For the last 10 years, being a fan of the Minnesota Timberwolves has required a lifetime of patience. Patience with draft picks and playing the waiting game to see if they pan out. Patience with the multitude of new head coaches, waiting for their new game plans and acumen to propel the team to limitless heights. Patience with the front office in hopes that they would fill out the roster with useful players to support their best one. Patience. Patience. Patience.
But now, it seems as if all that waiting, all that patience, is finally on the verge of paying off. The Wolves have a core of young players who appear to actually be on track towards greatness.
Karl-Anthony Towns is a superstar in the making with his projected-as-revolutionary offensive skillset and unbounding defensive potential. Andrew Wiggins is one of the best young scorers in the NBA and will appear on multiple All-Star teams if he can tap into his defensive abilities and extend his range beyond the three-point line. Zach LaVine is a once-in-a-generation leaper, whose confidence and swagger almost seems Westbrookian at times, and he has a pretty good three-point shot to boot. During his brief time on the court, Kris Dunn displayed a grit and tenacity that would be more appropriate on the recent Grit 'n' Grind Memphis Grizzlies teams rather than the Wolves. And Ricky Rubio is arguably the best defensive and passing point guard in the NBA.
Not only do the Wolves have promising players, but they will also finally have an identity under new coach Tom Thibodeau: defense. The Wolves haven't had a tangible identity since Kevin Garnett's first go-around in Minnesota and next season we will finally see that drought come to an end; a Thibodeau led defense has never finished lower than 11th in the league in defensive rating. Thibs will ingrain defense and work ethic into the impressionable, young Wolves and will help build a positive, winning culture for a franchise who has been in desperate need of one since at least 2004.
Towns figures to be the cornerstone of the new Wolves' defense. He is a solid rim protector, who only figures to get better with age and experience, and can hold his own defending both fours and fives. He also possesses the lateral quickness, length, and athleticism to be able to switch onto and defend guards off of screens. Andrew Wiggins is long and athletic and has shown instances of being able to be a lockdown defender against some of the league's best offensive talent (remember what he did to James Harden during his rookie season?). He needs to become more consistent, but I would imagine that Thibodeau will be able to bring the best out of Wiggins on that end of the court.
LaVine also possesses great length and blinding speed, which would make one think that he could become at least an average to good team defender. He will continue to struggle with fighting around screens until he gains more strength, but similar to Wiggins, he has shown at least some promise in one-on-one defense on occasion. Once Dunn becomes accustomed to the NBA, he will be an absolute bulldog during on-ball defense and will bully opponent point guards. His strength and quickness is a match made in heaven for Thibodeau's Ice strategy as he will be able to overpower the players he is defending and force them to the outside. And Rubio's defensive prowess is already well-known and highly regarded amongst the knowledgeable NBA faithful.
In theory, the Wolves have the perfect player personnel to compete against the Golden State Warriors and the other NBA elite...in 2-3 years. For as promising as the new iteration of the Wolves is, they still have a ton of growing and learning to do. Every player still has their on-court weaknesses (though off-court and attitude don't seem to be a problem at all) and will experience growing pains, definitely next season and perhaps for a few more seasons after that. It is easy to forget just how young this Wolves team is. None of Towns, Wiggins, Dunn, and LaVine can rent cars and even Rubio has only been able to for not even an entire year yet.
Have no doubt, the Wolves will be a special team in the not so distant future. They have the most promising core in the NBA, after all, but to expect instant success and championship contention would be misguided, at least for the next two or three seasons. The Wolves should be much improved next season, but 41 wins (a.k.a .500 basketball) should be the goal. Anything above that, including a playoff berth, would just be icing on the cake.
So do the Wolves have a bright future? Undoubtedly. Will the Wolves be much improved this coming season? Certainly. But should fans expect anything more than that? I don't think so. The Wolves' time will come soon enough, but, as it turns out, patience will continue to be a virtue.