By: Rossy Pasternak
The start of Summer League signals the end of the craziness that is NBA Free Agency. Most teams have their rosters filled, with mainly only depth players remaining on the market. Throughout the next few weeks, SportsNak writer Rossy Pasternak will take a look at the teams that interest him the most heading into the upcoming season.
With all of the talk about the Warriors, Cavs, and to a lesser extent the Clippers and Bulls, there is a focus on collecting stars in the NBA. The Timberwolves are in the very early stages of collecting their own exciting nucleus. The ‘Wolves have the past two Rookie of the Year award winners in Andrew Wiggins and Karl-Anthony Towns, and could have another one this year in Kris Dunn. Dunn is my sleeper pick for the award this year after seeing just flashes of what he can do in Summer League. Dunn is deceivingly quick, and an exceptional finisher at the rim. He has also showed the ability to create separation from his defender and knock down his jumpers. Add that to his developing playmaking game, and Dunn could add another trophy to the already impressive Timberwolves draft pick collection.
PG – Ricky Rubio
SG – Zach LaVine
SF – Andrew Wiggins
PF – Gorgui Dieng
C – Karl-Anthony Towns
Minnesota has such an exciting young core, it is easy to forget about Ricky Rubio. To me, Rubio will always be known as one of the point guards the Timberwolves took in front of Steph Curry – Johnny Flynn being the other. Still, Rubio is more than capable of running the show on offence. He doesn’t do much in terms of scoring, averaging just 10.1 points last season, but has a knack for making passes that others could only dream of making.
LaVine is an exciting young piece – I find myself saying that a lot about these T-Wolves players – that can jump through the roof. The two-time NBA Slam Dunk champion has rounded out his game since coming into the league two seasons ago, and has shown he has the potential to become a reliable scorer in the NBA. He averaged 14 points a game last season, and will be looked upon for even more scoring as the team moves towards respectability.
The fact that Andrew Wiggins isn’t even considered the most exciting prospect on this team is saying something. Wiggins, once hyped as “Air Canada” and compared to LeBron James and Michael Jordan, has failed to live up to that hype. He has not been an instant superstar, and has not made the Timberwolves into an instant powerhouse – but Rome wasn’t built in a day. Wiggins has been able to develop out of the spotlight in Minnesota, and has quietly become an exceptional player. He is able to get to the rim almost at will, which is in all likelihood a result of his improving stroke from the perimeter. Although his 3-point percentage went down one percentage point from a season ago, his overall field-goal percentage was 46%, a very respectable – if not exceptional – mark. Wiggins scored 20.1 ppg, and also contributed defensively on the perimiter. Once Wiggins improves on his outside stroke – and he will – he will be a force to be reckoned with.
Gorgui Dieng is as solid as they come at the power forward position. Although he is never going to be a star, Dieng can be a contributor at both ends of the floor. The Timberwolves are going to be fine with Dieng in the lineup as they try to make the playoffs, but if they ever want to take the step from being an intriguing team to a good one, they will need to find a better player to man the 4 spot. Dieng can be someone who averages around 10 points, 8 rebounds and 2 blocks, which is perfect for an energy guy who plays around 25 minutes on a contending team.
Karl-Anthony Towns, or KAT as many call him, is in my opinion, the future of the NBA. Since Anthony Davis came into the league, I haven’t been this excited to see what a young basketball player can do. Towns had one of the best rookie seasons in the history of the NBA. His numbers compare him to Oscar Robinson and Shaq in their rookie seasons. Towns can stretch the floor too. He was one of the best mid-range shooters in the NBA last season, and has shown flashes of an emerging 3-point shot. He can also defend, averaging 1.7 blocks per game last season. Towns is a beast on the boards, swallowing up nearly 19% of all rebounds while he was on the court. An eager student, Towns has developed a great friendship with Kevin Garnett. Garnett, way out of his prime, has taught KAT how to quarterback a defence from the centre position. He has also helped with Towns intensity and killer instinct, pushing Towns every chance he gets. To KAT’s credit, he has never backed down from any of Garnett’s challenges. Towns is also a very charismatic person. He has refused to get fazed by the media, and has handled all of the attention of being a number one pick beautifully. He even has started giving advice to the incoming rookies of this year – including his new teammate Kris Dunn. With a player like Towns in the fold, the Timberwolves future is bright.
PG: Kris Dunn
PG: Tyus Jones
SG: Shabazz Muhammad
SF: Brandon Rush
PF: Nemanja Bjelica
PF: Kevin Garnett
PF: Adrien Payne
C: Nikola Pekovic
The Timberwolves have a collection of aging veterans and young prospects in their rotation, as well as a few interesting pieces. Kris Dunn is going to be a very good player in the NBA right away, and could even threaten Ricky Rubio for the starting position if Rubio and the team struggle. Tyus Jones has the chance to become a serviceable backup point guard in the NBA.
Shabazz Muhammad fills a scoring role off the bench, and averaged 10.5 points last season – he should be able to do so again this year. Brandon Rush played well in his limited minutes on a loaded Warriors squad last season. He can slide between either wing position, much like Shabazz, and can fill a 3-and-d role. The Timberwolves could use another player on the wings to play a limited role, and could find that for a bargain amongst the remaining free agents.
The bench bigs have the potential to scare opponents; Garnett alone is scary enough. Although KG is likely done playing meaningful minutes, he will provide energy and excitement when he does make an appearance. Bjelica is a 6’10” Serbian big man who doesn’t provide much more than size, rebounding, and 6 fouls – but he knows his role and plays it pretty well. Adrien Payne has struggled since being picked 15th overall by the Hawks in 2014. He doesn’t bring much to the team, but if left open for a mid-range jumper he can be relied upon to convert. Payne is mostly an end-of-bench hustle guy, but every team needs those. Pekovic will probably see the most minutes among these big men, and with just cause. Pek is a huge body who has been slowed by injuries, as well as having a talent such as Towns in front of him. In 2013-14, Pekovic put up 17.5 points and 8.7 rebounds a game, albeit on a very, very bad Timberwolves team with not many offensive weapons. Pekovic can still provide a big body, strong rebounding, and a scoring option should all else fail.
Although the Timberwolves have some exciting talent for the future, they aren’t yet ready for the spotlight. New head coach Tom Thibodeau has his work cut out for him with this group. A defensively minded coach who likes to run his players into the ground, Thibs will have some problems with his group of big men. In today’s NBA, big men have to be able to switch onto wings or guards and hold their own. The only big who will constantly be able to do that is Towns, so Thibs is going to need to get creative with his defensive schemes in order to compensate.
Offensively, the spacing could be an issue, even with Towns spreading the floor. Rubio struggles from beyond the arc, as do LaVine and Wiggins, so there is basically zero three point shooting among the starters. It doesn’t get much better with the bench either. Jones is a middling shooter who struggles to create separation, Muhammad is a streaky gunner, and none of the bigs provide outside shooting. Brandon Rush is likely to be the team’s most reliable outside shooter this season, which is not a good thing.
I think that the Timberwolves and Thibideau are the perfect fit. In Chicago, Thibs excelled with a fast and crafty point guard who struggled from the outside, a few good mid-range shooters, a great two-way centre, and surrounding 3-point snipers. In Minnesota, he has the athletic point guard in Dunn, as well as the shifty Rubio. He has the mid-range shooter in Wiggins, and the two-way centre in Towns. Wiggins and Towns are already better than what a developing Jimmy Butler and a prime Joakim Noah were in Chicago, although Dunn and/or Rubio will never reach the heights of the D-Rose prime.
The surrounding pieces need to get better for the Timberwolves, but they finally have the foundation of a winning team – something they haven’t had since the first KG era.
What are your thoughts on the Timberwolves? Comment below!
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