Minnesota Timberwolves: 3 keys to beating the Denver Nuggets

Karl-Anthony Towns, Minnesota Timberwolves Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports
Karl-Anthony Towns, Minnesota Timberwolves Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports /

In a repeat of their second preseason game, the Minnesota Timberwolves will face off against the Denver Nuggets on Saturday, October 30th. The undoubted marquee matchup in this contest will be between Karl Anthony-Tows and Nikola Jokic, as two of the top-5 centers in the NBA do battle.

For his part, Jokic is suffering from knee soreness and was a game-time decision for the Nuggets contest against the Dallas Mavericks on Friday. Jokic ended up playing around 25 minutes of that game, as the Nuggets pulverized their opponents from start to finish. However, on the second night of a back-to-back, Jokic and his team will face off against a Timberwolves roster who love to push the pace and have developed a never-back-down attitude on the defensive end of the floor.

So, now the question becomes: Can the Nuggets sustain a full 48 minutes of Timberwolves basketball? And will Jokic’s knee be at full strength less than 24 hours after being tested against the Mavericks?

Nothing in the NBA is a given, and every game will have its own trials and tribulations for a roster to overcome, but a solid gameplan can be the difference between a closely fought battle and a blow-out.

And with that, here are 3 keys that could shape the Timberwolves vs. Nuggets game.

Minnesota Timberwolves go big off the bench

During their summertime wheeling-and-dealing, the Nuggets failed to replace JaVale McGee, instead opting to acquire both Jeff Green and JaMychal Green, who can both play as a small-ball five or at the four. Having a roster that’s diverse enough to go small when required is great and all, but what about when you need size off the bench? Well, that’s where the Timberwolves can find their first advantage.

Naz Reid is already one of the better backup centers in the NBA. Reid’s ability to rebound, rim-run, and score at the rim and from deep makes him a perfect blend of old-school and new-school. In almost perfect “Morey Ball” style, per Cleaning The Glass, Reid’s shooting attempts are split like this;

  • 48 percent at the rim
  • 12 percent from the mid-range (all in the floater region)
  • 40 percent from three (primarily from above the break, or on the wing)

At 6’10” with a diversified offensive output, the Nuggets struggle to contain Reid on both pick-and-pop’s and pick-and-rolls – oh and don’t forget his impact as a rim-runner during transition plays.

The Nuggets’ lack of size of the bench should be an easy factor to expose if the Timberwolves lean on Reid’s athleticism and high-energy brand of basketball, which should help the Wolves either build a lead or claw back into the game when Jokic is off the floor.

Minnesota Timberwolves embrace the pace

The best form of transition defense is to make your shot attempts, and after five games the Nuggets currently sit 22nd in points per 100 possessions and are also turning the ball over 18 times per 100 possessions. Simply put, the Timberwolves will have ample opportunity to attack on the break, especially when leaking out off defensive rebounds.

According to Instat’s tracking data, transition offense is the Timberwolves bread-and-butter, with 19.4 percent of their overall attacks coming at speed. Anthony Edwards is the team leader in both transition possessions per game, and is second in points per transition possession, averaging 1.37 per offensive attack.

Running the floor at every opportunity will also ensure the Nuggets are unable to set up their halfcourt defense, which will limit Jokic’s impact when protecting the rim in drop coverage. The Timberwolves leaning into their youth and athletics is a core factor in them getting anything tangible from the Nuggets game.

Minnesota Timberwolves should pressure the ball on every defensive possession

Entering tonight’s game, the Timberwolves are ranked 2nd in defensive points allowed per 100 possessions and are also first in forced turnovers per 100 possessions. Furthermore, the Nuggets’ paltry offensive output is about to face a Wolves team that is limiting opponents to an effective field goal percentage of just 47 percent.

The reason these defensive numbers are so important is that they bleed into the teams’ ability to get out in transition, further strengthening their ability to hit the Nuggets early and often. It’s also fun to watch the Timberwolves attack slower teams with blistering pace and callousness in their execution.

Defensive pressure will be imperative when facing off against some of the titans of the Western Conference, and the Nuggets will be no different. Getting physical on the wings, and reducing any space Jokic finds will also be high on the agenda.

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If the Timberwolves can assert their brand of basketball onto a Nuggets lacking their star point-guard, then there’s every reason to see them coming out of this game with a W. Whatever the outcome is if the Wolves run the break, pressure the ball, and exploit their size, this will be a fun and entertaining game for a Saturday evening.