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2017 NBA Season Preview Series: Minnesota Timberwolves


Over the last few years stoolies have reached out to me asking for more general NBA coverage in addition to the Celts. Well, I’ve decided who needs sleep, and 2017 is going to be the year it finally happens. I’ve got some in season ideas that I think you guys will like, but before we get there, I had the idea of an in depth season preview of all 30 NBA teams to get us all through this dark period in the NBA schedule when literally NOTHING is going on. Here’s how it’s going to work. I want this to be interactive with you guys, so before each preview (prob every Monday) I am going to send out a poll with a couple random teams and let the stoolies decide where this series goes. Here was the first poll

and here we are. One thing to note though is that the Celtics are by default going last because they are getting their normal 3 Parter and you save the best for last. One thing I’ve learned in my nearly 3 years blogging the NBA here at Barstool is that stoolies care about teams that aren’t tied to any of our city writers, and this season is going to be absolutely crazy so they deserve a voice.

So that’s the deal, hope you like em…let’s get started.

2016-17 Season Highlights

There were a couple franchises that had VERY good summers this year, and to me, the list starts with the Minnesota Timberwolves. Now we’ve been here before, remember last summer the TWolves were hyped as a team that was on the rise and was poised to make some noise in the 2016-17 season.

Well, they didn’t.

Instead, they finished 20 games under .500 and had a negative point differential. They ended the year losing six games in a row, and while their individual young talent continued to improve, the team as a whole did not take the leap we all thought they would take. As a result, Minnesota entered this summer and right away made it clear they are going all in. First let’s take a look at their roster as it stands today

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A couple things stand out when you look at this list. First, it’s only 11 guys so MIN is going to have to find veteran minimum options if they want to get to 12 players because here’s why. They are already at $99.5M in active salary. With $1.3M in dead cap money from Kevin Martin, they need to sign one more guy to get rid of their Incomplete Roster Charge of $815,615. MIN already used their Room Exception ($4.3M) on Jamal Crawford, so I wouldn’t expect any other major additions but that’s OK because in my book, the TWolves have made some pretty solid decisions

Offseason Move #1: Trading for Jimmy Butler

Since Ainge couldn’t do anything on Draft night since it would mess up their cap before Hayward could sign, MIN was proactive and brought in an elite talent without having to give up TOO much. Sure LaVine is a young promising player, but Kris Dunn was sneaky a bust and I think anyone would give up the #7 pick for Butler so I have no problems there. What this move did was it immediately forces you to take MIN seriously, because their core three of Butler/Wiggins/Towns is no fucking joke. Jimmy Butler is a Top 15ish player and is the perfect guy to mentor Wiggins who really needs that elite veteran presence to help him take a leap in Year 4, especially defensively.

Butler now gives MIN a proven go to scorer who can also spend a lot of time running the point in crunch time much like he did with Chicago, and most importantly this takes the pressure off KAT/Wiggins and puts them in a better position to succeed.

Offseason Move #2: Signing Jeff Teague

This might be the only thing that gave me a little pause about their summer. Would you rather have 3 years of Teague at $19M (he’s definitely opting in to that player option in Year 3), or two years of Rubio at $14M? There are pros and cons of each side, Rubio is a little better defender, but Teague a better offensive player. I guess I can see that if you have Butler spending more time running the offense, you want a better shooter playing off the ball, and Teague’s 37% shooting on catch and shoot plays is slightly better than Rubio’s 34%. When defenders are 6+ft away, Teagues FG% skyrockets to 42/39.4%. By comparison Rubio was 36/0%. So when you look at it that way, this PG swap sort of makes sense. They wanted to surround their core with a better shooter.

Offseason Move #3: Signing Taj Gibson

The first two moves the TWolves made were nice, but I want to make sure people are not sleeping on this addition as well. Taj Gibson is going to be really really good for their second unit. Already knows Thib’s system and is exactly what they need. A reliable defender/rebounder who can provide some scoring in addition to Crawford on the second unit, and is a pretty good compliment to Nemanja Bjelica who is more a stretch player. He didn’t come cheap, but I think he’s a perfect fit.

What makes MIN so intriguing is now they really don’t have any excuse. They have a solid coach, two legit as hell young pieces, a Top 15 player, and decent depth. While the West continues to get more difficult, there is no reason why this team should fall below a 5/6 seed. The one problem MIN had last year was their inability to hold second half leads. Few teams in the league blew as many fourth quarter leads as MIN did last season. They were 24th in the league with 25.0 ppg in the fourth and 24th in the league with 24.9 ppg in the third. This is a gigantic drop from where they were in the 1st and 2nd quarter (6th, 7th). Unfortunately, when you look at some of the elite teams in the NBA, they play their best in the second half (GS/HOU/BOS rank top 3). The way the Wolves collapse can be explained by having mostly young guys on the roster, but that’s no longer the case so if they can even get to the middle of the pack in terms of second half performance, that is going to make a GIGANTIC difference in their win total.

So what can change about their offense that makes you think these pieces will work? Well for starters, they brought in guys who not only know the system, but also come from teams who play at a very similar pace to what MIN plays. The TWolves ranked 22nd in pace at 97.1, not all that different from CHI (97.7) and Indiana (98.1), so stylistically, things aren’t going to chance much for these two new starters.

I also think we’ll see a much improved KAT in the P&R and P&Pop. With Rubio running these type of sets, the defense didn’t really have to worry about Rubio the scorer and could focus on KAT. Despite that, KAT was in the 88th percentile, finishing the year with 1.16 points per possession and a FG% of 57.5%. He took about 3.4 FGA a game in this situation, now just imagine what this is going to look like with Butler running it, or a more offensive polished player in Teague. There is going to be a LOT of this in their future this season

  The other piece to the puzzle is how much Wiggins is going to improve. With word coming out about a massive 5yr/$148M extension in the works, are we sure Wiggins isn’t just Rudy Gay? I mean he might have been one of the worst defenders in the league last year, and if MIN is going to make any sort of leap, they need Wiggins to be as good on the defensive end as he is as a scorer. That’s not really debatable. Now the good news is that Butler can now take the opposing teams best player which should help Wiggins’ defensive numbers, but when you watch him play it’s a mentality issue as opposed to a skill issue. His defensive ratings so far in his career are 114, 113, and 115, and while this isn’t a tell all stat, it sure does tell us enough. At 6’8 200lbs he has the size to be a defensive asset, and we all thought that would happen with Thibs in town, but so far it’s been the exact opposite. This is why Jimmy Butler is so important in my opinion.

How do they turn things around defensively? Well they can start being much better about not over-helping, be quicker on their closeouts, and maybe most importantly, limit their opponents to score in transition. If you take out GS/HOU who play at an extreme pace, these were the teams that MIN was grouped with in terms of opponent’s fast break points (LAL/PHX/PHI/SAC/DEN/MEM/BKN/NYK/DAL/LAC/NO). I see two playoff teams in that list.

The pieces are in place for Minnesota to finally take that leap we’ve been thinking they are going to take for the last few years, and other than OKC, their division isn’t that daunting. Utah should drop back a little, Portland still has their issues, as does Denver. From a talent standpoint it should come down to MIN/OKC which it why it wouldn’t shock me to see the TWolves find themselves in the playoffs despite a tough conference.

Official Greenie Prediction: 47 wins