The Minnesota Timberwolves continue their road trip in Phoenix tonight with a back-to-back against what looks to be a loaded Phoenix Suns team. The Timberwolves recently swept both games against the Golden State Warriors to extend their winning streak to seven games, a feat they haven’t accomplished since March of 2003. The Timberwolves feel very real right now, but this will be a big test of how legit and legit they are. which dominates their defense can actually be.
- WHO: Minnesota Timberwolves (8-2) at Phoenix Suns (4-6)
- When: 8:00 PM CT
- Where: Foot Center
- TV: Bally Sports North (Michael Grady, Jim Petersen and Marney Gellner)
- Radio: Wolves Radio App, KFAN FM 100.3
- Line: Timberwolves +6, Total: 224 (courtesy of DraftKings Sportsbook)
Updated as of 7:15 PM CT Wednesday:
- Jaylen Clark (achilles tendon rupture rehab)
- Jordan McLaughlin (right knee MCL sprain)
- Leonard Miller (G League assignment)
- Wendell Moore Jr. (G League Career)
- Devin Booker (right calf strain)
- Eric Gordon (left shoulder soreness)
- Bradley Beal (lower back spasms)
- Damion Lee (right meniscus surgery)
A Must Watch
Healthy Suns First
(Editor’s Note: Beal was taping with less than an hour until tip-off.)
For the first time since the start of the season, we must first look at what this Suns team looks like when all three of its stars are playing. Kevin Durant has played every game this season, but Bradley Beal has missed the first seven (he’s played in the last three) and Devin Booker has only played in two games so far (he’s missed the last five).
To say that Durant has been playing well would be an understatement. Durant is currently averaging 30 points, 7.1 rebounds, 4.6 assists, and 1.2 blocks in 49.8/42.9/85.1 splits. Additionally, the Suns have a +22 overall rating difference when Durant is on the court compared to when he is off, which is a 92n.d Per percentile Glass Cleaning. With Durant off the court, the Suns’ offensive rating is 95.1, which is about 10 points below the worst offense in the league.
The whole point of assembling this triumvirate was to ensure that there would be at least one, if not two, offensive stars on the floor at all times. Like Durant, Booker has upped his game. The two haven’t found their place when playing together, mostly due to defensive issues that have resulted in a 126.9 defensive rating compared to a 121.9 offensive rating, but Booker has thrived when he’s the lone star on the field. In those cases, the Suns have an overall rating of +24.8 (100th percentile) and an offensive rating of 131.8 (100th percentile).
On the other hand, Bradley Beal has yet to find his stride. Beal is averaging 17.3 points, 5.3 rebounds, and 3.7 assists on a 39.1/33.3/68.8 split. When he and Durant share the floor, the Suns have a -6.4 rating and just a 108.1 offensive rating. When Durant left, their net and offensive ratings dropped to -16.6 and 93.4 respectively.
The sample sizes for both Beal and Booker are small, so there could be significant swings after one really good or really bad game. However, the Suns are very much Booker’s franchise and he is constantly proving why. Regardless of who he or Durant played with in their careers, they always thought about how they could contribute to winning. Beal hasn’t done that yet. With Booker’s return, Beal will likely slide even further into an off-ball role that could help him find his rhythm. If the Timberwolves defend like they did against the depleted Warriors and fail to navigate screens, defensive rebounds, and communication, it could be a catalyst for the Suns’ triumvirate to find their groove.
Besides their three stars who can get hot at any time, the Suns have four other players who shoot at least 35% from three. Eric Gordon (career 37% shooter) and Jordan Goodwin are shooting 35%, Yuta Watanabe is shooting 40%, and Grayson Allen is shooting 48%. This could be the game where the Timberwolves’ 3-point defense hits.
The Timberwolves currently have the best 3-point defense in the league allowing opponents to shoot just 31.6%. Some of that is their height, athleticism, and ability to contest shots, but a lot of it is luck. Opponents shot 40.9% from the corners but only 29.3% from non-corn 3-pointers.
The Suns take 8.8% of their corner shots and make 37.8% of them. They also shot 27.3% before halftime and shot 36.5%. Overall, the Suns are ranked 12thth in 3-point shot frequency and 12th with an accuracy of 3 points. That means Booker is only playing two games and Beal is only playing three and has yet to find his spot.
On the second night of a back-to-back and the second-to-last game of a five-game road trip, the Timberwolves’ legs may be tired. If so, it wouldn’t be surprising if they gave up a lot of long rebounds, second-chance points, and slow turnovers. This game can give us a good idea of how true the Wolves’ three-point defense is.
Press the Ball
The Timberwolves’ defense ranks eighth in the league with a turnover rate of 15.7%. They disrupt passing lanes, have quick hands, and constantly put opponents in a bad spot. Tonight’s game should be no different.
As a team, the Suns are ranked 28thth with a performance ratio of 16.6%. Booker’s retooling should in theory help, but Booker has only had one season with a turnover rate below 10%. This is one of the glaring areas where the lack of point guard on the roster hurts this team the most.
On a player-by-player basis, only Keita Bates-Diop has a turnover rate below 10%, and only he and Jordan Goodwin rank above 60.th percentile in their area. Durant’s turnover rate is 14.7%, which ranks in the top 16 percent of forwards. Booker and Beal have turnover rates of 16.5% and 14.3% respectively, but they haven’t played enough to warrant a percentage level among combo guards.
However, Gordon’s 10.6% recovery rate is 57th percentile in the same area. Additionally, Jusuf Nurkic is 15.6% (38th percentile), Drew Eubanks’ is 20.3% (9th percentile), Grayson Allen is 15.2% (16th percentile), Josh Okogie is 11.1% (45th percentile), and Yuta Watanabe’s is 19.6% (2nd percentile).
The Sun’s football security has been a disgrace this season. If the Timberwolves can press without fouling, drive the shooters to the lane, and force them to make difficult passes, they should control the turnover margin and may have a bargain in transition.