Look alive, Timberwolves fans, the NBA training camp is underway and we had our first taste of basketball this past Thursday as your Minnesota Timberwolves locked horns with the Dallas Mavericks. The Timberwolves burst out of the gate, an irregular occurrence last year, resulting in a wire-to-wire 111-99 win for Minnesota. Ladies and gentlemen, that is how you kick off the year.
In an offseason best described as acquiring versatility, the Minnesota Timberwolves find themselves with an abundance of length and athleticism. With this versatility and length around 3x DPOY center Rudy Gobert, the Timberwolves are on the cusp of rolling out an elite defensive team this year.
On Thursday, the Timberwolves looked every bit the part, as their length and intensity suffocated the Mavericks offense. I know what you’re thinking, as I can feel the eye rolls as I crown the Timberwolves’ defense after one preseason game in Abu Dhabi. Though, the Timberwolves morphing into a top defensive team has its roots in 2022-23 where Rudy Gobert and Co. clocked in at #10.
So how will the Timberwolves build on their top-10 finish? You can look at the continued growth of Forward Jaden McDaniels and postseason standout Guard Nickiel Alexander-Walker.
Simply put, Jaden McDaniels has a legitimate claim to the title of best defender in the NBA. Before you laugh, let me share with you why.
Not only did McDaniels grade out as the best perimeter defender in these metrics, but he was also the best rim protector out of all non-games in the entire NBA. He is an all-around elite defender who is a nightmare for opposing stars. That said, the emerging star is not without his warts. While he is an elite defender, McDaniels often has difficulties staying on the court. With an average of 3.4 fouls per game, and 4 fouls even per 36 minutes.
This fouling problem stems from one particular area, matchup difficulty. Jaden finished his 2022-23 campaign in the 99th percentile of matchup difficulty in the NBA. While you want your best defender on the best opposing player, having them on the court is paramount. Enter second-year guard Nickiel Alexander-Walker.
Alexander-Walker gives the Timberwolves a second point-of-attack stopper, and while he may not be at the level of Jaden McDaniels, he is an effective defensive option. When McDaniels went down before the playoffs with a broken hand, it was Nickiel Alexander-Walker who answered the call.
After shutting down his All-NBA cousin Shai Gilgeous-Alexander in the play-in tournament, Nickiel shadowed Denver’s Jamal Murray in round one of the playoffs and did so as effectively as anyone in the playoffs.
Holding Murray to 36.1% on all field goals in 5 games, Alexander-Walker was an immovable pest.
The presence of Alexander-Walker allows the Timberwolves the capacity to move Jaden off the primary scoring option and allow him to play off-ball. This inherently helps take McDaniels out of foul situations, thus allowing him to stay in the game.
With two potent wing defenders paired with Anthony Edwards, Rudy Gobert, and a multitude of switchable bench options with length, this Timberwolves squad has the pieces to be truly special on the defensive end of the floor. This is a team that we should expect to finish top 5 defensively this year. A feat not accomplished since Kevin Garnett patrolled the Target Center hardwood.
Good luck scoring on the Minnesota Timberwolves this year.