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Timberwolves Following Thunder's Blueprint

Comparisons in sports are difficult to make.

Just ask every above-average wing in the late 1990s or early 2000s.

He’s good, but he’s not Jordan.

Dwight Howard is still be compared somewhat to Shaquille O’Neal, for better or worse.

Some comparisons, though, have a little more substance behind them.

For example, you could make the comparison between the 2015-16 Warriors and the 1995-96 Bulls. The Bulls went 72-10. The Warriors are hoping to do that.

Another comparison that makes sense on paper is the up-and-coming Minnesota Timberwolves and the Oklahoma City Thunder. Not now, of course. But there was a time when Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook weren’t KEVIN DURANT AND RUSSELL WESTBROOK(!).

Entering this season, 31 players in NBA history have averaged 15 points per game at age 19 or 20. Four players have done so twice (Carmelo Anthony, Kobe Bryant, Durant and LeBron James). There was only one team to have two such players complete the feat. In 2008-09 for the Thunder, Durant averaged 25.3 points per game while Westbrook averaged 15.3 points.

If all goes according to plan, the Wolves will become the second team to have two players 20 or younger average 15 or more points per game. There’s a slight possibility the Wolves will be the first team to have three, with Zach LaVine averaging 12 points per game.

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But the Wolves only have 14 wins right now. With Durant and Westbrook, the Thunder had to have been better than yet.

Well, actually…

In 2007-2008, the then Seattle SuperSonics had Durant (no Westbrook) and they won 20 games – four more than the Wolves won in year one with Wiggins.

In 2008-09, Westbrook’s rookie season, Oklahoma City won 23 games. Minnesota is 14-32 as of Jan. 27 and according to Basketball-Reference.com, the Wolves are projected to win 27.8 games this season, which would be roughly five more than the Thunder.

With such a long season, it’s easy to get down. But these are comparisons that make sense. You can argue that Wiggins needs to improve on his 3-point shooting and that Towns needs to get bigger.

A few tidbits to remember when we look back on Durant and Westbrook:

  • In his rookie season, Durant shot just 28.8 percent from the 3-point line.  
  • In his rookie season, Durant shot just 43 percent from the field.
  • In his rookie season, Westbrook shot just 27.1 percent from the 3-point line. In his second season, he was even worse, shooting 22.1 percent.
  • In his rookie season, Westbrook shot 39.8 percent from the field. In his second season, he shot 41.8 percent from the field.

It’s worth noting that both Durant and Westbrook made their first All-Star games in their third season.

It certainly appears as if Wiggins and Towns are knocking on that door as well. Towns could even get there next season if everything comes together.

After the two rough seasons with Durant and Westbrook, combining for 43 wins, the Thunder have won 45 or more in each season since, reaching 60 in 2012-13.

(James Harden has to be mentioned as well. In the first season the Thunder won 50 games, Harden averaged 9.9 points in 22 minutes per game.)

This isn’t to say the Timberwolves are going to win 50 games for the next 10 seasons. But it is to say it isn’t impossible.

Quotable:

Durant on Towns: “I didn’t really know who he was. I just though he was another tall guy they wanted to be a good player. But as I’ve seen him progress — I saw him again in 2012 when he played for the Dominican Republic national team with coach [John Calipari]. I saw him there and it kind of shocked me, because I didn’t know he was that good. Once he got to Kentucky I said, ‘This kid is going to be a Hall of Famer.’ ”

Wiggins on the comparisons to the Thunder: “It’s never a bad comparison. You always think about the positives. They were great and they still got two great people on the team, Westbrook and Durant. Arguably the best players in the NBA right now. It’s never bad to be compared to them, especially at a young age… Their team had a lot of success… That’s what we want to get.”

The Wolves and Thunder tip-off at the Target Center on Wednesday at 7 p.m. The game will air on Fox Sports North and WCCO 830 AM.