GM: Scott Layden
Head coach: Tom Thibodeau
2016-17 record: 31-51 (13th in the Western Conference)
2016-17 result: Didn’t make the playoffs
Key departures: Zach LaVine, Ricky Rubio, Kris Dunn
Key acquisitions: Jimmy Butler, Jeff Teague, Taj Gibson, Jamal Crawford
The Minnesota Timberwolves are currently mired in the NBA’s longest postseason drought, not having qualified for the playoffs in 13 straight seasons.
It finally looks like they can put their streak to an end, after having one of the best off-seasons in the NBA. They started with a statement, shipping out Zach LaVine and Kris Dunn on draft night to acquire one of the league’s best two-way threats in Jimmy Butler.
The three-time all-star will reunite with Tom Thibodeau, the coach who helped shape his career while in Chicago. They won’t be alone, with Minnesota also bringing in Taj Gibson, to go along with two other marquee free agents in former all-star Jeff Teague and three-time Sixth Man of the Year award winner Jamal Crawford.
The experience from his two former players in Chicago should help Thibodeau lift Minnesota’s defence closer to his standard, after watching them finish 26th (109.1) in defensive rating last season. The Timberwolves’ young pack will also now have more than enough veteran leadership, which should help them start to secure all the blown leads they gave up in 2016-17.
Both of their Rookie of the Year winners in Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins should benefit under the wing of Butler, as they work towards their peaks. The latter of the two also just recently signed his rookie extension ahead of this upcoming season, agreeing to stay with the Timberwolves on a five-year deal worth $148 million.
At this point Minnesota seems to be the place to be as their roster gets ready to dig its teeth into the 2017-18 season as a potential dark horse.
Potential Breakout Player
Taj Gibson has experience under his belt, but the Timberwolves’ starting power forward spot should still belong to Gorgui Dieng, who could very well have a breakout season ahead of him.
The 27-year-old from Senegal averaged 10 points on 50.2 per cent shooting from the field to go along with 7.9 rebounds last season. Dieng also showed flashes of a developing three-point shot last season, converting on 37.2 per cent of his 43 attempts from beyond the arc.
If he can continue to expand his range, the four-year, $64 million rookie extension the Timberwolves signed him to last summer will start to look like a bargain.
What a successful 2017-18 season would look like
The Timberwolves made all their moves this offseason in order to make the playoffs. Reaching that goal would make their 2017-18 campaign a success.
But with all the talent they have on their roster, simply making the playoffs seems like too low of a bar to set. Especially when they have a point guard in Teague, who’s made seven straight playoff appearances, or Jamal Crawford, who at 37 years old is still without a Conference Finals appearance to his name.
The vets have a right to expect big things after Karl-Anthony Towns averaged 25.1 points and 12.3 rebounds in 2016-17, while Andrew Wiggins wasn’t far behind with 23.6 points of his own. Add in Jimmy Butler, who made last year`s All-NBA third team, and the Timberwolves look like a team set for 50 wins if they can nail their chemistry.
With the Minnesota Timberwolves’ starting five consisting of three players who can score 20 points in their sleep, there needs to be someone who can spread the wealth. While Ricky Rubio did average more assists, on the same amount of turnovers, as Teague last season, he can’t keep a defence as honest as the former Hawk all-star due to his poor shooting.
Teague has averaged at least 15 points in each of the past four seasons, while also averaging at least sevens assists in two of those campaigns. When he attempted a career-high 3.5 threes a game in 2015-16, he converted on 40 per cent of his shots from beyond the arc.
He’s an expert at controlling pace and knows how to win, even with the Hawks’ fluke of a 60-win season aside. Without any reports of him ever having an ego, there shouldn’t be any problem with feeding Towns or allowing Butler to take over as the Timberwolves look to close out games.