The Future of the Minnesota Timberwolves Revealed Here


The NBA season is upon us. Last night, we had one good game, one blowout that we all kind of expected, and one blowout we most definitely didn’t. Tonight the league gets going in force, and our Timberwolves take the court for what looks to be their most exciting season since Sam Cassell held the keys to our championship dreams. The rest of league is looking at Minnesota, afraid that this is the beginning of a juggernaut. Minnesota fans are tentatively letting their guards down and opening up to optimism, a dangerous yet intoxicating emotion that too often leaves us with an empty husk where our joy and happiness used to reside. But for now, before the games start, before we start thinking about the last time we had it so good, before an injury or a missed field goal or a turnover or unexpected mediocrity breaks our hearts (this is a preemptive hex. It’s part “it can’t happen if we talk about it” and part “lowering expectations”), let’s actually look forward to the new season with confidence and hope. Let’s pretend we know how this is all going to turn out. Let’s make some predictions. Let’s do some prognosticating. 

Player most likely to make me forget that death is inevitable

KAT. Has Minnesota, in any sport, ever had a player like KAT? We’ve had our number one picks. We’ve had our superstars. We’ve had our local heroes. We’ve had our media darlings. But I’m not sure we’ve ever had someone who on the one hand makes it all look so easy and on the other tells you that nothing is easy and he won’t stop working until every Minnesota fan gets over their persecution complex. KG comes close but he never produced the same level of pure belief from the fandom at such an early stage in his career. And with KAT, that belief is justified. There’s no stat that hasn’t been noted or superlative that hasn’t been expressed, so I’m just going to say this: KAT will average 23-12-4-2-1 on 55-38-85 and make the All Star team (and is capable of 25-14-5-2-1 on 55-40-90 and an MVP in the not too distant future. Am I being ridiculous?)

Player who will frustrate me because I think he’s on the verge of being legitimately great

Andrew Wiggins. When Wiggins is focused and engaged, he is dangerous on both ends of the floor. He can take over games with his scoring ability and tenacity. As the last season wore on, he became a more willing and capable passer. But he floats too often. If Thibs does one thing this year, I hope he teaches Wiggins that defense can’t be played well when you’re standing up straight. Get down into your stance, young man! If Thibs does two things this year, I hope the other is making Wiggins realize that he needs to be a more aggressive rebounder. All the tools are there, and I don’t think this is at all an issue of Wiggins not wanting it enough or being lazy. I just think Wiggins is a guy who naturally defers to others. This isn’t necessarily a negative, but he needs a better understanding of when to defer and when to push his way to the front. That understanding showed up a little toward the end of last season (see the win at Golden State), so I’m confident he continues to improve. Confident but nervous.

Player that will result in the majority of my Twitter arguments/mutes/blocks

Ricky Rubio. Ricky is the most frustrating Wolf to be a fan of for two reason: (a) his inability to become a competent shooter and (b) the casual fan’s inability to see how good he is at everything else. At this point, the division between those who love Ricky and those who are wrong may be too deep to repair. But please, before you come to me saying that the team needs to trade Ricky and start Tyus or that we need a point guard with true grit like Delly, focus on what Ricky does in a game. I mean that literally. Watch a game and just pay attention to what Ricky is doing on every possession. Let go of your feelings about his shot. Sure, it’s about as aesthetically pleasing as Barkley’s golf swing and half as effective, but it is not the sum of who Rubio is. Watch when he hounds the opposing point guard (Curry shot .418 overall and .389 from 3 against the Wolves last year), steps perfectly into a passing lane for a steal, immediately pushes the break, and threads a half-court bounce pass to KAT for dunk, and ask yourself how many other guards in the league can do that. More importantly, ask yourself how likely it is that any of them end up on the Timberwolves.

Player most likely to make us all appreciate Ricky Rubio

Kris Dunn. I like Dunn. A lot. He seems like a good guy and a hard worker, and I have no doubt he will be an asset to the team. But there is nothing, maybe save for making shots at the rim, that he does better than Ricky and whether or not there ever will be is an open question. He struggled with his shot in college and had a high turnover rate. He’s a solid but not spectacular passer. He’s known as a defensive player but rookies are almost never any good on defense. None of this is to say he can’t or won’t improve, but he is not ready to be a starting point guard in the NBA. I’m not sure he’s ready to be a primary back-up. The potential of the Wolves this year drops off significantly if he is the starter. Maybe next year he’s good enough to take over. Maybe not. But think about this: If he’s ever a better point guard than Ricky is right now, he’s probably an All Star and the Wolves are one of the best teams in the league. That’s exciting, but it also reveals how good Ricky actually is. So let’s hold off on anointing Dunn. It’s not fair to him or Rubio or us.

Player most likely to be nicknamed the Human Torch (by me)

Zach LaVine. We all know the kid can dunk (but it has to be said, I think Aaron Gordon should’ve won the Slam Dunk contest), we’ve seen what happens when he gets hot (look at his post All Star break shooting stats. Flamethrower), and we realize that on defense he’s often left in flames. So I’ll be calling Zach the Human Torch all year (I already have the gifs lined up), and I hope it catches on (and that by the end of the season, it no longer describes his defense). Join me!

Player most likely to provoke Thibs into a profanity-laden rant

Shabazz Muhammad. The actual one and only correct answer is Adreian Payne. However, that’s too easy, as Payne has provoked multiple profanity-laden rants from anyone who has ever watched the Wolves. Bazz might be the hardest worker and most aggressive scorer on the team, but that aggressiveness can get him into trouble. To put it politely, Bazz doesn’t have great court vision on offense, and on defense he is prone to gambling and ball-watching. None of these seem like things Thibs has a lot of patience for, so I expect to see Bazz on the wrong end of a few tongue lashings.

Lineup most likely to result in fan fist pumps

Rubio-LaVine-Wiggins-Bjelica-KAT. This is no knock on Gorgui. Gorgui deserves to be the starter, and he and KAT have great chemistry. But a rejuvenated and aggressive Bjelly knocking down 3s and he and Rubio creating lay-ups, corner 3s, and dunks for Wiggins, LaVine, and KAT sounds like a hell of a lot of fun.

Lineup most likely to set my hair on fire

Rubio-LaVine-Rush-Bjelica-KAT. We just don’t have a point guard who can shoot but I’m happy to have Ricky facilitating this lineup into a ton of open 3s and watching the nets burn.

Lineup most likely to break the will of grown men

Dunn-Bazz-Wiggins-Aldrich-KAT. I was tempted to put KAT at all five positions here, but that seems unreasonable and is likely impossible. I compromised and put together this list of bowling balls rolling down hill. Four of the five will attack and not stop attacking, and Aldrich gets to be the enforcer while throwing down a few tip-in dunks and just being generally disagreeable (court persona not real-life personality).

Lineup that Thibs will never, not even in his darkest dreams, allow to see the floor

Tyus-LaVine-Bazz-Payne-Jordan Hill. All Thibs sees is turnstiles spinning, spinning, spinning.

Trend most likely to elicit happiness (and relief) in every Wolves fan who watched games the past two years

Using the 3-point line as weapon instead of a decoy. It became a running joke last year (but not the funny kind. More like the kind your grandfather tells every year at Thanksgiving. The one that no one has the heart to tell him isn’t appropriate in this day and age). A player, pick a player, any player, would get the ball behind the 3-point line with no defender near, pump fake, dribble, step just inside the line, and take a long 2. I think most fans will consider this year a success if we never see that happen again. It’s a low bar but a necessary one.

Trend most likely to make Wolves fans nervous

Best young team in the league! Minnesota sports fans have been snakebitten so often and for so long that any positive proclamation about one of our teams by the national media produces two reactions: joy that we are finally getting the recognition we have long deserved and fear that you just put a jinx on the whole damn operation. 

Wolves final record

I went back and forth on this (completely unscientific and totally based on my feelings) prediction. Do I go pessimistic to protect my fragile heart? Do I go realistic and base it on what I know about the team? Or do I throw caution to the wind and get optimistic? Guess what? I don’t have to choose.

  • Pessimistic – Rubio gets traded 20 games in. Dunn starts and isn’t ready, not even close. LaVine forgets that he can shoot and just tries to dunk every time he gets the ball; his reed-thin body makes this impossible. Bazz gets injured on a head-down bull rush to the basket. The new bench is the same as the old bench. Wiggins gives up on defense in his quest to average 30. KAT is revealed to be a mere mortal and averages only 18-10-2-2 on 50-35-80. Thibs loses his voice from all the yelling. Final record – 32-50, miss the playoffs. Again.
  • Realistic – Thibs improves the defensive ranking to the 15 to 20 range. Rubio has the exact same season he had a year ago. Bazz plays up to his expanded role. LaVine averages 18 and 40% from 3. Both are still bad defensively but not abominations. Wiggins improves his game in small ways, all his numbers go up but not significantly. The new bench parts, especially Rush, Dunn, and Aldrich, keep the Wolves competitive when the starters sit. KAT is just as good as we expect. Final record – 42-40, 8 seed, push the Warriors but lose in 6 (but can you imagine a better scenario than getting the 8 seed and beating the Warriors? I think I’d almost prefer that to a better record and higher seed).
  • Optimistic – Thibs’s defensive schemes are absorbed through osmosis and the Wolves are top 10. Rubio improves his shooting to 45% from the field, 35% from three. Bazz is a favorite for 6th Man of the Year, partly because of his vast improvement on defense. Rush and LaVine push each other all year and turn into the mini-Splash Brothers. Wiggins becomes a defensive stopper, averages 20-5-4. KAT is even better than we hoped (I actually think it’s about 60-40 between this and “just as good as we expected”). Final record – 51-31, 4 seed, make the 2nd round, lose to the Spurs, and in the post-Game 7 interview with Craig Sager (the universe willing), KAT congratulates the Spurs, talks about how the Wolves want to be the new model franchise, and warns the league about the impending Wolfpocalypse.

Follow me on Twitter: @absoloj

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