Despite the fact that it’s not even the end of July, here are five bold predictions for the Timberwolves entering the 2017-18 season.
Last season, nearly everyone questioned if the Timberwolves were ready to take the next step and become a playoff team. After beginning with a 6-18 record and coming off of a fourth-straight loss, those questions seemed to be answered.
Looking at the record and saying the Wolves were a bad team a year ago was easy, but looking at a quarter by quarter breakdown, they were actually one of the better teams in the league for portions of the game.
When it came to the first half, Minnesota found themselves among elite company in terms of shooting percentage and plus/minus. It was the second half of the games that ruined any hopes of the post-season appearance that the organization is desperately longing for.
With Jimmy Butler, Jeff Teague, Jamal Crawford and Taj Gibson now in tow, what are the expectations for the Timberwolves in 2017-2018?
The Timberwolves will make it to the playoffs
Making it to the playoffs, especially in the Western Conference, is no small feat. And that is why Minnesota making it to the postseason and breaking the longest current playoff drought in the NBA would be a big deal and a bold prediction.
Many see the Wolves’ off-season acquisitions leading to something like a five-seed in the Western Conference bracket, but it will be a tall task for all of the players to get acclimated to playing with one another in year one.
Last season, the Trail Blazers grabbed the eight seed with a 41-41 record. The rest of the teams that made it to the playoffs in the Western Conference were the Grizzlies, Thunder, Jazz, Clippers, Rockets, Spurs and Warriors. Most of those teams made off-season moves to their rosters and improved, while the ones who didn’t will look relatively similar. This will make it difficult for the Timberwolves to automatically lock themselves in for a postseason appearance, but it is definitely possible.
Minnesota won 31 games last season. Winning 10 more games should be a cake walk with the recent moves and putting them in contention for a playoff spot, but it still wouldn’t be guaranteed. Although it wouldn’t be the biggest turnaround in NBA history, if the Wolves even make it into the postseason as the eighth seed, it would at least be one of the more memorable turnarounds in the history of the league.
Karl-Anthony Towns will be an MVP candidate
Towns is arguably the best, or at least most-skilled, big man in the league and he is still just 21 years old.
Of course, the one area stopping KAT from reigning supreme over the likes of Anthony Davis and his teammate DeMarcus Cousins is his defense. Should he improve and become a force to be reckon with in the low post on the defensive end, an MVP selection could be in the works.
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Anthony Davis received two top-five MVP votes last season and he didn’t play in anything close to all 82 games like Towns has during each of the past two seasons. Additionally, Towns averaged more rebounds and assists per game than Davis. When comparing stats between the respective second seasons of Davis and Towns, Towns has the upper hand in nearly every category including rebounds per game (12.3), assists per game (2.7), points per game (25.1), field goal percentage (.542), three-point percentage (.367) and free throw percentage (.832).
In Davis’ third year in the NBA, he finished fifth in MVP voting. But even in Davis’ third season, he still failed to match Towns’ aforementioned stats at the end of his sophomore campaign.
Should Minnesota’s big man improve over the course of the 2017-2018 season, KAT is sure to be a top candidate in the MVP voting, pending the team’s final record. If Isaiah Thomas finished fifth in the voting last season in his seventh year in the league, surely Towns can take over at least the fifth spot in the race.
Interestingly, the last time a true center won the MVP award was Shaquille O’Neal in 1999-2000.
The Timberwolves will win 50-plus games
Since their inaugural season in 1989-1990, the Timberwolves have a grand total of four 50 win seasons.
The last time the Wolves cracked the 50-win threshold was in 2003-2004, the same season Kevin Garnett won league MVP and the team reached the conference finals. Last year, eight teams managed to win at least 50 games, and five of those teams were in the Western Conference.
If Minnesota wins exactly 50 games, that would have put them in the sixth spot in the Western conference in 2016-17. This time around, if they can improve on their 15-18 record against teams with a .500 record or worse, tying them for fifth worst in the league, it will make things tremendously easier.
Last season, the Wolves were tied for the fourth-most games decided by three points or less. In those games, they finished 7-10. The leadership of Butler will help Minnesota close out games, adding even more wins to the team’s overall record.
Thibodeau will win coach of the year
Tom Thibodeau is no stranger to the Coach of the Year award; he received the honor in 2010-2011, a year before Butler was on his roster.
He did, of course, have an MVP in Derrick Rose at his disposal. During his Coach of the Year season, the Bulls jumped from a 41-41 team to a 62-20 team. Thibs did this with his second-best player being Luol Deng. Other notable players on the 2010-2011 team included Carlos Boozer, Joakim Noah, Kyle Korver and Taj Gibson.
Gibson is back with Thibs in Minnesota for round two and given the choice between D-Rose’s supporting casts of 2010-2011, compared to Towns, Andrew Wiggins, Gorgui Dieng, Jamal Crawford and Tyus Jones, who wouldn’t take the latter? This is not to say the Timberwolves will pull out a 62-20 season, it just shows given a certain level of talent, Thibodeau is capable of assembling some of the best teams in the league.
A major area Minnesota needs to improve upon is defense, and the additions of Butler and Gibson addressed just that. With a defensive mastermind like Thibodeau and the firepower he has in place now, it isn’t hard to imagine the Wolves righting the ship and making a 20 or more game improvement on last season’s record, helping Thibs win another Coach of the Year award.
During Chicago’s first season with Thibodeau at the helm, they went from ranking 14th in the league in terms of points allowed before he was the coach to first in the NBA.
Jimmy Butler, Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins will be all-stars
NBA enthusiasts will keep track of the Timberwolves with a watchful eye this season. With people talking about Minnesota like never before, it is finally time for Towns and Wiggins to make their first-ever All-Star appearances. No more skill challenges or rookie challenges, it is time for the two youngsters to assert their dominance and put the world on standby.
It will be a near forgone conclusion Butler makes his third All-Star appearance off of name alone, but his presence will bring a level of competitiveness like Wiggins and Towns have never experienced before. Both may have been used to the feeling of winning before the NBA, but now is the time for both Towns and Wiggins to regain the passion for the game and set their expectations as high as they will go.
Both have improved every season and there is no reason why either one should be left off of an all-star roster. Some may be concerned with both taking a backseat to Butler, but neither should. In the modern day NBA, to compete with Golden State, you need as much firepower as possible.
The Timberwolves will need Butler, Wiggins and Towns to each average over 20 points a game, and all three should be able to do just that. For Wiggins, it is now just a matter of learning how to rebound with a passion and be aggressive when the game calls for it. Should he do both, there is no doubt Wiggins joins Butler and Towns as an All-Star.