Saturday, October 10, 2015

2015-16 Season Preview: Minnesota Timberwolves

MINNESOTA TIMBERWOLVES
[] 16-66
[] Offensive Rating: 103.6 (25th)
[] Defensive Rating: 113.0 (30th)
[] Net Rating: -9.4 (29th)
[] Last playoff appearance: 2004
[] Coach: Sam Mitchell (interim)

Now in their 12th season since their last playoff appearance, the Wolves are trying to find the right mix of old and new to work their way back to the postseason in the future.  While the team's outlook going forward is in the hands of the last two #1 overall picks, Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins, the Wolves have also made the decision to bring back franchise legend Kevin Garnett, who led the team to the Western Conference Finals back in 2004.  There was much more tread on the tires back then, and he's around now mostly to sell tickets/merchandise and mentor the team's many young players.  The Wolves have also added veterans Andre Miller and Tayshaun Prince to fuel the development of their young stars, a move that they're hoping pays off sooner than later.  The future looks to be bright in Minnesota, especially after the strong season Andrew Wiggins had as a rookie, but patience will be important again this year.  This is still a team that's finding its legs.

Projected Starting Five

PG: Ricky Rubio - 6'4, 190 - 5th NBA season
GP
PPG
PER
USG%
TS%
3P%
3PAr
FT%
FTr
AST%
TOV%
22
10.3
15.2
20.0%
45.2%
25.5%
.233
80.3%
.324
43.5%
20.4%

Rubio turns 25 in October, but this will be his 11th season of professional basketball, spread between his time in Spain and the NBA.  He still struggles to score the ball efficiently (In four NBA seasons, Rubio's best 2P% is 39.3%) and his turnovers are a problem (never managed a TOV% below 20.0%).  On the bright side, he's a productive defender (career 2.6 STL/36), does a good job getting to the FT line and balances his turnovers with a strong Assist Rate.  He'd do well to take less, or none at all, shots from the outside.  His struggles to shoot the ball could make him expendable, considering the direction the league is heading in.

SG: Andrew Wiggins - 6'8, 200 - 2nd NBA season
GP
PPG
PER
USG%
TS%
3P%
3PAr
FT%
FTr
AST%
TOV%
82
16.9
13.9
22.6%
51.7%
31.0%
.111
76.0%
.410
9.8%
11.7%

Wiggins still has plenty of room to improve, but he got his career off to a good start with a Rookie of the Year-winning campaign in 2014-15.  His overall production was good, but he struggled with his outside shooting and could do better as a playmaker.  Overall though, he got better as the season went along, even if he didn't shoot above 20% from three in any of the last three months of the season.  The best part of his rookie season was his knack for getting to the FT line, and his ability to score in the post.  Wiggins scored 0.84 points per possession in 315 post-ups last year, the most of any wing player in the league, rookie or not.  Interesting note: Wiggins scored more points per post-up possession than Tim Duncan last year.  Whether you consider Wiggins or Muhammad the SG is up to your discretion, but these two will be the starting wings this year.

SF: Shabazz Muhammad - 6'6, 225 - 3rd NBA season
GP
PPG
PER
USG%
TS%
3P%
3PAr
FT%
FTr
AST%
TOV%
38
13.5
19.9
25.3%
55.6%
39.2%
.128
71.7%
.365
9.6%
7.1%

Muhammad was coming on strong last season until an abdominal injury caused him to miss time in January, and then a hand injury knocked him out of commission in February.  In the 38 games that he saw time, Muhammad was an efficient scorer, both inside and out,  got to the FT line frequently and kept his turnovers low.  He too saw quite a few post-up possessions, notching 0.97 PPP on 97 post-ups.  He'll turn 23 in November, and is an important part of the Wolves' rebuild if he can replicate his solid numbers from last season.

PF: Kevin Garnett - 6'11, 235 - 21st NBA season
GP
PPG
PER
USG%
TS%
TRB%
ORB%
DRB%
FT%
FTr
BLK/36
47
6.9
15.2
17.8%
49.6%
18.3%
5.7%
31.1%
80.0%
.147
0.6

Garnett's reunion with the Wolves is more about him mentoring the young players (and selling tickets and jerseys) than it is about what he can do for them on the floor.  At 39 years old, he's in the twilight of what's been a really great career.  My guess is that he'll start in order to maximize the amount of minutes he shares with Towns.

C: Karl-Anthony Towns - 6'11, 250 - Rookie
GP
PPG
RPG
BPG
FG%
3P%
FT%
39
10.3
6.7
2.3
56.6%
25.0%
81.3%

Towns has all the potential in the world, but he'll need a little time to adjust to the NBA game and continue refining his offensive game.  He'll be in the mix for Rookie of the Year, and should have the luxury of learning from one of the game's best two-way big men over the last two decades.  For me, the most interesting thing to watch with Towns this year will be where he takes his shots from.  Can he develop consistent range out to 20 feet, or even to the NBA three point line?

Bench
PG: Tyus Jones - 6'1, 185 - Rookie
GP
PPG
RPG
APG
FG%
3P%
FT%
39
11.8
3.5
5.6
41.7%
37.9%
88.9%

The Wolves acquired Jones, the 24th pick in the 2015 draft, from the Cavs for two second round picks (Cedi Osman and Rakeem Christmas).  I like that deal a lot for Minnesota.  Jones will compete with Andre Miller for the backup PG minutes, and if things go well, should win the lion's share of those minutes by March or April.

PG: Andre Miller - 6'2, 200 - 17th NBA season
GP
PPG
PER
USG%
TS%
3P%
3PAr
FT%
FTr
AST%
TOV%
81
4.4
13.3
15.3%
54.8%
20.6%
.117
75.3%
.266
34.5%
24.3%

Miller is around to be a mentor for the young guards on the roster, especially Jones and LaVine.  He's not going to help you win games at this point, but there's still something in the tank.

G: Zach LaVine - 6'5, 185 - 2nd NBA season
GP
PPG
PER
USG%
TS%
3P%
3PAr
FT%
FTr
AST%
TOV%
77
10.1
11.3
22.0%
51.5%
34.1%
.247
84.2%
.261
24.0%
20.4%

LaVine is a dynamic athlete, and has the ability and size to play both G spots, but the Wolves used him almost exclusively at PG last year.  That may change this year with Jones in the fold, but that's still to be seen.  Keys to improving his productivity in 2015-16: cutting down on turnovers and mid-range jumpers.  I think LaVine will be greatly improved in his second season.

G/F: Kevin Martin - 6'7, 190 - 12th NBA season
GP
PPG
PER
USG%
TS%
3P%
3PAr
FT%
FTr
AST%
TOV%
39
20.0
16.7
26.6%
54.9%
39.3%
.306
88.1%
.309
12.5%
9.7%

Martin still packs plenty of scoring punch, but at 32 years old, he's probably not long for this Wolves team.  Of all the players the team is likely willing to trade, Martin has the most value.  If he can show again this year that he's still an efficient, productive scorer, the Wolves should get a solid return for him around the trade deadline.

SF: Tayshaun Prince - 6'9, 215 - 14th NBA season
GP
PPG
PER
USG%
TS%
3P%
3PAr
FT%
FTr
AST%
TRB%
58
7.5
12.0
15.0%
50.4%
46.3%
.167
75.4%
.162
10.3%
8.3%

Prince is at the point where you think he would be chasing another championship, which makes his fit with the Wolves a bit peculiar.  He's still got enough left in the tank to contribute off the bench, but it's more likely that the Wolves have him around to mentor Wiggins and Muhammad.  As a Pistons fan who watched as the locker room collapsed in the late 2000's, I'm not sold on that plan.

F: Damjan Rudez - 6'10, 200 - 2nd NBA season
GP
PPG
PER
USG%
TS%
3P%
3PAr
FT%
FTr
AST%
TRB%
68
4.8
8.2
13.8%
59.1%
40.6%
.646
69.6%
.087
7.9%
2.5%

Rudez is just a shooter.  That's not a problem, necessarily, because he's a good shooter, but just look at that Rebound Rate!  Tony Parker also played in 68 games last season, and he managed a 3.7 TRB%.

F: Nemanja Bjelica - 6'10, 235 - Rookie (2014-15 Euroleague stats)
GP
PPG
RPG
APG
FG%
3P%
FT%
29
12.1
8.5
1.9
50.0%
35.1%
68.4%

Last year's Euroleague MVP, playing for Fenerbahce Ulker, Bjelica comes over to the NBA at age 27.  His versatile game should fit well in today's NBA, and it should be fun to watch him adjust and learn on the job.

F/C: Adreian Payne - 6'10, 245 - 2nd NBA season
GP
PPG
PER
USG%
TS%
3P%
3PAr
FT%
FTr
AST%
TRB%
32
6.7
7.7
17.0%
44.3%
11.1%
.041
65.2%
.209
6.4%
12.5%

Most thought that Payne could help stretch the floor as a pro, but he didn't show even a hint of that in year one.  He needs more minutes to show what he can, or can't, do.

C: Nikola Pekovic - 6'11, 285 - 6th NBA season
GP
PPG
PER
USG%
TS%
TRB%
ORB%
DRB%
FT%
FTr
BLK/36
31
12.5
16.6
23.1%
50.2%
16.4%
12.1%
21.0%
83.7%
.393
0.5

Injuries are starting to take a toll on Pekovic; he's only played in 85 games over the past two seasons.  There were even whispers that he could be forced into retirement this offseason, although it doesn't appear that this will be the case.  When he can get on the court, he's a bruiser around the basket, an effective rebounder and a reliable offensive option.

C: Gorgui Dieng - 6'11, 245 - 3rd NBA season
GP
PPG
PER
USG%
TS%
TRB%
ORB%
DRB%
FT%
FTr
BLK/36
73
9.7
17.2
15.0%
57.3%
15.9%
11.3%
20.8%
78.3%
.477
2.1

Dieng is a rim protector, an efficient scorer and a solid mid-range shooter.  Wolves fans generally don't seem pleased with his overall defensive abilities, although I'll admit I don't see enough Wolves games to know exactly why.

Outlook

There's talent up and down the roster, but most of it is still in the developmental stages.  The Wolves are still a couple years away from even thinking about a playoff berth.  This season should be measured in the progress made by Wiggins, Towns, LaVine, Payne, Jones and Muhammad.  That being said, I think the improvement from the young players on the roster is enough to add a few wins to Minnesota's total from last season.  Andrew Wiggins is going to catch the collective attention of fans across the league, and Karl Towns should have his moments too.  This is a team headed in the right direction, and I think they make big improvements from last season, resulting in a surprising 27 wins.

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