Winning 29 games last season, a 13-win improvement, was enough for the Minnesota Timberwolves to decide that they have a good enough team, and all it needs is a bit more experience and getting older to become a formidable power in the Western conference. That seemed to be the way they approached the 2016 offseason, relying on Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins to simply be better next season.
That, and a new head coach in Tom Thibodeau, receiving extra responsibilities, and hopefully bringing a defensive approach for this young group to follow. With Towns and also Gorgui Dieng on the bench, Thibodeau has big men he can build a strong perimeter defense around. Wiggins, when he wants to, is a terrific stopper on the outside, and Ricky Rubio, despite a lot of flaws as a scorer, is a terrific defender as well. It’s a matter of approach and tactics, which Thibodeau should be better at than Sam Mitchell, who was never supposed to become the head coach.
Besides the sidelines and front office changes, not a lot is different in Minneapolis. Kris Dunn was drafted 5th overall, which caused the speculations over Rubio being traded, but the Timberwolves aren’t going to throw Dunn into the starting role just yet. There’s also Zach LaVine who needs to polish up his game before he’s known for more than just his dunking ability. Jordan Hill arrived to add some rebounding for a few minutes, and Brandon Rush isn’t a bad player to have coming off the bench.
Kevin Garnett decided not to retire, and add some wisdom, while teaming up with Thibodeau again, who worked as an assistant on the Boston Celtics when they won the NBA Championship in 2008, with Garnett anchoring that defense before injuries started to slowly chip away at his career. The Timberwolves are counting on Thibs’ record as a head coach, not having a single losing season in five years with the Bulls, before his turbulent relationship with the front office and some players cost him his job.
The Timberwolves were fun to watch on offense last season, and it’ll be interesting to see if Thibodeau, not exactly known for his offensive prowess, can help shape it into something more efficient and effective, especially with the known problems of an uneven bench (although it is a bit better and balanced than before), rough shooting (Especially Rubio) and Wiggins often doing too much on his own. Conquer that and build a defense that works, and it’s going to be great. Sounds easy, right?
Best Case Scenario
Playoffs. No question about it. The Timberwolves have been missing the postseason longer than anyone, last time making it in 2004, the only postseason in which they won a series (Actually made it to the conference finals). Development of Towns, Wiggins, LaVine, Dunn and Nemanja Bjelica is important, but the Timberwolves didn’t hire Thibodeau for a three-year project and hope it pans out. It’s time for them to contend in the West, at least for a postseason spot. They haven’t had a winning season since 2004-2005.
Worst Case Scenario
Missing the playoffs is bad, but staying around 35 wins or less will be a disaster, unless it’s because of an injury. With some teams, it really is that clear cut and simple. Thibodeau won’t be fired if he fails to make the postseason, but not even coming close will be a huge disappointment for a team that feels it’s finally on the right track to success.