Minnesota Timberwolves basketball cannot officially be back without some uncertainty surrounding the lineup.
They already had a reputation for filling out injury reports. For some reason, the Wolves can’t quite seem to stay healthy enough to put a full complement of players on the hardwood. In addition to myriad other factors, this has played a significant role in Minnesota frequenting the loss column.
Initial prognoses this year would lead one to believe that the Timberwolves are in for an extended run of good health. It’s the law of averages, right? However, that does not seem to be the case for the first game of the season. Newly acquired point guard Patrick Beverley will miss the game due to a one-game suspension stemming from getting a cheap shot in on Chris Paul during the playoffs last season. And third-string PG Jordan McLaughlin is in danger of missing the game as well:
What was lauded as the season of health is already in (melodramatic) disarray. The Wolves haven’t played a single regular-season minute of basketball in the 2021-22 season. Still, questions have already sprouted regarding who will be playing where and why. Depth at the PG position was not an issue, yet here we are scrambling to figure out how the minutes will be dispersed behind D’Angelo Russell.
Without Beverley and McLaughlin
As of this writing, we’re still not sure if McLaughlin will play. Outside of the first two preseason games, where the emphasis was to play some of the depth pieces of the roster, the Timberwolves were able to experiment with some rotations. Although it was unintentional, the Wolves experimented with missing pieces in their third preseason game against the Los Angeles Clippers. Both Beverley and McLaughlin had to sit out that game against the “D-League” Clippers squad in a decisive victory against an inferior team.
Jaylen Nowell stepped up in that game and nearly played starter’s minutes. Coming off of a hot late-game performance against the Denver Nuggets, Nowell is the most obvious choice to initiate the offense in the absence of McLaughlin and Beverley. He has good size for the PG position at 6’4”, has a good feel for the game, and can be a scoring spark when his shot is falling. I wrote about Nowell’s path to seeing some extended run in the regular-season rotation last week.
Regardless of McLaughlin’s status Wednesday, I would expect Nowell to plug into the PG rotation over someone like Josh Okogie, even though he initiated the offense for the Nigerian national team in the Olympics last summer.
What if McLaughlin can play?
If McLaughlin winds up playing, Nowell’s minute count will likely be even lower. McLaughlin is no stranger to playing 20-plus minutes a game, and he has proven that he can be a capable player when called upon. Going up against a Rockets team that will likely be among the league’s worst, a large share of minutes for McLaughlin behind Russell should not be seen as a bad thing.
In any event, I would also expect that head coach Chris Finch does his best to stagger the minutes between Russell and Anthony Edwards. In the early stages of Edwards’ development, look for the team to give some time as the primary ball-handler across various lineups. This, in conjunction with his future developments on defense, will be key in his path towards being the next franchise cornerstone behind Karl-Anthony Towns.
Having Edwards and Nowell gain valuable experience bringing the ball up the floor against the Rockets would bode well for the team’s future goals. Injuries with this team are almost guaranteed, so it will be important that other players on the roster can curate multifaceted skillsets. Houston is the perfect opponent to experiment against as it looks to rebuild around No. 2 overall pick Jalen Green. Barring the Timberwolves playing down to the level of their opponents, expect to see a well-rounded performance despite the PG absence(s).