77. Gorgui Dieng
Hannah Foslien/Getty Images
Timberwolves | PF | @GorguiDieng
Last year's rank: 112
2017-18 projected RPM: 2.41
Stats & Info: Dieng was a lone bright spot defensively for a Timberwolves team that finished 26th in defensive efficiency last season. The only players to average at least 25 minutes per game and rank ahead of Dieng in defensive real plus-minus were perennial defensive player of the year candidates Rudy Gobert, Draymond Green and Anthony Davis. The dependable Dieng is one of three players to appear in all 82 games each of the past two seasons.
Shabazz Muhammad has agreed to re-sign with the Minnesota Timberwolves on a one-year deal worth the veteran's minimum of $1.6 million. Muhammad will have his Bird Rights restored with the Wolves for the 2018 offseason.
Muhammad became an unrestricted free agent this offseason but still returned to the Wolves due to a softer than expected market. Minnesota rescinded their qualifying offer to Muhammad to create more cap space.
Muhammad gives the Wolves depth on the wing behind Jimmy Butler and Andrew Wiggins.
73. Jeff Teague
Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports
Timberwolves | PG | @Teague0
Last year's rank: 57
2017-18 projected RPM: 1.13
Stats & Info: Teague gives Minnesota a different look at the point guard spot. Although he's not the deft passer or crafty defender that Ricky Rubio was, Teague is a superior floor-spacer, which is even more crucial given that Jimmy Butler figures to assume a large portion of the playmaking. Minnesota's starting point guards (Rubio and the also-departed Kris Dunn) combined to shoot just 31 percent from beyond the arc last season, which ranked 29th ahead of only the New York Knicks.
57. Andrew Wiggins
David Sherman/NBAE via Getty Images
Timberwolves | SF | @22wiggins
Last year's rank: 45
2017-18 projected RPM: -1.25
Stats & Info: When it comes to projecting ceilings, Wiggins is among the most polarizing cases. On one hand, there's no denying his ability to score as you can count on two hands the number of perimeter players in NBA history to average more points as a 21-year old. On the other hand, skeptics wonder if the rest of his game will ever catch up as his assists, rebound, block and steal numbers have all plateaued since his rookie season.
12. Karl-Anthony Towns
Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports
Timberwolves | C | @KarlTowns
Last year's rank: 11
2017-18 projected RPM: 3.44
Stats & Info: Towns was named the most likely first-time All-Star by our Summer Forecast panel in August. He averaged over 25 points and 12 rebounds last season, becoming only the second player to put up those numbers and not make the All-Star team (Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was the first to do so in 1977-78).
11. Jimmy Butler
AP Photo/Andy Clayton-King
Timberwolves | SG | @JimmyButler
Last year's rank: 21
2017-18 projected RPM: 6.25
Stats & Info: Butler is a late-game assassin as he posted a clutch-time PER of 44.5 last season, which ranked second in the NBA behind only Russell Westbrook. One of the game's best at drawing fouls, Butler sank 59 of 62 free throws in clutch situations last season. Butler should help cure some of Minnesota's late-game woes as the Wolves lost 12 games last season in which they led entering the fourth quarter. That was the most such losses by any team in the Western Conference.
“Go out there and lead by example,” Butler commented after being asked about his role in reshaping a broken defensive unit from a season ago.
“But to tell you the truth, as long as you win, you’re a great leader. And you wouldn’t care if we played defense or not if we scored 106 points every game and the other team scored 105. I mean, technically that’s a lot of points being scored but we would win every game so nobody is talking about defense because we win. But defense is a way to win games so with that being said, as long as you guard, you’ll be OK. At the end of the day just win.”
Butler makes a good point here; winning has a way of sweeping issues under the rug for later examination. The details become less important when the desired outcome is achieved. And when pressed again about shifting the culture on the defensive side of the ball, another interesting question was asked. Does Butler believe success on defense is an effort thing? It seems so.
“If you want to guard, you’re gonna guard,” he said pointedly. “There are people that are like ‘you know what, I’m gonna outscore my man.’ But I think what Thibs wants is: cool, outscore your man, but limit your man. Limit the opposing team to one long contest two, as he would say.”
On the work ethic in Minnesota:
“I hear so many good things about how the young guys here work, and I love that. I mean, if you go back and look, all I ever wanted was a guy that just relentlessly worked. When they’re bored, they go to the gym. When they get to choose ‘hey do I want to play a video game or go shoot,’ they’re picking to go shoot. Those are winning habits. That just shows how great you want to be, and that’s what I want to be a part of.”
What does toughness mean in the NBA? Thibs talks about this all the time.
“I know one thing I think I have over anybody is that mental toughness. The fact that I may not be the most talented, I may not be this, I may not be that. But you’ll never take my heart from me. That’s something that you can’t do. You can’t control how hard I play. I control that. I guess that’s all part of being tough.”
How do you transfer that [toughness] to the rest of the team?
“Go out every day and challenge them to do the same, and if they don’t like it, you know, be you, be confrontational. But know when and where to do that. Get everybody to feed off of your energy and follow in your footsteps. I mean, just go in and play hard every single day. That’s all anybody can ever ask of you.”
“I think we made a lot of major changes for the better. Me and Jimmy are gonna be a problem on both the offensive side and defensive side. Him coming here and bringing his attitude, he brings defense, offense, playmaking. He’s a proven player, an All-Star, so it’s a major move for us.”
“I feel we’re both unselfish players, he likes to pass the ball and I like to pass the ball, we both wanna win and that’s the main thing.”
“Never, no doubt. Minnesota has been good to me. They’ve been loyal, trustworthy, and they committed. With that contract, that means they’re committed and they want me here, so, I wanna do the same.”
Wiggins was asked how he felt about Zach LaVine’s departure: “It was tough to see Zach go, because he was my best friend on the team. But, Chicago, that’s a great opportunity for him. He has a chance to do something special over there, I know he’s excited and I’m excited for him.”
Improving rebounding was his focus this season: “Working on my shot and my ball-handling but the main thing I’m going to focus on during the season is rebounding. That’s one thing I didn’t do as much last year or the previous year that I am going to try to do more of.”
How many pounds did you add? “Ehhhh, five.” This was after Wiggins said he “thankfully” put on some weight this offseason
“I made a promise to Flip Saunders that I would win and that I would end the playoff drought and I intend to do that,” said Karl-Anthony Towns when asked what will make this season a success.
I think it is having some stability. It was hard to come into the NBA and have two back-to-back different coaches. Now in my third year and having my second year with a coach I can really understand what the system is and I don’t have to change it.”
“I was just thinking too much. The system has you do ‘this, that, this, that’ and sometimes you forget you’re a basketball player. You’re one of the best players in the world, you have to use what got you here which was instincts. Sometimes I threw my instincts to the side and it hurt me sometimes. So now I’m playing more off my instincts.”
Head Coach Tom Thibodeau has constantly harped on the idea of “playing on a string” defensively, but Towns says he has the approval of his coach to play more instinctually.
“I like to use my instincts on defense. I love playing in the system but the system needs to allow me to have that freedom. I feel that freedom now.”
n addition to better defense this year, Towns expects to demand more respect around the league. One area being the referees.
“I think it comes with respect. I was only in my second year last year. I think refs were still getting used to me... I play a very funky style of basketball. It’s very unorthodox at times. It looks very weird. I think the refs were just getting used to it. And also, being seven foot and 250, it’s going to be tough to give me a call when a point guard is in front of me and I’m barrelling down on ‘em.”
He also referenced being stronger while also being faster as steps in his progression towards improvement.
“Teams always got physical with me. Maybe I got a little stronger, maybe I got a little faster but I didn’t want to change too much. I’m always a big believer that if it’s not broke don’t fix it... I changed my diet a little bit. It changed my body type... I feel good. My girlfriend says I look good so I guess that works out pretty well.”
Brooks came off as very appreciative of the opportunity to get another contract. He would only say that he was going to give his “best effort,” and he genuinely came off as somebody who will not be any sort of locker-room problem if his minutes are limited. He was also, like many others on this new team, very funny.
Justin Patton is still rehabbing from a foot fracture injury that he suffered in July. You would not know it by his upbeat personality. About the injury, he said that he always remained optimistic because he is a “high-spirited guy.” About the possibility of playing some in Iowa for the D-League team, he said that he is “gonna be having a ball in Iowa or here,” regardless of which team he’s on. Patton’s joyful approach comes off as genuine, and the only hope is that it isn’t naivete or that the rigors and realities of the professional game don’t beat that out of him too much, too soon. He seems like an incredibly positive person.
Last year at this time, Gorgui Dieng was in a tense moment. He and Wolves management were trying to negotiate a big contract extension that would take the Senegalese center from “rich, young guy” to “set for life, wealthy guy.” I remember admiring his candor when discussing the fact that he wanted to get paid. He ultimately was, about a month later, to the tune of $64 Million over four seasons. This year, Gorgui had less to say and less to answer about. The big question is whether he will start or backup someone else; likely Gibson. He did not seem overly concerned about that, emphasizing that he will only worry about the things that he can control. On a more specific note, he was asked if he worked on his three-point shot in the offseason. He mentioned that Thibs told him to do that in the offseason, and he did work on it, but then he added, “I think I have more stuff to worry about than shooting threes.” He laughed and pointed at Crawford sitting next to him, saying he would leave the threes to Jamal.
The last player to talk was Jeff Teague, who is relatively quiet-natured with dry sense of humor that occasionally comes through. Teague acknowledged that Rubio — the player he is here to replace — was and still is a “fan favorite.” He said that he hears about Rubio everyday, before adding in, “No, seriously, I do.” Teague said all of the right things about players sacrificing their own stats for the greater good of team success. He mentioned that he has made the playoffs every year of his career and wants that streak to continue. He finished with a humorous remark about joining a Thibs team and how in his previous spots has never started up on defensive drills THAT early (meaning a few weeks ago, before camp even officially starts).
om Thibodeau and Scott Layden had their duo presser (that was dominated by Thibs, as you would expect) in the middle of the proceedings. Thibs addressed a number of issues. I didn’t find anything he said to be particularly enlightening beyond things we already knew or have heard from him before. When discussing how “every little thing matters” his level of detail went to “taking a vitamin before practice.” The man is nothing if not a details freak. About the former-Bull veterans he acquired in the offseason, he thought that surrounding KAT and Wiggins with these guys would help their development. About Gibson in particular, he used the word “toughness” approximately 100 times. Thibs mentioned the team meeting last night, where the new mission statement was effectively: (1) Confront the facts; (2) Close the gap; and (3) Commit to improving.
For a bit of Thibs-speak that I liked, he at one point said that, “You need to have great dislike for losing.” He got somewhat detailed when discussing last year’s failures, which were almost exclusively on the defensive end. (They scored well and rebounded well.) In reviewing footage and stats, he said that they generally rebounded well and traced the ball well — something reflected by their number of deflections. Thibs felt they failed in “finishing” their defense; closing out with proper technique and playing hard all the way until they force a bad shot. He talked a lot about beginning with fundamentals and then working beyond that with strategy once the defensive fundamentals are in place. I asked if he faces a new type of coaching challenge, dealing with young players who don’t always get the fundamentals right (as opposed to Boston and Chicago where he led veteran groups to league-best D). Thibs did not think this was a unique situation, because he always starts with individual fundamentals, regardless of the roster. He said that with veteran teams, he can add more things in as the season goes along, but the focus on fundamentals is nothing new to him.
The main “offense” question faced by Thibs is the one everybody else dealt with: how to play as a team with so many scorers. He took on his serious/stubborn tone out of the gates on this one, dismissing that concern because — like any other team — primary scorers are to draw extra defenders and make the pass. He pointed out Butler’s high assist numbers for a wing and sees no problems blending both he and Wiggins into the same offense.
El Hespíritu escribió:Ayer pusieron el set oficial de posados del Big Three flamantemente uniformado.
Kawaii!! es poco
Most surprising thing abt Wolves preseason (which is already over folks): the righteous ball movement + overall enthusiasm of Jamal Crawford
Towns 8-25 inside the arc, 7-9 from distance. Butler 24 FTA in 3 preseason games. Next most: Bazzy with 15 (in 5 more minutes than Butler)
The annual GM Survey conducted by NBA.com was published on Wednesday. For the second straight year, the Timberwolves were prominently involved.
Karl-Anthony Towns had the most votes (29%) for the distinguished superlative of “player that GM’s would sign first, if starting a franchise today.” Giannis Antetokounmpo of the Bucks came in second, before perennial winner of the award, LeBron James, who only loses now because of advancing age.
Towns likewise won the “award” for the player most likely to have a breakout season. His teammate Andrew Wiggins finished 5th in that category. The imaginary trophies now too many to hold at once, KAT also finished first in the “best center in the NBA” category, edging out Anthony Davis and Marc Gasol. Frankly, that one seems premature, or based heavily on projections of improved KAT defense in the season to come.
Projection is the key word when it comes to the Timberwolves and this survey, because that is where the Wolves truly crushed it this year. A whopping SIXTY NINE (eds. note: “Nice.”) percent of voters believe that the Wolves will be the league’s most improved team in the 2017-18 season. Relatedly, when asked to rank the top four teams in this season’s West, GM’s gave the Wolves the 5th most love.
Last year, the 5th best team in the West won 51 games.
Last year, the Timberwolves won 31 games.
[whips out calculator and performs some complex calculations]
That would be quite an improvement.
The reasons for Wolves optimism are clear:
They bring back Wiggins and Towns after another offseason of maturing and conditioning. Each stands to improve after a full season of Thibs under their belt. The Wolves also used cap space on veteran free agents like Jeff Teague, Taj Gibson, and Jamal Crawford. While Teague-for-Rubio is arguably a wash or worse in value, it is easy to imagine the former fitting better into Thibodeau schemes and playing off of star wing players than Rubio, a less explosive passing wizard who tends to play his best when unshackled and freelancing. Gibson will provide an immediate and substantial boost to the starting group’s wretched defense. And Crawford is a savvy vet who — if nothing else — can help stabilize a second unit that has enough question marks in Tyus Jones, Shabazz Muhammad, and Nemanja Bjelica.
More significant than any of those moves, of course, was the trade of Kris Dunn and Zach LaVine for Jimmy Butler. It seems fair to assume that the league GM’s view the Butler acquisition as a huge one for Tom Thibodeau and cause to expect better things from his team.
That word “expect” is important here, because it distinguishes this preseason hype from last year’s. Recall that in the 2016-17 GM Survey, the Wolves finished high in many of the same categories. Towns was already the top “player to start a franchise with,” and ranked second in “most likely to break out.” He was ranked the league’s 5th best center.
And in last year’s survey, the Timberwolves — just like this year’s group — were predicted by a majority of GM’s (56.7%) to be the league’s most improved team. This came on the heels of a conservative off-season in roster management — they drafted Dunn and signed cheap veterans like Cole Aldrich and Brandon Rush in free agency — but an aggressive one in the coaching and management ranks: Glen Taylor lured Tom Thibodeau to Minnesota after his one-year sabbatical that followed his great run coaching the Chicago Bulls, and heading up the champion Boston Celtics’ defense before that. (Eds note: KORN FERRY!)
People were excited to see Thibs return to the sidelines and coach up a roster oozing with young upside. In predicting a big bump in Wolves wins like so many people did — [sheepishly looks down while raising hand in the air] — the incredible youth of the roster was lost and replaced by an eagerness to see Thibs coaching top-shelf talent.
Of course, after receiving all of that preseason hype the Thibs-led Wolves won just 31 games; 2 more than a season earlier under Sam Mitchell. Perhaps as disappointing as the record itself was how they went about losing so much: the Wolves had the 26th ranked defense in the league — something previously unthinkable under Thibs, whose reputation arises overwhelmingly from the defensive end of the floor.
The thing about last year’s Wolves hype is that it was centered around excitement and hope. People anticipated big improvement from within–they expected to see the same people immediately playing basketball at a higher level.
That type of buzz is both more fun and less serious than this year’s optimism, which is based on legitimate expectations for winning basketball.
The seriousness of this year’s version of Timberwolves hype is overwhelmingly a good thing–especially in this market so deprived of success that it hasn’t seen an NBA playoff game since George W. Bush’s first term. That these Timberwolves (eds note: obligatory “barring major injuries”) are going to be not only improved but very competitive in the mighty Western Conference can be essentially taken as a fact. That’s the simple reality of pairing Jimmy Butler with Karl Towns, and surrounding the duo with capability at every position.
Put simply: The Wolves are going to be good, and that is a good thing.
But even if it’s a good thing, the seriousness of these increased expectations is a little bit sobering too.
For one thing, the Wolves had to say goodbye to Zach LaVine and break up the little “big three” assembled by Flip Saunders before his untimely passing. The Butler-LaVine swap is an obvious and huge win for the Wolves, but it’s a bummer to see a player to whom fans grew attached leave town before he reaches his prime. It would have been more fun for fans to see the Wolves succeed with LaVine than it will with veteran replacements.
For another, and related to the LaVine point, the experience of this team’s development will effectively skip that really fun inflection point where we see them grow into a competitive team. Think: 1996-97 and the first playoff team with Stephon Marbury and Kevin Garnett, or the pre-Rubio-injury portion of the 2011-12 season when Rubio and Rick Adelman arrived and had them playing above-.500 ball for the first time in forever.
There is something special about the rite of passage a young team experiences when it finally cracks .500. The Wolves were supposed to do that last year and instead of running it back and trying again, they’re effectively skipping a step by replacing young players with older ones. If they only win 41 games in 2017-18, it will be justifiably seen as a failure. Expectations are higher than that.
If this seems like nitpicking, I suppose that’s because it is. Like I said, the seriousness and legitimacy of these heightened expectations is a good thing. Winning is a lot better than losing, and we here are starving for it. But when the rest of the league, for the second straight year and for some significantly different reasons, are already anticipating a huge bump in wins, some of those wins will be less exciting than if they came more organically and from within.
These are good problems to have, if they are even problems at all.
Andrew Wiggins, Karl-Anthony Towns and the Timberwolves can expect to hear a similar mantra for the next six months. Butler believes Thibodeau has mellowed a bit since the Chicago days (“He’s still up and yelling, don’t get me wrong, but he’s gained this whole human element”) and ponders whether he can do the same. Criticism of Butler’s leadership in Chicago was poorly timed, but not unfounded. His tongue-lashings can actually be harsher than Thibodeau’s. Butler gives an example: “What are you doing right now? What is going on in your mind? Who the f--- do you think you are? If you shoot that ball again, I’m throwing it upside your head.” Butler pauses to assess his words. “O.K., that’s what I’d want to hear. But not everybody is the same, and right now, you’re probably scared of me and want to be left alone.”
Former Bulls guard Michael Carter-Williams forced Butler to reconsider his delivery during a meeting last season, when Carter-Williams suggested that encouragement could produce better results than outrage. On the Gulfstream back to Los Angeles from San Jose, Butler tests the diplomatic approach with his agent, Bernie Lee. “If I think Bernie is ugly, I can tell him, ‘Bernie, you’re the ugliest thing I’ve ever seen.’ Or I can say, ‘Bernie, did you do something different with your hair today?’” Butler is proud of his progress. Regardless, it’s probably good that the mild-mannered Wiggins and the fun-loving Towns already spent a year with Kevin Garnett howling in their eardrums.
Like K.G. with Flip Saunders, Butler can address Thibodeau on the sideline and channel him in the locker room. “I’m able to tell Thibs, ‘Chill out, I’ll talk to Karl,’” Butler says. “And I’m able to tell Karl, ‘If you come off the ball screen, I need you to be up, I can’t have you back. That’s what Thibs wants.’” The Timberwolves, despite their glut of young talent, did not resemble a Thibodeau team in Year 1. They finished 20 games under .500 and 28th in field goal percentage defense. Enter Butler, a stopper, scorer and emerging playmaker who transforms a promising collective into a potent core. “Great intensity, great passion,” Towns says. “I just don’t know if I’m going to listen to the country.”
By Day 3 of training camp in San Diego, Butler has found new fixations. He urges the T-Wolves to talk more on D, reminds power forward Taj Gibson to catch with two hands and begs the big men to stop inbounding the ball directly under the rim. “We’re not the Warriors,” Butler explains later. “We have to do the little things. It’s 100–100, five seconds left, we’ve got possession. Our point guard is denied, he spins out, and we throw the pass off the goal. You’ve got to take it out to the side of the basket.”
Andrew Wiggins and the Minnesota Timberwolves have agreed upon a five-year max deal worth $146.5 million.
Wiggins' contract does not contain a player option.
Wiggins’ previous agent, Bill Duffy, negotiated a maximum contract with the Timberwolves this summer before the sides parted ways.