The longest offseason in Minnesota Timberwolves history is finally over. After 276 days without the Wolves, they took the Target Center court on Saturday night vs the Memphis Grizzlies, in the first of three preseason games. Not only are they back, but there is more optimism and hope surrounding this team than we have seen in years.
With the regular season bearing down on us (December 23rd), there are still a lot of questions to be answered. Here are three, along with any answers we got last night.
1. How will the D-Lo/Rubio combination look while sharing the floor?
Since being away from the Minnesota Timberwolves, all Ricky Rubio has done is make those around him better, especially young stars. Over his last three seasons, Ricky has had a positive (+/-) when sharing the floor with 79% of his teammates (23 of 29) according to Basketball Reference. Devin Booker and Donovan Mitchell, two players similar in talent to D-Lo, were at their best when Rubio was on the floor.
Rubio has shared the floor with other really good primary ball handlers during his career. Unlike his first stint here though, Rubio is now capable of hitting the three ball (36.1% in 2019-20) when defenders leave him to guard Russell.
It’s #Timberwolves game day! I’m excited to see Russell and Rubio share the floor.— Cooper (@CoopCarlson) December 12, 2020
With Rubio being much better behind the arc, I expect him to be a big help for Russell. Here he is being left open as Booker has defenders drawn to him. pic.twitter.com/CTtaiU3Q0q
In preseason game 1 last night, their minutes together were limited but Rubio did hit Russell for an open three pointer. Hopefully they get much more time together in the next two preseason games. (vs Grizzlies: 12/14, @Mavs: 12/17)
2. Can Jarrett Culver develop into a solid role player?
The number six overall pick in last year’s draft, Jarrett Culver, looked like a bust after one season. But, he wasn’t traded and it’s never wise to completely write off a player after his rookie year.
Culver showed a bit of improvement after the All Star break last season, averaging 9.8 points, 1.5 assists, and 3.3 rebounds with a .494 FG% and .424 3P%.
In these three preseason games, Culver will be fighting for minutes. As of right now, it is hard to project a role for him unless he shows substantial improvement on both ends of the floor.
Culver looked both good and bad in his first game. He got substantial minutes and played the wing and even some point guard. The Wolves are definitely trying to get him reps in these preseason games.
3. How will the power forward position be handled?
Before last night, Juancho Hernangomez seemed to default as the starting power forward, when the regular season begins. Who else would play there? Are the Wolves willing to consistently stick with the small ball approach, leaving Layman/Okogie to battle some of the bigger 4’s across the league? Can you imagine Josh Okogie matching up on Rudy Gobert regularly?
Rosas and Saunders will need to be creative with their lineup combinations. Expect all of Hernangomez, Layman, Okogie and Hollis-Jefferson to get the bulk of those minutes. Culver, Vanderbilt and Davis could see some run there as well. It’ll be a group effort
Last night, we actually saw a lot of hope at the power forward position, thanks mostly to Jake Layman. He surprisingly got the start and was probably the Minnesota Timberwolves’ best player, scoring 10 points and posting a +11 in 20 minutes.
Defensively he showed up too, grabbing two steals and a block. The chemistry between Layman and Towns remains really good and I wouldn’t be surprised to see him steal the starting power-forward position going forward, if he can hold it down defensively.