Opponent: Minnesota Timberwolves
Starting Lineup: Shabazz Napier – Andrew Wiggins – Jarrett Culver – Robert Covington – Gorgei Deng
Second Unit: Jeff Teague – Treveon Graham – Josh Okogie – Noah Vonleh – Naz Reid
Leading Scorer: Wiggins (23.2 PPG)
Leading Rebounder: Deng (5.9 RPG)
Leading Assists: Teague (6.2 APG)
Biggest Strength: Starting lineup with Napier
When Karl-Anthony Towns went down with an injury in December, the Wolves sputtered, specifically with their starting lineup. They’ve made the change of replacing Teague with Napier in the starting lineup, which has helped stabilize the starting unit. The lineup of Napier-Wiggins-Culver-Covington-Deng has a net rating of +6.5, as opposed to the team’s overall net rating of -3.3. The balanced playmaking approach between Wiggins, Culver and Napier makes them less predictable and better on defense.
Biggest Weakness: Shooting
When your most reliable deep threat shooter is your 7-foot big man, who is hurt, you might struggle spacing floor. That’s the Wolves biggest offensive issue. Covington is a reliable catch-and-shoot specialist, but even he is having a down year. Outside of them? There’s nobody who demands the respect of the defense, and some of their biggest contributors, like Culver and Napier, are horrible from beyond the arc. Teams can help more on their iso playmakers, which is their offensive strength, which forces some of these perimeter players to take open looks from deep, which they aren’t efficient at making.
The X-Factor: Culver
Nobody has taken on a bigger role for Minnesota as the season has gone on than Culver. The rookie wing is not only playing heavy minutes, but he’s taken on the primary playmaking role in the starting lineup. In a lot of ways, he plays as their point guard. He’s also the team’s second-best perimeter defender behind Covington. He’s a major liability as a shooter, and he plays through a lot of his rookie flaws. But if he gets into a rhythm, you can see why he was such a highly-touted prospect.
This wasn’t how the Timberwolves’ season was supposed to go. Without Towns, there isn’t much to call home about with this lineup. Wiggins started the year off on an efficient foot, but he has since come back to the mid-range reality he is. Okogie and Culver might form into very solid role players, but they are net negatives right now. Overall, Minnesota has a lot of “meh” players on their roster, and without a star player (Towns), there is nobody to turn these players from “meh” to solid. The Indiana Pacers can create a lot of mismatches, especially with their bench, but playing on the road is never an easy task.