This is the tenth part in our series previewing each of the Timberwolves’ opponents and the respective upcoming season series.
Tale of the tape: Philadelphia won a whopping 10 games last year. Unfortunately, one of those wins came against the Timberwolves.
The 76ers took a 109-99 victory over Minnesota in January. Only one starter scored in double figures that night for the Wolves as Andrew Wiggins had 16 points. Meanwhile, Ish Smith was continuing his short stint of dominance with 21 points and 11 assists.
This series really made fans step back and think, “Man, maybe this team hasn’t progressed as much as we thought.” While Philadelphia continues to dwell at the bottom of the league, Minnesota has taken substantial steps forward. Weaknesses on the defensive end were exploited in this series, especially from the elbow in. A split was a true wake-up call.
What’s new? Similar to the last several years, the 76ers will enter this season with a lot of young, unproven talent, along with some savvy NBA vets to help guide them along.
I’d like to start with Ben Simmons, solely for how his absence in the lineup due to a broken foot will play out for the early match-up with the Wolves.
Simmons, although a rookie, would have had potential to cause a lot of problems. Unfortunately (or maybe fortunately for Minnesota, I guess), we may have to wait until next season to see him go up against them.
Luckily for the 76ers, it looks like Joel Embiid is poised to have a great “rookie” season after dealing with injuries of his own for the last two years. He wasn’t an outstanding shooter by any means in college, but it appears as though he has really improved that aspect of his game. We’ll have to see how much he actually uses that as a weapon going forward.
It’s difficult to determine how he will adjust to the speed of the NBA, especially that of the Timberwolves. I could see him getting worn out fairly quickly, but the match-up with Gorgui Dieng should be interesting to watch.
Jerryd Bayless enters his first season in Philly after a fairly successful stint off the bench in Milwaukee, averaging nearly 25 minutes per game in two seasons. I think the most interesting fact regarding this acquisition is that Bayless will be the highest paid player on the 76ers roster this season. However, I’m not completely sold on him as a starting guard in this league, even as a minutes-eater on this team.
Gerald Henderson is another interesting acquisition. Henderson was in Portland last season, spending the year coming off the bench after being a starter in Charlotte for most of his career before that but will likely find his way back into the starting lineup in Philadelphia.
Henderson is not a great jump-shooter, but is overall fairly reliable when it comes to the mid-range game; Zach LaVine might be a better defender than Henderson is offensively. He should be able to shut him down without too many problems.
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Key losses: Ben Simmons (for now), Ish Smith, Isaiah Canaan, the 72 from last season
What’s the same? Nerlens Noel and Jahlil Okafor will return to the paint for Philly this year. Noel showed a lot of improvement for the 76ers last season, averaging 11 points and eight rebounds per game, and his field goal percentage improved by six points from his rookie season, largely due to his jump shooting.
Okafor battled injury in his rookie season, missing nearly a third of the year. He also found himself in some off-court issues, leading to some questions about how ready he was for the NBA, even going as far as trade rumors swirling around at the February deadline.
He’s back though, and will probably see a shared role with Joel Embiid at the center position. The second-year man out of Duke is the 76ers’ best offensive big man on their roster, so he’ll see a lot of touches down low.
Nik Stauskas should see a large increase in minutes this season. He averaged 8.5 points and 24 minutes per game last season off the bench, and he’ll likely start at the two-spot this year. The college sharpshooter likes to shoot from-long range but has struggled to adjust to the NBA three-point line, shooting just 33 percent from beyond the arc thus far.
I think Grant will get the call to start at the ‘three’, with Covington and Jefferson seeing a fair amount of minutes in the rotation. They all put up very similar numbers last season, and with Simmons out, we may see a platoon-style system with these three.
My prediction? The key in these games for the Timberwolves will be to eliminate turnovers and take good shots offensively, along with taking care of business on the defensive end.
Allowing 102 points a game to a team like this is something that just simply can’t happen this season. I want to believe that Minnesota will have no problem taking both games in the series.
For Philadelphia, “trusting the process” has not worked like they thought it would. It is likely that they will spend another year at the bottom of the league. Hopefully, we will see two very electric performances from the Timberwolves against a team that they can and should handle easily.
The first of the two games in this series will take place on November 17th in Minneapolis.