With the 2017-18 season right around the corner, we preview the new look Wolves and give our predictions on the upcoming season. The 2016-17 Wolves were many people’s pick to be the next breakout team after welcoming in defensive guru Tom Thibodeau to be their head coach and president of operations. The core of Karl Anthony-Towns, Andrew Wiggins, Zach LaVine, Ricky Rubio, and the high hopes of the number 5th overall pick, Kris Dunn, were supposed to carry this team to playoffs, ending their 12-year drought. The young Wolves showed flashes of brilliance, but all too often succumbed to being a very inexperienced group. After a highly underwhelming season, the Timberwolves ended with a 31-51 record, only a two-game improvement over the previous year. After a year with the roster, Thibodeau was clearly not impressed, and made a slew of moves in the offseason.
Here’s a look at the key additions/departures from last season:
- Jimmy Butler, SG, former Chicago Bull
- Jeff Teague, PG, former Indiana Pacer
- Jamal Crawford, SG, former Los Angeles Clipper
- Taj Gibson, PF, former OKC Thunder
- Aaron Brooks, PG, former Indiana Pacer
- Justin Patton, C, Rookie
- Ricky Rubio, PG, Utah Jazz
- Zach LaVine, SG, Chicago Bulls
- Kris Dunn, PG, Chicago Bulls
- Brandon Rush, SG, Milwaukee Bucks
- Karl Anthony-Towns, C
- Andrew Wiggins, SF
- Gorgi Dieng, C
- Shabazz Muhammad, SF
- Tyus Jones, PG
- Nemanja Bjelica, PF
- Cole Aldrich, C
One look at the new Timberwolves roster and we can see a few familiar faces, at least to Thibodeau, as many of his new acquisitions played under him when he coached the Chicago Bulls: Jimmy Butler, Taj Gibson, Aaron Brooks. Many of the young Wolves struggled to pick up Thibodeau’s complex defensive system, with Towns and Wiggins being among the leagues worst defenders, according to advanced analytics. The hope is that the influx of veterans will help bring that defensive edge that Thibodeau teams are known for. The most notable being Butler, who is one of the best two-way stars in the league, and tough-nosed Taj Gibson.
Perhaps the move that didn’t make sense to most Timberwolves fans was the move to trade fan favorite Ricky Rubio to Utah for a late first round pick. This move was made to clear the way for newcomer, and supposed upgrade Jeff Teague. At first glance, the swap doesn’t appear to be an upgrade at all. Rubio, according to advanced stats, is the superior defender; he’s also a wizard with the basketball, often finding teammates with dazzling assists (8.5 Ast/game for career). The problems that have plagued him his entire career have been the inability to knock down the 3 pt shot consistently (career 31.5 percent), and of course injuries.
Thibodeau feared that with newly acquired Butler and incumbent Wiggins, who are both below to average 3pt shooters at best (33.7 % and 32.9% respectively), that the Timberwolves would struggle to space the floor with Rubio at the helm. This is where Jeff Teague comes into play. He is a career 35.5% from downtown, which isn’t dominant, but certainly an upgrade at something the Timberwolves are in dire need of. Teague is also far superior at finishing at the rim, shooting 59% under three feet (Rubio 47.7%). Thibobeau also prefers the offense to go mainly through Jimmy Butler, who will more than likely be the main facilitator. This approach also favors Teague because he can still produce without the ball, whereas Rubio needs the ball to be effective.
The former three-time Sixth Man of the Year award winner, Jamal Crawford, rounds out the rest of the newcomers. Crawford, who turns 38 years old this season, has long been one of the league’s best bench scorers since entering the league in 2000. However since the 2012-13 season, Crawford’s production has steadily dropped from 18.6 ppg to 12.3 ppg this last year. Rookie Justin Patton is a very raw prospect out of Creighton, who the Timberwolves grabbed with the 16th pick in last June’s draft. Patton figures to spend his time going between the NBA roster and the Timberwolves G-league affiliate, the Iowa Wolves, once he recovers from offseason foot surgery. Both Anthony Brown and Marcus Georges-Hunt are mere bench filers at this point and don’t figure to receive much playing time.