The 2016-17 Season is right around the corner!! As the season progresses, it will be important for the Wolves to get an idea of how good they really are. One way to see how you are doing through the season outside of stats and standings is seeing how you perform against another team, typically around the same caliber as you. In the West, there are a handful of teams that are locks for the playoffs and there are about 8 teams competing for 3 spots in the West. There will be broken hearts. If the Wolves do make the playoffs, they have to serve the role of heart breaker.
But what teams can the Wolves use as measuring sticks this season? How can they tell if they are going to break hearts by the end of the year? First, lets define what a ‘measuring stick’ team is. A measuring stick team can come in many forms. First, they are likely a team that is on the bubble of the playoffs. They are a team that you probably performed poorly against the previous season. They are a team that you could potentially jump ahead of in the standings this season. They match up well against you and can be a test at things you think you improved on over the off-season.
New Orleans Pelicans
While the Pelicans won 30 games last season, they made the playoffs the season before with 45 wins. The ‘Brow hype has died down due to injuries, but I still believe Anthony Davis is one of the most talented players in the league. I also believe they added some solid pieces this offseason. I don’t know if the Pels make the playoffs, but they could serve as the ‘floor’ measuring stick this season. A team the Timberwolves have to outplay will be the Pelicans, and it may be harder than it sounds. Buddy Hield is probably one of the more NBA-ready rookies who can shoot the lights out. Solomon Hill signed with New Orleans this summer and I believe he could be a real difference maker. They also managed to steal away Langston Galloway and Terrance Jones. If health is on the Pelicans’ side, it may be hard for the Wolves to win 3 out of 4 meetings. They split the season series last year.
Regardless of team outcomes, this will also be a measuring stick for Karl-Anthony Towns. There is much debate around who is the best big man in the league. Davis and Towns are the future of that discussion. There is also the Kentucky rivalry to throw in there. It could turn into a Garnett/ Duncan-like rivalry in the future.
The Dallas Mavericks are looking to hold on to their playoff position with the acquisition of Harrison Barnes this offseason. The Mavericks finished 6th in the West with a 42-40 record. As Dirk is nearing the end of his career, it will be interesting to see how they hold on to playoff hopes. The reason they are a good measuring stick is because this is a team with experience and high-expectations. This is also a team that would likely need to fall out of the playoffs in order for the Wolves to make it in. The Wolves also lost all four matchups with the Mavs last season. In all the games, the Mavs wings found ways to torch the Wolves. Although Chandler Parsons is no longer with the Mavericks, it will be a good test to see if the Wolves perimeter defense improved against a team that has no shortage of scorers and shooters.
The Denver Nuggets are a team still looking for an identity. They relied on the incredibly inefficient rookie Emmanual Mudiay at point guard last season. After winning 33 games, the Nuggets will try to improve through the development of their international big men. Jusuf Nurkic made a late push for Rookie of the Year, so it will be interesting to see how he responds in year two. Some how though, the Nuggets managed to win 3 of 4 meetings with the Timberwolves last season. Not underestimating the Nuggets, but if the Wolves are planning on having a successful season, they will need to out-win the Nuggets. The Wolves should be aiming to win 2-3 meetings this year.
To do that, the Wolves will need to figure out how to guard Danilo Gallinari. The Wolves haven’t been successful guarding stretch-4s who can shoot and operate out of the triple-threat. While coaching should help this, Gallinari was guarded by someone who had no business guarding him in OT last year, which really pointed out the Wolves gaps on the perimeter defensively. Can Wiggins guard him this season? We shall see.
The Utah Jazz are the ultimate measuring stick team for the Timberwolves. Not only are they divisional rivals, but they have a good amount of hype and barely didn’t make the playoffs last season. The Jazz are about as hungry, if not hungrier, for a playoff spot this season. According to @PaulDeVos7, the Wolves were only 5 wins behind the Jazz in the final 40 games last year. The Jazz did take the season series 3-1 with all of the games happening after December 30th. But what makes the Jazz incredibly intriguing is that they have players at each position that will not only challenge the Wolves, but are almost a toss up when discussing who is better.
Ricky Rubio is better than George Hill and that might be the biggest advantage the Wolves have. Derrick Favors is not better than Towns, but I do think Favors is fairly underrated. On the perimeter, Hayward is better than Wiggins and Hood edges out LaVine simply because he is a great two-way player. If the Wolves want to outplay the Jazz this season, Wiggins will have to outperform Gordon Hayward. The Jazz also have added a significant amount of depth by signing Boris Diaw, Joe Johnson, and Daunte Exum returning from injury.
The Wolves will have an advantage early in the season against the Jazz with Hayward injured. The Jazz won 40 games last year and could get closer to 50 this year. If the Wolves jump into the 40-win range, it will be important to win two games against the Jazz. Regardless, this could be a good rivalry this season. Especially if we see Andrew Wiggins continue his efforts in posterizing Rudy Gobert.
While an argument could be made for all the ‘bubble’ teams, we felt like this was a diverse group and could test out different things against the Wolves. Agree? Disagree? Have other ‘measuring stick’ teams? Let us know!
The Timber Rebuilder.