead guard spot — it’s most likely that Malik Beasley and his new four-year, $60 million contract would slot in alongside Russell at the two.
Regardless of who starts at the 1 and 2, at this point, it seems reasonable to suspect that number one overall selection Anthony Edwards may start at the 3. He possesses the bulk and athletic ability to find success at that position — particularly with Rubio and Russell feeding him and taking away some pressure — and the talent gap between him and the likes of Josh Okogie and Jarrett Culver is wide enough to make it a logical choice.
If I had to guess, I’d wager that the Wolves’ starting lineup looks something like Rubio-Russell-Edwards-Hernangomez-Towns, but that is no more than an educated guess. Russell-Beasley-Okogie-Layman-Towns is also a possibility as that was the lineup the team sent out against the Memphis Grizzlies for their preseason opener. However, while the second option may be the starting lineup on opening night, it likely won’t be all season and definitely won’t be the lineup closing out games.
2. As a rookie, Anthony Edwards will .
Show bright flashes, but ultimately look like a rookie.
Edwards is arguably the most athletic member of the incoming rookie class and he’ll likely put forth a bevy of insane dunks and offensive highlights; defensive highlights, on the other hand, may be…lacking. Edwards may very well take home the Rookie of the Year award as he is likely to be one of the top scorers in his class — despite playing alongside Russell, Towns, and Beasley — but I would not categorize him as the surefire favorite.
At the end of the day, I expect his rookie season to look a lot like that of former Wolves’ wing Andrew Wiggins; lots of points, lots of reason to buy into the hype, but lots of questions remaining unanswered.
3. What do the Timberwolves need to do to be above average on defense this season?
Saunders commented on the Wolves’ defense during a recent preseason media availability.
“We’ve talked from day one…defense is going to help get you on the court. We understand what we want to do offensively; we know that we have to take individual and collective challenges defensively…I think players understand that that is something that could set them apart.”
“We like the foundation that we have, principle and concept-wise. In pick-and-roll defense, we ended up being fourth last year; I thought we were able to do a number of things that supported where we wanted to get to. A guy like Ed Davis helps complement that; KAT’s been engaged…and we need that to be sustained. We feel that we have a good foundation.”
(Fact Check: According to NBA.com, the Wolves finished seventh in defending pick-and-roll roll men (1.08 PPP) and 26th in defending pick-and-roll ball handlers (0.90 PPP) last season, so it is unclear what data Saunders is referencing.)
So, what do the Wolves need to do?
The answer is pretty simple: put forth a consistent effort and keep Towns engaged. Perhaps both of these things are easier said than done and serve as good preseason lip service, but if the Wolves want to be an above-average team and compete for a spot in the playoffs they need to excel in these two areas.
As Saunders mentioned, additions like Davis and even Rubio will help; those two are major upgrades over *checks notes* the likes of Naz Reid and Jordan McLaughlin. But it’s all moot unless Towns takes a big step forward.
Towns struggles the most with the two “Rs” of defense: recognition and reaction. When he is able to recognize a play as it’s developing — or even before — he often reacts in time and makes a solid defensive effort. Unfortunately, his ability to recognize what the opposition is doing and react in time to make a play waxes and wanes; this also doesn’t mesh well with his tendency to chase blocks in an effort to make up for his lapses.
Is this something that can be developed? Or is that talent level innate within an athlete? I guess only time will tell.
4. What Taylor Swift songs best describes D’Angelo Russell and Karl-Anthony Towns running the pick-and-roll?
“Shake It Off”
“I never miss a beat
I’m lightning on my feet
And that’s what they don’t see, mm, mm
That’s what they don’t see, mm, mm
I’m dancing on my own (Dancing on my own)
I make the moves up as I go (Moves up as I go)
And that’s what they don’t know, mm, mm
That’s what they don’t know, mm, mm
But I keep cruising
Can’t stop, won’t stop grooving
It’s like I got this music in my mind
Saying it’s gonna be alright
‘Cause the players gonna play, play, play, play, play
And the haters gonna hate, hate, hate, hate, hate
Baby, I’m just gonna shake, shake, shake, shake, shake
I shake it off, I shake it off (Whoo-hoo-hoo)”
The D’Lo-KAT pick-and-roll is going to be an offensive force and make believers out of the haters. The players are going to play, the moves are going to be lightning-fast, and the opposition is going to have to repeatedly shake off the points they just gave up.
5. What Taylor Swift songs best describes D’Angelo Russell and Karl-Anthony Towns defending the pick-and-roll?
“’Cause I knew you were trouble when you walked in
So shame on me now
Flew me to places I’d never been
‘Til you put me down, oh
I knew you were trouble when you walked in
So, shame on me now
Flew me to places I’d never been
Now I’m lyin’ on the cold hard ground
Trouble, trouble, trouble
Trouble, trouble, trouble”
That just about sums it up. The offense is going to make everyone believe. The defense is going to leave everyone lying on the cold, hard ground.