Andrew Wiggins is in town to visit the Toronto Raptors with his Minnesota Timberwolves, which is always a fun occasion. Canada’s biggest basketball prospect ever, Wiggins took nice strides as a sophomore last year, keeping expectations high ahead of his third campaign. And he hasn’t disappointed, pushing his scoring average to 22.2 points per-game, averaging a career-high 2.4 assists, and finally knocking down threes consistently, hitting 38.3 percent of nearly four attempts per-game, a huge development in his offensive arsenal. Defensively, Wiggins’ impact still isn’t necessarily being felt in the advanced metrics, but he has the length, quickness, and fundamentals to continue to grow into a major factor on that end.
I’ve seen some express disappointment about Wiggins’ NBA career so far, and I really can’t understand that perspective. He’s still just 21 years old, and while I acknowledge that expectations are enormous for a No. 1 pick and such a heralded prospect, he hasn’t exactly disappointed. Development is hardly linear, but he seems, to me, to be on the path to being at least a very capable No. 2 alongside Karl-Anthony Towns, who looks like a future top-five player in the NBA. And there’s still plenty of time for Wiggins to make sure the role is that of a 1B rather than a No. 2. It seems as if he’s at least put to rest some of the unfounded notions that he lacks some sort of internal or mental factor to become great. He’s very good, and I’m very certain he will be great.
(As a comparison, at the same point in their careers, DeMar DeRozan was less efficient offensively on a smaller volume, had a lower assist rate, and didn’t project as nearly a good defender. And he was a bit older in his third season. DeRozan is a marvel of annual development and his curve is not at all something others can be expected to follow, especially with the improvements DeRozan continues to make here later in his career, but it’s encouraging about where Wiggins could potentially grow from here. For his part, DeRozan seems to understand the Wolves’ plight as they develop.)
He’s also played really well in his four games against the Raptors, averaging 23 points, 3.8 rebounds, and two assists on 56.2-percent true-shooting with a 30.4-percent usage rate, his highest against any opponent. This should be a lot of fun.
The game tips off at 7 p.m. on TSN 1/4/5 and Sportsnet 590, and on TNT (!) in the U.S. You can check out Tamberlyn’s full game preview here.
The Raptors opened as 7.5-point favorites according to sports betting sites and quickly saw that line bought up to Raptors -9.5. It’s currently sitting at Raptors -9, which is pretty large considering Minnesota’s point differential and late-game performances suggest their true talent level so far is much better than their record, but the Raptors are also fairly well-rested after two days off, and they’re at home. The over-under has been fairly steady around the 214 mark, a bet against two below-average defenses shutting each other down despite both sides playing at below-average paces.
We’ll wait to see Carroll’s status before picking aside (and to see if the line moves). Speaking of which…
As usual with a back-to-back scenario, DeMarre Carroll is likely to sit either Thursday against Minnesota or Friday against Boston. It makes more sense to me, from a matchup perspective, for Carroll to rest against a lesser Minnesota team and suit up against a Boston outfit that likes to push Jae Crowder to the four similar to how the Raptors do with Carroll, but the team could look at things differently. Toronto could want Carroll in for the Wolves to help with Wiggins and help check the larger Shabazz Muhammad, for example, or they may not want Boston having the option of trying to hide Isaiah Thomas on Carroll while letting their top defenders load up on Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan. I still think overall, starting Carroll against Boston makes a bit more sense, but it’s as much of a coin flip as the earlier back-to-backs Carroll rested for, so who knows?
Check back before tip-off for an update on Carroll. Norman Powell would stand to start and draw the Wiggins assignment out of the gate if Caroll takes the night off.
UPDATE: Carroll will play. Head coach Dwane Casey said the back-to-back restriction will be lifted “hopefully soon,” as Carroll’s gaining strength and stamina. He will not, however, play against the Celtics on Friday, with Casey citing matchups (Wiggins and the Wolves’ ability to go smaller with some tricky looks) as the reason behind the choice.
The even bigger concern for Toronto may be how to deal with Karl-Anthony Towns, who is essentially ungauradable (he suggested HE is the player best suited to guard himself at shootaround, which was pretty hilarious). One of the most entertaining and eminently likeable young players in the league, Towns is an impossible blend of speed, size, skill, and shooting, at Jonas Valanciunas, Lucas Nogueira, Pascal Siakam, and Patrick Patterson will have their hands full. It’s not like Gorgui Dieng is ineffective offensively, either, and Nemnaja Bjelica threatens to stretch the floor out a little bit, too, always a challenge for Raptors’ bigs. The Wolves are also a top-five offensive rebounding team, and with the Raptors struggling on their own glass so far, that couldbe a major factor in this one.
On the bright side, Minnesota allows a high volume of opponent 3-point attempts and they’re very foul-prone, playing in to some of the elements that have made the Raptors’ offense so lethal of late.
PG: Kyle Lowry, Cory Joseph, Fred VanVleet
SG: DeMar DeRozan, Norman Powell
SF: DeMarre Carroll, Terrence Ross
PF: Pascal Siakam, Patrick Patterson, Bruno Caboclo
C: Jonas Valanciunas, Lucas Nogueira, Jakob Poeltl
OUT: Delon Wright, Jared Sullinger
Minnesota is healthy for the most part outside of Nikola Pekvoic, but Brandon Rush’s status remains a question mark due to a toe sprain. Rush wasn’t playing nightly, anyway, so the Wolves can roughly be considered to have most of their hands on deck. (Minor update: Apparently Rush was available but not used Tuesday, so I’d guess he’s available again here.)
The Raptors will need to try to handle their business early on, as the Wolves are one of the league’s best first-half teams and one of its worst second-half teams. That’s probably some noise given the similarity in the rotations each half, but it could speak a little to Minnesota still just learning to win games and close out. It almost certainly suggests that the Wolves are more dangerous than their 6-15 record, as the Raptors learned the hard way by checking out for the All-Star break a little too early with Wiggins and company still on the schedule.
One lineup to look out for is Minnesota’s “LaVine-plus-bench” unit that could see time across from the Raptors’ own effective bench-heavy groups (LaVine is the only starter who spends significant time anchoring bench-heavy groups). In 54 minutes that LaVine’s played with Dunn, Muhammad, Bjelica, and Aldrich, the Wolves have outscored opponents by 23.8 points per-100 possessions. Their starters with Jones in place of Rubio have also been quite good, with a net rating of 19.1 over an admittedly small 34-minute sample. Interestingly, the starting five is the fourth-most used lineup in the entire NBA this year, though they’ve struggled some, especially coming out of the half.
Expect Wiggins to draw the DeRozan assignment and show off some of the defensive potential the Wolves hope eventually turns in to team-level difference-making, while the quick-handed Ricky Rubio tries to bottle up Lowry. Towns’ ability to hedge, switch, and protect the rim will make life tough, but the Wolves are a bottom-five defense, so there will certainly be seams to exploit, especially in transition.
PG: Ricky Rubio, Kris Dunn, Tyus Jones, John Lucas
SG: Zach LaVine, Brandon Rush
SF: Andrew Wiggins, Shabazz Muhammad
PF: Gorgui Dieng, Nemanja Bjelica, Adreian Payne
C: Karl-Anthony Towns, Cole Aldrich, Jordan Hill
Out: Nikola Pekovic
- It’s the second Huskies Night of the season. The shorts are so slick up close. I want.
- DeMar DeRozan officially passes Morris Peterson for the most games played in franchise history tonight. This marks his 543rd game with the team. He’s only 407 minutes and 250 points from passing Chris Bosh for the top spot on those leaderboards, too. The “Best Raptor Ever” conversation continues to get more and more interesting.
- Want to get to know the Wolves a little deeper? Coincidentally, they’re today’s subject in John Schuhmann’s excellent Three Stats feature for NBA.com.
- In good news for fans of Canada Basketball, Andrew Wiggins told reporters at shootaround that he intends to play for Canada in international competition in the future. (“Yeah, definitely,” were his exact words, though he didn’t really elaborate.)
- Wiggins’ coach, Tom Thibodeau, is a proponent of using international play as a development tool, and he had nothing but great things to say about the Raptors’ Olympicans he worked with as a member of the USA Basketball coaching staff.
Thibs on Lowry/DeRozan: “They were terrific to be around and they were a big part of that team winning the gold”
— Josh Lewenberg (@JLew1050) December 8, 2016
- We made mention of Masai Ujiri’s third annual Giant of Africa event celebrating the life of Nelson Mandela on Monday, and the NBA has a cool short video on the event. As always, Ujiri remains the best, and it’s nice to root for a franchise that uses its power and platform to try to inspire positive change.
— NBA (@NBA) December 8, 2016