What: Minnesota Timberwolves (4-3) at Phoenix Suns (5-1)
When: 7:00 PM AZ Time
Where: Footprint Center, Phoenix, AZ
Listen: 98.7 FM
DraftKings Betting line: Suns favored by 4 points
Tonight on TNT we get a fun early-season matchup of 2022 Playoff teams who both plan to contend for the NBA title in 2023.
And you might not realize it because the Phoenix Suns and the Minnesota Timberwolves look so different on the court, but they’ve gone about their contender-building in strikingly similar fashion.
Back in 2020, the Suns added veteran All-Star Chris Paul to an exciting young core of All-Star Devin Booker, Mikal Bridges and recent No. 1 overall pick Deandre Ayton — a group that went on a great late-season run and nearly made the Bubble play-in.
Now in 2022, the Wolves added veteran All-Star Rudy Gobert to an exciting young core of All-Star Karl-Anthony Towns, D’Angelo Russell and recent No. 1 overall pick Anthony Edwards — a group that went on a great late-season run and squeaked into the playoffs through the play-in tournament.
Will the Wolves, who have only 3 playoff wins in the past 18 years, be rewarded with a run of playoff success like the Suns have had (21 playoff wins in two years, after a run of 0 wins in 10 years)?
They are counting on it — to the tune of trading five first round picks and a handful of good role players for the right to add the 30-year old Gobert to their core.
I digress. Long before we get answers to those questions, we get to watch them play in a regular season game tonight.
Let’s delve into tonight’s matchup.
*Biyombo is starting while Ayton is out
Suns: Deandre Ayton (ankle), Jae Crowder (not with team) and Ish Wainright (back) are all OUT; Torrey Craig (heel) is QUESTIONABLE
Wolves: Kyle Anderson (back) and Joran McLaughlin (heel) are QUESTIONABLE
(courtesy of Suns PR/nba.com)
- Offense: 24th, Defense: 7th, Net Rating: 9th
- Starting lineup plus-minus: -0.8 per 100 possessions (in 112 minutes, 4th most in NBA)
That negative net rating for the Wolves vaunted and extremely expensive starting lineup is pedestrian but, before you write off the trade, let’s take a walk down memory lane.
Way back in 2020, it took the Suns new CP-led starting lineup a couple of months to gel. Through February 1, 2021 (after 15 games and 203 minutes together), the Suns lineup of Paul-Booker-Bridges-Ayton-Crowder still had a terrible net rating of -6.3 points per 100 possessions. It was the bench guys who grabbed leads for the starters.
That same Suns starting lineup flipped the script back in 2020 with a +8 net rating the rest of the way (38 games, 506 minutes) after that paltry 15-game start. They rode that new lineup all the way to the Finals.
This slow start for the Wolves new starting lineup is fine, as long as they stay in the race and begin to gel by the second half of the season.
That’s where you can color me skeptical. While the Suns and Wolves built their teams in a similar fashion, I am not a believer that Gobert’s presence will pull out the best in Towns, Russell or Edwards the way that Paul pulled out the best in Booker, Ayton and Bridges.
Gobert is a supremely good rim protector, but he’s entirely paint-bound which clogs the lane for a driving Edwards and limits post-up chances by Towns. I’ve heard the Wolves best bet might be to stagger Gobert and Towns as much as possible, but how do you build a team that can’t play its best ball with its highest paid players on the court together?
Maybe they’ll figure it out. Maybe they won’t. Either way, you can bet I and the rest of the country will be following along and that’s a major plus for the Wolves already.
- Offense: 2nd, Defense: 4th, Net Rating: 1st
- Starting Lineup plus-minus: +28.9 per 100 possessions (62 minutes played)
I think you all should play a drinking game: Take a shot every time the TNT commentators mention Game 7 during the broadcast. Then, come on the postgame Suns JAM Session pod LIVE on YouTube to show us how drunk you are.
Look at these standings!
MVP-candidate-laden Dallas, LA Clippers and Golden State are all stumbling out of the gates with losing records.
Memphis, Minnesota and Denver are (barely) above .500, but even those winning records aren’t impressive. Those three teams have only ONE signature win among them: Denver beat the Warriors in game two. That’s it.
The Suns are the only West contender off to a great start, with wins over the Mavericks, Pelicans, Clippers and Warriors already on notched in their belts.
I gotta hand it to the we-thought-they-were-tanking Blazers (5-1), Spurs (5-2), and Jazz (6-2), who are simply beating up on the West in the early season. No, I don’t see any of these teams making the playoffs. Heck, I don’t even see them winning 30 games. They’ll quickly be fighting for lottery odds, but for now it’s fun to watch.
The Suns (0-1 against these teams so far) get Portland twice this weekend, but don’t face the Jazz or Spurs for weeks — by which time they’ll very likely have lost their early-season lustre.
As far as tonight’s matchup up with the Wolves, the Ayton-less Suns will probably struggle in the paint against Gobert and Towns. And this might be one of those games you miss Jae Crowder’s toughness and ability to defend guys bigger than him, especially since Torrey Craig might also miss the game with a sore heel.
Having said that, though, the Gobert/Towns starting lineup is actually pulling down less than half the available rebounds (49.2% rebound percentage) so far while the Suns are grabbing more than half (52.4%). Let’s see if those numbers hold as the Suns will be battling in the paint with only Biyombo and Jock Landale. Maybe we get a Dario sighting?
The Suns are cruising right now, while the Wolves are still feeling their way around the court. I expect the Suns will take this game seriously and will win the game easily.
Suns will win, 110-95