Minnesota Timberwolves Mid-Season Review

NBA: Minnesota Timberwolves at Indiana Pacers
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The Minnesota Timberwolves are officially past the halfway point in the 2019/20 NBA season. Currently sitting at 15-27, the Wolves stand 13th in the Western Conference, five games out of the eighth and final playoff spot. After starting the season 10-8, there was hope that Minnesota would be able to make a playoff push sooner than expected. However, with a series of injuries, bad defensive play, and an untucked jersey, it wasn’t meant to be. At the beginning of the season, we made some Timberwolves related predictions. It’s time to revisit those predictions and update them through the first 42 games of the year.


Most Valuable Player:

Devan: Karl-Anthony Towns (Original Prediction: Karl-Anthony Towns)

This is a hard category to determine. Towns is clearly the best player on the team, especially on the offensive side of the ball, but he has missed the last month plus with an injury, so is it fair to give him this award? I say so, solely because of how important he is to the team. He is averaging a career-high 25.9 points per game, while shooting over 40% from three on 8.5 attempts per contest.

His defense still isn’t where it needs to be, but the man is a transcendental type of offensive talent. Minnesota’s offensive rating is almost 15 points better with Towns on the floor. However, on the other side of the ball, the opposing team’s offensive rating is over 11 points higher with Towns in the game. It has been a mixture of really good on offense and not so great on defense for Towns this season, but he’s the Wolves guy and that’s the way it should be.

Leighton: Robert Covington (Original Prediction: Karl-Anthony Towns)

This season has not been ideal on the injury front for the Wolves and so there’s no one left to praise but good old reliable RoCo. Towns was starting off scorching hot on offense and locked in on defense. The Wolves came out the gate looking like a new age team shooting more threes and letting Towns be the focus of the offense at the top of the key. Then, Towns got hurt and everything has been a mess ever since.

With that in mind, Covington has been a wonderful bright spot throughout the year. Covington is averaging close to 13 points and 6 rebounds per game on 35% three-point shooting, and giving solid defensive effort every night which has kept the Wolves in games they have no business being in. This team has played hard every single night and Covington has been a huge part of that process. Even amidst all these trade rumors, Covington has continued to give A+ effort as well as defensive flexibility for the Wolves to bring on a variety of lineups.

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Defensive Player of the Year:

Leighton: Josh Okogie (Original Prediction: Robert Covington)

It would be very easy to give this award to Robert Covington. The Wolves’ defensive rating with Covington off the floor is absolutely atrocious, but Josh Okogie has been tasked with taking on the best player from the other team every minute he’s on the court. His effort and on-ball defense go above and beyond the average NBA player. The best testament to how good Okogie has been is the shot selection of the players he is guarding. His man is averaging only 2.7 three-point attempts per game while he is on the floor, while averaging over 4.5 two-point attempts that are outside of 15 feet! In the modern NBA, having a player that hounds the three-point line and guards the paint enough to force long two-point buckets is invaluable.

Devan: Robert Covington (Original Prediction: Robert Covington)

This was an easy choice for me. While Covington started the season slowly coming back from his knee bruise, he is back to playing like one of the top three-and-D guys in the NBA. Even while playing the power forward position for most of the season, his impact on defense has been felt. He is still averaging 1.7 steals per game, exactly the same as his career average. The way he can alter a game on that end of the court is something we rarely see in today’s NBA. If it wasn’t for Covington, the Wolves would have an even worse defense, which is hard to fathom and why parting ways with him at the Trade Deadline would be a tough pill to swallow.

Robert Covington
Jan 15, 2020; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Timberwolves forward Robert Covington (33) shoots at Target Center. Mandatory Credit: Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports


Breakout Player:

Devan: Gorgui Dieng (Original Prediction: Shabazz Napier)

I started the season by predicting Shabazz Napier as my breakout player for the Wolves, and I absolutely love that choice. It’s killing me not to stick with that prediction, but Gorgui Dieng did too much while Karl-Anthony Towns was sidelined to not give him some love.

Yes, the contract is still bad. But, Gorgui has played his way into one of the best backup big men the NBA. In the 17 games Dieng has started this season, he has averaged 13.1 points and 8.6 rebounds per game. All of that while posting a 118 offensive rating and an impressive 101 defensive rating. Furthermore, he’s shooting over 39% from three this season. Who saw that coming? Gorgui Dieng has reinvented his game to fit the modern NBA and it’s working. The cap hit isn’t pretty for a backup big man, but having a guy like Gorgui that can fill in as a starter and give the team 20 quality minutes each night carries a lot of value.  

Leighton: Shabazz Napier (Original Prediction: Naz Reid)

I want to start out by saying that I have absolutely loved the Naz Reid experience for the Wolves so far. His good hands, quick passing and smooth stroke have been absolutely fun to watch. If he ever found a way to become an average NBA defender, instead of a bottom 10% NBA defender, he would be seeing a few more minutes.

Shabazz Napier has been the undeniable breakout player this year and an absolute delight to watch. His ball movement and penetration has been so fun to watch. He has reminded us why he could carry a team to a national championship at UCONN. His shifty ball handling, and control of the offensive were expected, but the scoring hot streaks have been very unexpected. Napier is coming off of a four-game stretch averaging over 20 points per game when Towns was out. The Wolves obviously trust him enough to ship Jeff Teague out of town without any replacement in mind. It will be interesting to see if the Wolves plan to retain Napier after this season, but let’s enjoy the ride while it lasts.


Disappointing Player:

Leighton: Jeff Teague (Original Prediction: Jeff Teague)

I was right………..yay. Good riddance to the contract and the 4-6 no pass possessions every single game that may have taken a few years off of my life.

Devan: Josh Okogie (Original Prediction: Josh Okogie)

I want to say Jeff Teague. I could do it. I really want to. But, I’m not going to. I think Teague landed in an impossible situation with the Wolves. Coming on board to fill in for fan favorite Ricky Rubio was never going to be an easy task. On top of that, when fans started clamoring for the hometown man Tyus Jones to take his place in the starting lineup, it got harder. Now, I’m not saying he was a good fit for the Wolves on the court, because that wasn’t the case. His extended dribbling and unwillingness to shoot open threes left everyone frustrated. However, with Teague being shipped out to Atlanta, I’m sticking with my original prediction for most disappointing player: Josh Okogie.

I think my main gripe on Josh Okogie this season was my expectations for his improvement on offense. His defense has stayed great. He often gets tasked with guarding the team’s best player when he’s on the court, although Jarrett Culver has started to assume that role more and more. But, on offensive, I haven’t seen any steps from Okogie. He still can’t shoot (26.9% from three), and he’s still extremely out of control with the ball in his hands (16.4% turnover percentage compared to 9.8% last year). I want to believe in Okogie, and I love watching him compete on the defensive side of the ball, but his offensive game is very painful to watch.


Andrew Wiggins Outlook:

Devan: If anyone in the world can get a read on this, let me know (Original Prediction: Bleak?)

I don’t even know where to begin. Andrew Wiggins started off the season looking like a changed man, a potential NBA All-Star. In the month of November, Wiggins averaged 27.1 points, 5.3 rebounds, and 4.1 assists per game, while shooting 48% from the field and 39% from three. Those are star player numbers. Then, he started regressing and not attacking the basket as much as he should.

Since the start of December, Wiggins has shot under 42% from the field and under 29% from three. He went from having an offensive rating of 114 in November, to 100 in December. Karl-Anthony Towns being out for a big chunk of December and the first part of January has definitely contributed to those struggles. The opposing team was able to focus in on Wiggins and make somebody else beat them. With all that said, Wiggins is still having a better year than season’s past. He is more involved on defense, on the glass, and distributing the ball. Wiggins is averaging a career-high in rebounds (5.1 RPG) and assists (3.6 APG). He’s not a max contract player and probably never will be, but this season has been an improvement for Wiggins, and it will be interesting to see if he can rekindle some of his November magic with Towns back in the lineup and Teague out the door.

Leighton: Sneaky Good (Original Prediction: Sneaky Good)

I don’t want to pat myself on the back too much, seeing that I have predicted Wiggins to breakout the previous three seasons as well, but this version of Wiggins has been infinitely less infuriating than the previous ones. Wiggins just came off his first ever triple-double and his shot selection has been the best it has ever been in his career. If you told me before the year started that Wiggins was averaging 23 points per game and raised his assists, rebounds, blocks and three-point attempts stats, I would have been elated. Now add the fact that the turnaround jumper, 22-foot two-point shot and 16-foot post ups have all but evaporated. This version of Wiggins is one you can win with.



What I’m Looking for in the Second Half of the Season:

Leighton: Trade and Regain Starting Form

I’m looking to see if the Wolves front office can make a deal to acquire D’Angelo Russell, and I’m looking to see if the Wolves can regain their form from the beginning of the year. Towns and Wiggins are both back now, and Napier has taken over the majority of the point guard minutes which should help the team move the ball better.

Devan: Jarrett Culver’s Continued Development

Oh boy. Let’s talk about Jarrett Culver. I think most Wolves fans were about to jump off a cliff with how Culver looked early in the season. He was bad, there’s no real way around it. In the month of December, almost everything about Culver on offense looked broken. He averaged 7.2 points per game, while shooting 36.5% from the field, 18.9% from three, and just 41.7% from the charity stripe in the month of December. It was looking like Gersson Rosas’ first big move in charge of the Wolves was going to be a dud. However, there were voices of reason with Culver being in the first half of his rookie season and to pump the breaks. It turns out those voices of reason were right. Something happened on January 1st. That something involves Jarrett Culver and Robin Lopez, and man oh man was it special.

Since Jarrett Culver sent Robin Lopez to the NBA dunkyard grave, he’s averaging 15.4 points and 5.2 rebounds per game, while shooting 47% from the field, 31% from three, and 62% from the line. It may not seem like a lot, but it’s a huge step in the right direction compared to where Culver was in December. Culver has posted a 102 offensive rating in January, which still isn’t where it needs to be, but it’s pretty impressive considering his previous month-long high for offensive rating was 92 in November. If Culver can continue to grow over the second half of the season, that would make this Wolves season worthwhile, after the playoffs clearly aren’t going to come to fruition. 


Record Prediction:

Devan: 32-50 (Original Prediction: 37-45)

The Wolves had their opportunity to strike early in the season in terms of winning games. Those chances will be few are far between the rest of the way. Minnesota has the third toughest schedule in the NBA for the remainder of the season, and with their abysmal 2-17 record against teams with a winning record, it’s going to be hard to find wins, even with Towns back.

Leighton: 35-47 (Original Prediction: 40-42)

The Wolves have been abysmal against teams with winning records this year, only having gained two wins against such teams. The West has been a bloodbath and there’s no relief in sight for the Wolves. I imagine this team playing .500 ball the rest of the way, but to expect anything more seems unlikely at this point. Unless the Wolves can make a big play for D’Angelo Russell, I don’t see this season turning into a playoff run.

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