Wednesday, Oct. 23: The day the Timberwolves open the NBA season. A month or two from now the Wolves might be fading fast in a loaded Western Conference, but mute all preseason forecasts and focus on the new players and style of play the 2019-20 Wolves bring to the hardwood.
Here's what I'll be focusing on when the Wolves and Nets tip off around 6:30 p.m.
1. What's the starting lineup going to be?
We know for certain that Jeff Teague, Andrew Wiggins, Robert Covington and Karl-Anthony Towns are starters, but who is the fifth starter?
It seems reasonable that Minnesota could start Jake Layman or Treveon Graham at the four, but Robert Covington might very well be the starting power forward as the Wolves play a ton of small ball. That could mean Josh Okogie or 2019 first-round pick (sixth overall) Jarret Culver gets stuffed into the starting rotation.
is another intriguing option. Layman and another starting option, Treveon Graham, are better 3-point shooters than Okogie and Culver, but for a team that is playing the long game there's no fault to be seen if Culver is the fifth starter.
If Minnesota wants to go a little bigger they could put Noah Vonleh alongside KAT on the block. Vonleh is a solid defender and excellent rebounder, but he doesn't bring a lot on offense.
If Culver doesn't start, maybe he'll be a primary option as Teague's backup point guard. The rookie could come off the bench and relieve Teague, who admitted to the Star Tribune that he'd prefer to be on the floor for "shorter stints."
Knock it all you want, but at the pace the Wolves plan to play this season, shorter stints might be necessary for everyone on the roster. That means Culver, who played some point guard at Texas Tech and again with Minnesota during the preseason, could be called upon early and often as head coach Ryan Saunders will likely be making frequent lineup changes.
Shabazz Napier should also get plenty of playing time at point guard.
2. Get ready for a ton of 3-pointers
Houston north? Pretty much, with President of Basketball Operations Gersson Rosas inserting a lot of what he learned during his 16 years with the Rockets to Minnesota's style of play.
KAT attempted 6.1 threes per preseason game, and he did that in just 21 minutes per game. If KAT plays 30+ minutes you can count on the big man, who shot 40% from deep last season, to fire upwards of 10 triples per game.
Culver, Layman, Napier, Covington and Wiggins all attempted threes at a high rate in the preseason as well, so it's going to be bombs away for the 2019-20 Wolves. Graham can also knock down threes, and we didn't even mention Teague, who will undoubtedly be launching from deep consistently.
3. Who gets the big-man minutes?
KAT is the superstar but beyond him the Wolves are loaded with players who will be competing for minutes. Guys who all seem capable include:
- Noah Vonleh
- Gorgui Dieng
- Naz Reid
- Jordan Bell
- Keita Bates-Diop
Bell played significant minutes off the bench for the Warriors but only averaged 7.4 minutes in two preseason games. Dieng has been a staple in Minnesota since 2013, but he's a mid-range-shooting big and that might not fit well with this team.
I think Saunders sticks with what he did in the preseason and splits a ton of big-man minutes between Bates-Diop, Vonleh and Reid, who was a Summer League star who flashed a ton of offensive potential.
4. Position-less basketball?
Toss out the labels of point guard and shooting guard and replace it with a small-ball lineup that features 4-5 players who can bring the ball up the court to help Minnesota play at a rapid pace.
The idea is intriguing and it could lead to lineup combinations of Teague, Culver, Wiggins, Covington and Towns. All five are capable of bringing the ball up the floor. Same goes for players like Josh Okogie, Napier, Layman, Graham and rookie second-round pick Jaylen Nowell.
5. Major defensive concerns
The Wolves flashed pretty much zero ability to defend in the preseason, which could mean a lot of very high scoring games are coming. The approach doesn't bode well for postseason success, but that's the least of the concerns at this point.
The good news is that Minnesota has a handful of 3-and-D players who should help set the roster for future success: Culver, Okogie, Covington and Graham all fit the 3-and-D profile, although Okogie and Culver will need to become better shooters.