Welcome to Part 22 in our series previewing each of the Timberwolves’ opponents and the respective upcoming season series.
Tale of the tape: Minnesota split with the Wizards last season, capped by a 132-129 double-overtime victory in D.C. last March.
Washington just barely missed out on a playoff berth last season, finishing an even 41-41, which was only good enough for 10th place in the East.
The Wizards have a quick pace to their game, which allows them many possessions and powers their offense to large numbers. However, if the offense is having an off-night, it allows the opponent to have many touches of their own, which leaves their defense at bay. The Wolves exploited this last year, but in the earlier match-up failed to put together efficient offensive possessions at the same clip as the Wizards.
The Timberwolves offense did put up good numbers though, with five players in double figures, including Shabazz Muhammad off the bench with 11.
What’s new? Trey Burke is probably the biggest off-season acquisition for the Wizards, although his production has actually trended downwards over his first three seasons. He started for the Jazz as a rookie, but eventually found himself on the bench, didn’t start a single game last year, and only averaged 21 minutes off the bench.
However, those 21 minutes were relatively productive. His nearly 11 points per game basically matched his previous two season’s point per game totals. He will continue to come off the bench in Washington behind their All-Star point guard, but his role could be important to the Wizards success.
Other new acquisitions Ian Mahinmi and Johnny O’Bryant will battle for time at the center position off the bench. The two are at different points in their career, as Mahinmi is entering his ninth season. He enjoyed his first season as a full-time starter last season in Indiana, averaging a modest nine points and seven rebounds.
O’Bryant, on the other hand, is entering his third season after spending his first two in Milwaukee. He never really saw a lot of production, and last year only averaged three points and three rebounds in 13 minutes per game.
He has seen a bit of time in the preseason and has put up some decent numbers. At this point it is unclear who the Wizards will prefer as the first and second big off the bench.
What’s the same? Perhaps the most dangerous part of this Wizards team is that nearly every part of their starting lineup for this season will be back from last year. Look at successful teams. What do many of them have in common? Longevity within their rotation. The only hindrance in that of the Wizards is a lack of chemistry that many of those successful teams have.
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Take a look at the back court: a combo like John Wall and Bradley Beal should be deadly. They rank right up there for the best guard combination in the league, in my eyes. But what do they lack? Chemistry.
Wall and Beal don’t always get along perfectly, seeming to argue about who should be the one to take the shots while on the floor together. Wall is the more talented of the two, but Beal is no joke. These two are certainly further along than any group of guards Minnesota can put on the court on an individual basis. But the chemistry of those guards is not at the level of the Wolves, and therefore despite the gap in talent, Minnesota may have an advantage in this area.
Morris was a mid-season acquisition for the Wizards, making him the newest member of the group. The other two have been in Washington for the last three seasons, which brings consistency on that end. Porter is more of a throwback small forward, being a little bit bigger and slower, as compared to the more modern small forward like Andrew Wiggins. He doesn’t have the finishing ability that you expect from that position, and he’s not a lights-out shooter. Beating him with speed will be the Timberwolves’ best option.
Gortat is entering his fourth season in Washington. He’s enjoyed a lot of success so far, nearly averaging a double-double last season. How he and Morris will blend in their first full year together will be an interesting development, as both are similar in size and ability.
Morris will see time at center when Gortat is not on the floor, giving the Wizards the ability to run more of a small-ball look. Even though he’s a bulkier big man, he still likes to step out from distance, averaging nearly three shots a game from long-range last year. He may try to find a home when Gortat is on the court with him, as his ball-hawk ability will allow Morris to take a break on the boards.
Kelly Oubre also returns. The second-year man out of Kansas will likely play a key role off the bench this season. His match-up with fellow lefty Shabazz Muhammad will be one to keep an eye on.
While he only averaged 10 minutes per game last season, a rise in production is probable, as he showed great leaps towards the end of last year, along with great numbers in the summer league and preseason going into this year.
My prediction? This is another one of those teams that my gut just tells me to feel optimistic against. Because of that, I’m going to follow my gut and predict a sweep this season.
Even though the Wizards do have a lot of familiarity within their roster, the chemistry of a team with that attribute just isn’t there yet. I see that trait much more in this Timberwolves team that is full of similar talent and ability.
The first match-up between these two squads will take place in our nation’s capital on January 6th.