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Timberwolves vs. Bucks Preview | Bucks return home to face the unstoppable Kevin Love

13/14 NBA Preseason
(6-23, 3-11 home)
(14-15, 5-11 road)
December 28, 2013
BMO Harris Bradley Center | Milwaukee, WI
7:30 CT
FS Wisconsin | 620 WTMJ
Probable Starters
Brandon Knight PG Ricky Rubio
Giannis Antetokounmpo SG Kevin Martin
Khris Middleton SF Corey Brewer
Ersan Ilyasova PF Kevin Love
Larry Sanders C Nikola Pekovic
2012/13 Advanced Stats
91.4 (26th) Pace 97.4 (2nd)
98.8 (30th) ORtg 108.1 (10th)
107.1 (21st) DRtg 104.5 (10th)

On the Wolves: Canis HoopusTimber PupsA Wolf Among Wolves

UPDATE: No John Henson tonight, which means Larry Sanders is back in the starting five.

Love Story. Lebron, Durant...Love? We all know Kevin Love is great, and there's a compelling case to be made for him as the league's third best player. Let's start with his utterly monstrous numbers: 25.9 ppg (3rd), 13.8 rpg (1st), 31.2% defensive rebound rate (1st), 6.4 FT/game (3rd), 2.5 threes/game (9th) and 28.03 PER (3rd). OK, wow.

And then there's the impact he's had on the Wolves: Minnesota outscores opponents by 11.0 pts/100 possessions when he's on the court, and trails by 13.9 pts/100 when he's on the bench. No team in the league has that high of a differential in either direction--Miami is +8.6 pts/100 and the Bucks are -8.6 pts/100.

The other guys. Minny isn't exactly a one-man team: the bruising Nikola Pekovic pumps in 17.0 ppg and 9.0 rpg on good efficiency, Kevin Martin provides his typical efficient scoring from the wing (19.9 ppg on 55.5% true shooting), and Ricky Rubio orchestrates it all from the point (8.1 apg, 5th in the league). All the other guys have obvious flaws of course: Pekovic's lack of verticality doesn't make him a great defensive complement up front to Love, Martin doesn't defend or do anything else besides score, and Rubio's overall effectiveness is hamstrung by a complete inability to score (34.8% overall shooting, 46.5% true shooting). He's not bad from deep (35.2%), but Rubio's finishing near the basket is beyond atrocious:

Sorry Zaza.

No luck for Minny. The Wolves' middling record belies a strong scoring differential (+3.6 pts100) that would statistically project to an 18-11 record. The Wolves are 10th in both offensive and defensive efficiency, despite the fact that they've performed very poorly in the most important of the four efficiency factors. The Wolves are 25th in eFG% and 28th in eFG% allowed, but have overcome that to date thanks to turnover rates in the top four both offensively and defensively, predictably strong performances on the boards (4th offensively, 10th defensively), and a major edge in the free throw department (5th offensively, 1st defensively).

The good, the Shabazz and the ugly. Hey, remember when the Wolves took Shabazz Muhammad one pick before the Bucks selected Giannis Antetokounmpo in last June's NBA draft? Yeah, not working out so well for Minny right now. Muhammad hasn't cracked the rotation and is last on the team in pretty much every efficiency metric, including PER (1.0), WS/48 (-0.108) and true shooting percentage (31.7%). Making it all the more aggravating is that Minnesota's original pick became Utah's Trey Burke, who's also off to a flying start for the Jazz. The Wolves dealt down and ended up with Muhammad (#14) and almost-24-year-old Gorgui Deng (#21), who's similarly barely played so far this season.

It's too early to call Shabazz or any other rookie a bust, but it's crazy to think how different the outlook would be in Milwaukee right now if someone else had taken a chance of Giannis ahead of the Bucks. So let's just not go there, OK? Giannis had already moved up to fourth in ESPN's rookie rankings and fifth in's rookie ladder before last night's strong performance, which saw him establish new career-highs in scoring (16), rebounding (10) and blocks (3).