2019–2020 NBA Season Previews: Minnesota Timberwolves
Head Coach: Ryan Saunders
Last Season: 36–46, 11th in Western Conference
- PG: Jeff Teague
- SG: Josh Okogie
- SF: Andrew Wiggins
- PF: Robert Covington
- C: Karl-Anthony Towns
Additions: Jordan Bell, Jarrett Culver (R), Treveon Graham, Jake Layman, Kelan Martin (R), Jordan McLaughlin (R), Shabazz Napier, Jaylen Nowell (R), Naz Reid (R), Noah Vonleh.
Losses: Jerryd Bayless, Mitch Creek, Luol Deng, Taj Gibson, Tyus Jones, Cameron Reynolds, Derrick Rose, Dario Saric, Jared Terrell, Anthony Tolliver, C.J. Williams.
After a season of drama on and off the court, from the Jimmy Butler fiasco to the firing of Tom Thibodeau, the Minnesota Timberwolves return with new leadership this season. After finishing 36–46 last season and missing the playoffs by 12 games, the Wolves bring back a very similar roster in a year that will be a turning point for the franchise.
The best asset on Minnesota’ roster is star center Karl-Anthony Towns, who is now in the first year of the five-year extension he signed in 2018. After struggling to start the season last year amidst the Butler drama, Towns progressively got better as the season went on. Towns became the first NBA player since Kevin Garnett’s MVP campaign to record 1800+ points, 900+ rebounds, 250+ assists, and 125+ blocks in a season last year. His 24.4 points, 12.4 rebounds, 3.4 assists, 1.6 blocks and 0.9 steals per game were all career bests, and he was also arguably the team’s best 3-point shooter.
Defensively, Towns’ struggles have been well documented to this point. While he is still a liability on that end of the floor, Towns has shown signs of improvement over the last few years on the defensive end. After finishing dead last among centers in Defensive Real Plus-Minus three seasons ago, Towns has slightly progressed to 52nd in the league with a DRPM of 0.83.
This season, Towns will have the whole year to be the main star of the team. After being snubbed from the All-NBA teams last year, the 23-year-old big man has a chance to get back on that list this year and lead the Wolves back to the playoffs.
In terms of making the playoffs, that task will be much easier said than done for Minnesota.
Outside of Towns, there isn’t too much to be excited about on this roster. Towns has yet to experience a winning team outside of the 2017–18 season when the Timberwolves were briefly in the playoffs. Even though he is under contract for the next five years, Towns could very easily become frustrated with the lack of winning and demand a trade. If the Wolves want to keep their star big man around, they will have to acquire another star player.
A player that was supposed to be that star but has not lived up to his potential is Andrew Wiggins. The number one pick from the 2014 NBA Draft has been one of the more polarizing number one selections in NBA history. In 400 NBA games, Wiggins has averaged 19 points per game, but his efficiency and effort have been inconsistent to say the least. So far in his NBA career, Wiggins has posted a slashline of 44–33–73 on 16 shots per game and has yet to post a positive Value Over Replacement Player (VORP) rating in any of his seasons.
It’s safe to say that at this point, the max contract the Wolves gave Wiggins has not been a good investment. After receiving Tracy McGrady and Kobe Bryant comparisons out of high school and college, Wiggins has failed to live up to the expectations placed upon him. On top of that, his lack of effort and production have hurt the Timberwolves development.
If Wiggins doesn’t begin to show signs of improvement and step up on a night-to-night basis, the 24-year-old could very easily be gone by the trade deadline if any team takes him. While he is still young, I don’t expect any major improvement from Wiggins at this point. If he can become more efficient, take better shots, improve his attitude and become less of a liability on defense, then the Wolves have a shot at the playoffs.
On a more positive note, Robert Covington, who was acquired in the Butler trade last year, is one of the more encouraging players on Minnesota’s roster. The 6-foot-9 forward is arguable the best 3-and-D player in the NBA and is coming off a season in which he averaged a career-high 13.3 points per game and shot 37.8% from 3-point range.
Even when his 3-point shot isn’t falling, Covington still has a lot of impact on the court due to his defense. Last season, Covington was seventh in the NBA in Defensive Player Impact Plus-Minus (3.0) despite playing just 35 games. Covington had led small forwards in that category in the two seasons prior to last, and has emerged as the second best player on the Timberwolves roster. His length, athleticism, defensive IQ and jumpshot make him one of the more valuable players in the league.
At point guard, Jeff Teague will more than likely assume he starting role once again by default. The only other true point guard on the roster who is ready to play significant NBA minutes is Shabazz Napier, who is more of a score-first point. The same can not be said for Teague, who is constantly looking to facilitate for teammates. This is especially the case for Towns, who thrives in the pick-and-roll with Teague at the point.
While Teague is a serviceable NBA point guard at this point, the Wolves will have to start looking for a replacement at some point. Due to both injuries and age, Teague effectiveness began to tamper off last season. This was especially so with his jumpshot, as he shot his worst percentages since his rookie season. Teague’s defense also leaves much to be desired, as it is looking like the three-year, $57 million deal the Wolves inked him to was a bit of overpay. Regardless, Teague is still a serviceable NBA point guard who is more than capable of running an offense.
In terms of additions, the Wolves used the sixth pick in the draft to select Texas Tech wing Jarrett Culver. Minnesota traded Dario Saric and the rights to Cameron Johnson (11th) to the Phoenix Suns for Culver, who could end up starting at the two this year.The rookie should come in and contribute right away on defense for a team that ranked 24th in defensive rating last season.
Culver’s lack of a consistent jumpshot will hurt him offensively early on in his career, but he has shown an ability to get to the rack and score. He is also a better passer than given credit for and can postup when needed. Culver was in just the 58th percentile in spot up situations last season with the Red Raiders, which isn’t ideal for a high draft pick on the wing. If Culver develops more of a jumpshot, he has the potential to become an All-Star.
Another wing prospect that has impressed thus far for Minnesota is Josh Okogie. After years of poor draft picks, especially on the wing, it appears the Wolves made the right choice taking Okogie with the 20th pick in the 2018 NBA Draft. After two successful seasons at Georgia Tech, the 6-foot-4 shooting guard showcased his defensive ability and provided spurts of offense.
Okogie’s calling card in the NBA is his defense, as he is the second best defensive player on the Timberwolves outside of Covington. The Nigerian native’s jumpshot is still a work in progress as he shot just 38.6% from the field and 27.9% from 3-point range. Look for Okogie and Culver to split time at shooting guard as they will provide good defense while developing their offensive skillsets. The Timberwolves should pick up Okogie’s option before November.
After taking over as the interim head coach last season, Ryan Saunders is back as the bench boss for the Wolves. The son of the most beloved member of the franchise’s history Flip Saunders, Ryan is a young coach who will have a full season at the helm. Unlike Thibodeau, Saunders gives chances to younger players and has implemented a fast-paced offense and switch-heavy defense.
Rounding out additions, the Wolves added to their depth in the frontcourt by signing Noah Vonleh and Jordan Bell to one-year deals. Vonleh is coming off his best season from an offensive standpoint, as he averaged a career-high 8.4 points per game with the Knicks last year. Bell has been a disappointment so far in the NBA after a successful career at Oregon, but still has promise as a rim-runner and defender.
X-Factor: Robert Covington
Not only is Covington one of the more underrated players in the league, but he is also on one of the team-friendliest contracts in the NBA. With three years and roughly $36.5 million remaining on his contract, “RoCo” is one of the more underpaid players in the NBA given how much value he has.
If Covington is able to return to full health from his knee ailment, he should provide the Wolves value on both ends of the floor. In Covington’s first eight games in Minnesota, the Timberwolves didn’t give up more than 103 points in a game, going 6–2 in that stretch.
Can this team keep Towns happy?
While this roster does have some promise, the Wolves will more than likely be on the outside looking in come playoff time. It may not happen this year, but if the Wolves are unable to field a more competitive team soon, Towns could request a trade to a winner.
Towns is expected to have yet another monster season, but the Wolves need to show progression as a team for Towns to believe there is hope for the franchise. For now, Minnesota will lean heavily on KAT while they continue to try and surround him with quality players.
What will happen with Andrew Wiggins?
Andrew Wiggins has had a discouraging career thus far to say the least. After five years, Wiggins seems to be trending in the wrong direction as he is coming off his least efficient season yet. Combine this with the fact that he is supposed to make roughly $30 million over the next few years, and he may be doing more harm than good for the Wolves. Given his salary and lack of development, Wiggins is making it difficult for the Wolves to improve and add new pieces around Towns. While he is still just 24 years old, time is running out for the former number one pick to progress and prove he is worth the money he is earning.
There’s been a culture shift in Minnesota. There is new leadership in the front office and a good mix of veteran and young talent that should usher in a new era of Wolves basketball. That being said, it’s hard to see the Timberwolves making the playoffs this year.