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Bucks vs. Timberwolves Preview: Jabari Parker and Andrew Wiggins renew acquaintances

While the Bucks have managed to win while developing talent on the fly, the injury-riddled Wolves have taken their lumps. Still, both teams boast some of the brightest young talent in the game.

Jordan Johnson/NBAE/Getty
14/15 NBA Preseason
(8-7, 3-5 road)
(3-9, 2-4 home)
November 26, 2014
Target Center | Minneapolis, MN
7:00 CT
FS Wisconsin HD | 620 WTMJ
Probable Starters
Brandon Knight PG Mo Williams (Q)
O.J. Mayo SG Corey Brewer
Giannis Antetokounmpo SF Andrew Wiggins
Jabari Parker PF Thad Young (P)
Larry Sanders C Gorgui Dieng
2012/13 Advanced Stats
92.8 (20th) Pace 95.9 (6th)
100.4 (26th) ORtg 104.5 (21st)
103.3 (8th) DRtg 114.0 (29th)

On the WolvesCanis HoopusA Wolf Among WolvesHowlin' T-Wolf

Parker, Wiggins.

Wiggins, Parker.

The top two picks from last June's draft will understandably take top billing in their first regular season matchup tonight in Minneapolis, though in reality the "debate" between the two became far less interesting in August when the Cavs shipped Wiggins to Minnesota in the Kevin Love trade. The Wolves couldn't have picked Parker, and the Bucks couldn't have picked Wiggins. So everyone just enjoy the show, OK?

Neither has set the world on fire thus far, though they've shown their promise and shortcomings in somewhat unexpected ways. Most expected Parker to score freely and Wiggins to be the guy piling up peripheral stats, but that statistical narrative hasn't played out so far. While both have been largely inefficient scorers, Wiggins is marginally outscoring Parker through the first month of the season (12.5 ppg on 50.4% TS vs. 11.7 ppg on 49.4%) thanks to promising numbers from deep (8/16 threes) and a higher free throw rate. Meanwhile, Parker has collected more rebounds, assists, steals and turned the ball over less, all of which explains why his all-in metrics (14.3 PER, .076 WS/48) remain ahead of Wiggins' (11.3 PER, -.013 WS/48). Still, neither fanbase should be losing much sleep over their respective youngsters at this stage. Coming off a 29-point effort in a blowout loss to the Kings, Wiggins has all the tools to be a terror on both ends, while Parker's underrated athleticism and improving floor game will similarly give him every chance to be a star.

The Other Guys. Not that Parker and Wiggins are the only young players worth keeping an eye on tonight, especially given that virtually all of the Wolves' veterans -- Ricky Rubio, Nikola Pekovic, and Kevin Martin -- are hurt. Wiggins will likely match up mostly against the Bucks' "other" 19-year-old, Giannis Antetokounmpo, who despite a 1/13 shooting night Tuesday has still been notably more productive than either of this year's top two picks thus far. Though his year of NBA experience no doubt helps, Antetokounmpo's superior length may well make him a better prospect than either Parker or Wiggins at this point, a fact that should make Bucks fans positively giddy. Reminder: the Bucks got Giannis at #15 last year. 15!

On the other side, Minnesota also boasts a bench featuring improving youngsters Anthony Bennett, Shabazz Muhammad and Zach Lavine. Bennett and Muhammad have shown real signs of life after hugely disappointing rookie seasons, with both dropping weight over the summer and taking advantage of increased playing time over Minnesota's first 12 games. After missing five games following the death of his month, Thad Young will likely reclaim the starting PF spot from Bennett tonight, but the former UNLV star made a good case for more minutes after averaging 15 ppg in back-to-back starts against the Kings and Spurs. Oh, and did we mention that both Bennett and Muhammad were selected ahead of Giannis? Yeah.

The Mo Williams Show. Starting in place of the injured Rubio (ankle), former Buck Mo Williams has averaged 13.3 points and 9.3 assists over the past four games, providing some much needed veteran depth to an exceptionally young roster. However, he's listed as questionable for tonight's game due to an illness,  which could mean major minutes at point guard for the not-so-ready-for-major-minutes LaVine.

Difference of defense? The Wolves and Bucks have both been poor offensive teams thus far, so it's not surprising that the defensive end would explain the difference in their respective records. While the Bucks have remained a top-ten defense thanks to their ability to force both turnovers (5th in TO rate) and missed shots (13th in eFG%), Minnesota ranks dead last in eFG% allowed and 29th in overall efficiency. Teams are shooting an incredible 51.1% overall and 43.3% from deep against Minnesota for the season, which completely offsets the respectable job they've done on the boards and in forcing turnovers. All of which underscores why eFG% is by far the most important of the four factors: At the end of the day the game is about putting the ball in the hoop.

Playing in the West of course hasn't helped the Wolves' cause; while the Bucks are 28th in opponent strength of schedule, the Wolves are 13th. In theory the Wolves should be better defensively with the shot-blocking Gorgui Dieng starting in place of Pekovic, though that hasn't been the case early in the season.

Offensively, Minnesota ranks fourth in transition points per game (15.8), which isn't surprising given they rank sixth in pace. But while the Bucks are just 20th in pace, they rank an above-average 10th in transition points per game (13.9) and fourth in fast break points allowed (10.2). In other words, when the Bucks do play fast, they tend to do it on their terms. In contrast, Minny is just 24th in fast break points allowed (13.9).

Starting five. For what it's worth, I'm completely on board with Jason KIdd's decision to promote Mayo to the starting five last night, and not just because he happened to score 17 points with a team-best +14 rating. While many of us had hoped for the Knight/Middleton/Giannis/Jabari/Sanders lineup to ultimately prove itself Kidd's best option, the reality is that Mayo has both outplayed Middleton and generally looked like a better complement to the young core guys thus far. Though neither has shot the ball well from three, Mayo's ballhandling and playmaking can make other guys better in ways that Middleton can't, which is rather important given Middleton's shooting struggles to date. Hopefully Khris regains his shooting stroke with the second unit, but for now Mayo has earned his shot to start alongside Knight and company.