2016-17 Minnesota Timberwolves Season Preview: Relevant Again

At long last, things are beginning to look bright for the Minnesota Timberwolves.

Last season by the numbers

  • Record: 29-53 (26th)
  • Offensive rating: 106.5 (12th).
  • Defensive rating: 110.1 (28th)
  • Pace: 95.2 (20th)
  • True shooting: 54.9% (9th)
  • Turnover rate: 13.9% (23rd)
  • Offensive rebounding: 24.3% (14th)
  • Defensive rebounding: 74.7% (23rd)
  • Giveashitameter: 29th
  • Highest PER*: 22.5 (Karl-Anthony Towns)

(*) – minimum 1,000 minutes.

At a glance

(Converts the above rankings into a rating out of 10).

minnesota

Recap

The Wolves had an above average offense last season, with Towns, Wiggins and Muhammad in particular proving a real headache for opponents. The task now is to graduate from above average to top-10. In this respect, the Wolves have a lot of low lying fruit to pick with their:

  • turnover rate, which ranked 23rd last season; and
  • three point shooting, which ranked 25th in accuracy (33.8%) and 29th in makes and attempts.

Wiggins was particularly poor from outside (30.0%) and needs to improve significantly.

Given the poor three point shooting, it’s a real credit to the Wolves that they were able to post an overall true shooting percentage of 54.9% (9th). This was primarily due to the relentlessness with which they attacked the basket – with Wiggins and Rubio posting insanely high FTA/FGA ratios. While this was impressive to say the least, it reinforced the fact that the Wolves’ offense cannot possibly become elite without a credible three point threat.

While Minnesota’s offense was decent, the defense was another story altogether. In short, it was awful. In particular, the Wolves blew countless rotations, allowing opponents to shoot 52.0% on two point attempts (28th).

The Wolves’ defensive rebounding was also poor, ranking 23rd. This was surprising given how good Towns was (5th among 76 power forwards – or 10th among centers). Part of this was due to the fact that the Wolves’ only other credible big man was Dieng, whose defensive rebounding was pretty average, ranking 33rd among 58 centers. He’ll either need to improve or be replaced with someone more capable to play alongside Towns in the starting lineup.

Elsewhere, Wiggins was miserable at helping on the defensive boards. His rate of 7.5% ranked 70th out of 76 shooting guards – a positively ghoulish effort which was barely half Rubio’s defensive rebound rate and comfortably worse than Isiah Thomas’ rate.

A lot of the Wolves’defensive problems can be put down to youth and inexperience and things should improve naturally for the most part. However, it will also take an increased focus on the part of the players. Enter Tom Thibodeau.

Improving the defense to a top 20 ranking alone would see remarkable improvement in the win column. If the Wolves can find a way to get into the top 15 this season, then the rest of the league will have a serious problem.

Reasons to be optimistic

Towns is a franchise player and now has a full season under his belt. He has all the makings of a future top 5 player. Getting one of these players on your roster is downright difficult and the Wolves now have one.

While Wiggins has been a little underwhelming for a no. 1 draft pick so far, he is still only 21 years old and is already a very capable starting quality player. His PER of 16.5 last season represented steady improvement on his rookie season mark of 13.9 and there’s still plenty left to go yet. While he may never be an MVP candidate, I’d be very surprised if didn’t make multiple All-star games.

Reasons not to be

The Wolves are probably another season away from making the playoffs.

They are also lacking in front court depth. While Jordan Hill was a good value find at $8 million for the next two seasons, he’s not the answer here. They need an enforcer to take the heat off Towns. Perhaps they should have taken Maker instead of Dunn given that they’ve got the ‘6’4” guard with shooting difficulties’ position already sorted? (Just kidding, Dunn already looks like a very good all-round player).

Major Ins

Kris Dunn, Jordan Hill, Cole Aldrich.

Major Outs

None.

The Dunkyard’s recommended ‘death’ lineup

  • Rubio
  • Dunn
  • Wiggins
  • Dieng
  • Towns

Dave’s Lowdown

Having been promoted to Head Coach last season after the sudden death of Flip Saunders, nobody had a greater expectation of being screwed on the job than Sam Mitchell (with the possible exception of Jenna Jameson). The good news for the T-Wolves is that he’s been screwed over for defensive maestro Tom Thibodeau.

If Towns, Wiggins and the rest of the team’s young stars buy-in and adapt to Thibodeau’s famously physically draining style then we could be treated to a Cinderella-story before March Madness has even begun.

Forecast record: 40-42

These guys are going to win some basketball games this season, that’s for sure. The main things holding them back are youth, chemistry and defense – which are all related – and the lack of an enforcer to pair next to Towns.

Once these things are resolved, watch out.

For now, it will be more than enough if the Wolves can maintain their offense in and around the top 10, improve their defense in a meaningful way and make some noise around the playoff conversation.

One thing’s for sure: Minnesota’s days of top 5 draft picks are well and truly over for now.