Ahh yes, the Minnesota Timberwolves. A team that most Canadians have been wishing success for, for some time. All because they harbour our problematic-favourite, Andrew Wiggins. Karl-Anthony Towns and Wiggins were both highly touted coming out of college, both first overall picks, and are both signed to max contracts. And yet, their impact on these Timberwolves is so markedly different. Perhaps, because Towns is a new age big man, and Wiggins is a throw back. And as Raptors fans, we know how the game, the league, and analytical think-tanks can try to phase out throwback players (DeMar DeRozan).
The Wolves haven’t attempted to phase Wiggins out, though, and that’s left them at the whim of his inconsistencies. Wiggins hasn’t taken less than 12 shots in a game this year, and he’s only taken less than 15, 4 times. He’s going to get his shots up regardless, and that’s why he acts as such a bell-wether for the Wolves success. The highs are extremely high, as he can put together show-stopping displays of athleticism while mixing in back-breaking mid-range pull-ups. But the lows can get pretty low. That’s why the matchup that looms the largest for this game is who guards Wiggins. Who can goad him into bad shots, thus tanking the Wolves offense?
Well, OG Anunoby certainly has the body type for this matchup, but does he have a history of success in it? Yes. NBA.com/stats has it at nearly 25 possessions, 10 shots taken, and 3 shots made. That’s really good, because that checks off all the boxes as far as, Wiggins being a blackhole and missing shots. The Raptors have been very eager to rely on team defense this season. Rarely ever marching out a single player to lock-up a threat on the other side. Instead, relying on the Raptors amoebic ability to sink, fill, rotate and recover on defense. But, they have an opportunity to let Anunoby stretch his legs in what is undeniably his best skill – 1-on-1 defense.
And who better to guard the front-court phenom that is Towns, than the recently healthy Marc Gasol? A version of Gasol that was dynamite defensively vs. the Wizards, shot 6-7 from downtown, and added a dynamic new dimension to every Raptors DHO action he’s a part of. He looks good, and more than ready to slow down one of the league’s premier players.
Considering these Wolves don’t hang their hat on the defensive end, the Raptors are operating at a significant surplus at both ends. So what if Siakam looks a little bit out of game shape at the moment, he can still break down a defense and he adds so much to the Raptors attack. As for Gasol and Norman Powell, they look like world beaters. To highlight Powell for a moment, he’s strung together 3 straight 20-point performances since coming back from injury – on ludicrous shooting splits. He’s been the league’s best bench player in this stretch, and while the Wolves do have Robert Covington and Josh Okogie roaming the wings, that still won’t be enough to try and stop the Raptors stable of wings.
Another sub-.500 team that the Raptors should beat, and given their history we should feel pretty good about predicting a win. The Wolves are a team in-flux, as they just traded away Jeff Teague, and teams in-flux are sometimes capable of really high, highs. Regardless, the Raptors will have to bring their best, especially the front-court.
Tipoff: 8pm EST | TV: Sportsnet One | Radio: TSN1050
Fred VanVleet (hamstring) is probable, but we could see him come off of the bench.
PG: Kyle Lowry, Terence Davis II, Paul Watson
SG: Fred VanVleet, Norman Powell, Patrick McCaw
SF: OG Anunoby, Malcolm Miller, Stanley Johnson
PF: Pascal Siakam, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Oshae Brissett
C: Marc Gasol, Serge Ibaka, Chris Boucher
Jake Layman (turf toe) is out.
PG: Shabazz Napier, Jordan McLaughlin
SG: Jarrett Culver, Josh Okogie, Allen Crabbe
SF: Andrew Wiggins, Treveon Graham
PF: Robert Covington, Keita Bates-Diop, Noah Vonleh, Kelan Martin
C: Karl-Anthony Towns, Gorgui Dieng, Jordan Bell, Naz Reid
Have a blessed day.