In his annual column breaking the teams down into tiers, ESPN’s Zach Lowe sees the Wolves a tier below the teams competing for the final couple of playoff spots in what appears to be another brutal Western Conference competition. He places them in a tier along with only the Oklahoma City Thunder just above the also-rans of the league but below teams like the Kings, Mavericks, Spurs, and Pelicans in the Borderline Playoff Teams tier.
The Wolves-Thunder tier he calls The Netherworld of the West tier, as the 22nd and 23rd best teams in the league, and has this to say about the Wolves:
• Several projection systems -- including Kevin Pelton’s at ESPN and the 538 forecast -- treat the Wolves more kindly. They outscored opponents by about three points per 100 possessions with Karl-Anthony Towns and Robert Covington on the floor, and Covington is on track to start the season healthy.
They made a bunch of nice fringe moves: Shabazz Napier, Treveon Graham, Jake Layman, Noah Vonleh, Jordan Bell and Tyrone Wallace. Some of those contracts could be handy in two- and three-team trades; Minnesota figures to be active.
Towns is a god on offense, and having just one scorer so talented -- a legitimate fulcrum -- tends to push even blah teams toward .500....
But the talent gap between Towns and the rest of the roster is huge. Everyone else is either untested or underwhelming. This group has almost zero record of competent defense. A bounce-back from Jeff Teague, or any bounce at all from Andrew Wiggins, would shift the trajectory, but it’s tough to bet on either doing enough to elevate Minnesota into the thick of the West playoff race.
This would put the Wolves 12th or 13th in the West, which seems about right if a bit more pessimistic than I would like to see from a respected analyst like Lowe. It puts them ahead of only the Suns and Grizzlies in the conference, battling with the Thunder for the next spot.
This would ultimately have to be called a disappointment if it plays out this way, though not an immense one. I’d like to think they can scrape the top ten in the West, battling teams like the Mavs, Kings, and Pelicans for those spots, but it’s not impossible they are a step behind those groups. If they are, it means there were probably health problems, in addition to development disappointments.
Regardless, Lowe is clear-eyed enough to remind us of what we already know: The Wolves need better players. That’s true whether they finish 13th in the Conference, 10th, or even by some miracle scrape into a playoff spot.
What do you think of Lowe’s analysis?