For the first time in what feels like forever, there is a lot of hype surrounding the Minnesota Timberwolves, and with good reason. With an emerging core of young studs and a new suit patrolling the sidelines, the Wolves’ future is bright.
But for a franchise that hasn’t experienced the playoffs in over a decade, the question becomes how soon will this bright future become the present?
The last time the Wolves made it to the postseason, their current stars hadn’t reached middle school. It was back in 2004, when they finished with the best record in the Western Conference, KG was MVP, and they made it to the conference finals.
Since then, it’s been nothing but disappointment and frustration for hoops fans in the Twin Cities. The Timberwolves have been stuck at the bottom of the league, without any real hope of improving their fortunes. The franchise and its fans are desperate for a taste of playoff action and this year’s squad looks like the best chance in a long time to deliver. Here are four reasons why the Wolves could break their playoff drought this season.
The young stars
While the Wolves have a lot of players to be excited about, the franchise’s success really rests on the shoulders of the past two NBA Rookie of the Year recipients, Andrew Wiggins and Karl-Anthony Towns. Wiggins, 21, and Towns, 20, are extremely talented and potential superstars.
Last season, Wiggins used his wiry, athletic frame and versatile offensive game to average 20.7 points and 3.6 rebounds per game on nearly 46 percent field goal shooting. Towns showed maturity and savvy beyond his years and was a technician in the low post and playing off pick-and-rolls, putting up 18.3 points, 10.5 rebounds and 1.7 blocks a game while shooting a scarily efficient 54.2 percent from the floor.
As the new cornerstones of the franchise, much of the team’s playoff hopes hinges on the development of these two, as the rest of their youthful teammates look to follow their lead and grow alongside them.
These dudes are so talented that if all goes according to plan they could become the best one-two punch since Kobe and Shaq (let’s just hope they get along). Lofty predictions aside, if one or both of these guys can take themselves to an all-star level next season, it would give the Wolves a great chance to make a postseason push. And while it can often be hard to judge young talent, Wiggins and Towns seem primed to take this franchise to the next level.
The addition of Kris Dunn
Dunn was projected in most mock drafts to be picked third overall by the Boston Celtics. When draft night came, the C’s passed on him, as did Phoenix, and the Timberwolves nabbed him with the fifth pick, cashing in on the most coveted guard of the draft. And damn, can this kid play.
Dunn played four years at Providence, winning both Big East Player of the Year and Big East Defensive Player of the Year in each of his final two seasons with the school. His play was so electrifying that he even drew comparisons to Dwyane Wade and John Wall entering the draft.
He looks like he’s ready to contribute for Minnesota right away. Not only does he have four years of D1 experience, but he also put on a show in the Las Vegas Summer League this year. He played and started in two games, averaging 24 points, seven rebounds and three assists on 54.3 percent shooting.
At 6-foot-3, he can play either the one or the two, and his defensive prowess allows him to match up with multiple positions. His style of play is a nice fit for the Wolves as he can provide extra scoring and playmaking to take some of the pressure off Wiggins and Towns.
It is still unclear whether Dunn will start next season or play a sixth man type of role to provide a punch off the bench. Either way, his contributions should be a huge addition for the Wolves.
Thibodeau (left) was an assistant to Coach K during Team USA’s gold medal run in Rio.
Tom Thibodeau is in charge
After last season, the Wolves sent Sam Mitchell packing and signed perhaps the most sought-after coach of the offseason. Not only did they hire Thibodeau as head coach, but as per his request, they also named him president of basketball operations. In other words, there’s a new sheriff in town, and he’s got a lot of presence, a lot of bravado, and commands a lot of respect.
Thibs has been known as a tough, grind-it-out, no BS kind of coach who at times can run his players into the ground (just ask Derrick Rose). With that said, there’s no doubt he gets the job done.
When Thibodeau took over the Bulls in 2010, he took Chicago from a 41-41 record and the eighth spot in the Eastern Conference to a 62-win season and the best record in the NBA in his first year.
During his time in Chicago, the Bulls were consistently one of the best defensive teams in the league. In four of his five seasons with the Bulls, they finished top five in both points allowed and defensive rating. His defensive mindedness will help the Wolves, who finished last season a dismal 23rd in points allowed and 27th in defensive rating.
Thibs is a master of getting teams to play hard, disciplined and consistent defensive basketball, a skillset that could prove invaluable in the development of the young Minnesota roster.
The open field in the Western Conference
The Western Conference is always tough, and this year it’s no different. What is different, however, is that while the West is loaded with talented teams, it is very top heavy, leaving the bottom half of the playoff picture wide open for the Wolves.
The Warriors, Spurs and Clippers are all locks to make the playoffs. The Thunder lost Kevin Durant, but they are still a pretty safe bet to clinch a playoff berth behind what is sure to be a rabid Russell Westbrook. Similar things can be said about the Trail Blazers too. But after that, it looks to be open season for the final three spots.
Dallas has an aging roster with a lot of player turnover. The Grizzlies, while they look strong, are coming off a historically injury-riddled season and it is unclear how they will bounce back. Utah has made some nice additions, but the Jazz have come close to making the playoffs and ultimately failed in recent years. And the Rockets, well they’re about as unpredictable as Draymond Green’s limbs.
With all of that uncertainty, the Timberwolves are in a good position to capitalise and sneak into the postseason.