Wednesday, October 18, 2017

2017-18 Timberwolves Preview

Do you know how the google search algorithm works?  Me neither.

How about how it works in the Ukraine? No?  Probably even more complicated though.

Somewhere in the dark recesses of said algorithm there is a search that points Ukrainian Googlers ( to one particular post on this blog.  That of course is the Timberwolves 2011-12 preview.  On a blog that is primarily focuses on Gopher football, this post reigns supreme due to our friends overseas.  In fact, looking at the stats there are Ukrainian readers on the site right now.

Since no one reads non-Gopher posts and we no longer have the great Nikola Pekovic, I expect this will be hard to duplicate with this preview.  BTW, don't go back and read that one because I was sooooo wrongly optimistic.  Do read this one, because we are playoff bound, my friends; and it will be a fun ride!

Saying we are playoff bound (again) after 87 seasons without making them feels dangerous.  However, this team has added a lot of talent and the young core is a year older, so you can see why even Vegas likes the Wolves for about a 5 seed in the loaded Western Conference.  However, if you were watching opening night last night, shit can get hectic in a hurry.  Poor Gordon Hayward's ankle/leg broke into a 1000 pieces as he went up for an alley-oop and crashed down on his ass;  and evil Mormons throughout the twittersphere rejoiced.  I hate just about everyone and everything, but believing a horrific injury is some sort of karma for a guy choosing a new destination via free agency is beyond the pale.

BTW - opening night was fantastic.  I know a lot of people that don't watch the NBA love to hate on it, but both games came down to the final shot and held plenty of excitement throughout.

Let's break down our powered-up Timberwolves position by position.

Point Guards

Starting with the lead guard position means we dealing with the most controversial part of the off-season by many accounts.  Thibodeau traded away long-time beacon of hope and cult hero, Ricky Rubio.  Rubio was moved to the Utah Jazz for a 2018 first round pick.  The Wolves do not have their own 2018 first round pick because once upon a time Adriean Payne held some value I guess and the Wolves gave a future first for his "services".   Payne has made nearly $6 million dollars in his career thus far.  What have you done with your life?

The pick conveyed from the Jazz is actually OKC's first rounder from the Enes Kanter trade.  Thibs made the deal long before Hoodie Melo and the same day as Paul George were acquired by OKC.  What this means is the pick is likely to be in the mid 20s somewhere.  So, not super valuable, but it did free up Ricky's $14M-ish salary to be used elsewhere.

Tristan Thompson has to respect the drive, so Teague pulls up
Former All-Star Jeff Teague was signed to fill the open starting PG spot on a 3 year, $57 million deal.  The Wolves had a brief also-ran moment with the Kyrie Irving trade rumors, but were not willing to part with Andrew Wiggins.  Teague is a better fit than Rubio for Thibodeau's system, especially on offense, though he isn't terrible defensively.  Teague is great at the pick and roll, a solid spot up shooter and is good at getting to the hoop and to the line.  Opposing defense will have to respect him in all facets and will no longer be able to sag off like they did with Rubio.

Teague has been a 15+ points, 6+ assists guy for the last four years, mainly with Atlanta.  He was a leader on the 60-win Hawks squad.  He is in his age 29 season, so he's a couple years older than Rubio.  

Ricky got all swarthy and tatted in his off-season and has looked very good in the pre-season for the Jazz, so folks are worried that he'll take another step, but I still don't see that jumpshot being competent or him finishing at the rim when bullets start flying.  He'll always be a good defender and an exceptional passer though.

The backups at point guard are Tyus Jones and Aaron Brooks.  Tyus is entering his 3rd season and is just 21 years old.  He showed some savvy and some three point shooting in year 2.  He still needs some work on defense and often gets overwhelmed by bigger guards.  Brooks, 32, is a Thibs acolyte that was recently signed to round out the roster.  Brooks is a water bug that knows the system and is a career 37% three point shooter.  Hopefully Tyus continues to improve and earns the primary backup minutes, but if he's not up to Thibs' standards for his system, we'll see the vet in there.


Jimmy fucking Butler, people.  The Wolves traded my beloved Zach LaVine, disappointing rookie Kris Dunn and some other poo (their 1st round pick which became Lauri Markannen) and got one of the 10-12 best players in the goddamn solar system.  LaVine is fantastic, but will never be a two way player like Jimmy Buckets.  Dunn looks like a great defender, but has a long ways to go on offense to be a complete player and he's not super young like other rookies as he came out after his junior year.  To top it all off, the Wolves also got the Bulls' 16th pick back in the deal and took big man prospect Justin Patton.  

Butler is everything you want in an NBA superstar and he's in his prime.  He will lead the defense, take big shots, and generally put the team on his back when necessary.  Plus, his hair is magnificent.  The Wolves have two years with him to make him fall in love with this team and city.   He has a player option in year 3, but he is likely to decline and re-up for a bigger deal.

Look for Butler to be the ball handler a lot.  Jimmy scored 23.9 points per game last year, but he also also averaged 5.5 assists.  He will have the ball in his hand a lot, which is why spot up shooting elsewhere is so important. 

Speaking of big deals, Andrew Wiggins will start at the other wing.  He has just signed a 5 year, $148 million dollar deal. Dude is just 22 years old and coming off another year where he upped his scoring (23.6ppg).  He won't reach that number this year with the influx of talent around him so he will need to improve in other areas; most notably, his defense and his efficiency.  Wiggins jumped from 30% to 35.6% in three point shooting this season and he should get plenty of open shots again and that number needs to keep improving.  (league average last year was 35.8%)  Wiggins and Butler are pretty interchangeable at the SG and SF...the benefit here is that Butler can defend the bigger scoring threat.  Wiggins has been known to take a siesta on defense on occasion, but will Butler and Taj Gibson allow that shit on their team?  

Primary backups on the wing include an aging Jamal "J-Crossover" Crawford and Shabazz Muhammad back on a league minimum deal.  Crawford is 37 years old, but stays in tremendous shape and can still create his own shot off the dribble.  He's only a 41% career shooter, 35% from three point range though.  He is another guy that can excel on the spot up, as well as the pick and roll.  Despite being older, I think he's more spry than Brandon Rush and his high activity level will be useful for the second unit.  He's also going to kill a few defenders with his crossover and have point where he hits a bunch of shots in a row, and this pleases me.

Shabazz has pretty much showed what he is as a player in the NBA.  Not much on the defensive end, but a bowling ball that can crash the offensive glass and pressure a defense.  In the second half last season, Muhammad hit his three pointers at a much higher rate than his pedestrian career averages, so there is hope he keep that momentum going into this season.

Anthony Brown and Mark Georges-Hunt provide additional depth.  You like likely won't see them except in their warmups.  Or if you watch the G-League.  Both are young-ish potential 3 and D types that would learn a lot just by being on the roster and practicing with Jimmy Butler et al.


In today's NBA, we are getting more and more into position-less basketball.  The pick and roll and defending it are highly important.  As is shooting the three ball and spacing the floor away from said pick and roll.  Obviously the Warriors are the best example of this.  Draymond Green is about 6'6" and is often at the top of the key on offense, but defends inside as the center.  The Warriors will often have shooter in each corner in many of their offensive sets.  In the pick and roll, going under the screen is death by 3, and fighting through or over the screen often results in a foul.  So the big man needs to be able to switch on the to the ball handler.  

Karl Anthony-Towns is a prototype for the perfect big in today's game.  His offensive game is already off the charts, especially considering that he turns 22 in November.  He averaged over 25 points and 12 rebounds and shot 54/37/83 on FGs, 3s and FTs, respectively.  He is thought to be the next big since Dirk Nowitzki to shoot 50/40/90, which obviously fantastic efficiency.

Coming out in the draft everyone expected KAT to be a plus defender as well.  He has the footwork and quickness to be able to do so, but has yet to put it together.  Enter Thibs-approved Taj Gibson.  Taj is a hard-nosed defender that can anchor the defense.  He rebounds well and doesn't take many bad shots.  He's been working on a corner three, if the preseason is any indication, as well.  Taj comes in at age 32 on a 2 year, 28 million dollar deal, so he did not come cheaply.  When you look at his stats, you might be like "WTF?, 10 points and 7 rebounds for $14 million a year?"  Thibodeau was knocked for this by some, but if this helps KAT develop the defensive part of his game that he needs, its well worth it.

Taj pushes Gorgui Dieng into the second unit.  I have a love/hate relationship with Gorgui, who is a stout defender, a good mid range and sometimes slow-motion extended release three point shooter.  However, he'll mash on second units.  Nemanja Bjelica is back for the final year on his deal.  He's been a huge disappointment to me as I thought he'd be able to be a nice three point shooter, but instead he mostly blunders about and has a terrible Euro-stache.  He still shows flashes, especially taking defenders off of the dribble, so still got hope?  Cole Aldrich also sitting down there at the end of the bench making $7 milly...his expiring deal may be useful in a trade, but also he's one injury away from decent minutes.  As mentioned earlier, Justin Patton was taken 16th overall.  He's an athletic big from Creighton that has project-able skills, but his progression is already hampered by a foot injury that could keep him sidelined for an extended period.  Get well soon, homie.


10th and rising?
Many projections out there have the Wolves at 48-50 wins and 5th, maybe even a 4th seed.  The Wolves will without a doubt have an exciting offense which I believe will finish in the top 10 in the league pretty easily.  They were 10th last year, so it's maybe not a risky projection, however, a lot of teams stacked up.  Portland, Milwaukee and OKC all ranked lower last year and will have formidable offenses.  The Clippers are a safe bet to drop out of the top 10 though.

Defensively, the Wolves were 26th last year.  This is where the ground needs to be made up.  I believe this defense can make the jump into the middle of the pack.  If and when that happens, this team will be above .500.  The Wolves were also notoriously bad finishers last year.  A more balanced offense led by a true late game killer in Jimmy Butler should do wonders for their finishing ability.  Not to mention another year of maturity for Wiggins and Towns.  

You have to believe there will be some growing pains in the first month or so with so many new faces in the lineup.  That is eased a bit by Butler, Gibson and Brooks all being familiar with Thibs' system, but the incumbents will have to adjust as well.  There are still questions about the three point shooting; the Wolves lost their best shooter in LaVine in the Buckets trade.  

Given all of that, I have the Wolves as a 6 seed this year.  Please goddamnit, at least make the playoffs, that's all I really ask.  We can get mowed in 4 by the Warriors for all I care, but just get into the post-season this year. It's been so long, you guys.

Here's how I have the west shaking out:

1. Warriors - duh

2. Rockets - (already beat the Warriors last night omg)

3. Spurs - presuming Kawhi gets and stays healthy

4. OKC - Westbrook-PG13-HoodieMelo = wins

5. Portland - Dame's new album is poo

6. Wolves - Please baby don't hurt me

7. Denver - Going to surprise some peeps

8. Clippers/Jazz/Grizzlies - let's go Jazz here

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