What to watch for during Timberwolves’ preseason games

April 5, 2016; Oakland, CA, USA; Minnesota Timberwolves guard Andrew Wiggins (22) shoots the basketball against the Golden State Warriors during the second half at Oracle Arena. The Timberwolves defeated the Warriors 124-117. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports
April 5, 2016; Oakland, CA, USA; Minnesota Timberwolves guard Andrew Wiggins (22) shoots the basketball against the Golden State Warriors during the second half at Oracle Arena. The Timberwolves defeated the Warriors 124-117. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports /

With preseason basketball less than one week away for the Timberwolves, it’s time to ask what exactly to be looking for.

The final scores of the Timberwolves’ upcoming preseason contests will be all but irrelevant, of course, but there will not be any shortage of intriguing subplots for anxious fans to wring their hands over.

New front office, a new coach, a largely new bench…there are a number of things to keep an eye on, no doubt.

Here are five things to watch for during Timberwolves games this preseason.

Has Andrew Wiggins really begun to get his long-range shots to start falling?

Of Minnesota’s young triumvirate, Wiggins may be the player with the most scoring upside. However, he is also the player with the least-reliable jump shot.

The talk has been that he has been working tirelessly to start draining threes, but the preseason will be fans’ first glimpse at what kind of progress has actually been made.

Nobody expects Wiggins to start doing a Klay Thompson impression, but the ability to hit open standstill jumpers or pull up more effectively on long two-pointers could open up his offensive game. He’s already shown a propensity for driving to the rim and posting up against smaller defenders, but the ability to draw the opposition closer on the perimeter could make him the dynamic scoring threat that every team wants to have in crunch time.

Can Kris Dunn and Ricky Rubio play next to one another?

It is oh-so-fair to be tired of Rubio trade rumors, but unfortunately those will not be going away anytime soon.

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Rubio has proven himself one of the most divisive players in the league thanks to his lack of scoring ability and extreme statistical efficiency, making the proposition of trading away the veteran guard easier for some fans than others.

In a perfect world, Rubio will stay and be as efficient as ever. However, the world is far from perfect, and the redundancy of his skill-set next to that of the exciting rookie Dunn could make a trade seem inevitable. However, hope lingers.

Dunn showed off some scoring ability against admittedly paltry summer league defenses. If he can bring that success into the regular season, there just may be room for a shared Dunn-Rubio back court in Minnesota — the prospects of which would bring numerous benefits, as I wrote shortly after the draft.

What kind of role will Tyus Jones be ready for this season?

Whether or not Dunn and Rubio can mesh is only one factor in a possible trade. Another significant piece of that puzzle is the progression of Minnesota’s native point guard.

It’s already well past proven that Zach LaVine should not be playing point guard, so Jones will need to prove himself ready to take on sole ownership of a backup role if the Timberwolves are going to seriously consider moving Rubio. Jones’ main deficiency is his defense, which is fortunately an area that Tom Thibodeau has (as you may have heard) been known to do some good.

The preseason will offer fans an opportunity to see what kind of role Jones might be ready to take on in his sophomore season.

Have Shabazz Muhammad and Adreian Payne improved enough to remain with the Wolves?

Though the young core in Minnesota is widely heralded as the most promising in the NBA, things are not as sunny on the bottom end of the roster.

While he is often lauded for his hustle and work ethic, Muhammad has struggled to play effective basketball in his first three seasons as a pro. Last season, his best in the NBA, he ranked 458th out of 463 qualifying player’s in ESPN’s Real Plus-Minus statistic.

Is that the end-all be-all measurement for a basketball player? No, but Muhammad has not passed the eye test, either. When both the numbers and the appearance are lacking, there is room for concern. With Muhammad in the final year of his contract, he will be fighting to garner a qualifying offer heading into next year’s free agency. The preseason will be a time for him to show what he can do before the games start meaning something.

Related Story: Timberwolves Player Preview: Shabazz Muhammad

For Payne, the situation is even more dire. Unlike Muhammad, he has shown no redeeming qualities to his game. He will have to fight hard to convince the Timberwolves to exercise their team option to keep him around for the 2017-18 season, but that frankly isn’t the half of it.

Given how mightily he has struggled to produce in the NBA, he may be lucky if Minnesota doesn’t elect to cut their losses and waive him in favor of a veteran. If Payne doesn’t want luck to be a factor in his future, he will have to show something to Thibodeau in the preseason.

Which non-guaranteed player will make the roster?

The Timberwolves have 14 guaranteed contracts already, meaning that one of the team’s three training camp invitees should be able to secure a spot on the team heading into the regular season. So which of Rasual Butler, John Lucas III, and Toure’ Murry is the most likely to land on the Wolves?

The favorite is the 37-year-old Butler, who played for Thibodeau on the Bulls back in 2011. His experience and willingness to take a reserve role would be appreciated by a young team. Lucas spent time last season in the NBA Development League before signing a contract to play in Puerto Rico.

If the team decides they’d like a veteran point guard (something sorely missing from the roster), Lucas is the guy. Murry will turn 27 in November and is a certain dark horse, but a good performance could put him onto the team.

Next: Timberwolves Player Preview: Jordan Hill

It is worth noting, as mentioned in the prior section of this article, that it is perfectly possible for two of these players to end up on the team if Payne gets mightily outperformed during the preseason. Though not a headline-grabber, this is a development worth watching this preseason.