What: Minnesota Timberwolves (4-10) @ Phoenix Suns (5-11)
When: 7 PM AZ Time
Where: Talking Stick Resort Arena, Phoenix, AZ
TV: Fox Sports AZ Plus
Radio: Arizona Sports 98.7FM / KSUN 1400AM (ES)
After a rough 6-game road trip that resulted in 2 wins against 4 losses, the Phoenix Suns return home to face that rarest of opponents: a team with a worse record than them. The Minnesota Timberwolves come to Phoenix on a 3 game losing streak that the Suns will hope to extend.
There are similarities between the Suns and Wolves: both teams boast promising youth, new head coaches and terrible records. The differences are in the details. Reigning Rookie of the Year Karl Anthony-Towns looks to be a generational talent and gets to share the spotlight with another #1 overall pick in Andrew Wiggins. Devin Booker, Marquese Chriss and Dragan Bender have not yet demonstrated the kind of basketball presence that shifts a franchise’s fortune the way those two have. Tom Thibodeau is a well-regarded veteran coach where as Earl Watson is still building a reputation that the jury is most definitely still out on. The records though speak for themselves.
Let’s drill down a bit. First, the talent. Towns and Wiggins are carrying the offensive load for Minnesota accounting for 45 of the teams 103 points per game. Both players are threats from just about anywhere on the court, averaging over 40% from behind the arc in addition to having the tools to score inside the paint. As they go, so go the Wolves. Against the New Orleans Pelicans on Wednesday, Wiggins went 2 for 19 from the field and KAT got into early foul trouble. The result? A 21 point blowout from one of the league’s worst teams.
As for that Tom Thibodeau guy, he’s a widely regarded as one of the best defensive minds in the NBA. That and a cup of coffee will get you the NBA’s 8th worst defensive rating... 2 spots worse than Earl Watson’s Phoenix Suns. Though it’s worth noting that young players (and teams) generally suck at defense so there is no reason to think that number won’t improve as the season goes on for Minnesota. And hopefully Phoenix for that matter.
This is as good a chance as any for the Suns to notch back-to-back wins. Tyson Chandler and Alex Len will probably be outclassed by KAT at the center position. If T.J. Warren is out, then P.J. Tucker will be tasked with containing Wiggins. Zach LaVine’s athleticism will probably give the Suns’ fits, as I don’t see Devin Booker, Eric Bledsoe or Brandon Knight slowing him down too much. Outside of those three, the talent drops off considerably and Phoenix needs to take advantage of that. Ricky Rubio is a gifted passer and above average defender but an offensive liability.
Both teams are terrible defensively. Vegas has the over/under set around 213. This will be a high-scoring affair and if the Suns can demonstrate any consistency (like maybe our entire backcourt can show up for the game?) offensively, they could take this one in a high-scoring affair. I’m going to channel my inner Bright Side and say Phoenix steals this one 110-103 (I ain’t messing with Vegas, yo). It’s just as likely to go the other way though.
Oodles of youth and athleticism on both squads should make this a fun — and potentially ugly — one to watch. KAT’s guaranteed to make at least two plays that will make you question reality and Devin Booker is guaranteed to make at least two plays that will make you question whether or not you can build a franchise around him. Come for the exuberant optimism of youth. Stay for the dogged frustration of reality.