The Western Conference was projected as a bloodbath for months. Between superstars like Kawhi Leonard and Anthony Davis making their way to Los Angeles and teams like the Houston Rockets and Utah Jazz reloading, this summer gave us a glimpse into just how explosive the West could be this year.
Yet through five games, the team tied for the top spot in the West is … the Minnesota Timberwolves?
Sure, Minnesota is just one year removed from a playoff appearance, but they hardly looked like the kind of roster primed to make a playoff run this year.
Granted, the Timberwolves have had the good fortune of facing lowly Eastern Conference squads such as the Charlotte Hornets and Washington Wizards. However, they also have quality wins over the likes of the Brooklyn Nets and Miami Heat.
This is only just the beginning of the season. Minnesota still has to run through a gauntlet in the West. But is it possible that the Timberwolves are ready for a breakout year?
Through their first five games, the Timberwolves rank second in the NBA in pace, according to Basketball-Reference. That is pretty impressive and speaks to some of the changes under head coach Ryan Saunders.
Saunders (33) is by far the youngest coach in the league. Perhaps it is no surprise, then, that he is a proponent of an uptempo offense, particularly given the youth on Minnesota’s roster.
The Timberwolves rank fifth in the league in points scored. While Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins certainly spearhead the scoring load, the Timberwolves are also getting bench contributions from the likes of Jake Layman and Shabazz Napier.
They are not the most efficient offense in the league (16th in field goal percentage and 22nd in 3-point percentage), but Saunders has done a good job of coaching according to his personnel.
Will shooters develop around KAT?
Towns is cementing himself as one of the preeminent big men of this generation. Did you know that he is shooting close to 53 percent from beyond the arc on 8.5 attempts per game? There is no question that he has All-NBA talent written all over him for years to come.
Of course, having a big man who can roam the perimeter adds a new element to any offense. But the Timberwolves need more shooters to develop around KAT and allow him to work in the post, as well.
Andrew Wiggins is shooting below 30 percent from deep. Jeff Teague and Robert Covington are both running a 33 percent clip. Layman is an excellent bench option as a stretch forward, but he can only do so much.
Minnesota needs its starting group to be more efficient. Over 43 percent of the Timberwolves’ field goal attempts have come from beyond the line, but they are shooting below 33 percent from deep as a team. That does not seem like a winning formula.
The Timberwolves must adapt to have sustained success.