Minnesota Timberwolves Season Preview
The Minnesota Timberwolves head into the new season with something they haven’t had in years: warranted optimism. The Wolves have not made the playoffs since the 2003 season and have an overall record of 360-690 during that span. This season the Wolves are looking to break that playoff drought and they have the talent to do it.
The Timberwolves had a very aggressive offseason. It all started on draft night when they traded for 3 time all-star Jimmy Butler. Butler is 28 years old is heading into the prime of his career. He is the two way player that head coach Tom Thibodeau loves. “He’s a big time multiple effort guy” said Thibodeau “good defenders do things in multiples and he’s the best at that.” Butler had career highs in points (23.9) and assists (5.5) per game in his last season with Chicago and shot a respectable 36% from behind the arc. The addition of Butler creates a big 3 of Butler, Andrew Wiggins and Karl Anthony Towns. All three are signed for at least 2 more years so they have to time to gel as a unit. Wiggins is a dynamic scorer who had career highs in points per game (23.6) and three point percentage (35%) last season. He was rewarded with 5-year $146.5 million contract extension in the offseason. Towns is a sure fire star who is revolutionizing the power forward position. He was 12th in the league in scoring (25.1) and 5th in rebounding (12.3). He is not only a force down low, he can also ball handle and is capable shooter from behind the arc.
After acquiring Butler, the Wolves went to work addressing their biggest weakness: three point shooting. The Timberwolves finished dead last in 3 pointers attempted per game and only made 35% of the threes they took last season. They addressed this issue by signing sharp shooter Jamal Crawford who has made the 5th most three pointers in NBA history. The 17-year veteran will be asked to come off the bench and shoot, a roll that he is well suited for. The Wolves also made an upgrade at point guard. They traded away Ricky Rubio to the Jazz and signed Jeff Teague to a 3-year $57 million contract. Teague adds much needed offense to the position. Rubio never averaged more than 11 points per game in 6 seasons with Minnesota while Teague averaged 17 points per game last season. He is a good distributer and averaged a career high 8.7 assists per game last year. He also brings playoff experience to a team that hasn’t sniffed the post season in years.
Thibodeau brought in veterans Taj Gibson and Aaron Brooks. It appears Gibson will replace Gorgui Dieng in the starting lineup. Dieng, who averaged 10 points and 7.9 rebounds per game last season, could thrive in the role of 6th man. Brooks gives the Wolves some depth at point guard. 3rd year point guard Tyus Jones is still an unknown commodity and could learn a lot from Brooks. Aaron is also a solid three point shooter shooting 38% last season. The Wolves will be looking for a big season out of Nemanja Bjelica. He needs to improve his three point shooting, (31% last season) but if he can be a consistent contributor off the bench, he has a role on this team. Shabazz Mohamed may be the most talented player on the Wolves bench. He is a good scorer (9.9 ppg last year) and has the athleticism to electrify Wolves fans with polarizing dunks. The Wolves shouldn’t expect much production out of big men Cole Aldridge or Justin Patton. Aldridge struggled to find the floor in his first season with Minnesota (8.6 minutes per game) and Patton, the 16th pick in this year’s draft, is a long term project who is still recovering from a broken left foot.
The Timberwolves finally made moves to surround their young talent with playmakers. They have learned their lessons from the Al Jefferson and Kevin Love years and have the talent to finally end their playoff drought. I think the Wolves are a 50 win team and should be the 4th or 5th seed in the Western Conference. They will finally give Wolves fans something to be excited about.