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ESPN’s RPM Stat Projects Wolves to finish Fourth in Western Conference

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The expectations are high for the new-look Wolves.

NBA: Minnesota Timberwolves at Denver Nuggets Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports

The offseason hype train for the Minnesota Timberwolves is gaining steam at a rapid pace. And it’s not just from local outlets and fans — national media powerhouses have also taken notice of what Tom Thibodeau has built in Minnesota.

ESPN’s Real Plus-Minus Stat (RPM) calculated projected win totals for all 30 teams in the NBA for the 2017-18 season. Kevin Pelton put together an article here that details the predictions — and the Wolves are ranked highly.

Minnesota’s projected win total is 50.1, which is fourth in the Western Conference behind Golden State (62.1), Houston (55.0) and San Antonio (52.6). Oklahoma City’s win total prediction of 49.5 puts the Thunder fifth, right behind the Wolves.

From the article:

Statistical projections have been known to overrate the Timberwolves by betting on the come, including last season's seemingly conservative 37-win projection from RPM. (Minnesota won just 31 games, albeit with the point differential of a 38-win team.) With Jimmy Butler joining budding stars Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins, this time feels different. RPM doesn't even project the Timberwolves to defend particularly well (20th in defensive rating); this projection is largely a testament to the league's second-best offensive projection.

It would be pretty neat to see the Timberwolves earn home-court advantage for a playoff series after missing the playoffs altogether for 13 straight seasons. However, these statistical projections seem too good to be true.

As noted in the article, Minnesota fell short of ESPN’s projections a season ago. The addition of Jimmy Butler is most certainly an upgrade, but let’s not act like losing Zach LaVine, the team’s only remarkable threat from beyond the three-point arc, isn’t somewhat worrisome.

Minnesota will have to find some consistent three-point shooting and take a substantial step forward defensively to land a 50-win season and the fourth seed in the West. The defensive improvement looks like it will be there, especially after the additions of Butler and menacing big man Taj Gibson.

Thibodeau has some work left to find sufficient three-point shooting. But, the fact that the Wolves are garnering this kind of attention and expectations is definitely something to get excited about.