ESPN’s Wolves Summer Forecast: Wiggins and Towns in for big seasons


ESPN’s NBA folks are going through their summer forecast regarding the upcoming season and there has been a lot of Wolves-related talk, at least in comparison to past years.

Between second-year players like last year’s number-one overall pick Andrew Wiggins and exciting rookies like this year’s number-one overall pick Karl-Anthony Towns, the Wolves have plenty to boast about. And the overall roster and culture has been largely transformed, too, which has led many industry insiders to believe that the Wolves’ turnaround could happen faster than originally anticipated.

Let’s take a look at what ESPN thinks about the Wolves’ young talent as of late August.

Rookie of the Year

We’ll start with the least-surprising “award”: Towns received 87 votes and won the title of projected Rookie of the Year, beating Philadelphia’s Jahlil Okafor (71 votes) and Denver’s Emmanuel Mudiay (56 votes).

It’s never unusual for the most-recent #1 draft pick to be projected to win the Rookie of the Year award, so this wasn’t terribly surprising. He’ll get to play a ton, but given the Wolves’ relatively log-jammed front court, he may not ultimately play as many minutes as Okafor or even Mudiay. This award is generally as much about opportunity as it is about actual on-court production.

Worst Team in the Western Conference

Here’s the next-least-surprising forecast from ESPN: the panel selected the Wolves to be the worst team in the West and finish with a record of 24-58. That, of course, is still a full eight games better than 2014-15, but I think it would still be a mild disappointment.

I’m not sure that even in Flip Saunders’ heart of hearts does he think his team has a legitimate shot at a playoff spot, but something in the neighborhood of 30-35 wins (health-permitting, of course) seems to be a reasonable goal for which to aim. It’s kind of tough to see the Wolves being much worse than the Lakers, who are projected to win 26 games.

The panel also projects the Sacramento Kings and Portland Trail Blazers to each win 31 games, which seems close to correct for George Karl‘s Kings but maybe a bit much for the battered and depleted Blazers.

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Fifth-Most Likely Turnaround Team

At the same time, the Wolves managed to garner 14 points and finish in fifth-place in the panel’s Team Turnaround vote, defined as “the team poised to make the biggest jump in the standings relative to the 2014-15 season.”

Oklahoma City finished in first place with 81 points, followed by the Miami Heat (71 points), the Utah Jazz (20 points), and the Milwaukee Bucks (17 points). The Wolves came next with 14 points, narrowly edging out the Anthony Davis-led New Orleans Pelicans (12 points).

It seems unlikely that the Wolves record will improve that much, but it does show just how positively many industry folks see the blend of painfully young talent and grizzled (and I mean really grizzled) veterans that Saunders has assembled. And that’s despite playing in the rough-and-tumble Western Conference.

Andrew Wiggins An All-Star?

This is the scenario that is hardest to wrap my mind around — Andrew Wiggins finished sixth in the panel’s voting for the most-likely first-time All-Star.

The Clippers’ DeAndre Jordan (33 points) edged out the Spurs’ Kawhi Leonard (32 points) for first-place in the voting. They were followed by Detroit’s Andre Drummond (25 points), Golden State’s Draymond Green (24 points), and Washington’s Bradley Beal (22 points). Wiggins was next with 19 points, closely followed by Memphis’ Mike Conley (18 points).

Simply put, it’s exceedingly rare for a second-year wing to land on an All-Star team. Kobe Bryant did it at 19 years-old, but players like Kevin Durant and Carmelo Anthony were not named All-Stars until their third seasons in the league. Add in the fact that young wings with much better (and longer) track records in the NBA like Leonard and Green haven’t made the team yet, either, and it’s tough to see Wiggins improving that much that quickly.

ESPN’s Kevin Pelton brought everyone back to earth with a review of the panel’s voting, stating that Leonard is indeed the most likely to make the Western Conference All-Star team come February.

At any rate, it’s fun to consider the impossibly wide range of possibilities of the 2015-16 version of the Wolves. It’s all over the map, and we should be in for a treat in just a matter of weeks.

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