Way-Too-Early Expectations

With free agency slowing down, it appears that the Timberwolves have their roster close to filled out (give or take a wing/point). Here are a few predictions with the current roster.

Stats for rotation players will look something like this:

Jeff Teague: 13 ppg, 8 ast, 1.5 stl

Being the fourth option on a team with ball dominant stars will knock a couple points off of Teague’s total from last season. His assist numbers should go up, though. He as always been a good distributor, but he hasn’t had this kind of firepower at his disposal.

Andrew Wiggins: 20ppg, 3ast, 5 reb

Wiggins will get his share of points. Having Butler will draw some of the attention from Wiggins and allow him some more room to operate. His silky-smooth jumper will become more consistent from deep. Wiggins won’t get as many touches, but his quality of looks will increase. Look for him to make improvements in rebounding as well.

Jimmy Butler: 20ppg, 6 ast, 6reb

Butler will terrorize opponents with his explosive drives, crafty array of mid-range shots, and the occasional catch-and-shoot triple. His scoring will dip slightly, as will his touches. Butler will be the locker room veteran presence, and the go to closer at the end of close games, alongside KAT.

Taj Gibson: 8ppg, 7 reb

Gibson will be the physical defender the Wolves have been lacking for years. He won’t light up the scoreboard most nights, but look for him to hustle on both ends every game. His familiarity with Thibodeau will also aid in the drastic growth of the young pups.

Karl-Anthony Towns: 27 ppg, 13 reb, 2 blk

KAT will solidify himself among the NBA’s elite this season. He will lead the team in scoring, rebounding, blocks and will also live up to his “defensive anchor” potential. His skill and athleticism + another year of Thibodeau’s defensive tutelage will round out a two-way superstar primed to wreak havoc on the block for the next decade.

Gorgui Dieng: 9ppg, 8reb

Similar to Gibson, Dieng will demonstrate unwavering hustle in whatever position he is cast. He will carve out a role as a jack-of-all-trades and the first big man off the bench. His scoring will fall, but he will grow as a defender under the wing of Taj Gibson. Dieng will be a perfect fit on the second unit.

Jamal Crawford: 8ppg, 2ast

Crawford’s role is to add some outside shooting and a scoring spark off the bench. At age 37 don’t expect huge numbers out of him, but expect a great veteran leader with the desire to win. Oh, and some pretty good handles too.

The last couple rotation spots are still up in the air. If no more talent is brought in, expect Tyus Jones and Nemanja Bjelica to do a respectable job in their backup roles. Jones will be an able playmaker and average three point shooter, and Bjelica will be a reserve stretch four.

Changing of the Guards

Who would have thought, that the only guard remaining from last season’s roster would be….Tyus Jones?

After the first week of free agency, the Timberwolves look like a completely different team on paper. Of the five guards that played substantial minutes last year, Jones is the only one to survive the roster overhaul that saw Ricky Rubio, Zach Lavine and Kris Dunn traded, and Shabazz Muhammad cut loose.

Thibodeau’s total team transformation is finally putting the Timberwolves back on the map. Last year’s free agent class was “headlined” by mediocrity. Jordan Hill, Cole Aldrich, and Brandon Rush combined to make a marginal impact at best. This year’s crop (so far), has been an upgrade in every sense of the word.

After acquiring seasoned vets like Butler, Gibson, Teague, and most recently Jamal Crawford, it is clear that the decade long rebuild is over in MN. Lacking veteran leadership in 2016-2017, the addition of players who can help develop a winning culture was the first issue addressed in free agency.  Jeff Teague is a winner. He’s been on a playoff team every year of his career. Jimmy Butler and Taj Gibson were part of the perennial playoff Bulls team under Thibodeau in Chicago. Jamal Crawford is a 17 year veteran, and three time 6th Man of the Year. It is clear Thibs wants to change the culture in Minnesota, and he has the right personnel to finally do it.

Many expected this massive roster overhaul a year ago, when the Wolves struggled to start the season. A visibly impatient man, Thibodeau is notoriously known for favoring former players and there were rumors of Andrew Wiggins + Zach Lavine + the 5th pick of the draft for Butler in 2016. Thankfully, he didn’t pull the trigger. Instead he used 2016-2017 as a trial season, getting a feel for what his team was capable of, and his patience has appeared to pay off.

This is what it must feel like to have a relevant basketball team.

Free Agents that Won’t Break the Bank

5 Free Agents Minnesota Should Target

With Free Agency beginning today, here is a list of potential targets the Wolves should pursue if they don’t end up getting Kyle Lowry or Paul Millsap, who are both set to make around $30 million a year (roughly 1/3 of the team’s salary cap).

 

CJ Miles – Small Forward/Guard

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Since being drafted in 2012 by the Indiana Pacers, Miles has established himself as a viable perimeter threat. He has shot at least 35% from three-point range in every season. His defense has also steadily improved. in 2016-2017 his defense ranked in the 78th percentile, which would provide a HUGE upgrade to the current MN reserves. His contract is expected to be somewhere around $10 million per year.

Darren Collison – Guard

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After spending the last few years in the basketball wasteland that is Sacramento, Collison posted solid offensive numbers for the Kings. 2016-2017 had Collison post over 13 points per game, while shooting an efficient 47% overall. A great playmaker and shifty floor spacer, he would be a nice backup guard who can provide some instant offense to a bench unit in dire need. His contract will also be in the neighborhood of $10 million.

Amir Johnson– Power Forward

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Johnson had a down year in Boston. His rebounding and defense slipped a bit, and he lost some minutes toward the end of the season. His play in the playoffs may have boosted his value on the market. Known for being a physical inside presence, Johnson would add sorely needed toughness in the post. Also wouldn’t hurt to have his 41% from outside the arc either. Johnson will likely cost more than Miles and Collison, as he started for a top team in the East and will likely command $12 million, approximately.

Taj Gibson – Power Forward

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A Tom Thibodeau favorite, Gibson plays smart, two-way basketball and has no problem making sacrifices for his team. He played with Butler and Thibodeau in Chicago and became an effective role player. He can knock down open mid-range jumpers, set solid screens, play great interior defense, and most importantly, serve as another on-court coach for Thibs. His familiarity with Jimmy Butler and Thibodeau may also persuade him to take a pay cut.

PJ Tucker – Forward

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Another tough guy presence, PJ Tucker brings some more edge to the team. He can guard basically any position effectively, and knock down occasional jumpers. At 32 years old, he will be cheap in comparison to other wings on the market, commanding somewhere in the $7-$9 million range, on a short contract. Tucker would be another veteran perimeter defender to come in and stabilize the wing position.

Look for my post next week on completed moves in Minnesota (or lack thereof).