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4-on-5: Timberwolves Season Preview

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Four Canis Hoopus Writers share their thoughts on the upcoming season

Golden State Warriors v Minnesota Timberwolves Photo by Zhong Zhi/Getty Images

Before the Timberwolves season officially begins on Wednesday, we wanted to discuss how we think this new exciting team is going to fare.

1) What are you most excited about this upcoming season?

Tony Porter: I’m excited to see how the new additions to the team will impact the play of Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins. Assuming Gorgui Dieng comes off the bench, those two will have three new starters along side them in Taj Gibson, Jeff Teague, and Jimmy Butler.

All of those players bring a wealth of playoff experience and that should help develop the two young superstars in the making. Wiggins could see a dip in his offensive numbers with Jimmy in town, but the hope is that his defense will improve in his fourth year.

Kyle Thiege: This is the most talented roster Minnesota has put on the floor since 2003-2004 and talent gets me excited. But more than that, the Wolves haven’t had a true alpha type personality since KG’s prime, a player who demands attention and influences others to play harder. Win or lose, Butler is going to have a lot to say this season, and from a fan’s perspective, that’s a good thing.

Josh Clement: I want to see the Timberwolves win some basketball games for once. This is obviously a big season. The Wolves are going to have to take a huge step forward in order to live up to expectations for this season, which includes making the playoffs for the first time in over a decade.

They should live up to those expectations. This may be the most talented Timberwolves team ever assembled. The Wolves have two guys in Jimmy Butler and Karl-Anthony Towns who are in the discussion for top-ten players in the league. Towns is also, in case you haven’t heard, only 21 years old. The sky is the limit.

Dane Moore: Not feeling weird.

I’m excited that it is finally socially acceptable to make Timberwolves basketball appointment viewing. For years, I have been mocked, ridiculed, and just looked at weird for having not wanted to miss Wolves games. In the eyes of many, caring about the Wolves has been a comical and senseless hobby. That is a sentiment held in approximately zero other NBA cities. After a decade-long break from the Wolves, I’m glad Minneapolis is ready to jump back on board (or the bandwagon) and ready to care about this state’s PROFESSIONAL BASKETBALL TEAM.

Games are going to matter. I’m most excited for that.

2) What are you nervous about?

Tony: With how stacked the West is, I am worried the Wolves could still miss the playoffs. I don’t think that is likely as long as the team stays healthy, but that’s no guarantee. You also have to consider the high turnover in players means there could be growing pains until the team can build chemistry. I am very high on this team but it’s been 13 years since we’ve seen postseason play in Minnesota so I am not counting any chickens yet.

Kyle: Ho boy… where do we start? The bench has its flaws (although I personally am a fan), the defense has looked “meh” in the preseason, and the outside shooting still leaves much to be desired.

But my biggest fear hands down is simply failing to win basketball games (and subsequently failing to even sniff expectations). This has been said many times before, but THIS truly is the most exciting time for Wolves fans in over a decade. From the newly designed logo and court to the remodeled arena and roster – everything related to the Wolves is new, fresh, and inspiring. If the combination of all those encouraging things don’t lead towards improvement on the court, what will?

Josh: I think something that any Wolves should be nervous about is the question of if the NBA has immutably moved in the direction of 3-point shooting and spacing or if this is just another permutation of the league that is based upon the current skill set and players in the NBA. Or more simply, is the three-point revolution an answer to a math question that is irrefutably true?

If it is, the Wolves could be in trouble. They certainly have enough average three-point shooters, but they will get demolished every game in the three-point battle by teams who are shooting a high frequency of threes. I expect the Wolves to finish last, or at the very least, in the bottom five for three-point attempts this year. Against the best teams, that could be a deep hole to climb out of.

Dane: Right now, I’m nervous about the first three games. I think the Wolves could easily start 0-3 and I am afraid about the impact that may have on the psyche of fans and players. With San Antonio and Oklahoma City on the road in the first and third game, it is hard to not expect at least two losses by next Monday. Throw in the home opener against the Jazz (who I believe in this season) and there is a very realistic scenario in which the Wolves have started L-L-L.

How devastating would that be? I’m not sure. But an 0-3 start certainly does not fall in line with the 50-win projections of many.

3) What will be the biggest change in year two under Tom Thibodeau?

Tony: Dare I say an actually improved defense? After he took over last year, defense was the main thing people expected to see improve with the team. That was a bit premature as the Wolves were actually worse compared to the previous year in regards to defensive rating (110.1 compared to 112.0 under Thibs). Things should be different this year with key defensive additions in Taj and Butler.

Kyle: Optimistically? It has to be the minutes played by the Wolves (new) big three. Wiggins, Towns, and Butler finished 1st, 2nd, and 6th last year respectively in terms of minutes played (albeit with Butler on the Bulls), and that type of grueling punishment over an 82-game season just cannot continue this upcoming season.

I know people will question the Wolves bench yet again (especially on the defensive end), but there’s no denying it is stocked with offensive talent. It will be imperative that guys like Gorgui Dieng and Jamal Crawford develop an identity early on this season with the 2nd unit that allows Thibs to give at least two of Wiggins/Towns/Butler enough time to conserve their bodies for the 82-game grind.

Josh: I think the easier answer is defense. The Wolves should absolutely have a league average defense with the addition of Butler and Taj Gibson. If they are unable to do so, then I think we should be seriously questioning the adaptability of Thibodeau’s system or degree of buy-in from Wiggins and Towns. The reputation of the best defensive coach in the league is at stake.

Dane: The roster that surrounds Thibs.

Last year, the biggest oversight Thibs had was believing he could teach the young Wolves roster his system in a timely fashion. He went all-in in on the pillars of his past success. The way he coached, specifically on defense, was too much for last year’s roster and struggles became abundant. This was most indicated by the fourth-worst defense in the league.

This year, the roster is different. Almost every player who will be receiving minutes is familiar with Thibs and therefore his systems. Learning will be less of a need and therefore we can expect more effective execution of the system.

4) How do you expect the beginning of the season to go?

Tony: Nothing can be as bad as last year when the team started 6-18 while notoriously blowing leads in the 3rd quarter of many games. The first three games are pretty tough (@Spurs, Jazz, @Thunder) where the team could realistically go 0-3 to start the season. I don’t think it will go that way but even if it does, I wouldn’t be panicking yet.

Kyle: Seven of the Wolves first fourteen games are against San Antonio, Utah, Oklahoma City, and Golden State – all projected playoff teams in the Western Conference. I’ll say Minnesota stumbles out of the gate early and falls to 5-9 after a bad home loss to the Spurs, followed by a cliché “players only meeting” where Butler and Crawford “clear the air” and explain the importance of “bringing it every night.”

Josh: I would not be surprised to see some clunky offense from the Wolves for a while, with both the starters and the second team. The Wolves added a fourth player in Jeff Teague who has typically had a relatively high usage rate on offense to go along with Towns, Butler, and Wiggins. If the spacing is tight, which it very well could be, then I think it could a couple months for these guys to figure out how to play with each other.

This should be expected though. The team replaced three starters in the offseason. There was always going to be an adjustment period.

Dane: I actually expect the “meshing” to be fairly seamless. For years, the Wolves roster has had high turnover and that has cost them, particularly early on. Roster turnover almost always leads to an awkward “get to know you” period but I think with the new pieces all being veterans (and good at basketball) this season’s start is different.

While I don’t think the Wolves will start off torrid in the win column, I do not see the reason being fit. I think that narrative is overrated. Teague, Gibson, and Butler will all mesh well and once KAT and Wiggins fall in line a strong run of wins could be coming not too far into the season.

5) Current Vegas odds: 46.5 wins. Over/Under?

(Odds can be found here)

Tony: I may get roasted for this but I’m taking the over. There are questions about how the team’s spacing will work with limited three-point shooting in today’s NBA, but I think those are overstated. It’s also no guarantee the defense of the younger players will improve, but I think it will.

If KAT can recreate what he did post All-Star break last year while adding in a bit of defense, this team can be scary good with the addition of Butler. If the team is healthy all year, I’ve got them at 52-30. Hmm, maybe I am counting chickens….

Kyle: Under. In terms of gambling, I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: hedge, hedge, hedge! After 13 long years of not making the playoffs, the misery is real. Would you pay “X” amount for your favorite team to win 47 games (and subsequently secure a playoff spot)? And if bad luck sets up shop yet again at Target Center, leaving the Wolves at something like 39-43, wouldn’t you take solace in making a little extra cash that could be used in liquid form to ease the pain?

I know the famous saying – “life’s too short to take the under.” But when nearly half of your life has been spent watching your favorite basketball franchise struggle to navigate its way back to the NBA playoffs, limiting your emotional (and financial) risk isn’t all that terrible of an idea.

Josh: Over. I know this will take a historic level of improvement from the Wolves, but it is the beginning of the season. If there is a time and place to be irrationally excited, this is it.

Dane: Under. I have also seen 48.5 for the over/under, at least from a few initial sources. To hit the over, that is an 18-win improvement upon last season. Sure, the Wolves added three good players but 18 wins is a ton. To hit the over is really a bet on internal development. Which really means three things.

1 and 2: KAT and Wiggins improve.

And 3: The “Thibs System” begins to be more intuitive after a full year.

To me, a 49-plus win season only happens in the rosiest of scenarios. Certainly not impossible but really nowhere near a likelihood. Even at 46.5, I would still bet the under. 45 or 46 wins still get the Wolves into the playoffs, making the season a success. I'll put my projection right there, 45 wins.