Rudy Gobert will look to maintain his dominant level of play as he, Mike Conley and the Minnesota Timberwolves welcome their old squad, the Utah Jazz, to the Target Center for a Saturday night showdown.
- Jaylen Clark (right Achilles tendon rupture rehab)
- Leonard Miller (G League assignment)
- Wendell Moore Jr. (G League assignment)
- Josh Christopher (two-way contract)
- Johnny Juzang (two-way contract)
- Micah Potter (two-way contract)
What to Watch For
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Importance of Movement
The Timberwolves’ offense has been a bit of a roller coaster this season as they’re still trying to find that ideal balance between structure and flow. In both of their wins, each by double digits, the team had an assist rate over 60% while in both of their losses, it was under 60%. Obviously, someone needs to make the shot to get an assist, but the tape lines up with the numbers. When this team is moving off-ball and making the extra pass, the offense is substantively better.
This game against the Jazz isn’t any different. In their last game, a loss against the Orlando Magic, Utah was consistently dismantled by back cuts, off-ball screens, and a standard pick-and-roll. Their defenders tend to watch the ball, and they don’t have a consistently reliable on-ball defender who can navigate screens. They worked their way back into that game by baiting the Magic into a lot of isolation offense and tough shot selection.
Saturday should be a great opportunity for the Timberwolves to further explore that balance between structure and flow. When things bog down in the half-court, there should be a bevy of off-ball screens set that wings can curl off of and imbalance the defense. When the Wolves push their early offense, getting paint touches immediately should be the priority. From there, every other player should be actively cutting and finding the open pockets around the rim to exploit.
So far this season, the Jazz’s defensive rating ranks 24th, per NBA Stats, and their half-court defensive rating ranks last according to Cleaning the Glass.
(Editor’s Note: How’s that Rudy Gobert trade looking?)
There will be a plethora of opportunities for the entire Timberwolves roster to feast. As long as they are active off-ball and avoid lazy offensive execution, the offense could be in for a big night.
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Take Advantage of Size
At first glance, it doesn’t seem like size is a standout advantage for the Timberwolves as the Jazz do start two 7-footers and a 6-foot-10 power forward. However, outside of those three players, there is only one other player on the roster who is over 6-foot-5 who gets consistent minutes – Kelly Olynyk. When the Jazz bring in their second unit, the Timberwolves should easily dominate due to the sheer size discrepancy.
Given modern spacing and the plethora of skill, we know that just being big isn’t what it used to be. However, the Timberwolves’ size is also accompanied by plenty of skill. On top of that, the Wolves have an opportunity to exploit the Jazz, using their size, in a lot of the areas in which the Jazz struggle.
Utah is currently allowing the fifth-highest offensive rebounding rate in the league. Luckily for Minnesota, they have the ninth-highest offensive rebounding rate. It has been a clumsy balancing act for the Timberwolves between crashing the offensive glass and getting back in transition, but this could be a game where they hit the boards aggressively. We already covered how the Jazz give up a lot of offensive rebounds, but they aren’t a major threat in transition offense. They rank just 18th in transition frequency and 26th in transition scoring.
Along with controlling the boards, the Wolves should also dominate the paint scoring numbers. On the season, Minnesota is allowing the sixth-highest frequency of at-rim shots, but they have the 10th-best at-rim defensive field goal percentage. Utah’s offense largely avoids the midrange, so funneling shots to Gobert at the rim shouldn’t be difficult. To make it even more enticing, the Jazz rank 17th in at-rim shooting percentage.
On the other end of the court, the Timberwolves have really struggled around the rim. Their at-rim shot frequency is down 5% from last season, ranking just 19th. Additionally, their at-rim shooting percentage is down to 57.6% (29th), which is down almost 11% from last season. These numbers are hopefully just a cold slump, and this could be the game where they turn it around. Utah allows the ninth-lowest at-rim shot frequency, but their rim protection has been abhorrent as they’re allowing opponents to shoot 72.9% (27th). While Kessler is an excellent shot blocker, he has struggled with foul trouble this year and they have absolutely zero rim protection behind him. This could be the game where the Wolves start to turn around their interior scoring.
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The Timberwolves have won their two games because of their defense. They currently have the best defensive rating in the league of 102.0, which would be the best defensive rating since the San Antonio Spurs’ defensive rating of 98.2 in 2015-16. Additionally, they have the best half-court defense in the league with a defensive rating of 84.7. Obviously, it’s early and these numbers are prone to rise, but this team’s defensive prowess is very real.
While these numbers may not hold all season, this shouldn’t be the game that causes them to rise. The Jazz’s half-court offense has an offensive rating of just 95.9, which ranks 17th. Their lack of a natural point guard, or even consistent on-ball creator, often leads to their offense getting bogged down when their first option isn’t there. Where they’ve thrived is by throwing some window dressing out there before they start their actual set in an attempt to unbalance the defense. As long as the Timberwolves communicate the initial screens and stick to their assignments, there isn’t any reason for them to struggle defensively.
Additionally, it will be crucial for the point of attack defenders to do their jobs. While the Jazz don’t have many natural offensive creators, they have been a tremendous spot-up shooting team ranking in the 93rd percentile with 1,119 points per possession and shooting 40.7% from deep, per Synergy. Utah takes 36.9% of their shots from 3 (13th) and 12.4% of their shots from the corner (second), so if the point of attack defenders struggle, there will be shooters open.
Additionally, if the Timberwolves are forced to scramble and make numerous rotations, they could be very vulnerable to giving up offensive rebounds. The Jazz rank second in the league with an offensive rebounding rate of 32.2% and rank ninth in scoring off of put-backs. As long as the Wolves are locked in on their assignments, they should be fine. However, if we see that complacency that’s plagued this team in recent years creep back in, they could get in trouble.