NBA Season Preview: Minnesota Timberwolves
Last season: 16-66, 15th seed in the West
This season (projected): 23-59, 14th seed in the West
MANILA, Philippines – What a year it’s been for the Minnesota Timberwolves.
I know what you’re thinking: how can I say that? After all, the T-Wolves, under head coach Flip Saunders, did have the worst record in the NBA last season thanks to inept performances on both sides of the floor throughout the NBA season.
But here’s a secret about the NBA: you want to be either up there competing for a championship with the best of the league, or down in the standings competing for draft lottery balls as you hope the basketball gods give you good fortune. Being in the middle of the pack can keep you mediocre for an extended period of time.
For Minnesota, good fortune is clearly what they have.
A year after acquiring Andrew Wiggins, last season’s NBA Rookie of the Year, in the Kevin Love trade, Minnesota was bad enough during the NBA season that they had the best shot at landing the top overall pick, which they received and used to select Karl Anthony-Towns.
The two young studs are going to be big-time players for the future, but there’s other infusion of young talent that gives the franchise the potential to become quite the force a few years into the future.
In many ways, they remind me of the upstart Oklahoma City Thunder before they became championship contenders. Obviously, they have a long, long way to go, but you should be there watching them every step of the way
Key offseason changes:
Added: Karl-Anthony Towns (draft), Tyus Jones (draft), Andre Miller (unrestricted free agent), Tayshaun Prince (unrestricted free agent)
Lost: Chase Budinger (trade), Anthony Bennett (waived)
Here are 5 reasons why you should join the Minnesota Timberwolves bandwagon:
1. Wiggins and Towns, the duo of the future
Kobe and Shaq-like?
Okay, maybe I won’t go that far just yet. But you’re kidding yourself if you don’t think the two have the potential to be just as great down the line.
Wiggins, 20, was the best NBA rookie last season after averaging 16.9 points, 4.6 rebounds, and 2.1 assists a game. With extra bulk from offseason training and a summer getting to improve on areas of his game, you can assume he’s only going to get better in 2015-2016.
He shot 31% from downtown last year, which isn’t horrible for a rookie who came into the league known for having a shaky jumper. He already got to the free throw line close to 6 times a game as a rookie. As long as he stays aggressive, that should just increase as he grows older and gets more respect from the referees in the league.
Wiggins has the traits that many of the NBA’s greats today - LeBron, Kobe, Durant, and more - showed as young stars. We already know about his athleticism and superior ability to get to the rim. When he’s fouled, he can hit free throws. And here’s a plus: he’s already a pretty good defender, with the speed and length to contain opposing wing players. Add some strength to that mix, and he can become elite on that end of the floor soon enough.
“I think Wiggins is going to be an MVP one day,” his teammate, Ricky Rubio, said during a visit to Manila over the offseason.
“He’s a great player, [has] fit in this league very well since day one…”
Towns is clearly no Shaq. I don’t think he’ll every have the low-block strength the NBA legend had, or maybe even the footwork to maneuver in the post.
But the 19-year-old is a perfect fit for the today’s prototypical NBA big man.
At 6-foot-11 and with the ability to glide like a gazelle, he already will be a menace to contain in pick-and-rolls. Rubio, Minnesota’s starting point guard, can also go pick-and-pop with him considering Towns has a jumper that will one day stretch out to the 3-point line.
He averaged 10.3 points and 6.7 rebounds a game but got those number in just 21.1 minutes of action per contest in his lone season with Kentucky. In college, he also shot 81% from the foul stripe - already a huge asset for a big man his size.
On defense? He has the potential to be a monster one day. He’s mobile enough to cover opposing ball handlers on switches after the screen. His height and length make him a viable rim protector. At 250 pounds, he won’t be easily pushed by opposing bigs down the block. Going up against Nikola Pekovic and Kevin Garnett on a daily basis during practice should toughen him up even more.
Towns was rightfully the number one pick made by Minnesota. No one from the 2015 NBA Draft class has more upside. Put him together with Wiggins, and you have the next team with two bonafide stars over the next few years.
2. Rubio is back!
One of the reasons why the Timberwolves had issues on offense last season was the absence of a primary playmaker. Heck, during some games, they had Zach LaVine - a natural wing player who came off the bench for UCLA - handling point guard duties. The results were disastrous.
Rubio missed a few months last season due to an ankle issue, and the Timberwolves are hoping he stays healthy for this season. Sure, his jumper remains unreliable until he proves otherwise, but his main assignment with this team will be to set up his many talented teammates. Setting people up is what Rubio does best, and he sure does it in style.
(WATCH: Highlights of Ricky Rubio in Manila)
“…I think as a team we’re really young but we’re adding some veterans that’s going to help us grow and follow where we’re going to go - going to make the playoffs,” the 24-year-old Spaniard said while in Manila.
But will they be good enough to make the playoffs?
“I know the Western Conference is really tough. There’s a lot of good teams who can make the playoffs, but I believe. I believe in me. I believe in my team, and I think we can do it.”
3. Other young studs to watch
Wiggins and Towns are obviously the two who will attract the most headlines, but what makes this Minnesota team more exciting is how they have other young guys who, on some days, will even be better than the aforementioned duo.
LaVine, 20, is already as entertaining an in-game dunker as there is. He’s also not bad of an NBA player. He can drive in thanks to his superb athleticism, he can shoot the ball, and he’s only 20 years old, so the sky is the limit for his learning curve.
Gorgui Dieng, 25, is also no scrub after averaging 9.7 points and 8.3 rebounds a game. As a back-up to your franchise center (Towns), you can do much worse than him.
Shabazz Muhammad, 22, can also ball. He’s kind of a throwback to the old days where wing players would post up a lot of the time, and when he’s there in the low block, he can be quite a bully.
Adreian Payne, 24, didn’t get a lot of playing time last season as he split time between the Hawks and Timberwolves. But if he shows that he can be a reliable spot-up shooting big who can rebound and defend in the preseason, he should be able to crack the rotation.
Again, Wiggins and Towns are obviously the two guys who will attract the most attention. However, the other young studs right behind them are nothing to laugh at either.
4. The oldies
Minnesota missed veteran presence last season amidst in young roster, which is one of the reasons why they went out to acquire Kevin Garnett from Brooklyn for Thaddeus Young, outside of the obvious relationship the future Hall-of-Famer has with the franchise.
This season, Garnett’s joined by other vets in Andre Miller and Tayshaun Price, plus the returning Kevin Martin (now coming off the bench) and Pekovic.
There’s a good chance either Martin or Pekovic will be dealt to a contender right about the trade deadline, but their presence should help season the T-Wolves’ young roster before that happens - especially during their practice sessions.
Imagine Wiggins learning Martin’s rip move to sucker defenders into committing tacky fouls? Or Towns learning how to utilize his weight - plus how to throw a proper elbow - to get better positioning in the post from Pekovic? How about Rubio learning to fool defenders using the old man game - pump fakes, up and unders, etc - from Miller.
Speaking of Miller, the 39-year-old will just somehow never leave the NBA. How many teams has he played for now, 21? Kidding, it’s actually just 8, but you sort of believed me, right?
Don’t get me wrong: I’m not complaining. There are little things that make a basketball junkie more excited than seeing old man Andre fool the younger generation of the NBA with slow fundamentals.
I purposely didn’t add Garnett at the bottom of the last reason because he deserves his own recognition.
After all, it’s Garnett.
Look, it’s obvious he’s nowhere close to being as productive as he was while he was a Celtic. The two reasons why he’s in the team is because of his veteran leadership and history with the team.
But still, it’s Garnett.
What do I mean by that? Well, for one, a lot of him talking to himself, psycho-style, to bother a defender. It’s him getting up on the grill of guys who try to intimidate his teammates. It’s him using hilariously insane antics to get the guy defending him psyched out.
Also, it’s him grabbing the phones of his teammates in the locker room and flushing it down the toilet.
But don’t get me wrong: he can still put numbers on the court. He likely won’t average double-digits, though if you need a big basket or a big rebound, you definitely can count on him to deliver.
It’s likely the Timberwolves will lose a lot of games again. Such is the issue when you’re early into developing your promising talents. There’s also the concern of how the team will have to get accustomed to the gameplan of Sam Mitchell, who’s taking over for Saunders as he recovers from Hodgkin's lymphoma and undergoes cancer treatment.
The West is also just too good right now. That conference has 6 title contenders. Maybe 7 if Anthony Davis exceeds expectations - highly possible. Nonetheless, making the postseason shouldn’t be the goal for Minnesota this season, because, if things fall into place, they will surely be there sooner than later. – Rappler.com