Welcome to Part 18 in our series previewing each of the Timberwolves’ opponents and the respective upcoming season series.
Tale of the tape: Minnesota did not have a lot of success against the Pistons last year, losing both match-ups by double digits, while as a whole Detroit surprised some people in reaching the playoffs as the eighth-seed in the East.
This was another team that the Wolves couldn’t seem to put it together offensively against. They failed to score 100 points in either game — concerning, considering the Pistons had a bottom-tier defense last season. In fact, the Timberwolves never scored more than 90 points, which was 12 points below the Pistons’ opponent’s average. Minnesota will look to improve on those performances this season.
What’s new? Ish Smith is a really interesting add, in my opinion. He had a decent little run to end his year last season in Philadelphia, starting all 50 games in which he appeared, and had a nice line of 14/4/7. That included a few huge scoring outbursts and near triple-double, which would have been the first of his career.
Before moving from New Orleans in the middle of the season, he never saw the same productivity, only starting three games out of 27, and naturally, his minutes suffered along with his numbers. Smith did have a nice game against Minnesota last January as a member of the 76ers.
He could find himself back in a starting role in Detroit, and with the weapons he will have with the Pistons, he may prove to be even better. Be on the lookout for his match-up with Kris Dunn, should we see one. They are comparable in several ways, and it should be a nice little battle.
Jon Leuer is another addition to the Detroit roster. What Leuer brings to Detroit is value as a stretch-four off the bench. A career 48 percent shooter from the field and 38 percent 3-point shooter, the Minnesota native will come in to wear out bigger lineups. This isn’t necessarily a strategy that will be effective against the Timberwolves, but it is something to keep in mind.
What’s the same? The most dangerous aspect of this year’s Pistons team is the fact that they had nearly no lineup turnovers from its playoff season a year ago.
If Detroit hopes to continue their success, they will have to continue to feed the double-double machine, Andre Drummond. He was a first-time All-Star a year ago, averaging 16 points and 15 rebounds. Drummond is a true center; a physically dominant force. The Wolves’ bigs will have to put a lot of effort into shutting him down in the paint. His two lines last year against Minnesota: 21 and 11, followed by 23 and 18.
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On the offensive end of things, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope is the Piston that turns the engine (pun intended, of course). He also performed well against the Timberwolves, with the highlight being a 22-point performance in the series finale. He’s similar in many ways to our own Andrew Wiggins—not great from long range, but efficient from inside and off the dribble.
Also returning to the starting lineup are Marcus Morris and Tobias Harris. These two guys fill solid supporting roles, seeing much improvement from years prior. Harris had the best three-point shooting year of his career last season, and his attempts should see a rise this year.
Morris saw career highs in points and rebounds in his first year as a full-time starter, and we may see that trend continue as he gets more comfortable in that position. With his counterpart handling much of the rebounding duty, he can focus more on scoring, which will in turn stretch-out the Wolves defense.
Perhaps the biggest improvement for Detroit will be the bench. Reggie Jackson could move to a reserve role with the aforementioned addition of Ish Smith.
While Jackson has been discouraged with his minutes share in the past, a potential bench role may cause him to try and do too much during his time in his rotation, and Minnesota can take advantage of that by forcing him into turnovers. He has shown signs of that ability in spurts, however, and can’t be taken for granted during his time on the floor.
Stanley Johnson will also continue to improve after a decent rookie campaign. He averaged eight points and four rebounds in 23 minutes a year ago. If he can improve offensively, he will be a serious weapon for Detroit.
Finally, returning of the bench for the Pistons will be the likes of Lorenzo Brown, Reggie Bullock, and Aron Baynes. While none of them had a major impact last season, they may see more opportunities for production this season with new and improved pieces alongside them.
My prediction. Despite the success of last season and the improvement in some areas, I’m going to go out on a limb and say the Timberwolves are going to sweep the Pistons this season. This is more of a gut feeling here, but I just think the progression of the Minnesota lineup is greater than that of Detroit.
The big key to the success of the series will be winning the battle on the boards, especially if the affairs are low scoring like they were last year. The Wolves have better chances to explode offensively, and second and third chances will surely improve that probability.
The Pistons travel to Minneapolis on December 9th for the first of a pair of match-ups with the Timberwolves.