Timberwolves poised for huge leap very soon
The Minnesota Timberwolves have not produced a winning record since the 2004-05 season. The closest they have come to breaking this streak was three years ago when the team went 40-42. The following year the T-Wolves traded away superstar Kevin Love, and the team could only muster a meager 16 wins. This season, the team improved, but still finished with the fifth worst record in the league. Yet somehow, many believe the Wolves are on the brink of an unlikely title run as soon as 2017, or at least a few years after that.
The current Timberwolves era is shaped by the Kevin Love- Andrew Wiggins trade of 2014. With LeBron returning home to Cleveland, the Cavaliers were desperate to build a star heavy team and were willing to give up 2013 and 2014 number one overall picks, Anthony Bennett and Andrew Wiggins, in return for Minnesota’s only star. While Bennett did not pan out for the Timberwolves and was eventually waived, Wiggins became the 2015 Rookie of the Year and developed into the Wolves’ leading scorer.
Following the dismal 2014-15 season, the Timberwolves were rewarded in the draft lottery with the number one pick, which they used on Karl-Anthony Towns. Towns also proved more than capable in his first season, using his unique combination of length, athleticism, and shooting ability to bring home the 2016 Rookie of the Year Award, averaging 18.3 points and 10.5 rebounds per game.
Towns and Wiggins have combined to form a young and extremely talented core for the Timberwolves, which creates the nucleus for this title hope, but it takes more than two players to seriously contend.
Zach LaVine, drafted by the Timberwolves in 2014, adds shooting and explosiveness from the wing, demonstrated by his back-to-back slam dunk championships. Former number five pick Ricky Rubio has developed into a productive point guard, averaging 10.1 points and 8.6 rebounds per game, and rookie Duke guard Tyus Jones shows potential running point off the bench. Gorgui Dieng helps lock down the paint with Towns, Shabazz Muhammad is able to pour in over 10 points per game from the bench, and veteran Kevin Garnett has returned to provide leadership. This combination leads to the astonishing statistic that the average age of the Timberwolves’ top six players is only 22.67 years old.
The Minnesota front office appears to be looking to take the next step towards chasing a title this year, and has hired Tom Thibodeau, who in his first year with the Bulls improved his young team’s record by 21 wins, vaulting the franchise from eighth in the Eastern Conference to the best record in the NBA.
The Timberwolves already have most of the recipe. Two extraordinarily talented superstars, a young core that improves each month, some veteran leadership, and a coach with a knack for improving young defensive teams. But they’re not done yet.
The Wolves are in possession of the number five pick in this year’s draft, which could yield a variety of talented players, including Buddy Hield, Jamal Murray, or perhaps Dragan Bender. It is also possible that Minnesota trades the pick for a star already in his prime, as Coach Thibodeau has been linked to rumors involving All-Star guard Jimmy Butler, who he coached in Chicago. Either way, this draft pick could add a valuable third weapon that could put the Wolves over the edge.
Minnesota is not generally known as a free agent destination, but players are beginning to notice the potential on this team and the Wolves have the cap space to make a move now that Kevin Martin is gone. Two time All-Star Joakim Noah has already been tied to suggestions that he may reunite with his former coach in Minnesota.
Las Vegas currently has Minnesota as the tenth most likely team to win the championship in 2017, and the team is projected to be fifth in the Western Conference, a far jump from their 26th place finish this year. Keep an eye on Minnesota this year as they seem poised to make a jump out of the cellar and perhaps straight into the NBA Finals.
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