Timberwolves Season Series Preview: Phoenix Suns

Feb 20, 2015; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Minnesota Timberwolves center Gorgui Dieng (5) boxes out Phoenix Suns forward Markieff Morris (11) in the fourth quarter at Target Center. The Minnesota Timberwolves beat the Phoenix Suns 111-109. Mandatory Credit: Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports
Feb 20, 2015; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Minnesota Timberwolves center Gorgui Dieng (5) boxes out Phoenix Suns forward Markieff Morris (11) in the fourth quarter at Target Center. The Minnesota Timberwolves beat the Phoenix Suns 111-109. Mandatory Credit: Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports /

This is Part 13 in our series previewing each of the Timberwolves’ opponents and the respective upcoming season series.

Tale of the tape: Last season, the Wolves and Suns split their four games with both teams winning their home matches.

Except for the second encounter of the season, when Phoenix’s squad was swept by 30 points in Minnesota, all of the other contests finished with the difference being within single digits.

What’s New?

Key Losses

Mirza Teletovic

After his best season in the NBA last year in Phoenix, the Bosnian decided to continue his career in Milwaukee.

Teletovic would definitely have remained one of the team’s leaders, even coming from the bench. It’s good to see the Bosnian finally adapting to the NBA style of play – he used to do wonders in the Euroleague or European Championships and it always seemed that he’s capable at least of averaging double-digits in the NBA. It took him some time to do that, but Teletovic finally earned the well-deserved respect. And I certainly hope that he’ll continue to play at the same level for the Bucks.

In the off-season, the Suns also lost players like Kris Humphries, Ronnie Price and Chase Budinger. None of them played a significant role for the Suns last season, nor would they have stayed for one more year.

Key Additions

Leandro Barbosa

The Brazilian is coming home for his third stint in Phoenix. Barbosa’s golden age was spent with the Suns, roughly between 2005 and 2009.

He may not be that guy, who can average well into double digits anymore, but he’s still going to be a reliable player on both ends of the floor, just like he was most recently for one of the league’s top teams in Golden State. In addition, he will also bring a substantial amount of experience, including the all-important champion mentality.

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Jared Dudley

Deja vu. Just like Barbosa, Dudley is coming back to the team with which he once played the best basketball of his career. Unlike Leandro, however, Dudley didn’t have a substantial role with a top team. He didn’t win a championship in his years away from Phoenix, either. But with Teletovic gone, somebody will have to fill his shoes from beyond the arc.

It seems like Dudley is the only candidate on the roster, who may, at least partly, handle this task. He’s not as good of a shooter, but he can certainly score. Whether he’ll be able to play like the Phoenix’s Dudley from three or four years ago, well, only time will tell.

Dragan Bender

There is a lot (and I mean, A LOT) of hype concerning this player. Surely, he’s just 18 and has lots of potential. However, playing for one of the worst teams in the last season’s Euroleague (Maccabi Tel Aviv) he only managed to score 2.1 points and grab 1.4 rebounds per game.

For example, in 2010-11, when he was roughly the same age as Bender last year, the Raptor’s Jonas Valanciunas had averages of 7.7 points and 5.8 rebounds per contest. And all of that while playing for what was then an average Euroleague team (Lietuvos Rytas Vilnius).

If there’s going to be another Tskitishvilli or Milicic in the 2016 Draft, my money is on Bender. The Suns certainly hope he’s going to be a superstar eventually, but so far I wouldn’t be too confident about him. At least the first one or two seasons are going to be rough for the Croatian.

What’s The Same?

The back court: Eric Bledsoe, Devin Booker, Brandon Knight, Barbosa. With guards of this caliber, the Suns could certainly aim for playoffs if it wasn’t for their weaknesses in other positions.

For Knight and Booker, Phoenix is a great place to get lots of quality minutes and evolve. There aren’t many things more important for a young player. Booker finished just shy of the Rookie of the Year award last year and he may just surprise everyone again this season. With all of the freedom he has plus mentors in Bledsoe and Barbosa he is destined to develop fast and smoothly.

Tyson Chandler and his impact on the glass. The former Defensive Player of the Year is certainly a crucial figure in the Suns’ defense. However, the 34 year-old is, well, 34. With him on the floor last season, the team’s offensive rating was 6.4 points worse compared to when he didn’t play.

Related Story: Timberwolves Series Preview: Pelicans

And while he’s never been a top-flight offensive performer, what is really alarming is that the team’s defensive rating with him on the floor didn’t improve, either. In fact, opposing teams recorded 6.9 percent more assists, grabbed 2.3 percent more steals, and even had a slightly better offensive rating with Chandler on the floor.

Obviously, you can’t blindly trust the statistics, as many extraneous variables may influence these numbers. But even still, Chandler’s defensive impact seems to be decreasing.

One thing he’s still great at is rebounding, of course. So expect Chandler to continue to do what he does best – protect the glass. Karl-Anthony Towns will certainly have to put a lot of effort to win the rebounding battle.

Keys To Victory

Defense. The Wolves managed to score over 100 points in all four meetings against the Suns last season, but lost two out of the three games in which Phoenix also exceeded the century mark.

The only time that the Suns left the court without reaching 100 (or, in fact, even 90) points, resulted in an easy win by the Wolves. The offense will be there, as the Suns aren’t a good defensive team, nor has it been in quite awhile.

But engaging in a scoring race with them may not be the smartest option, even if they no longer have an equivalent for Nash-Stoudemire duo to lead a tornado-like offense. Good defense, on the other hand, may just be the difference. And having one of the league’s best defensive specialists on the sidelines in Tom Thibodeau, I am confident this will be taken into account.

Forwards. Even with all of the aforementioned talented guards and a solid defensive center in Tyson Chandler, Suns do have gaps at the forward spot.

Dudley isn’t a match-up for Andrew Wiggins that would end well for the Suns, and Gorgui Dieng has an advantage over P.J. Tucker especially under the basket (although Tucker is a better shooter). In addition, Tucker suffered an injury recently and is expected to only get back after six-to-eight weeks.

Therefore, it is likely that he won’t even play in the first encounter between the teams, which gives Wolves an even bigger advantage that they absolutely have to exploit.


Hopefully a 3-0 sweep, but seeing that two out of the three matches will take place in Phoenix, winning the series 2-1 wouldn’t be a bad result, either. Either way, the Wolves are the favorites to win this match-up.

Next: On Rubio’s value and…50 wins?

The first game in this series will take place on November 25th in Phoenix.