Team: Minnesota Timberwolves
2017-18 Record: 47-35, 8th in the Western Conference
The Wolves were on the winning side of a do or die play in game on the final night of the regular season against the Nuggets. The double overtime win meant they finished in eighth place in the Western Conference, setting up a first-round matchup with the Houston Rockets. After losing the first two games in Houston, Minnesota surprised many by taking their first home game, however, they went on to lose the next two and were bounced from the playoffs in the first round.
Minnesota had some fantastic news recently as they were able to secure the long-term signature of star centre Karl Anthony-Towns. Towns signed on for the super max contract of $190 million over the next five years, making him one of the highest paid players in the league. The Timberwolves off-season hasn’t been all good news, however, as star guard Jimmy Butler has recently requested to be traded from the team. It’s unlikely that Butler will be a Minnesota player on opening night as the front office has declared they are actively looking for a deal for the all-star.
It’s hard to get a read on the Timberwolves without knowing what pieces they are likely to get in return for Butler. The star guard has declared that he wants to play for the Clippers, Knicks or Nets so valuable trade pieces coming back could be limited. The best option for the Wolves might be to ship Butler to the Clippers and ask for talented forward Tobias Harris in return. Harris would give the Wolves immediate offensive impact at the small forward position, which is a position they have really struggled at throughout the last few years and would he would be a great go to wing player to compliment the Jeff Teague-Towns pick and roll.
Former Bulls coach and new Wolves head coach and GM Tom Thibodeau has continued his mission to replicate the successful Bulls teams of earlier in the decade by signing Luol Deng as a free agent from the Lakers to add to Taj Gibson, Derrick Rose and Butler. While they will likely be losing Butler, another year of natural progression in the legs of Towns should see the Wolves competing in the West once again.
Offseason Arrivals: Luol Deng, James Nunnally, Anthony Tolliver (free agent), Josh Okogie, Keita Bates-Diop (draft)
Offseason Departures: Cole Aldrich (waived), Nemanja Bjelica (Kings)
What to Expect?
Even without Butler, the Wolves will still possess an extremely talented starting five. Without knowing who they will get back in the Butler trade, Luol Deng looks likely to take up a spot in the starting five with Andrew Wiggins moving to the SG position. Teague, Wiggins and Towns provide good offensive weapons while Taj Gibson and Luol Deng should provide defence and grit in the starting unit. The Wolves problem, as it was last year, will once again be their depth. If Derrick Rose can replicate a percentage of his MVP form then he becomes an extremely valuable combo guard off the bench that can run the point and allow Teague to play off the ball. After that, however, depth on the Wolves is extremely thin.
Gorgui Dieng proved he can be a valuable role player and decent third string big behind Towns and Gibson last season while Anthony Tolliver will add some defence and shooting at the small forward position. Jamal Crawford is a year older this season and had limited impact for the Wolves last season. That’s about it for the Wolves, eight reliable players that Thibodeau will trust putting on the floor for consistent minutes.
It’s because of these issues that we think he will aim to get a package of role players and potentially a first-round draft pick for Butler instead of aiming to get a star player in return. The Wolves already boast a true franchise leading player in Towns, if they are able to get a good mix of depth and tole players to play alongside Wiggins and Teague they should be in the playoff mix in the Western Conference.
Key Player: Karl-Anthony Towns
Towns will be entering his fourth season in the NBA and while he dropped around 4 point per game last season compared to the previous, we expect him to be back up around 25 point per game this year, or even higher, with the likelihood of Butler’s departure. His defence has arguably dropped away a little bit since he entered the league, but part of that will be due to the massive load that Gibson takes on on the defensive end.
Towns will be relied upon to take up the bulk of the offensive load for the Wolves this season and will likely play a ridiculous number of minutes. Thibodeau has never been scared to run his start players ragged, Wiggins, Towns and Butler have all been in the top 20 in minutes played in the last two seasons and Towns durability in particular has been astonishing. Throughout his first three years in the NBA he is still yet to miss a single game, which is unheard of especially for a high draft pick centre.
We expect Towns to take another massive step this season and be one of the most dynamic players in the league. See Anthony Davis’ trajectory for a guideline.
Vegas 2018-19 Win Total
We originally had the Wovles just edging out the Nuggets once again to finish in eighth position in the Western Conference. However, with no Butler we have to drop them down at least one spot and currently have them finishing 9th. It proves just how tough the Conference will be this season as Towns is arguably one of the best players in the league and has a decent starting unit around him.
However, depth is key in a long season and the Wolves really struggle in that area. We think they’ll finish just outside the playoffs but their over/under seems low at just 44.5. We think the bookies have over corrected a little due to the Butler rumours and we like the overs here considering Denver finished in 9th and won 46 games last season.