2015-16 NBA Record: 29-53
Additions: Kris Dunn (draft), Brandon Rush (Golden State Warriors), Cole Aldrich (Los Angeles Clippers), Jordan Hill (Indiana Pacers), Rasual Butler (San Antonio Spurs)
Subtractions: Kevin Garnett (retired)
Projected Starting Lineup (via ESPN.com)
PG – Ricky Rubio
SG – Zach LaVine
SF – Andrew Wiggins
PF – Karl-Anthony Towns
C – Gorgui Dieng
The retirement of Kevin Garnett has officially signaled the end of an era in Minnesota. However, a new era arises as all the hype for this upcoming season surrounds the Timberwolves. Many are picking this young squad as a sleeper to make the playoffs under new coach Tom Thibodeau, who was one of the best coaches on the market. Thibodeau has a great defensive mind and it should be noted that he never missed the playoffs as coach of the Chicago Bulls. The team is led by two superstars in Andrew Wiggins and Karl-Anthony Towns, and have one of the best young cores in the league with players such as Zach LaVine, Gorgui Dieng, Shabazz Muhammad and Tyus Jones completing the bench. They drafted Kris Dunn out of Providence with the #5 overall pick, in a move which could either see Ricky Rubio out of Minnesota or eventually demoted to the bench.
The Timberwolves’ gameplan should solely be around Andrew Wiggins and Karl-Anthony Towns. Last season, Wiggins led the team in scoring with 20.7 points per game compared to Towns’ 18.3. However, Towns was more efficient, shooting 54.2% from the field, 34.1% from three and 81.1% from the free throw line in a phenomenal rookie campaign which led to him winning Minnesota’s second consecutive Rookie of the Year award. It definitely helped having Kevin Garnett as a mentor. Wiggins on the other hand still played very well in his second year, but needs to be more consistent and efficient. It helps that Towns is taking pressure off Wiggins. The arrival of his new coach should help Wiggins become a better two-way player like Jimmy Butler was in Chicago under Thibs. However, we shouldn’t disregard Ricky Rubio’s contributions to this side. Despite his future in Minnesota being up in the air, Rubio led the league in steals (2.1 per game) and was fifth in assists (8.7) last season. He actually improved on defense last season, playing with better awareness and positioning instead of gambling on his steals. Rookie Kris Dunn is an exceptional defender and was one of the most NBA-ready prospects out of the 2016 draft class, meaning he could thrive under Thibs this season and be a contender for Rookie of the Year. Zach LaVine made great strides in his second year, especially in the three-point shooting department, as he was the only Minnesota player to hit more than 65 threes. Gorgui Dieng is one of the more underrated big men in the NBA, making the most of his minutes last season and averaged 10.1 points and 7.1 rebounds. He also was second on the team for offensive and defensive rating, so he is an important piece of this young T’Wolves side. The additions of Brandon Rush and Jordan Hill shouldn’t be overlooked, as they provide solid depth to assist this predominantly young and exciting squad.
With one of the top NBA coaches in Tom Thibodeau, the rise of Wiggins & Towns, the addition of players who can make an impact right away and the fact that last season was a down year for the Western Conference, there is serious reason to believe the Timberwolves can make the playoffs this season. Thibs should help this team make great progress, especially on the defensive end, which was a huge issue last season. But in a tough division where the Warriors and Trail Blazers lead the charge and the Jazz and Nuggets are also developing young cores, it’ll be a big ask for the Timberwolves to make the playoffs considering their 29-53 record last year. I think this team can be competitive, but it’ll take a couple more years for this franchise to etch their name in as a playoff-caliber side.
Prediction: 4th in Northwest Division