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2016-17 Season Preview: Minnesota Timberwolves

Shaun Powell

Shaun Powell

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Oct 12, 2016 12:56 PM ET

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What would ex-coach and GM Flip Saunders say today if he could see what he helped create? The architect of these Wolves fell victim to cancer last fall, and his death cast a damper on the 2015-16 season. Before he died, Saunders pulled off a great trade by using All-Star Kevin Love to bring in Andrew Wiggins in 2015, and Saunders then chose Karl-Anthony Towns with the first overall pick in 2015 (both were back-to-backKia Rookie of the Year winners) and the Wolves appear to be on the upswing. A long cold spell in Minnesota, which hasn’t had a winning season since 2004-05, could change. 

ICYMI

After refusing to promote Sam Mitchell, the interim coach who took over after the death of Flip Saunders, the Wolves hired Tom Thibodeau, who also assumes the presidency. Thibodeau brought in Scott Layden as GM to handle the personnel grunt work … The Wolves hope to go three-for-three in Kia Rookie of the Year Awards after taking Kris Dunn with No. 3 overall … Kevin Garnett retired, ending a second stint with the franchise … In free agency, they added veterans along the frontline (Cole Aldrich, Jordan Hill) and on the wings (Brandon Rush)

THREE POINTS

  1. Towns is on the verge of stardom if his rookie season was just the beginning. He’s smart, works hard and brings a variety of skills on both ends. He can be as good as he wants.
     
  2. Zach LaVine launched a million jump shots in practice this summer and its clear he wants to be considered more than a dunker. Let’s see if he’s passing up shots in real games.
     
  3. How many teams are deeper at point guard than Minnesota? There’s incumbent starter Ricky Rubio, rookie Kris Dunn, LaVine (in spurts) and second-year man Tyus Jones, who wowed in Las Vegas Summer League. Training camp will be on fire.

MAN ON THE SPOT

Rubio never really had competition for the starting point guard spot since arriving in the 2009 Draft, but there’s some heat now with Dunn and Jones. Rubio is crafty with the ball and can rack up steals, but he’s a career 37-percent shooter. Will he be around beyond the trade deadline?

STARTING FIVE

Karl-Anthony Towns | 18.3 ppg, 10.5 rpg, 1.7 bpg.
Reigning Kia Rookie of the Year could push for an All-Star spot.

Andrew Wiggins | 20.7 ppg, 3.6 rpg, 2.0 apg.
Leading scorer is promising star but still has holes in his game.

Gorgui Dieng | 10.1 ppg, 7.1 rpg, 1.2 bpg
Developing frontline player might be better off the bench.

Ricky Rubio | 10.1 ppg, 8.6 apg, 2.1 spg.
Finished among the league leaders in assists and steals.

Zach LaVine | 14.0 ppg, 2.8 rpg, 3.1 apg.
Exciting dunker and slasher may now have a jumper with range.

KEY RESERVES

Shabazz Muhammad | 10.5 ppg, 3.3 rpg, 0.6 apg
Improving scorer must work better defensively

Kris Dunn | College
Lots of people already have him replacing Rubio; must prove it first

Cole Aldrich | 5.5 ppg, 4.8 rpg, 1.1 bpg.
Had a breakout season with the LA Clippers, then cashed in this summer

THE BOTTOM LINE

There’s no team in the NBA carrying more positive vibes than the Wolves. They’ve got a respected coach, two top-flight talents, a promising incoming rookie and a young, improving core. They won only 29 games last season and therefore a leap is certainly in the books. But isn’t that what many said about the Milwaukee Bucks prior to last season? While all of the moons seem aligned, taking that next step can be tricky for young, still-learning teams. The Wolves may appear playoff-bound, but their ceiling might be lower than most think. Further improvement from Towns and Wiggins will take them places, but others must fall in line.

Veteran NBA writer Shaun Powell has worked for newspapers and other publications for more than 25 years. You can e-mail him here or follow him on Twitter.

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