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2015-16 Minnesota Timberwolves Season Preview

Basketball Insiders previews the Minnesota Timberwolves’ 2015-16 season.

Basketball Insiders



The Minnesota Timberwolves finished the 2014-15 season with the worst record in the NBA. However, with top overall pick Karl-Anthony Towns, an emerging star in Andrew Wiggins and a cast of exciting supporting players, the Wolves could turn the corner fairly quickly if they can stay healthy.

Basketball Insiders previews the 2015-16 Minnesota Timberwolves.

Five Thoughts

The Timberwolves have assembled one of the most intriguing young cores in the NBA and I’m excited to watch them develop over the next few years. With Andrew Wiggins, Karl-Anthony Towns, Zach LaVine, Ricky Rubio, Shabazz Muhammad, Adreian Payne, Gorgui Dieng, Anthony Bennett and Tyus Jones among others, this is a team that could be very, very good several seasons from now. I love the one-two punch of Wiggins and Towns. I also love the fact that Minnesota has brought in veterans like Kevin Garnett, Tayshaun Prince and Andre Miller who know their role and are there to help the team’s young players. I’m a big believer in surrounding a young core with strong veteran leaders who can help them adjust to the league (on and off the court) and I think it helps those prospects maximize their full potential. The Wolves should show some improvement this season since they’ll have internal development and added some veterans, but they’re likely still going to be near the bottom of the standings. That means they’ll add another top prospect to this core in next year’s draft, making their roster even scarier. This is definitely a team that I’m keeping a close eye on as they develop and approach their collective prime.

5th Place – Northwest Division

– Alex Kennedy

The future is bright for the young Minnesota Timberwolves. Not sure if you have to wear shades to view them just yet, but the post-Kevin-Love era is undoubtedly headed in the right direction. The addition of veterans Kevin Garnett, Andre Miller and Tayshaun Prince gives the team’s young core much needed maturity. The problem is those guys are no longer capable of playing major minutes for extended periods of time. This means Andrew Wiggins, Karl-Anthony Towns, Zach LaVine and the other young gunners need to be ready for prime time. They’re not. But this squad is going to give plenty of teams headaches this season before fading late in games. We’ll call it growing pains.

3rd Place – Northwest Division

– Lang Greene

As far as burgeoning cores go, there really isn’t a more exciting one in the league than Minnesota’s right now. Granted, this is a terribly inexperienced roster that managed only 16 sad wins a year ago, so it’s ridiculous to expect them to make a meteoric rise, but some sort of measured improvement will be obvious this year as these young pups start to come into their own. Rookie of the Year Andrew Wiggins is a bona fide stud (as we knew he would be), but other youngsters like Zach LaVine, Karl-Anthony Towns, Gorgui Dieng and Shabazz Muhammad inspire optimism as well. They’re fast, athletic, well-rounded and actually pretty intimidating defensively. Don’t expect the playoffs, but they won’t be a basement dweller this season either.

4th Place – Northwest Division

– Joel Brigham

The Timberwolves are an intriguing mix of highly touted youth and proven veterans. The roster includes the last three first overall picks, combined with players in the final chapters of their lengthy careers. This season, the rebuilding process will continue for the Timberwolves. The difference is they will have players who can also double as coaches on the court and in the locker room. The playoffs are still a ways away for this squad. This season, the focus is on building the foundation for the future.

4th Place – Northwest Division

– Jessica Camerato

I remember co-hosting one of our Basketball Insiders podcasts back in June and suggesting to Alex Kennedy that the Minnesota Timberwolves would have a puncher’s chance of making the playoffs. I immediately walked back on that assertion when I realized that we are going to witness the most competitive Western Conference ever this coming season. To be frank, I’d give the Timberwolves the same chance of making the playoffs this season as I would Kevin Garnett winning the league’s Most Valuable Player Award, but that doesn’t mean that I’m not excited for what the future of the franchise holds. Andrew Wiggins, without question, is as good as advertised and with Karl-Anthony Towns joining him in the middle, you’d probably have to go back to the late 1990s to find a similarly talented duo in the Twin Cities. So yes, the Timberwolves have reason to hope for big things in the future, especially when you realize that you can easily rattle off the names of quite a few veterans who should help make immediate contributions. The list begins with Garnett and continues with Andre Miller, Kevin Martin, Nikola Pekovic and Tayshaun Prince. Each of those five may be over the hill, but their contributions will be felt in the locker room and I wouldn’t be surprised to see Tyus Jones, Anthony Bennett and Shabazz Muhammad benefit mightily from learning from the veterans. I nearly talked myself into giving them a puncher’s chance to get into the playoffs again, but then realized that there are still a far cry from the New Orleans Pelicans, and even Anthony Davis’ team will have to scratch and claw their way in. I’m inclined to put the Timberwolves ahead of the Denver Nuggets and the Portland Trail Blazers out in the Northwest, but I don’t think I have that type of courage yet. I’ll split the difference and give them the nod over one of those teams, but I admit that this depends greatly on the health and play of Ricky Rubio.

4th Place – Northwest Division

– Moke Hamilton

Top Of The List

Top Offensive Player: Andrew Wiggins

Once Wiggins settled into the NBA, the 2014 first overall pick and 2015 Rookie of the Year went on an offensive surge to finish his first season. Wiggins increased from 12.3 points per game in November to 23.2 points per game in April. He averaged 20 points after the All-Star Break. At only 20 years old, Wiggins still has a high ceiling, and his numbers should improve with another offseason of work under his belt and veteran leaders surrounding him.

Top Defensive Player: Karl-Anthony Towns

Last season, Gorgui Dieng led the Timberwolves with 8.3 rebounds and 1.73 blocks per game. This time around, watch for this year’s first overall pick Karl-Anthony Towns to make an impact on the defensive end. The big man averaged 12.8 points and 7.2 boards, including two double-doubles, at the Las Vegas Summer League. Towns will be learning hands-on from Kevin Garnett, a mentorship that should translate to success on the court.

Top Playmaker: Ricky Rubio

The oft-injured point guard is set to return from an ankle injury that required season-ending surgery. He was limited to just 22 games last year. But when healthy, Rubio can be a driving force in the backcourt. Last season, he averaged a team-high 8.8 assists. He also contributes across the stat sheet, posting 10.8 points and 5.7 rebounds as well. There is no doubting Rubio’s ability to create for his teammates. It’s being able to stay on the court that will be key.

Top Clutch Player: Kevin Martin

The Timberwolves will search for their top clutch player this season as their talent continues to grow. In the meantime, Martin has the veteran know-how to create plays down the stretch. His years of experience give him the edge to stay cool under pressure, whereas his younger teammates haven’t been in as many close NBA game situations yet.

The Unheralded Player: Shabazz Muhammad

Muhammad was in the midst of a breakout year before undergoing season-ending surgery on his shooting hand (finger) last season. The former 13th overall pick followed up a disappointing rookie campaign by increasing his numbers from 3.9 points and 1.4 rebounds to 13.5 points and 4.1 rebounds per game. His career got off to a lackluster start, but he was in the process of turning it around before the injury.

Best New Addition: Karl-Anthony Towns

Landing the first pick in this year’s draft gave the Timberwolves the opportunity to add Towns and piece together a young core that has the potential to grow into a legitimate contender down the road. By landing Towns, the Timberwolves now have a dangerous one-two punch with him and Wiggins that they will be able to build around.

– Jessica Camerato

Who We Like

1. Kevin Garnett: One of the best basketball minds in the game, Garnett brings so much more to the Timberwolves than just his ferocious intensity. There will be stories of how he barked at his younger teammates and anecdotes of scaring rookies straight, but this future Hall of Famer is one of the best assets any roster could have.

2. The Youngsters: The Timberwolves already have a bevy of young talent that the team can mold and develop. With players like Wiggins, Towns, LaVine, Muhammad and Dieng on their roster since their rookie years, the Timberwolves are able to develop their talented players from the very start of their careers rather than acquiring them later on. This is a luxury some teams don’t have.

3. Gorgui Dieng: Dieng quietly emerged in his sophomore season to average a near double-double with 9.7 points and 8.3 rebounds per game. He nearly doubled his numbers from his rookie season and showed the Timberwolves his potential to grow. Dieng is set to earn $1,474,440 this season, a bargain for what he can contribute.

4. Tayshaun Prince: The signing of Prince didn’t make much noise – another veteran signing with another non-playoff team. Prince, however, is a high-caliber veteran presence who brings championship-winning experience to this inexperienced team. The combination of Prince, Garnett and Andre Miller will offer an invaluable wealth of wisdom to the young roster.

– Jessica Camerato


The Timberwolves have four top overall picks on their team, including the previous three in Towns, Wiggins and Anthony Bennett (Garnett is the fourth, drafted in 1995). The Timberwolves have youthful hunger and veterans to help guide it. This team has a core of emerging talent that, when paired with a trio of veteran leaders, could be a successful combination to build a foundation for years to come.

– Jessica Camerato


The youth and inexperience of the Timberwolves will work against them when competing in the ultra-deep Western Conference. They are going up against teams that have already won together, boast multiple title winners and have established themselves as annual contenders. It is a long road to earn a playoff spot in the West.

– Jessica Camerato

The Burning Question

Can Anthony Bennett make an impact?

Bennett was the first pick in the 2013 NBA Draft. His career got off to a rocky start with a disappointing rookie year and a battle with injuries. He averaged 5.2 points and 3.8 rebounds last season, after being traded to Minnesota from Cleveland. Now, entering his third season, the learning curve should be behind him. It remains to be seen if the projected top-tier talent will emerge or if Bennett will continue his struggles as a top pick that hasn’t panned out. His time starring for Canada this summer may give him a confidence boost and help get his development back on track.

– Jessica Camerato


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Looking Toward The Draft: Power Forwards

Basketball Insiders continues their NBA Draft watch, this time with the power forwards.

David Yapkowitz



We got some updated NBA draft news this week when the league announced that several key dates have been pushed back including the draft, the start of free agency and the beginning of the 2020-21 season.

The 2020 draft was originally scheduled for Oct. 16, but it will now likely occur sometime in November. Obviously, with the COVID-19 pandemic still wildly out of control in the United States, all of these potential deadlines are fluid and subject to change.

With that said, we’re continuing our position by position breakdown here at Basketball Insiders of some of the top 2020 draft prospects. We looked at the point guards and shooting guards last week, and this week we’re covering the small forwards and power forwards.

The power forward crop, like the draft overall, doesn’t appear to be as strong as recent years, that doesn’t mean there aren’t potential contributors and high-level NBA players available, as well as one who might just turn out to be a star-caliber player.

Onyeka Okongwu, USC – 19 years old

Okongwu is the player who just might develop into a star on some level. He was actually underrated in high school and was snubbed for a McDonald’s All-American selection his senior year. He established himself early on at USC as the team’s best player as a freshman and now appears to have turned some heads.

He’s been mentioned as a lottery pick and in some mock drafts, he’s top 4-5. He possesses a great all-around skill-set; he can score in the post, he can put the ball on the floor and attack and he can shoot. But perhaps his biggest attribute is his versatility on the defensive end. He’s got quick feet and mobility and can guard multiple positions.

Okongwu might actually play center in the NBA, especially in small-ball lineups, but he’s mostly played power forward and so he’ll probably see time there in the league. His skill-set fits perfectly with today’s game.

Obi Toppin, Dayton – 22 years old

Toppin is one of the older players in the draft, and in recent history, players that age tend to slip on draft boards. In Toppin’s case, it looks like the reverse might actually be true. He’s been projected as a lottery pick, and even going in the top 3.

He’s an incredibly athletic player who thrives in the open court. He looks like he’ll do well in an up-tempo offensive system that has capable playmakers who can find him in transition. He’s extremely active around the rim and he can finish strong. A decent shooter too, something he’ll need at the next level.

Toppin has the physical tools to be an effective defensive player, but that’s where the questions marks on him have been. In the NBA, he’s likely going to have to play and guard multiple positions. Whether or not he can adapt to that likely will answer the question as to what his ceiling can be.

Precious Achiuwa, Memphis – 20 years old

Achiuwa is another intriguing prospect. this writer actually got to watch him play in person while he was in high school and he was very impressive. He looked like a man among boys. He’s projected to be a late lottery pick.

He has an NBA-ready body and he’s got some toughness around the rim and in the paint. He was a double-double threat during his one season at Memphis and his knack for rebounding is something that should translate to the NBA. He’s a very good defender too, in particular, as a rim protector. He’s very quick and has the ability to guard multiple positions.

One of the main knocks on Achiuwa is his shooting ability. He didn’t shoot that well in college and power forwards being able to space the floor is almost a requirement in today’s NBA game. It’s something he can certainly work on and improve on though.

Honorable Mentions:
Paul Reed, DePaul – 21 years old
Xavier Tillman, Michigan State – 21 years old
Killian Tillie, Gonzaga – 22 years old

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Looking Toward the Draft: Small Forwards

Basketball Insiders’ examination of the 2020 draft class continues with a look at the small forwards.

Drew Maresca



It was announced on Wednesday that the NBA Draft would be delayed from Oct. 16 to Nov. 18. The rationale is that the extra month gives the league and its players association more time to negotiate changes to the CBA. It also grants teams additional time to procure information on prospects and allows the NBA to establish regional virtual combines. But nothing is set in stone.

Still, draft prep must continue. This year’s draft class has more question marks than usual – which was complicated by the cancellation of the NCAA tournament (along with the NIT and a number of conference tournaments). There are incredibly skilled offensive players with limited offensive upside and jaw-droppingly talented defenders with incomplete offensive packages. But if (recent) history serves as a guide, there will be a few guys who make an immediate impact – and some of them very well could be small forwards.

The small forward position is key for the modern NBA. Want proof? Survey the league and you’ll find that most – if not all – contenders have an elite small forward – Milwaukee, Los Angeles (both), Boston, Miami, Toronto.

But the list of can’t miss small forward prospects feels smaller than usual. Scanning the numerous legitimate mock drafts (including our own by Steve Kyler), it becomes apparent that we lack a consensus on which small forwards will be selected (and in what order) after the top 3 or 4. Can any of them grow into a star? Maybe. Maybe not. But before we get too far ahead of ourselves, let’s identify what the top few bring to the table.

Deni Avdija, Israel – 19 years old

Avdija is a relatively well-rounded prospect who’s played professionally since he was 16. He boasts good height (6-foot-9) and uses it effectively to shoot over and pass around opposing defenses. Further, Avdija is an exceptional playmaker and he’s incredibly confident, enabling him to take chances many players would be apprehensive trying. Avdija is a high-IQ player. And what’s more, he’s a surprisingly strong defender. His height and above-average athleticism allow him to block shots, and he’s more physical than you’d expect him to be.

But there are drawbacks to Avdija, too. His main issue is around shooting. Avdija shot only 28% in the EuroLeague last season, and he shot only 60% from the free-throw line. Further, while he’s a decent athlete, he’ll struggle to secure a role in the NBA. He’s going to need to add speed to stay with modern wings, and he’ll also have to bulk up to bang with power forwards.

Still, Avdija’s upside is alluring. He’s only 19, and his smarts, confidence and grittiness should provide him cover for much of his rookie season. Avdija should be the first small forward off of the board.

Isaac Okoro, Auburn – 19 years old

Avdija might be the flashier name currently, but Okoro will give him a run for his money in terms of which small forward is first off the board. Okoro is built like a traditional NBA wing; he’s 6-foot-6 with good strength packed in his muscular frame (215 lbs). Okoro finishes well around the rim and he converts well through contact. He’s an exceptional athlete who excels catching the ball on the move. Like Avdija, Okoro has the poise and composure of a more experienced player. Also, like Avdija, Okoro looked the part of a high IQ player in his lone season at Auburn.

And while all that is great, the main allure of Okoro is his defense. He’s a fairly advanced defender given his age, and his athleticism and timing make him an effective weak side help defender.

While Okoro’s raw abilities are exquisite, his refined offensive skills leave something to be desired. Okoro shot 28 percent on three-point field goals and he struggled from the free-throw line (67.2 percent). His mid-range jump shot also needs work, and he struggles in isolation situations.

If Okoro can hone his offensive game, he could grow into an All-Star. He has the ability to guard multiple positions, and his strength and athleticism give him a leg up on most prospects. But even if he doesn’t become an All-Star, he possesses a fairly high floor given his defensive abilities — and the guy definitely fills the state sheet (12.9 points, 4.4 rebounds, 2.0 assists, .9 steals and .9 blocks). He has lockdown defender potential and he’ll put his stamp on the game beginning on night one.

Devin Vassell, Florida State – 20 years old

Vassell played two seasons at Florida State, but he came into his own in his Sophomore season. He averaged 12.7 points, 5.1 rebounds, 1.6 assists, 1.4 steals and 1.0 blocks per game. He shot a more than respectable 41.5% on three-point attempts, and he demonstrated a strong stroke from the free-throw line (73.8 percent) and on two-point field goal attempts (53.2).

Vassell is an extremely athletic leaper, who can rise up for a highlight dunk and sprint down the floor with ease. He has good body control and demonstrated a strong mid-range game, especially his step-back jump shot. But Vassell must generate more free throws through decisive moves to the hoop, which would be bolstered by a more muscular frame. Additionally, he must improve his ball-handling to get more from isolations.

Vassell will have an adjustment period in terms of scoring the ball at the next level. Fortunately, his defense and shooting should get him by. If he can bulk up and improve his handling, Vassell could grow into a serious player.

Aaron Nesmith, Vanderbilt – 20 years old

Nesmith probably has a lower floor than any of the other top small forward prospects given that he’ll be 21 by the draft. Still, he looked quite good in his Junior year, averaging 23 points, 4.9 rebounds and 1.4 steals per game on a scorching 52.2 percent shooting from deep. Nesmith is an incredibly gifted shooter who has impressive range. His ability to catch-and-shoot and create space with fakes makes him a promising prospect – for the right team.

Nesmith is a high IQ player who uses his smarts on the defensive end. He’s also quite strong, can get buckets in the open floor and demonstrates above average ball-handling skills, as long as he’s not taking the ball to the hoop.

But there are inherent limitations in Nesmith’s game. He’s doesn’t create for his teammates too effectively and he turns the ball over more frequently than one would like with. Further, Nesmith is plagued by robotic movements that limit his athleticism. His ball-handling breaks down when taking the ball to the rack – something he’ll certainly have to work on in the NBA if he wants to be a versatile scoring threat against the bigger and stronger competition.

Still, Nesmith’s positives give him an excellent chance at being selected in the first round. His range alone will intrigue teams in need of a shooter.

Honorable Mentions:

Saddiq Bey, Villanova – 21 years old

Jaden McDaniels, Washington – 19 years old

Robert Woodard II, Mississippi State – 20 years old

With the uncertainty around small forward prospects, expect to see a revolving door of names enter the discussion after the first four wing prospects are off the board prior to Nov. 16 – assuming the draft is held then. But regardless of how you have them ranked, all of the aforementioned prospects have question marks. But all have had far more time to improve than they would have in years’ past. Let’s hope that shows come next season.

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NBA Daily: Opposite Plotlines for Today’s Matchups

With the two matchups going on today, Matt John examines the two teams who could be in the most trouble because of one of their individual stars for opposite reasons.

Matt John



The second round of the NBA playoffs was hyped up to be one of the most entertaining we’ve had in years. So far, they haven’t fallen short of expectations. We knew that Houston and Los Angeles’ battle of opposite philosophies would make for some twists and turns. We knew that Boston and Toronto would duke it out in an Atlantic Division showdown. We knew that Miami would push Milwaukee to new heights. We didn’t really know if the Nuggets would give the Clippers a good series, but the fact that they have so far has made an intense postseason all the more gripping.

Anyway, today we’re getting two games from two series in completely opposite places. The Lakers and the Rockets will face off for the series lead, while the HEAT will try to finish off the Bucks once and for all. Below, we’re going to focus on two teams who have an individual star that either may be more flawed than we thought or one that may not be as flawed as we thought.

Bucks vs. HEAT: Giannis is great and all, but…

We all pretty much knew this was going to be a good series. We did not expect this.

The buzz surrounding Bucks v. HEAT was that Miami was going to make Milwaukee earn every win they got in this series. If that was the plan, then Miami has failed miserably, because until Khris Middleton went supernova on them on Sunday, Milwaukee had come up terribly short.

Let’s first give Miami the credit that they are due and more. With Bam Adebayo and Jimmy Butler alone, Miami was going to be a tough matchup for Milwaukee – but to see the Bucks all but roll over in this series is an unpleasant sight. Acquiring Jae Crowder and Andre Iguodala has paid huge dividends and it’s showing. There are other factors involved, but Miami’s defensive efforts have limited Giannis to 21.8 points a game and that’s played a role in the HEAT being in the driver’s seat of this series.

Speaking of Giannis Antetokounmpo, this series has not been a good look for the Defensive Player of the Year. Especially since it looks like his second consecutive MVP (presumably) is right around the corner. So, to see both him and Milwaukee, once an unstoppable force without an immovable object in sight, get stopped by a sturdy but not immovable squad is saddening.

Nearly a year ago, Basketball Insiders compared these current Bucks to the Dwight Howard-led Orlando Magic from the late-2000’s/early 2010’s. To oversimplify things, both were contenders led by a superstar with a rare physique that made them tough to stop. To put the superstar in the best position, they surrounded them with playmakers and three-point shooters.

While the teams’ roster constructions weren’t exactly the same, their strengths as a team certainly were. Now we’re seeing the Bucks’ flaws just as we did the Magic 10 years ago. If you have the personnel to make the lone superstar uncomfortable, the team doesn’t function as well.

Giannis is near impossible to stop, but the one major flaw is that if you take away his ability to drive and force him into a jumper, he loses his rhythm. Even if his shot is on – never a guarantee – his opponents will let him beat them that way until he makes them pay. Hardly any team can pick on this, but the HEAT are one of them, and now they’re one win away from their first Eastern Conference Finals since LeBron James took his talents out of South Beach.

This ultimately is what puts Antetokounmpo below the likes of LeBron James and Kawhi Leonard for now. Those guys are rare physical specimens like him, but their elite games don’t revolve entirely around their natural gifts as he does or Dwight did. At 25 years old, there’s plenty of time for him to change that and, for all we know, he will, but to see him struggle at a time when the conference was supposed to run through him has ignited tons of questions.

Milwaukee’s technically not out yet, but they’ve shown their mortality against Miami. If this really is it for them, then they’ve got to find a quick fix for this problem because if they don’t, then the unspeakable may happen.

Lakers vs. Rockets: Westbrook has been bad and all but…

Shaking off the rust and recovering from a balky knee would be tough for anyone. For Russell Westbrook, it’s killing his productivity and, in turn, the Rockets’ playoff chances. He’s averaging 15.6 points on 39/16/47 splits with a most recent 10-point, 4-of-15 effort from the field which included seven turnovers and air balling wide-open threes sticking out like a sore thumb.

It also doesn’t help that he’s playing the Lakers of all teams. When Westbrook has been in, the Lakers have taken advantage of his shortcomings offensively and it shows both on the court and the stat line.

Most of Westbrook’s damage is hurting Houston on the offensive end. With the All-Star guard in the game, Houston is minus-13.7 with him on the court, the worst offensive rating on the team. The 12 turnovers he’s coughed up in this series probably have something to do with that.

With Westbrook’s struggles and his predecessor Chris Paul coming off of his best individual season since 2016, this, of course, has led to many second-guessing the swap last summer. Or let’s rephrase that: People have been second-guessing that trade since the moment it was announced and, in light of recent events, they’re piling on now more than ever.

Maybe they’re right. Even after playing in the NBA for over a decade now, Westbrook still hasn’t proven that he can control himself enough to reach his potential as a team player. We’ve seen glimpses. On the other hand, Paul showed that he can still pick apart defenses while holding his own on that end.

But replacing Paul with Westbrook was Harden’s idea. He didn’t want to play with Paul anymore and chose to play with one of his closest friends. You may think that the better fit is what’s best for the team, but we’ve seen the damage that can happen when your team’s best players have friction with one another. It hurt Utah this season. It hurt Boston last season. It destroyed the Lakers back in 2013. There’s no telling what it could have done to Houston this season.

Besides, we know that as bad as Westbrook has been, he’s capable of being better. Not a knockdown shooter, not even an efficient scorer, but he has done better in the past when the focus was on him. The more days he takes to shake off the rust from his knee, the more optimistic the Rockets ought to be.

The Rockets have to take the glass-half-full on this one because they don’t really have a choice otherwise.

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