2017-2018 Timberwolves Season Preview

Four years ago, the Wolves kicked off their third rebuild since 2004. The Wolves have held onto the longest playoff drought since then. But this rebuild really started with the decision that Ricky Rubio would be the guy to hold onto long-term over Kevin Love. Love was the face of rebuild-phase two. Because of that decision, the Wolves dealt Kevin Love that brought in Andrew Wiggins. The Wolves paired Wiggins with their own pick, a flyer (literally and in the department of potential) pick in Zach LaVine.
 
That picture brought me back to that kick off. It was a fun ride. The current roster is the fruit of that rebuild. Andrew Wiggins has sky high expectations and Zach LaVine has netted the Wolves Jimmy Butler.
The Wolves head into this 2017-2018 with the highest expectations since the Wolves made the Western Conference Finals. That season, the Wolves had an MVP and two All-Stars on the roster. The same can’t be said about this season. The Western Conference was since competitive back then, the last time the Wolves made the playoffs, but not as stacked as it is today. Big 3’s didn’t really exist and the 3-pointer was not as prevalent.
The current Wolves roster as it stands is much improved but also doesn’t really fit in with the trend of the league. 3-point shooting and team defense are still huge question marks. Jimmy Butler provides the Wolves with a lot of defense and leadership. The bridge has been built for Tom Thibodeau to reach his, now two, young stars.
I went into last season with super high expectations because of Tom Thibodeau but was still expecting less than what most fans and experts thought of the Wolves. I find myself in the same camp again. I break down the Wolves below and will make further predictions for the season in our Annual Season Preview.
The Givens
Towns
Karl-Anthony Towns is the Wolves’ greatest assets. He is going into the 3rd year of his career and is already arguably the best big man in the league. His inside-outside offensive game allows for him to simply take advantage of the defender’s weakness and take what opposing teams want to give him. His attitude is also what makes him amazing. He is extraordinarily competitive, poised in the face of the media and has fun playing the game. Regardless of the Wolves’ outcome this upcoming season, the Wolves still have Karl-Anthony Towns. On his rookie contract at that. He is an amazing basketball and fun to watch. So if the season implodes and the Wolves continues the longest playoff-drought in the league, the Wolves still have KAT.
What to watch with KAT this season though will be his defense. With Dieng moving to the bench, KAT will likely spend most of his time guarding centers. This could be good or this could be bad. The biggest concern though is that Towns will be relied on as the primary rim protector and shot contester. This will mean that KAT could end up in foul trouble more often. The next given will hopefully help KAT in this part of his game, but defense is certainly the part of his game that will define his next level.
Veteran Presence
This offseason brought in Jimmy Butler, Jeff Teague, Taj Gibson, and Jamal Crawford. All of these guys are no strangers to the playoffs. Each of these four guys have played significant, if not leading, roles on playoff teams in the last five years. The Wolves, historically, haven’t been a team to rock the boat in a way they did this past summer. The last time they did this, they made the Western Conference Finals.
As the Wolves’ marketing department runs away with the theme of ‘New Era’, the adding of these veterans is a major culture change regardless of the new jerseys and Target Center renovations. These guys will not have the patience to lose games as the Wolves have done in past years. This is a double-edge sword. The veterans will certainly be leading by example. They will be playing hard. If the young Wolves don’t follow or the combination of roster pieces don’t work, it is very possible the Wolves will have another, more unfortunate, ‘New Era’ if Jimmy Butler decides to leave in two years.
Our hope is that having the veterans around will help positively. We saw the impact Kevin Garnett had on KAT. The rest of the young pups is where the veteran presence should help more. It was clear that the Wolves struggled in implementing Thibs’ defensive schemes early on. Luckily, Thibodeau has brought in mostly veterans that have played for him or have familiarity with his system.
Things to watch
Andrew Wiggins
The newly-minted max contract (well $146.5M) Andrew Wiggins has probably the biggest question mark going into the season. Andrew Wiggins has proven that he can score like crazy. His shot has improved and he can get to the line with the best of ‘um. Wiggins showed flashes of greatness (yes, greatness) for stretches last season from going on scoring tears to game-winners to posterizing seven-footers.
The questions are around the rest of his game. Can Wiggins contribute to other parts of the box score? Can Wiggins finally learn to play defense? How will Wiggins react to potentially being the third-scorer? Let’s answer these questions.
Will Wiggins finally start rebounding and distributing the ball? I really hope so. And I think so. Wiggins will have two more scorers (Butler and Teague) on the floor with him and one less rebounder  (Dieng to the bench) so naturally, he will have more opportunities to get rebounds and assists. That said, Wiggins will always look for his shot first. If he doesn’t, he is Harrison Barnes. No one wants that to change. He has, however, shown flashes of penetrating and dishing. I think as he draws the defense’s attention more, he will be more comfortable dishing the ball out to able-shooters all around him now.
His defensive effort will determine if he can start getting steals and blocks in the box score, which leads to the next question. Can Wiggins finally defend? One of Wiggins’ biggest factors that led him to be the number one pick was his defensive potential. It is all physically there. So what is the problem? Not really sure. But he has another year to really understand Thibs’ system and the perfect example in Jimmy Butler now. It will truly come down to his desire to defend. He will have less of a load offensively which should allow for more energy to go towards the defensive end.
Leading again into the next point, can Wiggins be a third-option? I don’t think Wiggins wants to be the third option and it is very possible he is actually the second leading scorer on the team this season. That said, I think Wiggins is perfect to be the third-option on offense. If the Wolves just ask that Wiggins be an average defender and just score, it would be a role Wiggins could fill fairly easily. Wiggins is a good enough shooter to be the third-option and then also take over the offense when Towns and/ or Butler are on the bench (will likely happen for a 1 minute a game).
The Point Guard Situation
The point guard position could very well be what makes or breaks the Wolves. First, Jeff Teague is probably the biggest wild card. The backup PG situation is probably even more iffy.
Jeff Teague has the biggest hole to fill on the court and in the heart of Wolves’ fans as he replaces Ricky Rubio. Many forget Teague was a former All-Star when the Hawks had the best record in the Eastern Conference a few years ago. He was eventually traded because the Hawks believed more in Dennis Schroader and didn’t want to extend Teague. The Pacers brought in Teague for a year rental before he ended up with the Wolves. The Wolves essentially gave Teague the contract the Hawks didn’t want to give him.
I still have to be convinced on Teague but in the pre-season, he has proven to fill a lot of voids that Rubio had in his game. The most obvious is the ability to shoot. Secondly, Teague can score and finish around the rim consistently. Teague doesn’t have Rubio’s length, but is an able-defender as well. He isn’t the playmaker that Rubio was, but his play-style might fit better with the current roster.
The biggest concern is defense. The point guard position is the deepest in the league and I am not convinced Teague will be able to consistently lock down the number of elite guards day-in and day-out in the Western Conference. There is no Kris Dunn either to come in off the bench to play defense either.
The Wolves backup point guard will be Tyus Jones. Finally, right? I have some anxiety around this. Tyus Jones is the type of player who is always an extension of the coach on the court and plays mistake free basketball. He is an underrated shooter and tries hard on both sides of the ball. But again, I don’t know if Jones has the strength, athleticism, or length to defend at a positive-level.
I don’t think the Wolves’ PG situation will look the same by the end of the year. There will be a team that will be interested in selling a defensive-minded guard that hopefully the Wolves can swoop in and grab.
Defense
This has to be the year right? The Wolves have been one of the worst defensive teams for the last four years, even with adding Thibodeau. Adding veterans, especially a defensive-minded Jimmy Butler, should help this. But this will be a major area to watch. The firepower in the Western conference will definitely test the Wolves’ defensive ability as well. But the hope when the Wolves hired Thibs was that the Wolves would be close to the defensive nightmare that his Bulls teams were.
The Rotation
What does concern me this season is Thibs’ rotation. I hate the heavy minutes his starters play and I hate the platoon substitution method. The Wolves have certainly added depth this season, which we will get to, but there should be no reason why five of the bench players should be playing at once. My hope is that Thibodeau is not only to improve the team defensively but to adopt a rotation that other teams with ‘big threes’ use. There should be at least one of the big three on the floor at all times. I would imagine that Wiggins will get time as the only one of the ‘big three’ on the floor so he can meet his shot volume.
I am also interested in seeing what the Wolves could have as their ‘death’ lineup, i.e. the lineup they use to kill teams or their clutch time lineup. I don’t believe that Gibson will be in that lineup. I would love to see a lineup of Teague-Crawford-Wiggins-Butler-Towns. Will it happen? Will it be effective? We shall see!
The Bench
The resurrection of the Zoo Crew! If you know what the Zoo Crew is, you’re in the right place.
I am most excited to see the Wolves have a bench presence. While we will get into the signings and re-signings, the biggest improvement to the bench is having Gorgui Dieng again. Dieng was great off the bench early in his career but now with his experience as a starter and improved game, he gives the Wolves a starting-caliber player off the bench. Dieng’s toughness and hustle also bodes well as a bench player. The Wolves now don’t have to rely on Cole Aldrich being the first big man off the bench this season. That is a huge improvement.
The Wolves have then added the ageless Jamal Crawford. He isn’t incredibly efficient, but he gets buckets. He brings great experience too. My expectations aren’t super high for J-Crossover, but he will be a difference maker in at least a couple games this season.
Bringing in Crawford most likely impacts Shabazz Muhammad more than anyone. As many hope that Wiggins learns from Butler, I am praying that Shabazz learns from Crawford. Bazz has the potential to be the offensive sparkplug that Crawford was his entire career. Shabazz has the most to prove and lose this season if he isn’t able to put his game together because he will not get a better contract. I expect that Bazz will be playing harder than anyone on the team this season as he has the most the prove. As always, I have high expectations for him.
Bjelica has probably the biggest range in terms of role on the team. It is very possible that Belly could play well enough that he warrants a starting position by the time the year ends. He would perfectly space the floor and is tougher than what meets the eye. He showed flashes of thriving under Thibs. That said, Belly could completely fall out of the rotation this season too. Between KAT, Gibson, Dieng, someone playing small ball-4, and Thibs overplaying starters, Bjelica would be most expendable. If he can’t prove to be a better option than any of those other options, he could rack up a lot of ‘DNP-Coach’s Decisions’ this season.
Utilization of the G-League
The Iowa Wolves are here! And the Wolves draft Justin Patton who will likely play less than any other new T-Puppy due to injury and inexperience. Thibs was high on Patton and he was apparently a Wolves fan growing up. I still disagree with the pick but I hope I am wrong. That said, Patton will have the opportunity to be the first case study for the Wolves’ development practices in the G-League.
The truth is, the Wolves will need to be good at player development if they want to succeed long term. The G-League will be huge in developing young players but also filling in times when there are major injuries. The Wolves don’t have a good pick next season so developing what they have will be essential if they want to continue to be good once the sudden boost of free agents wears off.
The Wolves have a lot of questions going into the season and will be tested each night against a stacked Western Conference. The Wolves have the talent to make the playoffs this season but they could very well not make it if they don’t adapt early. There isn’t much time for the team to ‘build chemistry’ this season. That said, lets get into predictions.
Bold Predictions
– The Wolves will go 44-38 and make the 7th spot in the Western Conference.
– Karl-Anthony Towns will be an All-Star this season, finally.
– Andrew Wiggins will average more than Jimmy Butler
– The point guard situation will be the biggest question when the season ends
– Jimmy Butler makes an All-Defense team
– Taj Gibson will not be the starting power forward when the season ends
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Making sense of the Wolves’ new direction

The Wolves have repositioned themselves from a team on the rise to a team that has risen. The dramatic draft night trade for Jimmy Butler to moving Ricky Rubio and adding Teague and Taj Gibson are all indications that the Wolves are making a serious run for the playoffs. Tom Thibodeau has made it clear that in order for the Wolves to win, they need tough-minded, defensive veterans around the young nucleus of Towns and Wiggins.

For many, the replacement of Ricky Rubio with Jeff Teague has been hard to swallow. Rubio was the longest tenured player on the roster and had shown significant improvements in the second half of the season. It was clear though, both sides of the relationship were not thrilled to be together. Rubio wanted to be more involved in the organization and wanted to be appreciated while the organization clearly had issues with Rubio’s inability to shoot or finish at the rim. The move will likely be best for both sides.
The Wolves got what might be the best return for Rubio that they might have been able to get in the last two years, a first-round pick and cap space. As an opportunist, you have to know when to sell high. The only way that Rubio could be more coveted is if he developed a jump shot, which will likely not happen. He has removed his ‘injury’ tag and showed signs of being able to score and create last year. Since Rubio is not a player that relies on his speed or athleticism, he could stretch out his career if healthy. The only issue is the Wolves needed shooting. And badly.
While Teague isn’t known as a lights out shooter, he is certainly not the liability that Rubio was. Teague has been able to shoot over 35% over the last two years and is just a couple years removed from being an All-Star. He has a good amount of playoff experience and most importantly, can finish around the rim. This combination of shooting and driving ability is going to make the biggest difference for the Wolves. First, teams will have a nightmare defending the pick-and-roll with Teague and (Insert Butler, Wiggins, or Towns here). Second, Teague will be able to help the Wolves when they need scoring outside of their big 3, something the Wolves could not rely on with Rubio. Outside of LaVine, Wiggins, and Towns last year, the Wolves struggled to find a fourth scorer.
The secondary benefits of adding Teague is that he will not need the ball to be effective, another flaw of having Rubio on the current roster. Teague can spot up for 3 if needed and demand some respect from opposing defenses. Also, Teague has played with other dominate point guards in the past which lets him play off the ball in situations, which will be helpful if Thibs is looking to let Butler or Wiggins handle the ball more often.
On the defensive end, Teague is still pesky. He had a better defensive win share than Rubio last season. While he doesn’t have the length of Rubio, he will still be able to guard other teams’ best guard if needed. Luckily for the Wolves, they will be able to throw Teague, Butler, or Wiggins at a team’s best perimeter player on a nightly basis. I will say, this is where the Wolves will miss Kris Dunn. Dunn would have been a great compliment to Teague. Yes, I still am a Dunn-believer.
We can now look at what adding Taj Gibson means. He could mean a lot of things really. He could mean a move of Towns to the center position and Dieng being the 6th man with Bjelica coming in for support. He could also come off of the bench if Dieng remains in the starting lineup. Regardless the role he plays in the lineup, he brings much needed toughness and defense. The Wolves should finally have someone to set the tone in terms of physicality. We watched way too many Wolves get beat around the paint for rebounds and uncontested shots.
The Wolves also have allowed Shabazz Muhammad to become an unrestricted free agent at this point. This doesn’t mean he is gone, but it basically does mean he is gone with the Wolves lack of cap space and shooting still. Shabazz is also one of my favorite Wolves but I also don’t think it will be as sad to see him leave for the average Wolves fan as it was to see LaVine and Rubio go.
The Wolves are currently looking to create cap space to sign more players for some bench depth. They are looking to move Cole Aldrich and the pick they received in the Rubio trade. This would indicate they are still trying to solve their shooting problem. I hope. I also can’t imagine they are ready to let Tyus Jones be the full-time backup point guard. But a good amount of the options that the Wolves had are now off the board. So it will be interesting to see what direction they go. My hope is signing CJ Miles or Patrick Patterson to fill out the bench and then signing a backup point guard like Ty Lawson.
It will be important to pay attention to the Wolves Summer League team. Deandre Burton and VJ Beachum could have legitimate chances of making the Wolves roster if they are in need of bodies. The Wolves are also light on the wings outside of Butler and Wiggins. Fully expecting Thibodeau to give them a majority of the minutes in the game, in case of garbage time or an emergency, a summer league player could help out. The Wolves have a ton of roster spots available and not a ton of cap room, so it would make sense at least two guys get two-way contracts for the Wolves.
Expecting more moves certainly, it is clear the identity Thibodeau is developing here in Minnesota. He wants a defensive-minded team that has a veteran toughness. Not much different than the Bulls teams he has coached in the past. Thibodeau does not seem to value shooting as much as the rest of the league, which is concerning.
The team seems to be filled out in two-phases. The first phase is the immediate phase, which is the next two years. It is likely aimed at keeping the core of the team intact as Wiggins, Butler, and Towns will all be able to sign extensions in the next two years. This immediate phase is also designed to win now, not necessarily a championship, but to get to the playoffs. This playoff experience is crucial for Towns and Wiggins mainly. With the help of the veterans, Thibs is hoping to redefine the playoff-less culture in Minnesota and get the monkey off their backs.
The second phase will be around truly competing and it is all dependent on the development of Wiggins and Towns, most importantly on the defensive end of the floor. The next two years will be about getting them experience, chemistry, and understanding so that when the majority of the Wolves’ contracts expire over the course of the next three years, they can rebuild around Wiggins and Towns, who could be in the prime of their careers and better all-around players.
It remains to be seen what role Jimmy Butler plays in all of this. Its just too early. His contract expires in two years and a lot can change from now until then. The rest of the players on the Wolves roster, which maybe the exception of Justin Patton, should change three years from now. Jeff Teague and Taj Gibson should not be relevant once their contracts expire. But the goal should be to instill the basketball values that all three of the new veterans have in Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins.
So while most fans will be excited to see the new additions in Wolves uniforms, I will be watching the development of Towns and Wiggins very closely. The success of this team truly rides on their shoulders.

The Situation at pick Seven

Jonathan Isaac. That is the goal.

usa-jonathan-isaac
The draft is all about choosing between team need and talent. Can the player fit the system and fill a team need? But then, it is the draft, right? We should just draft the best player available since these guys are so young and you never know what you’ll get. You can always address needs in free agency. Right? That is typically how the argument around draft philosophies go. But what if I told you, you could draft a player who fit your team at a position you need, all while them being the best at their position AND not have to take him 1st overall?
That is exactly what Jonathan Isaac is for the Timberwolves. The Wolves have been drafting players left and right, holding onto talented lottery picks waiting to bare the fruits of their labor. In fact, the Wolves had three consecutive number one picks on their roster at one point.
The Wolves have three high usage players in Towns, Wiggins and LaVine. That is one of the biggest hurdles around the Wolves picking in the lottery again. There aren’t a lot of clear cut players that have the potential at 7 that those three have offensively. That said, the Wolves need players that don’t require the ball to score and who are ‘plus’ players on the defensive end. The Wolves essentially need a 3 and D guy, preferably not at the same positions as the big three or at point guard since the Wolves just drafted Kris Dunn.
Jonathan Isaac is all that and a bag of Sun Chips. Isaac is not going to blow anyone away with his offense but has shown the ability to hit the three and play incredible defense. The 6-11 forward is still skinny in which he may not be able to guard stronger power forwards in the league quite yet, but adding some weight to his frame overtime will certainly help him there. He already rebounds and block shots like a starting power forward in the league. He is great in defending the pick-n-roll, which can only get better working under Thibs. He still isn’t great at defending the perimeter, but he certainly is an improvement over Wiggins right now.
The reason I love Isaac is because he has the potential to be the best role player in the NBA. He was not a high usage player at Florida State and was still extremely effective. His unique combination of length and ability to be a 3-and-D player makes people compare him to the likes of Draymond Green. As he fills out his frame, he has the potential to help defend another team’s best wing player but also serve as a help-side rim protector. Because he has a lot of the defensive skills already, his floor isn’t too bad either. Worst case, he is a serviceable role player that is solid defensively and non-existent on offense. Think, Wes Johnson with the Clippers.
Being that the Wolves drafted Wes Johnson number 4 overall over many other future All-Stars, that was probably not the best comparison. But we are talking about floors here. Wes Johnson is a spot-starter on a playoff team that needs a wing 3-and-D guy. The Wolves drafted him as a player that would’ve been great offensively. I digress though.
The issue currently for the Wolves is that Jonathan Isaac’s stock is rising. Not because he has done anything to deserve it since he didn’t go to the draft combine, but because the stock of the other forwards are falling. Namely, Josh Jackson and Jayson Tatum. Both have serious potential. But if I had to pick another former Wolves draft pick, their floors look like Derrick Williams. Not for their style of play but because of their need for the ball without being good shooters. Tatum is Carmelo Anthony on offense in terms of ISO ball. Not only is that a bad fit for the Wolves, many teams are moving away from that style of basketball. Jackson is better offensively and has a unique passing ability for a forward. Both have light years of potential and could very well be All-Stars, but their styles of play are concerning.
If any of the three fall on draft night, it will likely be Tatum. I can’t imagine Jackson falling passed the Wolves at 7. He has shooting concerns that would probably make him a poor fit in Minnesota, but he could also push out one of Wiggins or LaVine. As of today, Jackson should probably go to the Sixers, but things can change in the next month.
Now, let’s play the scenario in which Jonathan Isaac goes before number 7. The Sixers could potentially take Isaac at 3. The Suns could have interest at 4. The Kings will almost certainly take a point guard at 5. The Magic may have more interest in one of the higher usage players at 6, but after bringing on Hammond from Milwaukee, they could be looking for a Giannis archetype, which Isaac fits. There is also the possibility a team trades up to take Isaac. The Nuggets have the assets to do just that and he fits the Nuggets very well. So what do the Wolves do?
The Wolves have two options. One includes taking the best player available. That will likely be taking Tatum or Jackson if they fall. There is also the intriguing prospect of Malik Monk. We will visit that option. The second option would be to trade down. We will visit that as well.
First, best player available. Chances are, the best player available will be Malik Monk if Isaac is taken. Monk is probably one of the better scorers and shooters in this draft. The Wolves missed out on Jamal Murray last year, this would be their opportunity to make up for it this year. Monk would be the security blanket around LaVine’s knee as he rehabs from the ACL tear. Monk could also replace the scoring that the Wolves will lose off the bench if Shabazz Muhammad demands too much money. The issue with drafting Monk would be his size at the off guard position and his ability to defend in the NBA. He is almost another Jamal Crawford, which is good, but not great for the Wolves. Scoring also doesn’t always translate great to the NBA. If I had to relate Monk’s floor to a Wolves draft pick, it would be Rashad McCants.
Trading down opens up a slew of options for the Wolves. They could add a veteran player and a late round draft pick. They could package the pick with Rubio and others to potentially bring in a better player. There are teams that will need point guards and there are a lot of point guards available in the top 10 of this draft. My hope is the Wolves listen to offers, especially if Isaac is off the board.
While I can’t go into every scenario if the Wolves trade the pick, I would love the Wolves to target a poor man’s version of Jonathan Isaac, OG Anunoby. Physically, Anunoby is an upgrade over Isaac. He is 6-8 with a 7-5 wingspan. He is also a mystery. He didn’t play too much his Freshmen year at Indiana and tore an ACL during his Sophomore year. He is a monster defensively. His shot is more of a question mark than Isaac’s, as well as his health.
That is where things stand as of right now, a month ahead of the draft. A good amount can change from now until then. Jonathan Isaac has the potential to be the perfect power forward of the future, sandwiched between Wiggins and Towns. If Isaac and Dunn develop consistent three point shots, they seem like the perfect role players around the Wolves big three. Both would be amazing defensively which would be a nightmare for opponents. A lot depends on the shooting abilities of the role players Dunn and potentially Isaac, which is definitely a huge question regardless.

Thoughts going into the Wolves’ first ever Christmas game

The Timberwolves season up until this point has been a disappointment. There has definitely been a good amount exciting moments and reasons to keep watching. But overall, it’s been a let down. The Wolves go into the first ever Christmas Day match up in franchise history 9-20. If you asked most of us that follow the Wolves like a car in traffic, we would’ve guessed nothing worse than 13-16. A good amount of people would’ve assumed something above .500.

The hype going into this season was bigger than when the Wolves acquired Sam Cassell and Latrell Sprewell to form the modern NBA’s original Big 3. Maybe ever. The Wolves have never played a game on Christmas in their 27-year history. This season was supposed to be different. Thibs was supposed to flawlessly teach the young pups everything and anything they need to know about defense for the rest of their careers. Towns was supposed to be an All Star.

Before the season, I had my reservations about the hype. I was mildly-bashed for these views, especially on Reddit. Understandably so, Wolves fans wanted to believe that the 12 years of suffering was over. We needed to make the playoffs and that is how we were going to define success. The hype has died down now though and many are having second thoughts.

I haven’t posted as much this season due to the fact that not much has changed throughout the season. The Wolves have improved a little over the last six games or so, but it hasn’t been drastic. They still make a lot of the mistakes that drive me crazy. They struggle with helping each other on defense, especially on the interior. They think that when they are double-teamed, they should try to shoot the ball as quickly as possible instead of finding the open man. They fall into an individualistic form of basketball that can never equate to wins in the NBA.

I also have been disappointed in Wiggins and Towns a bit. Wiggins seems disengaged if he isn’t involved in the offense early and often. He will be a next-level player if he learned to impact the game without the ball. Towns gets caught up in his own hype very often and is the greatest offender of the ‘not passing out of a double team’ violation I eluded to earlier. His interior defense this season has also been embarrassing. His man often beats him in the post or off the dribble and he also is incapable of stopping penetration as a help defender.

On the bench, the entire squad has either been a let down or just meh. Shabazz and Bjelica were handed the keys to be the primary scorers off the bench and they just haven’t been able to do it on a consistent basis. Cole Aldrich has been decent in his time on the floor. Kris Dunn’s offense has also took a turn for the better. Brandon Rush has more snapchat posts than minutes per game. I forgot we signed Jordan Hill. I wish we could see more of Tyus Jones. What I have learned from this 9-20 start is that the Wolves need a starting-caliber bench player. I think eventually, this person is Gorgui Dieng. A free agent would be helpful here though.

All of that said, there is a lot I am excited about this season, especially at this point of the season. Yes, we have more than twice as many losses as wins this season. But we are playing on Christmas! The Wolves are in probably the biggest team spotlight of the season that is not the playoffs. So what am I happy about at this point?

Special edition jerseys and shoes for Christmas. As I wrap up my MBA and I have a fresh passion still for marketing, nothing makes me more excited than the special edition jerseys the Wolves are going to wear and all of the limited-edition shoes. Christmas is a sneakerhead’s favorite time of the year. Karl-Anthony Towns showcased his Christmas PE’s below. I am looking forward to what Andrew Wiggins’ PE’s will look like and what shoes Zach LaVine will wear. I hope Zach keeps it simple and rocks some Space Jams.


Zach LaVine can score points and create offense better than maybe anyone on the team. Bold statement, I know. LaVine has been the biggest surprise this season. His ability to score has been crazy. He can score from anywhere on the court. He can score off the dribble or coming off the screen. He is amazing in transition. He is the go-to-scorer in late shot clock situations. He plays great as the primary scorer with the bench unit. His time as the backup PG has helped him be a decent playmaker. His defense has also improved pretty dramatically. I have been so impressed with Zach. He was the biggest question mark coming into the season. Could he actually be a consistent 3rd option and fit in as a starter? He has proven he can be. Zach’s emergence has kept me optimistic about the future. I would not be opposed to experimenting with him coming off the bench as the 6th man later in the season, but not sure if he would welcome that approach.

Kris Dunn’s defense is awesome. Kris Dunn is incredibly fun to watch, especially on defense. There is always a place on a team for a guard who can play defense. Dunn has the potential to be a lockdown defense like Patrick Beverly. You can never have enough of those guys. I know his offense has been suspect, but it will take time to develop. Regardless, he is already the best perimeter defender on the team.

The big three is only 21 years old. There is a lot of time left. I hope they develop better chemistry on the floor but there is still room to develop that. Towns, Wiggins and LaVine all average over 20 points per game through 30 games and they are only 21 years old. That means they have a ton of talent and they are in desperate need of support. The Wolves will have more opportunities to add a better supporting cast. In the mean time, I never thought I would say this, but we should really ‘trust the process’.

Regardless of the outcome, Wolves fans should really attempt to take in this storm of a season against the Thunder tonight. There is a lot to be disappointed in this season but also much reason to be optimistic. Enjoy the jerseys. Enjoy the shoes. Enjoy the Russell Westbrook triple-double. Enjoy it all!

The Timber Rebuilder.  #Powerofthepack

 

Timberwolves ‘Measuring Stick’ Teams

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

townsdavis

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.

Dallas Mavericks

wigginsdirk.jpg

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.

Denver Nuggets

NBA: Minnesota Timberwolves at Denver Nuggets

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.

 

Utah Jazz

Zach LaVine, Rodney Hood

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.

Timberwolves 2016-17 Season Preview, Keys to Success and Bold Predictions

It is that time of the year again, the NBA is coming back! The Wolves’ measure of success this coming season will be simple. Playoffs. Make ‘um and the season was a success. Don’t make ‘um and the season didn’t meet expectations. Right?

Tom Thibodeau takes over one of the most exciting young teams in the last decade after a year sabbatical. The Wolves young core of Karl-Anthony Towns, Andrew Wiggins and Zach LaVine will be supported by veteran Ricky Rubio, rookie Kris Dunn, supporting young core pieces Shabazz Muhammad and Gorgui Dieng, and a slew of journeymen/ veterans that align with Thibs’ basketball philosophy.

The analogy I love using for the Timberwolves is ‘removing the training wheels.’ The training wheels were the veterans the team had on the roster that the Wolves could lean on when the rookies couldn’t balance things out. When LaVine wasn’t doing well as a starter, Tayshaun Prince and Kevin Martin came in to help him. Kevin Garnett was also there in the ear of young Karl-Anthony Towns throughout the season. When the Wolves needed an extra push, the veterans stood in.

That won’t be the case this season. Ricky Rubio is as veteran as it gets on the Wolves. Rubio has started the most games than any other player on the entire roster. Andrew Wiggins will have to rely on his extensive experience of starting for two seasons. As you saw in our previous piece, we believe Wiggins needs to step it up this season on the defensive end of the floor for the Wolves to be successful. Karl-Anthony Towns, while gaining tons of national media attention, will absolutely have a target on his back around the league. He isn’t going to be able to slide under the scouting report-radars after the season he had. Then there is also Tom Thibodeau. Thibs was the most sought-after head coach this offseason, and that brings high expectations. Thibodeau will have to forgo a season of experimentation and ensure that the young Wolves can execute seamlessly.

Like any kid who learns how to ride a bike without training wheels for the first time, there will be bumps and bruises. You learn how fast you can turn and how to speed down a hill. The Wolves will have some bumps and bruises, especially early on. I may come off as pessimistic for the coming season, but in reality I am looking at this season as a transition period.

Every season has its ups and downs, so barring any major changes or injuries; we can expect a rotation that looks like this:

C- Dieng/ Aldrich/ Hill

PF – Towns/ Bjelica/ Payne

SF – Wiggins/ Rush

SG – LaVine/ Muhammad

PG – Rubio/ Dunn/ Jones

In looking at the rotation, the Timberwolves have a good list of point guards. I do believe we will see more of Tyus Jones this year. The Summer League MVP can be a secret weapon off the bench to help with 3-point shooting. The reason I feel that we will see Jones more is because I also believe we will see Kris Dunn play shooting guard this season. The Wolves are weak on perimeter depth, especially defensively. Dunn will take away from the Wolves ability to shoot, but will be able to add to the perimeter defensively. Jones and Dunn could see more time on the floor than Rubio Dunn in my opinion.

My concern is still on the perimeter. Zach LaVine without a solid backup is going to be interesting. I think Shabazz should be playing more of the 3 or even a small ball 4. It will be important to monitor Muhammad this season because his game changes a little bit every year. He has talked about learning more on Defense just being around Thibodeau and that he has a desire to start. It will be interesting to see where he fits in this season. He has a chance to be the leading scorer off the bench.

As of now, Brandon Rush seems like the natural fit coming in off the bench at the small forward position. Rush is going to have an opportunity to be a part of the rotation. There is a good chance that Bjelica could see some time at the 3, depending on matchups. That said, small forward depth is going to be concerning, if Shabazz is playing shooting guard.

Up front, the Wolves are good for now. A four-player rotation of Towns, Dieng, Bjelica, and Aldrich is great. All have a skillset that is valuable and needed. I am high on what Dieng will be able to do with Thibs. Dieng should get better defensively and seems to be adding a mid-range jump shot that will be able to stretch the floor. The coaching staff is high on Nemanja. The former Euroleague MVP is in better shape this season and ready for a breakout season. It will be interesting to see if Thibs using Belly like he did Mirotic in Chicago.

The Wolves still have Pekovic on the roster who is out for the year already. There is a 15th spot that will in all likelihood be Rasual Butler. It will likely change over the course of the year as injuries occur.

Keys to Success

Who would’ve ever thought that a DJ Khaled reference would still be relevant when previewing a season? Here are our keys to success:

Defense

As a good friend of mine reminds me all the time, Tom Thibodeau has never coached a team that wasn’t in the top 10 in defense. There is no doubt in my mind that for the Timberwolves to really make it over the hump, they will need to be a top 10 defensive team. The team certainly has the physical assets on the roster. Karl-Anthony Towns was very good defensively last season. Gorgui Dieng and Cole Aldrich are solid rim protectors. Andrew Wiggins has the length and athletic ability to be a terror on the defensive end. Ricky Rubio and Kris Dunn could also be incredible perimeter defenders. The key will be learning to play team defense and covering up for the liabilities on defense like Zach LaVine, Shabazz Muhammad, and Bjelica. Being a top-10 defensive team should translate to being a playoff team. But going from about the worst in the NBA to top 10, especially with the inexperience the Timberwolves have, is a rarity.

3- Point Shooting

Another area in which the Timberwolves were terrible in last season, second-to-last to be specific. The Wolves are relying on organic growth in their 3-point shooting, which is fairly risky. The way that the Wolves get better is if their perimeter players can carry the load from outside the arc, which wasn’t the case last year. Andrew Wiggins and Ricky Rubio were bad. The Wolves added another guard who can’t shoot this offseason in Kris Dunn. That said, Brandon Rush was like adding a mini-band aid to the problem. The kind that Nelly used to wear below his eye in the 90’s. To make matters worse, Tom Thibodeau isn’t a huge advocate of the 3-pointer, but has indicated that his philosophy has changed a bit.

Wolves are as good as Wiggins and LaVine

cst 117830 Wolves Media Day
Monday, Sept. 26, 2016. (Pioneer Press: Scott Takushi)

I feel good about where Karl-Anthony Towns is as a player. If he didn’t improve this offseason, he would still be a net-positive player on the floor. While defense and 3-point shooting are factors that the team need to do better as a whole, Andrew Wiggins and Zach LaVine have the most pressure on them to produce this season. Both entering their third seasons, they both have a lot to prove around the league. Are they just incredible physical specimens or are they legitimate NBA talents? Throughout this piece and my overall criticality of the Wolves, a lot of it is around Wiggins and LaVine. I have beaten a dead horse on the Wiggins-development end, but the same has to go for LaVine.

LaVine has an opportunity to be one of the best inside-outside threats in the league offensively. I can live with Zach being below average defensively. But for LaVine, scoring efficiently and using the playmaking skills he developed will be what defines success. LaVine can score in bunches. But can he do that night-in and night-out? If LaVine is a guy who can average 17 points a game and shoot over 37% from three, he will solidify himself as the third-head on the three-headed monster for the Wolves.

The bench needs to be a factor

One thing that Thibodeau did this offseason that will turn out to be genius is seeking out cheap contracts for veterans that can add depth to a young team. The additions of Cole Aldrich, Jordan Hill and Brandon Rush helped add front-court depth, toughness, and veteran experience. I am a fan of signing players who were bench warmers of good teams, especially if they had a niche. Aldrich was one of the best rim protectors in the NBA and nobody knew about it. Brandon Rush was an incredible three-point shooter, but because his skillset was redundant on a great team, he rarely got playing time.

 

Bold Predictions

 

  • Kris Dunn will be good, but will not be a serious candidate for Rookie of the Year
  • Gorgui Dieng will not come to an extension agreement this season and will earn a max contract this offseason. He will start most games for the Wolves.
  • Ricky Rubio will increase his trade value this season. We will see improvement in his jump shot.
  • Shabazz Muhammad will work his way out of Minnesota in hopes for a starting role. Whether that is via trade mid-season or a contract this summer.
  • Karl-Anthony Towns is an All Star, makes All-Defensive team and All-NBA team.
  • Andrew Wiggins is a replacement for the All-Star game (getting really bold here)
  • The Timberwolves end their 12-year drought and make the playoffs as a 7-seed!

 

Although I am still skeptical, I do think the Timberwolves can make the playoffs this season. Things will have to go right. It will require the trio of Towns, Wiggins and LaVine to really step up. My predictions are a fence-swing, especially with Wiggins being an All-Star. But I think the Wolves go into the All-Star break above .500 because someone outside of the three-headed monster. The biggest reason why I feel the Wolves have a successful season is because I truly believe Ricky Rubio and Gorgui Dieng will thrive under Tom Thibodeau. That will be the difference maker.

 

I think the Wolves go 43-39 this season. A huge jump from 29-53. I would’ve felt better about this prediction if Kevin Garnett was still on the roster. Regardless, the young pups will lose the training wheels and it will be the beginning of something special. I can’t wait!

Andrew Wiggins’ Criticality

Karl-Anthony Towns has made Minnesota sports fans fall in love with him. The kid is 20 years old but understands that for the Timberwolves to be successful, they need a crowd again. The Wolves compete with the Vikings and Twins for sports ticket dollars in the Twin Cities. So Towns has been seen cheering on the Vikings and Twins all over his snap chat. It is quite entertaining. Towns also has been on his PR-grind around the nation doing interviews and commercials that are just now appearing everywhere. I thought Zach LaVine, the China-traveling, dunk champion, was marketable. But no, Towns feels like he is running a presidential campaign.

So why start this post talking about KAT? Well, because he already has all the attention. The National media can’t stop talking about how good he is. He is expected to be an all-star. He is everyone’s focus. It is easy to talk about him and to love what he is doing, right?

Behind the KAT shine, is a quiet, laid-back Andrew Wiggins. Wiggins was disrespected in NBA2K17 when he was rated 6 points lower than his partner Towns at a, semi-respectable 82. Wiggins came out of his hiding and stated he like Call of Duty better, a witty response. But as they say, games are becoming much more realistic. And as of right now, Wiggins hasn’t proven much more than he can score at the NBA-level.

Besides the release of Andrew Wiggins’ hiking boots, that I intend on buying to help me through the brutal Minnesota winter, there has been videos of Wiggins working hard on his game. He is improving his ball-handling and looks to be able to shoot off of the dribble. Fitting his personality, he has laid low throughout most of the summer. Without the veteran presence of Kevin Garnett, Wiggins will have the most experience in the starting lineup this season outside of Ricky Rubio. It is a scary thought to think but, Andrew Wiggins will need to be a leader.

It isn’t in Wiggy to be a vocal leader like KG was. He doesn’t need to be. KAT is going to attract all the media attention but it may be on Wiggins to set the tone early and close out games late. Not only that, but he will have to carry a lot of the load on both ends of the court.

While he has been able to score, he will need to do so more efficiently and get others involved. Adding a consistent 3-pointer will be the first way to improve. He shot 24% from behind the arc before the All Star break and 41% after. Wiggins being an inside-outside threat will help open up the floor for him to penetrate and get others involved.

On the defensive side is where the real work will need to be done. While I have hope with Thibodeau in town, I still think a good amount of defense is just effort. Wiggins has to be able to carry the weight on the offense side and come back and do the same on defense. Wiggins has a terrible Defensive rating of 114 last season. He also had a pretty bad Defensive Box Plus/ Minus of -2.5.

The reason the Timberwolves need Andrew Wiggins to turn it around defensively is because he has the physical tools to be able to guard C.J McCollum and Kevin Durant. And if Wiggins is going to start alongside Zach LaVine, there is a good chance Wiggins will be guarding the opposing team’s best offensive player. Wiggins had to play alongside Tayshaun Prince for most of the season for the simple fact that Wiggins could not handle the responsibility on both ends of the court. With the training wheels off ( I love this phrase for the Wolves this season), it is time for Wiggins to truly make a leap on this end.

There is also the rebounding conversation. With getting bigger and stronger and wiser, rebounding should come a little more naturally. Wiggins’ rebounding numbers dropped from his rookie to sophomore year, mainly because he was playing more shooting guard. At least that is the excuse I am making. While the Wolves have some exceptional rebounding big men, the Wolves were second to last in rebounding last season. A clear gap is where your small forward is averaging 3 rebounds. Please Wiggins, let’s get some boards this season.

While Towns is getting all the attention, the team will not being able to make the playoffs and make significant strides forward unless Andrew Wiggins improves. It feels like a lot of this season will be dependent upon his development. We have seen Anthony Davis’ Pelicans take a significant step back, partially due to not having a supporting figure with Davis.

I don’t see anyone being more critical to the Wolves’ success this season than Andrew Wiggins. Karl-Anthony Towns can put up the same numbers he did last year and will be an All Star. Wiggins will need to show he can be at a Jimmy Butler-level before he gets that kind of respect. I will be watching Maple Jordan extra carefully this season. There is no doubt about that.