In 2017-2018, the Minnesota Timberwolves broke the NBA’s longest postseason drought, making the Western Conference Playoffs for the first time since the 2003-2004 season thanks to the additions of perennial All-Star Jimmy Butler, veteran guards Jeff Teague and Jamal Crawford, along with the continued ascension of Karl-Anthony Towns. The Wolves return to the postseason was short-lived. They were quickly dispatched in the first round by the Houston Rockets in five games. Despite the early exit in the postseason, things were looking up in the Twin Cities heading into Tom Thibodeau’s second year. However, Butler, frustrated with a lack of commitment to winning from Minnesota’s younger talent, declined to sign a contract extension and has asked to be traded immediately with his preferred destination being South Beach. This recent development drastically alters the Wolves chances for success in 2018-2019. Here’s the Minnesota Timberwolves season preview.
Countdown to NBA Tip-Off: Minnesota Timberwolves Season Preview
What Worked Last Season
The arrival of Butler to the Twin Cities gave the Timberwolves a capable perimeter scorer. The likes that fans haven’t seen since the days of Latrell Sprewell and Sam Cassell. The Marquette product led the team in scoring, 22.2 points on 47 percent shooting from the floor. Butler maintained his reputation as a great defensive wing by matching up with the best perimeter player each night. Paired with Butler on the wing, Towns cemented his place among the league’s premier big men. He averaged 22.1 points and 12.3 rebounds per game while posting career highs in field goal and three-point percentage. The Kentucky product, at times, single-handedly kept the Wolves in playoff contention during Butler’s 17 game absence due to a meniscus injury.
The strong offensive output from Andrew Wiggins and Teague helped the Wolves finish in the top ten in points per game, field goal percentage and offensive rating. The Timberwolves built a strong nine-man rotation with quality minutes from Tyus Jones. Tough defense and rebounding from Gorgui Dieng and Taj Gibson also added to the bench. Additionally, bench scoring by Crawford and late season acquisition Derrick Rose rounded out a strong bench performance.
What Needs improvement
Put simply, DEFENSE. Despite the presence of Butler, a four-time All-Defense selection, the Timberwolves finished in the bottom half of the league in opponent points allowed, defensive rating, and opponent field goal percentage. As defense is Thibodeau’s calling card, he undoubtedly is expecting the productivity on that end to improve. Neither Towns or Wiggins, despite being quality offensive players, have not shown marked improvement on the defensive end during their time in the league. Butler’s departure seems to be imminent, thus Wiggins must improve defensively. He, most likely, will draw the assignment of guarding the oppositions best wing on the nightly basis.
Wiggins, who signed a five year 148 million dollar contract extension before the start of last season has failed to progress in other areas as well. The Kansas product has been unable to find a consistent three-point shot, shooting 33 percent from beyond the arc for his career. His passing ability also needs considerable improvement, as he’s averaged barely over two dimes per contest. Advanced metrics indicate the Wolves were a better team when Wiggins was on the bench. Simply put, at this point, Wiggins’ only utility on the court has proven to be getting points for himself and himself alone.
No significant players, excluding Jamal Crawford, departed from the team this off-season. The oft-injured Rose will return to the team on a one year deal. He averaged 14.2 points in 23 minutes in the Wolves first-round series against Houston. The recent signings of former Chicago Bull Luol Deng and Anthony Tolliver will bring length and a strong veteran presence to the Wolves bench unit.
During the NBA Draft, Minnesota selected Josh Okogie from Georgia Tech. Okogie, a third-team All-ACC selection averaged better than 18 points and shot 38 percent from the three-point line. In the second round, the Wolves nabbed reigned Big Ten Player of the year Keita Bates-Diop. He was voted by his fellow rookies as the steal of the 2018 NBA Draft. Bates-Diop, who averaged 18.9 points per game at Ohio State, flashed potential as a two-way stretch four during the Summer League. Neither is expected to see extended minutes.
2018-19 Season Prediction
Butler’s impending departure and without knowing what talent the Timberwolves will receive in return, it is difficult to make a complete evaluation of the Wolves chances this season. Wolves fans should expect Towns, a double-double machine, who recently inked a super max contract extension to shoulder the load offensively. Coupled with experienced guard play from Teague and scoring from Wiggins should keep the Wolves firmly in the playoff conversation in 2018-2019. Their issues defensively weren’t addressed by Thibodeau and general manager Scott Layden in the offseason. That will again be the Achilles heel for Minnesota. That may prevent them from being better than the seventh seed in the Western Conference. Even with the presence of Jimmy Butler.
Record Prediction: 45-37
WASHINGTON, USA – JANUARY 6: Minnesota Timberwolves’ Andrew Wiggins (22) dunks the ball against the Washington Wizards at the Verizon Center in Washington, USA on January 6, 2017. The Wizards held their lead over the Wolves for a final score of 112 to 105. (Photo by Samuel Corum/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)