Connected through the draft, Warriors battle the Wolves tonight

From Curry to Wiseman, Wiggins to Russell, and the pick hanging over the future, there's a lot of shared history here.

Full disclosure: I didn’t really even know who Stephen Curry was prior to the 2009 NBA draft. Sure, I’d seen some highlights and heard the buzz, but at the time of the draft, I had no idea how fortunate the Golden State Warriors had just gotten.

It was a miracle of fate indirectly delivered through the hands of Minnesota Timberwolves GM David Kahn - who took not one, but two point guards, leaving the Warriors with their coveted choice: Wardell Stephen Curry.

Fast forward one decade. Ricky Rubio, the first Wolves pick, has developed into a nice role player, Johnny Flynn was out of the NBA three years later. Curry on the other hand, revolutionized the game of basketball on his way to owning three championships, two MVP awards, and the hearts and souls of Warriors fans.

And so the two franchises’ fortunes intertwine yet again, reunited in this year’s draft. The Wolves picked dynamic scoring guard Anthony Edward, leaving the Warriors center James Wiseman, an enigma holding tremendous hope for the future.

Against these draft maneuverings, the Warriors and Timberwolves also have a huge shared trade that swapped D’Angelo Russell in exchange for Andrew Wiggins plus a highly valued draft pick. That draft pick hangs heavy in the air, even as the smell of battle between these tightly intertwined teams wafts into tonight’s air.

This should be fun!


GAME DETAILS

WHO: Golden State Warriors (8-8) vs Minnesota Timberwolves (4-11)

WHEN: Monday, January 26th, 2021 // 7:00 pm PST

WATCH: NBCSBA


Timberwolves struggling

It’s tough in Minnesota right now. The Timberwolves are playing without center Karl Anthony-Towns, who is currently dealing with a case of Covid, and has been one of the most heart-wrenching victims of the pandemic. But beyond the personal impact, Minnesota, as a basketball team just isn’t doing well.

They’ve got the third-worst record in the NBA, and sport the second worst overall net rating, based on equally bad offense (29th ranked) and defense (28th). For context, in the half court sets, Golden State manages about 94 points per 100 plays, via Cleaning the Glass; Minnesota is eeking out a meager 84 points per 100 possessions - the second-worst mark in the NBA.

It’s no better on defense, where the Timberwolves give up nearly 115 points per - another bottom-four rank. So… it’s safe to say the this team isn’t playing well. Prior to Saturday’s win over the Pelicans, the Timberwolves had lost 11 of their last 12 games. 

They play fast, so the matchup should be a fun one - especially given the narrative fueling this matchup. D’Angelo Russell and Andrew Wiggins will both be playing with a little bit extra oomph tonight against their old teams. That is, assuming Russell plays, as he’s listed as “questionable” with a quad bruise.

As far as what is working for Minnesota, they’ve still got Russell putting up a bunch of points, and they have a backup five of their own that will give the Warriors a taste of the Eric Paschall treatment.

It’s a rookie throwdown game!

Though the Warriors manage to hide it, these are two franchises that are hugely tied to their newest draft picks. By taking Anthony Edwards, Minnesota left Wiseman for the Warriors. There were enough unknowns swirling around the big man to alleviate any second-guessing… for now.

Wiseman is progressing nicely, though clearly with plenty still to learn. He’s at the epicenter of the heat that coach Steve Kerr is taking; though not often explicitly pointed out as the problem, it’s not hard to see that Wiseman is very much a work in progress.

Presuming Kerr knows this and sees this, it will be interesting to watch what the team does about Wiseman moving forward. Wiseman’s development is tremendously important to the Warriors’ future, and though not everyone agrees with it, the Warriors have so far been committed to keeping the rookie entrenched with the starters - presumably to maximize the exposure and growth rate of comfort and impact for the pairing.

Because Wiseman could very well develop into a special player. I’m no NBA player development expert, but Wiseman shows flashes of greatness, and I’m okay with the Warriors prioritizing his development over an extra win or two early in a mostly lost season.

But don’t leave Minnesota out here as a solid loser in the draft. Anthony Edwards, though not especially efficient, is a scoring machine. Admittedly, I grabbed this tweet to demonstrate Wiseman’s progress, but check out Edwards making the list too:

Edwards thrives as an isolation player, where the rookie has the third-best scoring efficiency out of the entire NBA. It’s going to be an interesting side-by side viewing experience - especially for Warriors fans hoping to see coach Steve Kerr spam the Curry pick-and-roll.

The Timberwolves are running the pick-and-roll at a high rate - 5th most in the league - but sadly, they convert those opportunities into points at the second-worst level. In other words, it’s a whole lot of pick-and-roll, but not a lot of scoring to show for it. Precisely the outcomes coach Steve Kerr is so obstinately avoiding. In another fun wrinkle, the Wolves are bringing their highly touted rookie in off the bench, a sharp contrast to the Warriors placement of Wiseman in their starting lineup.

Predictions

The Golden State Warriors are running into this Wolves team at exactly the right time. With the spotlight shining increasingly brightly on Kerr’s rotation patterns, the Wolves will offer a beautiful pallet for the Warriors to paint their will on.

Warriors will need to watch their fouling (they’re 29th in free throws gifted per shot attempt), especially against the dynamic scoring punch of Russell and Edwards, which will provide constant pressure on the Warriors pick and roll defense.

But in the end, I really like the Warriors chances in this one. Firm victory for the Dubs, 118 - 104.