Timberwolves: A Team On The Rise

The Minnesota Timberwolves are a team on the rise and could be a title contender not too far down the line.

Yes, I am talking about the team that just finished with the worst record in the league at 16-66. The same team who ending the season looking more like a mediocre D-League team as they cruised to their summer holidays on a 12 game losing streak. Sure, their point guard in Ricky Rubio is on course to be the worst shooter (percentage wise) in NBA history, he currently shoots 36.7% for his career from the field.

It was hard to tell the difference between their opponents lay up line and the actual game as they allowed opposing teams to shoot 65.9% from under 6 feet from the hoop, 30th in the league, per NBA.com. And, you are 100% right, it is cold enough up there to have several White Walker holiday resorts between winters in Westeros.

So, after discovering all of this, the only natural response would be to call me Willis and ask “Whatchoo talkin’ ‘bout?”

But there is method to my madness. The Wolves recently won the NBA Draft lottery, (they should really send one of those hamper goodie bags New York’s way as they had the best month of their pathetic season in April as they went 3-5, to their fans disgust, to finish with a record of 17-65) which, if they keep their pick, would leave them with the last 3 Number 1 over picks.

Granted, one of these players is Anthony Bennett, who, despite still having a lot of potential (according to basketball trainer Drew Hanlen’s Instagram account, Bennett is putting in work this off season, who knows, maybe he will avoid that bust list, but as of now he is on that Highway to Hell to join the illustrious list along side Kwame Brown and Michael Olowokandi as recent No. 1 draft pick busts.)

Kevin Martin, Ricky Rubio and Nikola Pekovic all missed extended periods of time this year.

Kevin Martin, Ricky Rubio and Nikola Pekovic all missed extended periods of time this year.

I don’t want to include Greg Oden on this list as he has just been so unlucky with injury, however my main memory of him playing is the National Championship Game in 2007 vs that great Florida team (Al Horford, Joakim Noam, Corey Brewer and a freshmen Maureese Speights!), with a bandaged right wrist, after he required surgery to repair a torn ligament earlier in the season.

So you could maybe claim that the squiggly writing was on the wall even back then. Hey, leave Greg alone he had to write it lefty, like I said, he had torn the ligaments in his wrist, which he probably injured it taking the marker out of the pencil case.

But they do have the 2015 Rookie of the Year, Andrew Wiggins. Wiggins averaged 16.9 PPG this year, along with 4.6 boards and 2.1 assists, only Blake Griffin (22.5 PPG) and Kyrie Irving (18.5 PPG) have averaged more points per game in their rookie season in the last 10 years.

The real buzz about Wiggins is not in his stats though, in fact, many advanced stats show that Wiggins is not perhaps as effective as he appears to the naked eye. Ian Levy of Bleacher Report discussed some of Wiggins shooting stats at season’s end:

“Nearly a third of his shot attempts were pull-up jumpers and just 15.9 percent were catch-and-shoot, according to NBA.com. More than two-thirds of his shots—69.3 percent—were taken with a defender closer than four feet. The NBA classifies those shot attempts as being defended “tightly” or “very tightly.”

This is not too concerning to me. Being a 19 year old kid for most of your first season in the NBA (Wiggins only turned 20 on February 23), playing against fully grown men and the best athletes in the world every night, it would be tough being the 5th scoring option on your team. For a lot of the season Wiggins was the number 1 option, he had to work for every shot he took, once again valuable experience to take into next year.

The ROY has the potential to be a scoring machine in the future. This past season Wiggins showed a wide array of post moves, a skill that is normally only developed after many years playing at the highest level.

His jump shot struggled with consistency month to month, however, the beauty of shooting is that it’s all about repetition. Asking Andrew Wiggins how he can jump so high is the equivalent to asking Yao Ming how he’s so tall. But shooting is a skill that can be mastered, if Wiggins does this, he has a chance to be something special, if not he could at least be, what, a rich man’s Tony Allen? From what I have seen, and that great stretch to end the season, where he averaged 23.3 PPG for the last 13 games of the season, he is on the path to stardom.

If you are getting too caught up in your advanced metrics, you may be writing off a potential NBA great. At a mere 20 years old, Wiggins is a long way from the prime of his career. His high school mixtape, makes every other person, except maybe Zach LaVine, look extremely un-athletic. These 2 guys are to wanna be basketball dunkers to what Leo DiCaprio is to every other man when it comes to picking up the opposite sex.

As crazy as it seems, his 44 inch vertical will definitely increase as he works out on a NBA strength and conditioning program in the coming years.

Wiggins was unlikely strutting onto the plane Fresh Prince of Bel-Air style after he failed to get a shout out in LeBron’s “I’m Coming Home” letter and was thus apart of the Kevin Love trade in the summer of 2014. But the city of Minneapolis has appeared to have grown on the Kansas alum, he said of the town after receiving his ROY award: “I hope I’m here forever, I hope. It would be nice.”

The Canadian is under contract with the Wolves until the 2018/19 season, where he will be earning only $9 million dollars that season, which is a bargain now, but will be insane once the new TV deal comes through which is set to see the Salary Cap sky rocket.

Wiggins has the potential to be one of the best 2 way players in the game, his athletic abilities allowed him to be a ferocious defender at the college level, he then spent the majority of this season guarding the other teams top scorer, invaluable experience to take into the future.

Next seasons 3 highest paid players under contract for the T-Wolves, Nikola Pekovic, Kevin Martin and Rubio missed a combined 154 games last season, which, as they gradually went down, more than likely led to Wolves fans around the world giving it a classic Kel Kimble “Aw, here it goes”. It looked like once again the Basketball Gods were not looking favourably on the Minnesota Timberwolves.

But then something started to happen, as the experienced vets sat and watched, the young bloods played and learned. They were thrown in at the deep end and had to learn how to swim. Zach LaVine erupted for 28 points vs the Lakers in November and was showing that he was much more than just a freak athlete. Shabazz Muhammad was finally starting to show signs of living up to his potential until he was added to the pile of injured bodies. Pekovic being out allowed Gorgui Dieng to get valuable NBA minutes, he would finish the season averaging a very respectable 11 and 9.

The former Louisville Cardinal has a long future in the NBA.

The former Louisville Cardinal has a bright future in the NBA.

This is where securing that number one pick is very crucial to the potential success of this team going forward. A quick side note, getting the worst record is really overrated. The Wolves are the first team since the Magic in 2004 to win the draft lottery after having the worst record the previous season. The Wolves actually had a 55% chance of getting either the 3rd or 4th pick versus only a 45% chance of getting the 1st or 2nd.

This leaves the organisation with plenty of options heading into this years draft.

The obvious direction to head would be pick either Karl-Anthony Towns or Jahlil Okafor, both of whom are potential franchise changers. The current word on the street is that President of Basketball Operations and Head Coach, Flip Saunders is leaning towards drafting Okafor over Towns. But that leaves very little need for a currently injured Pekovic. With his sizable contract and questions about his health long term, could they get even 60 cent on the dollar of his actual worth?

The Montenegrin, if healthy, is a very solid NBA big man, but would there be a team willing to take a chance on him? Detroit’s ballsy move of telling their highest paid player, Josh Smith, that they no longer required him and his woeful 3 point shooting and paid him to go away is always an option. (After buying out J-Smoove’s contract, the Pistons went on 7 game winning streak and won 11 of their next 13 games.) I’d say the former Piston got over that pretty quick though as he got his money and would play a vital role in Houston’s trip to the Western Conference Finals.

They also could maybe decided they want to keep the Montenegrin wrecking ball, trade Rubio and maybe draft D’Angelo Russell, the 19 year Ohio State Buckeye prospect. The smooth lefty is not short of confidence, and fully believes he is the best player in the draft.

Chad Ford of ESPN reported: He was asked by a pool of reporters at the NBA draft combine: “Are you the best player in this draft?”

Russell offered a bold “Yes.”

Flip Saunders, in his second stint as Timberwolves Head Coach, will be hoping to go one step further in the future than they managed in the Kevin Garnett era. The Wolves capped a fantastic 2003-04 campaign, where they went 58-24, with a trip to the Western Conference Finals, where they would fall to the star studded LA Lakers.

The Big Ticket was graciously welcomed back by fans as he was apart of a deal that sent Thad Young to the Nets. KG, who is a shell of his former self, can still be of significant value to the young Wolfpack. He could always be seen mentoring the experience lacking players during time outs and was no doubt a fantastic presence and leader at practice.

This team has 3 potential All-Stars in Wiggins, LaVine and Rubio, with another potentially on the way depending on what route they decide to go on June 25th. With the former 2 gaining a serious amount of NBA minutes on their belts this season, the sky is the limit. Could we be looking at the next Russel Westbrook and Kevin Durant?

It’s too soon to say.

But after trading Kevin Love last summer, it appears this franchise has avoided being among the dreaded group of teams stuck in limbo of NBA mediocrity, for now. It’s rare that a team manages to get a fair deal when trading a superstar, but it looks like they may have even come out with the better situation going forward. As always with the current NBA system, things must always get worse before they get better, but the better on the horizon could maybe be the best yet for this franchise.

The Minnesota Timberwolves have some big decisions coming up as the draft moves closer, but there is no doubt that with their potential is undeniable.

Just like Winter, the Wolves are coming, for the NBA Throne.


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