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 Minnesota rescinded their qualifying offer to Muhammad to create more cap space.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.”
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