Timberwolves Season Series Preview: New York Knicks

Feb 20, 2016; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Minnesota Timberwolves center Karl-Anthony Towns (32) shoots around New York Knicks forward Kristaps Porzingis (6) during the first quarter at Target Center. Mandatory Credit: Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports
Feb 20, 2016; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Minnesota Timberwolves center Karl-Anthony Towns (32) shoots around New York Knicks forward Kristaps Porzingis (6) during the first quarter at Target Center. Mandatory Credit: Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports /

 This is Part 16 in our series previewing each of the Timberwolves’ opponents and the respective upcoming season series.

Tale of the tape: Last season, the Knicks managed to win both games against the Timberwolves by single digit margins.

During the first encounter, Minnesota failed to handle Arron Afflalo, who went on to score 29 points on 64 percent shooting. In the rematch at Target Center, Robin Lopez and his dominant performance in the paint (26 points and 16 rebounds) was what ultimately decided the game in New York’s favor. However, both these players are no longer with the Knicks. The team has a lot of new faces, and this year’s match-up will be very different.

What’s New?

Looking across the landscape of the NBA, the Knicks have probably gone through the biggest changes in the off-season. The major ones are described below.

Key Losses

Arron Afflalo

Arron is my favorite player out of those still playing on the Knicks, so I may not be fully objective on this. However, he’s always seemed to be one of the most underrated guards in the league.

After two bad seasons in Detroit early on in his career, Arron went to Denver and never looked back, he consistently averaging over 10 (and up to 18) points per game and was a confident starter in all of the teams he played for — including the Knicks last season. After Carmelo Anthony and rookie-sensation Kristaps Porzingis, Afflalo was the third-best scorer in the team.

However, unlike the Nuggets during his first time around or even with the Magic, the Knicks didn’t seem to be a good fit for him, as there was no real structure within the team. Despite that, Afflalo did his job and played like that great experienced clutch scorer he is. And though Knicks seem to have gotten better since last season, the shooting guard position is an exception.

Robin Lopez

Contrary to his replacement in Joakim Noah, Lopez’s numbers over the last few seasons remained approximately the same.

An important issue here is scoring – Robin consistently averaged over or around 10 points for the last four years. Noah, on the other hand, has experienced a major drop in that department over the last two seasons, albeit influenced significantly by injuries. But undergoing a shift from 12 points per contest to seven and then merely four…well, it seems very alarming.

And although Noah unquestionably remains a better defender, having a player on the floor who is only able to play one way may become a problem for them offensively — especially looking at the statistics from last year, when Knicks were around average on defense, but remained in the bottom-seven for both offensive rating and points per game.

Therefore, even though Lopez may not be the most desired center in the league, Knicks will definitely miss his scoring.

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Derrick Williams

Drafted by Minnesota in 2011 with the second-overall pick, it’s probably safe to say that Williams didn’t live up to expectations. Sure, he managed to become a decent role-player off the bench, with his scoring averages just below double digits. However, players like Klay Thompson, Kawhi Leonard, Jimmy Butler and many others picked after him now are league stars or at least starters in the top teams of the NBA.

While Williams seemed to be a promising prospect, he basically stopped improving during his third season. The Knicks may miss him as a reliable scorer off the bench, but he’s not somebody who can’t be replaced. And that’s a shame. Put simply: someone who once was compared to Kyrie Irving as the two most talented players in 2011 draft was not supposed to end up as an average role player.

The Knicks also said their farewells to veteran point guard Jose Calderon, French center Kevin Seraphin, point guard Langston Galloway, and several other less significant members of the team.

Key Additions

Derrick Rose

As if his injuries weren’t enough to derail an impressive career, Rose is now in and out of the courtroom answering to rape allegations. Its tough to watch a former MVP struggle to stay on the floor, and the way that his trial ends up will obviously have a significant impact on his availability moving forward.

He still is an above-average starting point guard in the NBA, but we are left wondering how good he could have been without those injuries. Hopefully, a fresh start on a new team can help Rose at least partly recover. He is still young and will probably be the second or third scoring option on the Knicks. It’s not the superstar role he was created for, of course, but he can still deliver and become a crucial piece of the team.

Joakim Noah

Former Bulls and their injuries…

As mentioned above, Noah has been rapidly declining over the last few years. And although he’s still one of the best defensive centers in the league, he is already far away from the player that managed to make two All-Star teams. He certainly will help Knicks on defense, but it likely won’t be the assistance the team requires most after last season.

Courtney Lee

Unlike Noah, Lee can do a bit of everything as he’s a decent scorer and a good defender. It might be fair to say that Lee is one of a few players in the league who would be a good fit on just about any team.

The Knicks aren’t an exception and acquiring Courtney was a smart move. Add him alongside Derrick Rose or Brandon Jennings, another new point guard, and you have a much stronger back court than Afflalo paired up with a below-average point guard like Calderon or Galloway.

Mindaugas Kuzminskas

My fellow Lithuanian is unlikely to play many minutes right from the start of the season, especially if Melo spends most of his time playing as a small forward. Kuzminskas often needed time to adjust to different environments, including both the club and national teams.

However, he has the whole package that is required to become a successful NBA player: he’s talented, hardworking and with all the essential physical qualities. All he really needs is confidence in himself and trust from the coaches and he’ll be a very reliable player off the bench.

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Similar things can be said about another rookie, Guillermo Hernangomez. He and his brother Juancho Hernangomez, who is going to start his NBA career with the Nuggets, are going to be especially fun to watch — perhaps mainly because they are two brothers that happen to be big men from Spain.

Sound familiar? Well, the whole country of Spain and probably a big part of the basketball world certainly hopes they can one day reach the level of Pau and Marc.

What’s The Same?

Melo. For the seventh consecutive season one of the best scorers in the 21st century will wear the Knicks uniform. There’s no doubt he’ll again be the leader, but this year Melo finally seems to have enough solid pieces around him to get back into the playoffs. Despite that, however, Anthony is fundamental to the team’s success.

Maybe it’s the skeptic in me talking, but even with their superstar, the Knicks aren’t really ready for a deep playoff run. Without him, even with all those substantial additions to the team, they probably wouldn’t even make it to May.

Kristaps Porzingis. The Latvian surprised a lot of people last season, receiving well-deserved comparisons to Dirk Nowitzki. Even more will be expected from him this year and, if everything goes without major injury troubles within the team, we should be able to see if the Latvian is as good under the playoff pressure, as he is during the regular season.

Key To Victory

Towns. The Timberwolves’ starting center and last season’s Rookie of the Year will have to be in his best form. Towns will be forced to battle under the baskets against a strong rebounder in Noah.

He will probably need to help out on defense a lot and remain extremely concentrated to limit the freedom of Porzingis. Finally, his scoring will be essential for the Wolves to win, but making many baskets against one of the best defensive centers in the league won’t be easy either. However, Towns has already proven he isn’t afraid of tough challenges and the team can always count on him.


Realistically, a 1-1 split. However, this is one of those match-ups with Eastern Conference teams where the Wolves really have a good shot at winning the series.

Even though Knicks have many more decent players this year, their injury history and the fact that they’ll probably need time to feel each other better on the court makes them a pretty unpredictable team coming into the season. It’s highly unlikely that they will take one of the top 3 or even 4 spots in the East.

On the other hand, I wouldn’t rule out the possibility of them not making the playoffs at all, mainly due to the reasons already explained. So Minnesota taking both games against the Knicks definitely wouldn’t be a surprise.

Next: Timberwolves Blow Halftime Lead In Charlotte

The two consecutive games between the teams will take place in Minneapolis on November 30th and December 2nd at Madison Square Garden.