Tonight, the Cleveland Cavaliers take on the Minnesota Timberwolves for the first time since the two teams made the offseason's biggest trade. In case you forgot, the Cavs traded No. 1 overall pick Andrew Wiggins, former No. 1 pick Anthony Bennett and a first round pick as a part of three-team deal for Love.
Both Wiggins and Bennett are having interesting seasons. Wiggins is struggling offensively, but he's shining on the defensive end and figures to defend LeBron James for a large part of this game. Bennett isn't statistically having a much better season - he's only averaging about two points more per game - but he's shooting 45 percent from the field and has even started two games for the Wolves.
As for Love, this is his first game versus his old team - a team whose fan base hasn't forgiven him for essentially forcing his way out this summer. That doesn't particularly matter for him - it won't be awkward until the Cavs play in Minnesota at the end of January - but expect it to me mentioned a lot on the broadcast. And in a sense, this game is a reminder of how much one trade can impact a team.
Who: Cleveland Cavaliers vs. Minnesota Timberwolves
When: 7 p.m.
Where: Quicken Loans Arena -- Cleveland, Ohio
TV: Fox Sports Ohio, NBA TV, League Pass
Music: Drake - Worst Behavior
Shoutouts to Bennett and Wiggins, two Canadians with bright futures in the league. Also, I'm sure there are some Cavs fans out there who despise Bennett still. I, for one, am fascinated by him.
Talking the Wolves with our resident Wolves expert. If you didn't know, our William Bohl also writes about the Timberwolves for A Wolf Among Wolves in the ESPN True Hoop Network. As a result, I did a mini Q & A with William here instead of a full-on preview.
1. What has year two of Anthony Bennett looked like?
It's been a little up and down. Defensively, he's been pretty bad. The Wolves have been doing a lot of switching on pick and rolls and he can't stay in front of a guard to save his life. He's done a nice job of using his size and strength to hold his own one-on-one in the post, but he's still got the second-worst Defensive Rating among any Minnesota rotation player.
Offensively, he went through an 11-game stretch in mid-November through the first week of December where averaged 21 minutes, nine points and five rebounds per night on 48 percent shooting. He showed a little promise as a pick-and-pop guy, but once his shot selection started to waver, he stopped getting as much playing time, which may have affected his confidence. Over his past seven games he's shooting 32 percent. But hey, baby steps, right?
2. How has Andrew Wiggins' rookie year played out so far? How will he fare defending LeBron James?
Wiggins' rookie year has been interesting. Flip Saunders is especially hard on rookies, and he hasn't shied away from singling out Wiggins for having a lack of energy, effort and focus. He says he sometimes "drifts." Personally, I sometimes forget he's on the floor. Offensively, he doesn't have a go-to move or skill yet. He's got potential as a post-up guy, but needs time to refine his moves. He's got the raw ability to be a good slasher right now, but lacks the subtle understanding of the offense to do it on a consistent basis. He shoots a lot of midrange shots, but that's the Flip Saunders offense. Wiggins is still tied for the league lead among rookies in points, but overall, he's been up and down on that end of the floor.
Defensively, he's been pretty solid, especially considering the fact that he's 19 and guarding the opposing team's best wing player on a nightly basis. And news flash: there are a lot of really good wings in the league. Like... LeBron James. He's pretty good. Wiggins' length, leaping ability and decent footwork make him a good on-ball defender. He still needs to gain weight to hold his own in the post and protecting the rim. As far as how he'll handle LeBron: he'll try hard! He'll try really, really hard!
3. On a scale of 1-10, how much does this team miss Ricky Rubio?
The other night, Flip Saunders said that the Wolves are currently using approximately 5% of his playbook. Zach LaVine, bless his heart, doesn't know what the hell he's doing as an NBA point guard. Mo Williams is a fine bench player, but once he's getting the lion's share of the point guard minutes, what you're going to get is a whole lot of him pointing and yelling while he pounds the air out of the ball and midrange jumpers off of picks.
Rubio is able to keep people in the right place on offense because he knows all five positions. He's also a damn good defender, and LaVine is too slender and Williams is too... um, old to fight through screens. Pick and roll containment is brutal at the moment. You asked how Wiggins is going to do against LeBron? I'm WAY more afraid of what Kyrie is going to do to Zach and Mo.
4. Overall, where is this Wolves team at in it's rebuild?
God help me, I'm an optimist. I like Ricky Rubio, who's invested and will be here another four years. I like Andrew Wiggins' potential. I like Shabazz Muhammad's emergence. I like Gorgui Dieng, I think. And if Anthony Bennett amounts to anything, great. Troy Daniels? That'd be nice, too. And I like the fact that Minnesota will probably have a top-four pick in the upcoming draft to add even more talent. And while I'm not sure Flip Saunders deserves to have total control of coaching and personnel decisions, I'm really happy David Kahn isn't here anymore. Yes, I know it's old news, but I still get on my knees every morning and thank the basketball gods that he's gone.
Basically, there are reasons to be hopeful. A Rubio-Martin-Wiggins-Thad Young-Pekovic lineup isn't too bad, when healthy. The problem is three of the five aren't healthy, one is slumping badly (Thad), and the other is a rookie. 5-21 is a crappy place to be, but better days are on the horizon, both when the starters return and as young players develop over next few years. I think so, anyway. I hope so.
Fear The Sword's Fearless Prediction
Cleveland should win handily here. The Wolves have talent, but the Cavs are better at basically every position. Cavs 107, Wolves 96.