Realistic expectations for Timberwolves in 2015-16


The Timberwolves can certainly look with pride at the young core of players that they’ve been able to assemble the past couple of years, bolstered by experienced veterans. The team hasn’t played in the postseason for 11 straight seasons (the longest active record in the NBA), but given the acquired pieces and exciting potential, how far off is Minnesota from the playoff basketball the franchise so dearly craves?

First of all, let’s look at the most exciting prospect the Wolves have this year in Karl-Anthony Towns. Of course, fans are not strangers to Towns and what he could possibly bring to the team. His versatile skillset and incredibly ceiling are just some of the reasons why he could breathe life into the organization, changing the focus to a winning culture and eventually the postseason.

But how will he perform during his rookie season? In my opinion, Towns isn’t necessarily a clear front-runner for Rookie of the Year honors. Unlike Wiggins last season, Towns won’t (given everyone stays reasonably healthy, at least) be forced to endure a baptism by fire in his rookie season.

Wiggins carried a heavy burden throughout the season due to the injury plague faced by the team, and thus was able to post amazing overall stat lines that made him the clear ROY. Given his first couple of games in the Vegas Summer League, albeit a very early and possibly unfair sample of games to look at, Towns may struggle with the increased aggressiveness of NBA bigs.

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During a recent interview with Howard Beck, Towns expressed his desire to win a championship and specifically wanted to bring it to Minnesota. Conservative estimates might say the young Minnesota core has two, maybe three years until it can become contender within a packed Western Conference, meaning that Towns is expecting to grow with the team.

The other Timberwolves’ draftee and resident hometown hero, Tyus Jones, is another story altogether. His size is a little worrisome, although he might be fast enough to get by bigger defenders on the second units of opposing teams. It’ll be interesting how exactly he orchestrates the offense, and how he impacts the team statistically when Rubio sits. Despite this, with newcomer Nemanja Bjelica potentially able to run the point, Flip Saunders could ultimately choose to put less pressure on Jones on the bench unit.

Mar 11, 2015; Phoenix, AZ, USA; Minnesota Timberwolves center Nikola Pekovic (14) shoots the ball in the first quarter against the Phoenix Suns at US Airways Center. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

I am a firm believer that Nikola Pekovic (and possibly even Kevin Martin) has an incredibly toxic contract despite the imminent rise of the salary cap. Neither won’t be shipped off any time soon, but their veteran experience and decent production (when healthy) can help the Wolves. Furthermore, the Wolves shouldn’t look to realistically contend for a playoff spot this season, so keeping them there to help win games is more to keep hype around the team for the time being.

Shabazz Muhammad and Zach Lavine could be set to see noticeable improvements in their game. Muhammad in particular showed flashes of incredible play and had a very good season before going down for the year with injury. Zach Lavine is showing he’s breaking into the shooting guard role, so he might still be a little raw but ultimately should be more comfortable.

Look for Ricky Rubio to improve his game this year. I suspect part of the reason why his health was compromised last season was due to representing Spain at the FIBA World Cup, meaning he didn’t really have much of a summer to rest properly. Furthermore there are incentive bonuses written into Rubio’s contract that are tied strictly to shooting percentages.

With all that said, expect the Timberwolves to perhaps reach 30-35 wins this coming season based on this way-too-early estimate. That’s the most probable scenario at this time, although the push for 40 wins or a .500 record could be possible but will certainly difficult.

Fear not, however. The future is incredibly bright, so let’s enjoy the entertaining basketball on the way.

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