WTLC continues our preview of the Western Conference teams. Following Denver yesterday, today is the Minnesota Timberwolves.
As the everlasting Bob Dylan sung, the times, they are a changin'. The state of Minnesota and its beloved basketball franchise has not enjoyed its recent tenure in the NBA. Losses have driven their fans from seats, and the fervor for basketball has been lost. However, Karl-Anthony Towns and his band of young exciting teammates are about to change all that.
Tom Thibodeau is now head coach of the team, and he will bring a tough defensive edge to a group that mightily struggled on that end last season. Additionally, the Wolves didn't overspend or kill long-term flexibility in free agency. Now with so many exciting parts to their team, not to mention building around Towns, the sky is truly the limit.
Zach Lavine should move back to shooting guard, whilst Ricky Rubio will likely keep his starting job ahead of lottery pick Kris Dunn. For now anyway. Andrew Wiggins will be a year better, and the rest of the roster will play for their futures under a new coach who will take no prisoners and accept nothing less than maximum effort. Shabazz Muhammad in particular faces a crucial season in his NBA future.
Few teams can claim to have a brighter future on paper. But how will these young Wolves fare in 2016-17?
29-53 (.354), 13th in the Western Conference
107.2 (12th in NBA)
111.0 (28th in NBA)
-3.9 (24th in NBA)
Tayshaun Prince (Free Agency), Damjan Rudez (Orlando Magic, Free Agency), Greg Smith (Free Agency)
Kris Dunn (Providence), Piratas De Quebradilla (Puerto Rico), Brandon Rush (Golden State Warriors, Free Agency), Cole Aldrich (Los Angeles Clippers, Free Agency), Jordan Hill (Indiana Pacers, Free Agency), John Lucas III (Free Agency), Toure Murry (Free Agency)
Projected Starting Lineup
(C) Gorgui Dieng, (PF) Karl Anthony Towns, (SF) Andrew Wiggins, (SG) Zach LaVine, (PG) Ricky Rubio
$82,617,140 (26th in NBA)
The improvement of Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins will drive the immediate future of the franchise. Can Wiggins take the leap many expect of him this season? Furthermore, can he improve as an on-ball defender to become the player many envision him becoming? He's already a good scorer; now he must improve upon his outside game and efficiency.
Towns meanwhile seems to have a limitless ceiling -- a terrifying proposition for opponents of the Timberwolves. Anthony Davis averaged 13.5ppg, 8.2rpg, 1.0apg 1.8bpg, and 1.2spg as a rookie, Towns? 18.3ppg, 10.5rpg, 2.0apg, 1.7bpg and 0.7spg, in only a few minutes more per game. He also is more durable than the brow. The sky truly is the limit for him.
Projected Performance and Team Record
40-42. If they can better this projection, they will return to .500 basketball for the first time since 2005. If they win fewer contests it will be put down to lack of experience and having a new coach. If they hit that mark, it will impress people. If they better it? There will be nothing but praise. Barring disaster, Minnesota's expectations make it hard for them to go wrong this season.
Experience or lack thereof might cost them in close games, but this version of Minnesota can excite people and bring fans back to the Target Center. Defense will be key in this however. They stunk last season, as young groups tend to do.The venerable Kevin Garnett's presence could only do so much.
The quicker Thibodeau can work his defensive magic the better. He designed league-best defensive systems in Boston and Chicago, and there's no doubting with the likes of Dieng, Towns, Wiggins and Rubio he can craft something similar in Minnesota.
It might take time, or maybe it won't. Either way, the Timberwolves are coming for the NBA.
How will the Thunder fare against them?
The teams will meet four times this season. There's an early season meeting in Oklahoma City, and the Thunder will host the Timberwolves on Christmas Day at Chesapeake Energy Arena. The Thunder should be able to win both of those contests.
However a January trip to Minnesota awaits, whilst they will again host the Thunder in the penultimate game of the season when both will likely be fighting for Playoff contention. It's likely the teams will split these contests, and the Thunder will take the season series 3-1. However, don't be surprised if it is 2-2.
Be sure to check out SB Nation's great Minnesota Timberwolves site Canis Hoopus to get the best coverage and community for Minnesota fans.