If any team has been completely redesigned so far this off-season, it has been the Minnesota Timberwolves. Where will their new roster land them in the Western Conference playoff landscape?
Defense Wins Championships
After trading guards Zach LaVine and Kris Dunn for Jimmy Butler (2015’s Most Improved Player, a three-time All-Star, named three times to the All-Defensive team and one-time to the all-NBA team), the Timberwolves weren’t done revamping this team. Minnesota followed the Butler trade by doing something most didn’t believe would ever actually happen.
Minnesota traded Ricky Rubio to the Utah Jazz for a 2018 lottery-protected first round pick. This move was followed by Jeff Teague signing for three years and $57 million. With Teague and Butler already in the fold, Minnesota’s roster was already better than last year’s.
But that wasn’t enough for Tom Thibodeau and Scott Layden; they then got a defensive-minded forward, too, signing Taj Gibson to a two-year, $28 million contract giving the Timberwolves a dominant starting unit.
Teague, Wiggins, Butler, Gibson, and Karl-Anthony Towns is a lineup that can make a statement on both defense and offense.
The Bench Was The Problem
After handling the starters, Thibodeau and Layden didn’t ignore the fact that the bench was a huge problem for Minnesota last year.
And boy, did the basketball gods shine down on Minnesota even more! The Los Angeles Clippers completed a sign-and-trade that sent Paul Millsap to the Denver Nuggets, Danilo Gallinari to the Clippers, and Jamal Crawford to the Atlanta Hawks. The rebuilding Hawks then bought-out Crawford.
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Thibodeau and Layden were not late to the party and made a heavy push for Crawford. He signed a two-year, $9 million contract soon after.
Adding the three-time Sixth Man of the Year was the final piece. Minnesota will be the fourth seed in the West!
They’ll slot in behind the Golden State Warriors, San Antonio Spurs, and the Houston Rockets, finishing just ahead of the Oklahoma City Thunder.
Us vs. Them (OKC Thunder Edition)
Many analysts believe we are the fifth seed in the West behind all the names above.
Adding Paul George to the Oklahoma City was a huge upgrade but not over what Minnesota added. Look at it this way:
Jeff Teague <<< Russell Westbrook
Andrew Wiggins >> Andre Robertson
Jimmy Butler = Paul George
Taj Gibson >< Patrick Patterson
Karl-Anthony Towns >>> Steven Adams
Looking at both team’s projected starters, Minnesota has the better roster. On the bench, Crawford, Tyus Jones, and Gorgui Deing exceed Doug McDermott and Enes Kanter.
We all remember how bad Oklahoma City was once Westbrook was off the floor; adding Paul George won’t do much. Leaving George on the floor to play with the bench would allow Minnesota’s new and improved defense to wear him down.
Ending in the same result as last year: Westbrook trying to dig the Thunder out of a hole all by himself. Unless, of course, Oklahoma City plans to play George and Westbrook for the whole game together, which would be a disaster.
Minnesota has improved in every aspect of the game with the exception of three-point shooting which Wiggins and Butler have improved in every year.
Oklahoma City has the same problems as last year and the George Band-Aid won’t change much.
Look for the Minnesota Timberwolves to finish this season as the fourth seed in the West. (Though I wouldn’t mind the fifth, either. Saving the Warriors for last isn’t a bad idea.)