San Antonio Spurs: Early Timberwolves preview for 2017-18 opener

By Rob Wolkenbrod
MINNEAPOLIS , MN - JULY 19: Tom Thibodeau, General Manager/Head Coach of the Minnesota Timberwolves speaks to the press regarding Jamal Crawford signing to the Minnesota Timberwolves at The Courts at Mayo Clinic Square on July 19, 2017 in Minneapolis, Minnesota . NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this Photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2017 NBAE (Photo by Melissa Majchrzak/NBAE via Getty Images)
MINNEAPOLIS , MN - JULY 19: Tom Thibodeau, General Manager/Head Coach of the Minnesota Timberwolves speaks to the press regarding Jamal Crawford signing to the Minnesota Timberwolves at The Courts at Mayo Clinic Square on July 19, 2017 in Minneapolis, Minnesota . NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this Photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2017 NBAE (Photo by Melissa Majchrzak/NBAE via Getty Images)
facebooktwitterreddit
San Antonio Spurs
San Antonio Spurs

A way-too-early preview of the Minnesota Timberwolves, the San Antonio Spurs’ Opening Night matchup.

The San Antonio Spurs will face the Minnesota Timberwolves on Opening Night of the 2017-18 NBA regular season. It’s the second day of the season and will be a nationally televised game. This will be the first of many for both teams.

There are over two months left until this game takes place, but with the NBA schedule not fully released and time to digest this matchup, it’s worth a closer look at the Spurs’ Opening Night opponent.

What’s there to know about the Timberwolves? Let’s learn more about this team.

BLOOMINGTON, MN – JUNE 29: Tom Thibobeau introduces Jimmy Butler of the Minnesota Timberwolves to the public during a press conference at the Mall of America on June 29, 2017 in Bloomington, Minnesota. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2017 NBAE (Photo by Gary Dineen/NBAE via Getty Images)
BLOOMINGTON, MN – JUNE 29: Tom Thibobeau introduces Jimmy Butler of the Minnesota Timberwolves to the public during a press conference at the Mall of America on June 29, 2017 in Bloomington, Minnesota. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2017 NBAE (Photo by Gary Dineen/NBAE via Getty Images)

The first game for a new-look team

The Minnesota Timberwolves will enter the 2017-18 season with a new look and a team that will be a favorite to win over 50 games. With the acquisitions made in the offseason, it’s difficult to argue with this team as one of the Western Conference’s best.

The marquee move was for Jimmy Butler, a former player of head coach Tom Thibodeau’s in Chicago. The Timberwolves sent their 2017 1st round pick, Kris Dunn, and Zach LaVine for the star wing player. Butler should fit next to Andrew Wiggins as they handle the small forward and shooting guard positions.

Jeff Teague was brought in as the starting point guard in free agency. He signed a three-year deal to take over for Ricky Rubio, who was traded to the Utah Jazz. Teague brings eight years of experience with two teams to the table, and should be an upgrade at the one spot for the Twolves.

Outside of Butler and Teague, Minnesota signed Jamal Crawford to come off the bench. Crawford played for a handful of teams as a sixth man over the past 5-6 years and should be a steady scoring presence to back up Butler and Wiggins.

Finally, there’s Taj Gibson. Another Thibodeau product, Gibson signed a two-year deal and should split time with Gorgui Dieng at power forward.

It’s a fresh look for the San Antonio Spurs to go against, with their team mostly keeping it status quo. This is an early test for the Timberwolves against a perennial top team, and a way to see how the Spurs match up against them.

Next: Andrew Wiggins' leap year

SALT LAKE CITY, UT – APRIL 7: Andrew Wiggins
SALT LAKE CITY, UT – APRIL 7: Andrew Wiggins

Will Andrew Wiggins take another leap?

Since Andrew Wiggins’ arrival to the Timberwolves in the 2014 offseason, he’s shown improvement, particularly in the 3-point game. From 2014-15 to 2016-17, Wiggins jumped from 1.5 to 3.5 attempts per game and 31 percent to 35 percent shooting from behind the arc.

With this increase, Wiggins’ scoring average went up, too, all while playing similar minutes in each of his three years. It spiked from 16.9 to 23.6 points, falling just short of Karl-Anthony Towns’ 25.1.

Wiggins’ offensive numbers could stay in line with the 23.6 points, or even drop since Jimmy Butler will take more shots and Jeff Teague is more of an offensive point guard than Ricky Rubio. However, where the Kansas product can leap from is the defensive end.

Through three seasons, Wiggins’ Defensive Win Shares hasn’t crossed 1.0, which isn’t good, to say the least. It was fifth on the team, but still not a positive number. To compare, Towns and Gorgui Dieng had Defensive Win Shares of 2.8 and 2.5, respectively.

At 6-foot-8, a 7-foot wingspan and terrific athleticism, Wiggins has the tools to be a better player on the defensive end. If Thibodeau can get this out of him on an improved and inspired Timberwolves team, then the potential for the Canadian’s game is scary with upside.

Game 1 should show potential improvement from Wiggins, with the San Antonio Spurs the first witnesses to it. Will he take another step at age 22?

Next: Stopping Karl-Anthony Towns

PORTLAND, OR – APRIL 6: Karl-Anthony Towns
PORTLAND, OR – APRIL 6: Karl-Anthony Towns

Can Karl-Anthony Towns be stopped?

Karl-Anthony Towns is back for a third NBA season on the Timberwolves. His rise from his rookie to sophomore campaign was stark, and turned him into one of the league’s best centers.

Towns soared to 25.1 points, 12.3 rebounds, 2.7 assists, and 1.3 blocks per game in the 2016-17 season. It’s amazing numbers that didn’t get him a spot on the All-Star team, due to the abundance of talent the Western Conference has. That could repeat itself in 2018, with all the additions made to teams of this conference in the offseason.

To say Towns is a force would be an understatement. He’s someone that can score from all parts of the basketball court, including the 3-point line, where he attempted 3.4 shots and hit 36 percent of them. It’s an incredible number for a big man that’s known for his work around the basket.

Either LaMarcus Aldridge or Pau Gasol will have the task of defending Towns. Maybe Aldridge stands a chance, but if it’s Gasol, he’ll have a difficult time keeping up with the more agile Towns, having to defend him all over the hardwood. So, it could be a rough night for the Spurs’ big men, especially with the lack of depth at center and power forward, as of August 11.

Must Read: 25 forgotten players that were on the Spurs

The Timberwolves will be an intriguing Opening Night matchup for the San Antonio Spurs. What are you looking forward to with this game?

facebooktwitterreddit