MINNEAPOLIS – The Minnesota Timberwolves are almost to the point in the year where they’ll play basketball games in which the outcomes don’t matter but what happens during the game does. The preseason starts on Tuesday night for the Wolves in Phoenix against the Suns.
There will be a number of things to watch for as the team laces them up for the first time against a different opponent. Here are the three most interesting things we might get a peek at in the preseason opener:
The starting five
This has one mystery in it right now. It’s common sense to think that Karl-Anthony Towns, Robert Covington, Andrew Wiggins, and Jeff Teague will all be in the starting lineup on opening night, but who the fifth starter is has yet to be determined – at least not publicly.
The team could go a number of different options with the fifth spot. It’s a spot that could change from time to time, as well. The candidates for it could include Noah Vonleh, Josh Okogie, Jake Layman, and Jarrett Culver.
The fifth starter on Tuesday night’s opener won’t be the most telling thing in the world, but it might give the world a clue as to what way the coaching staff might be leaning to start the season.
On nights when the team faces an opponent with a bigger starting lineup, Vonleh could be the most logical choice. Other nights could mean Layman gets the nod as a starter, shifting Covington to the four and the Wolves open up the game small. It may make the most sense for that fifth spot to be a fluid one throughout the season.
How acclimated does Culver look
There has been plenty of praise for the rookie through his first week of training camp so far as to how he’s been able to adjust to the NBA game, at least in a camp setting. Moving from practice to preseason games will be a step up, and watching how he looks on the floor in a game setting will be an important next step.
“He’s definitely made some plays that make you look around and say, ‘wow’ in terms of the way he sees the floor, for a rookie,” head coach Ryan Saunders said over the weekend. “Those might be normal plays that you might see a Jeff Teague, or you might see someone who has been in the league make but for a rookie in his first couple days it was impressive with things.”
His shooting ability is one of the bigger question marks surrounding his game. He shot just 30% from deep in his second and final season at Texas Tech, but that’s a number that doesn’t necessarily translate to the NBA game. For what it’s worth, Saunders did praise Culver’s shooting ability prior to practice on Sunday.
Regardless, the first look at Culver as an NBA player will come on Tuesday night. It might be a shock to his system, or he could instantly look like he belongs, either way it’s something that will be fascinating.
How much faster the playing style is
The Wolves have made no secret that they’re going to be playing a different brand of basketball than in years past. They plan to move up and down the court at a quicker pace than previously, the team has the green light to bomb away from distance, and it sounds like they’ll finally be keeping up with the times offensively. With all that said, we still don’t know what it exactly looks like. Tuesday will be the first look at that.
“We’re playing really fast,” Wiggins said on Saturday. “That’s the main emphasis is playing fast and playing together. It’s more like a free-flowing offense. We’re playing four-out or five-out and giving people space to drive.”
No one is expected the Wolves to come out playing like the Houston Rockets or the Golden State Warriors on Tuesday, but it will be interesting how quickly the team plays as well as how Towns is utilized in a new offensive system.