After 82 games and more than drama, the Timberwolves’ 30th season has finally come to an end. It was far from a satisfying campaign, as they finished with 36 wins, 46 losses, and the 10th seed in the Western Conference.
Heading into the offseason, there are plenty of things to keep an eye on in Wolves World. First and foremost, the hunt for a new President of Basketball Operations, which is reportedly already underway. This may also lead to a new General Manager and Head Coach down the line but most likely not in the short term. Next up is the draft, where the Wolves own the best odds at getting the 10th pick. Finally, there’s free agency, where the franchise will to try and navigate through a near maxed-out cap sheet.
Before all that fun comes along, we need to recap the season. So, here are the pros and cons of a strange year — in other words, some howls and growls:
Growl: Jimmy Butler Fiasco
Let’s get the obvious one out of the way first.
There is no denying that Jimmy Butler publicly dragging his teammates through the mud, refusing to practice, and taking games off for fake injuries was a major factor in Minnesota’s on-court shortcomings. At least for the first 15 or so games of the season.
Make no mistake, Butler was well within his rights to demand a trade. With Andrew Wiggins, Karl-Anthony Towns, Jeff Teague, and Jeff Teague taking up a huge chunk of the salary cap, Jimmy Buckets was never going to get the 5-year max he desperately craved. However, burning every bridge to the ground and throwing the ashes in the fans’ face was probably not the right way to do it.
Howl: Thibs Termination
There was only one person more culpable than Butler himself in the early-season melodrama and that was Tom Thibodeau.
At the time he was the coach and president of basketball operations, yet for some unfathomable reason, he refused to put the team’s best interests to the forefront. Instead, he opted to keep Butler well past his use-by date and even defend him in the media, while simultaneously degrading the players who did want to be in Minnesota.
With that — and his prehistoric schemes on both ends of the floor — in mind, it was a joyous day around Wolves circles when he was finally canned on January 6. It hasn’t been completely smooth sailing since his departure, but it’s been a lot easier to stomach without Thibodeau’s dictatorship cloud hanging over the franchise.
Growl: MASH Unit
Outside of Jimmy Butler’s late-season meniscus tear, last season saw the team blessed with one of the finest health records in the league. Ultimately, it was one of the key factors in securing their first playoff berth since 2004.
This time around Lady Luck wasn’t so affectionate. Karl-Anthony Towns, Andrew Wiggins, Robert Covington, Jeff Teague, and Tyus Jones all played the lowest amount of games of their careers due to various ailments, and Derrick Rose, Taj Gibson, and Luol Deng were also regulars on the injury report.
Who knows whether they would have been playoff-bound with a clean bill of health, but when injuries ravaged the bulk of their rotation they really had no chance.
Howl: A Wild KAT Appears
With the season pretty much down the drain from the get-go, there was only one thing that could cheer up Wolves fans: Karl-Anthony Towns’ growth into a superstar.
After a slow start to the year, he didn’t disappoint. He ended the season averaging 24.4 points, 12.4 rebounds, 3.4 assists, and 1.6 blocks per game while connecting on a scorching 51.8 percent from the field and 40 percent from beyond the arc.
Those outlandish numbers were thoroughly boosted by his league-shattering run after the All-Star break where he put up 28.8 points, 13.4 rebounds, 3.8 assists and 1.2 blocks, somehow managing to bump his shooting percentages up to 53.3 percent from the field and 42.9 percent from long-range.
On the offensive end, the two-time All-Star has firmly cemented himself as an unstoppable force. He commands the post, finishing with a deep bag of low-block tricks and whipping pinpoint dimes to cutters and shooters when the double-team comes. He is money when he faces up and decides to drive past opponents or sprinkle in mid-range jumpers. And he has become a legitimate 3-point shooter.
It’s imperative that the front office find KAT suitable help next season and the seasons to come because this guy is so ridiculously good.
Growl: Woeful Wiggins
In the first year of his max contract, Andrew Wiggins didn’t even get close to reaching the marks the organization, fans, and himself expected. Plenty of people thought Jimmy Butler or Tom Thibodeau were the reason, but he failed to really excel without either of those roadblocks in his way.
He did raise his points per game clip from 17.7 last season to 18.1 this year, and posted career-high marks in rebounds (4.8) and assists (2.5) per game, but he torpedoed that with career-lows in field goal percentage, true shooting percentage, and win shares. All the while failing to make any significant strides defensively or as a spot-up shooter.
In the process, the former Rookie of the Year forced most of the loyal and remaining residents off Wiggins Island. No longer is the expectation of him finally turning it around and cashing in on his potential a common belief. These days, one can simply hope he can improve marginally and give Towns a portion of the help he needs.
Next season will be a huge one for “Maple Jordan,” but it seems to be fools gold to hold your breath and wait for All-Star level production.
Howl: Radiant Returns
The whole Jimmy Butler saga was anything but a howl-worthy time for Wolves fans, but when he finally was traded their team was refunded with two important pieces in the form of Robert Covington and Dario Saric.
Before his season-ending knee problems arose, Covington strongly asserted himself as the second best player on the team. He is a menace on the defensive end, destroying offensive schemes with a type of venom that had him as the early front-runner for Defensive Player of the Year.
On the other end of the floor, ‘Glovington’ is a high-volume 3-point sniper and the type of ferocious cutter that blends perfectly Karl-Anthony Towns’ newfound passing ability. Had the 28-year-old played 65+ games, Minnesota may have given the playoff race a fair shake.
RoCo was always a reliable trade chip but at the time of the move, it seemed Saric packed the most future potential. The Croatian started slow in a role with the second unit and certainly struggled to leap a few hurdles when Ryan Saunders did insert him into the starting lineup. However, he also had plenty of big moments and remains an exciting piece to the Timberwolves ultra-confusing puzzle.
In the end, Super Dario averaging a tick over 10 points and 5 rebounds per night, proving to be a key offensive cog with his awesome cutting ability and his 38.3 percent 3-point stroke. On top of that, Saric showed he can be a surprisingly good playmaker and creator when he is given the chance. He is also locked up for under $4 million next season, which is a huge plus.
Jimmy Butler is the type of player every team could use, but getting Covington and Saric back for him can be considered good business so far.
Growl: Same Old Defense
There was a lot of things different this season to the Wolves of the past, but a team defense that resembled a grouping of traffic cones was nothing new.
They ended the season with the seventh worst defensive rating (112.2), and allowed opponents to shoot the eighth highest field goal percentage (46.7%) and the second highest 3-point percentage (37.8%). To put it mildly, it was a complete disaster on the effort-based end of the floor.
Some of it was likely Thibs’ outdated defensive schemes and/or Saunders’ inability to claw his team out of those habits, but a chunk of the blame certainly falls on the shoulders of the personnel — largely a mismatched group of below average defenders.
In 22 games with Robert Covington, that aforementioned defensive rating improved sharply to 107.2, good for seventh best in the league through that stretch. If Cov can stay healthy, Josh Okogie can add another preseason to his defensive prowess, and the front office makes some defense-savvy offseason moves, they could just get above league average next season. Let us pray.
Howl: Delightful Drafting
Thibodeau’s — and to a lesser degree Scott Layden’s — reign of terror over the front office decisions were pretty gruesome, but they did do one thing right. They nailed their last draft together.
With the 20th pick they selected Josh Okogie. A refreshingly aggressive defender who started in 52 games and has the ability to be an absolute stud with some offensive polishing.
Perhaps even more impressive was the selection of Keita Bates-Diop with the 48th pick. The gangly 6-foot-9 do-it-all forward spent much of the first half of the season in the G-League, but slid in seamlessly when he was asked to take up rotational minutes in the injury-ridden second half of the campaign.
We keep harping on about how paramount affordable contracts are for this team, but it really is important to get plus players on the cheap. With two rookie-scale contracts who can genuinely contribute, the early outlook on the 2018 draft is a big ol’ home run.
Growl: Deadlocked at the Deadline
At the time of the 2019 trade deadline, teetering on the fine line (25-29 record) of pushing hard for the playoffs or shutting down shop and trying to get a better draft pick. That means there was indisputably no reason they shouldn’t have made trades to help shove them in either direction.
Alas, General Manager Scott Layden decided to stand pat, failing to make a single ripple in the ocean that is deadline day. It’s likely that Taj Gibson, Derrick Rose, and Anthony Tolliver will all walk for nothing this summer, and getting something (anything!) in return for them could have been a handy piece to the upcoming rebuild.
If they really did want to make a hard push at the postseason, they could have tried to package some of their fringe players to maybe get another semi-reliable rotation piece. Doing nothing was not an option, yet that’s exactly what we were forced to witness.
If Layden does end up losing his job over the coming weeks, the stalemate of a trade period might be the biggest reason why.
Howl: Tyus the Non-Turnover King
Tyus Jones has always been a uber-reliable floor general, capable of making the right reads and taking care of the rock at a high level, but he took it to a new level this season. He took it to a level nobody else has before. Ever.
His 6.96:1 turnover ratio was the highest ever since turnovers began being recorded in 1977-78. In 23 games as a starter (32.3 minutes per game), he somehow pushed that mark up to 7.17:1. Sure, he can struggle to score from all three levels at times, and his size and lateral quickness can prevent him from effectively guarding some players, but Jones’ ability to keep control of the ball and make the right decision is a huge bonus.
If the 23-year-old restricted free agent does return to his hometown to continue what he started, his floor generalship might just earn him a starting gig over the aging and inconsistent Jeff Teague.