Minnesota Timberwolves fans may still have a sour taste in the mouth from the last time the Wolves traded for a star. It ended with Jimmy Butler forcing his way out and roasting the Wolves. Fortunately, the new star Minnesota acquired is a good friend of star Karl-Anthony Towns, and his game-clinching block against Jimmy Butler is the perfect way to compare the two eras.
The 2017 Timberwolves showed signs of being a competent playoff team, similar to this year’s team early on, but injuries prevented them from reaching their full potential like they have this season.
However, the similarities don’t go much farther than that.
Tom Thibodeau did not value the 3-point shot on those rosters, and a lot of the Wolves that have since been moved were included in the 3-point shooting article from earlier in the week. Most of the other players were below-average outside shooters. The new-look Wolves have their own version of Golden State’s Splash Brothers in the backcourt and almost all of the key rotation guys are superior three-point shooters.
In D’Angelo Russell, the Wolves have their best play-making point guard since Ricky Rubio, McLaughlin is comparable to the steady-handed backup Tyus Jones, James Johnson is a more versatile big than anyone on Thibodeau’s roster, and KAT has taken big strides since then as well. The improved play-making/floor spacing has given the Wolves an identity built around their high-powered offense.
One issue of the Jimmy era was that most of the key guys outside of Andrew Wiggins and KAT were in their primes and had minimal upside. That gave the team few ways to improve internally. Examining the new-look Wolves’ roster, James Johnson is the only player over the age of 25 with a lot of guys still having plenty of room to grow at a young age.
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Another thing the Russell-era Wolves have going for them in the sense that everyone has shown that they’re willing defenders, even if they aren’t that talented on that end of the floor. The end of the Miami Heat game showed Russell, who was formerly known as a league-worst-level defender, lead by example by blocking Jimmy Butler to end the game.
James Johnson’s veteran leadership and D’Angelo Russell wanting to be the top dog in the locker room has helped set the tone for that. Sure they have lapses of being horrid on defense, but the potential and effort is there. Don’t be shocked if there is growth on that end of the floor with increased familiarity and chemistry with a full offseason and training camp to work together.
Now, I’m sure you’re sitting there thinking that there may not be much to be optimistic about considering the Wolves are 3-7 since the deadline. But the Wolves have been in most of those games through three quarters while Karl-Anthony Towns sits on the sidelines with a fractured wrist.
With the Wolves still getting to know each other, being young, and not having their star center, you can’t ask for too much more from this team.
There’s still a lot to work on for this team but so much to look forward to. It’s a great time to be a Timberwolves fan.