INTEL REPORT: Thunder vs. Timberwolves

If you see this man in Minneapolis tonight, don't look directly at his shirt or you might go blind.

If you see this man in Minneapolis tonight, don’t look directly at his shirt or you might go blind.

The undefeated Minnesota Timberwolves, fresh off of a season-opening victory in overtime against the Orlando Magic, take on a more formidable opponent in the Oklahoma City Thunder tonight at Target Center.

You should watch it if you want to see how the team responds to the trouble it had putting away a lesser opponent, and to see how they stack up against one of the better teams in the Western Conference.

No, Russell Westbrook won’t be walking through that door–check that, maybe he’ll be walking through that door (I’m not sure if he’s traveling with the team, but if he is, just look for the athletic-looking guy limping around in borderline absurd technicolor hipster garb–you can’t miss him.)

A few quick dashes about tonight’s tilt before my lunch break ends:

The big thing to watch in Westbrook’s absence is the Corey Brewer-Kevin Durant matchup. It’s a huge test for Brewer–or any other human being today. Brewer drew praise from the coaching staff for his defense against Orlando, and I thought he played well too. But he still gambled – and lost – a bit more  than some are comfortable with.

What’s the right defensive mentality for Brewer? I would argue that he’s pretty much got it. He’s ours now, and he can help.  Even if you don’t like the erratic style and cringe at the unforced errors (like I do), there’s no way he could overhaul it.

That’s just his game, and it’s largely the product of instinct and energy, which isn’t amenable to dramatic night-to-night tactical shifts.

If you ask him to stop playing the passing lanes and taking risks and making Corey Brewer Plays, you’re likely to limit his net contribution. (Some judgment is needed here, of course–Corey, are you reading?)

No, Brewer isn’t, nor will he ever be,  a classic “plus defender” by any conventional definition. But he’s likely to regress from being a unique irritation and a constant concern to opposing guards and wings to a mediocre defender if you ask him to be something that he isn’t:  a rugged, lock-down, gritty, on-the-ball defender like Tony Allen, or a younger Andre Iguoudala.

On Brewer-Durant matchup: Yes, KD will get buckets. Quite a few. We all know that. That’s what he does.

Getting buckets isn’t the issue, and it isn’t how we should assess Brewer’s play when he’s matched up with Durant. The issue is making Durant work for his points, and trying to prevent him from getting onto a roll that could propel OKC to a big second-half run that puts the game away.

Given that premise, the big things for Brewer in tonight’s assignment are the following:

  1.  Can Brew stay on the floor? If he gets in foul trouble, there isn’t much defensive depth to throw at Durant’s unique combination of length, speed, agility, and perimeter-shooting ability.
  2. Can he keep a tolerable pace with Durant without needing a double team each time KD touches the ball? The Wolves aren’t the quickest team in the League, nor the best defensively, and I don’t like our odds if we’re scrambling to make bail-out rotations every time down the floor. (Yes, I’m looking at you, Kevin Martin.)
  3. Can he do #1 and 2 without getting torched for 50. To make an obvious statement, yes, Kevin Durant is good enough to win games almost singlehandedly. Brewer will have to be at his best, and his most ready, tonight, if the Wolves are going to win.

Regardless, it should be an interesting game.

Oh, one more thing: Andy G is in Pittsburgh this weekend, so we’ll be tweeting tonight’s game from my couch, and hitting the road to Cleveland on Monday to see the Wolves live against Kyrie Lee Irving and the rest of the coolest non-Wolves team in the NBA

That’s all for now. Enjoy the tilt.

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