After a pretty disastrous 2019-20 reason, it is seemingly impossible for the Wolves to be worse than they were last season. Karl-Anthony Towns has a fully healthy wrist, D’Angelo Russell has had nearly a year to unpack his bags and get acclimated with Minnesota and the Timberwolves franchise, Malik Beasley is eager to prove his worth on the floor, and the preseason has teased that we might be getting offensively improved versions of Josh Okogie and Jarrett Culver
KAT Asserts Himself as the League’s Best Center
There’s no arguing that this is the most offensively capable and best-fitting supporting cast that Karl-Anthony Towns has had since he arrived in Minnesota in 2015. In what some have considered a disappointing year last year, KAT averaged 26.5 points, 10.8 rebounds, 4.4 assists, 1.2 blocks, and 0.2 steals on 50.8/41.2/79.6 shoot splits on 17.8/7.9/6.5 attempts in 33.9 minutes per game around a cast of ill-fitting characters that couldn’t shoot. No matter how you look at it, that’s an absurd stat line that.
Somehow, it stands to improve this season when he’ll be surrounded by high-level shooters in D’Angelo Russell, Malik Beasley, and Juancho Hernangomez. If average shooters like Ricky Rubio and Jake Layman shoot around, or north of, 36 percent — and Jarrett Culver or Josh Okogie shoot like they have shown flashes of in the preseason — Towns will see a supremely spaced floor, which will make it easier for him not only to score in the post, from deep, and on the drive, but also to rack up assists and, in turn, triple-doubles. Add into the mix that D’Angelo Russell is one of the most dynamic pick-and-roll ball-handlers in the NBA, and you have some scary, scary potential for Karl-Anthony Towns to wreak havoc on the league.
The potential for him to have an even more gargantuan impact on every Timberwolves game is very real given his current band of teammates, which could catapult his numbers into seldom-charted territory with a stat line of 30+ points, 12+ rebounds, 7+ assists, and 50/40/80 shooting. Oh, and if KAT trusts his teammates more and is consequently more engaged defensively in year 2 of David Vanterpool’s system, his defensive impact could balloon as well.
Josh Okogie and Jarrett Culver Become One of the Better Young 3-and-D Duos in the NBA
If you ask the average Timberwolves fan who his, her, or their brightest spot of the preseason is, the answer will likely be Jarrett Culver. To start with, Culver is apparently stronger, as he’s added 15 pounds of muscle, which has greatly improved his defensive stock as a point of attack defender. He was always quick enough to turn ball-handlers, but his added strength has prevented opponents from driving through him on the drive.
The former Texas Tech standout looks like a far cry from the timid rookie that lacked confidence and struggled to get anything going until after the trade deadline, largely thanks to his physical transformation and added time to improve his shot. After needing nearly 30 attempts to make his first 10 free throws last season, Culver only needed 10 to hit that mark in the preseason. He’s 10-for-10 from the free throw line and 4/7 from 3. He hasn’t shied away from getting fouled or shooting 3s, which is a major development for not just Culver’s game, but also the Timberwolves outlook in the immediate future.
Similarly to Culver, Josh Okogie’s shot looks very improved from last season. His calm, under control motion has looked great in spot-up situations (3/5 3PT) and, if it continues, could force defenses to respect his shot rather than sag off of him, which would enable him to use his athleticism to attack close-outs and get to the line, where he was a 79.6 percent shooter last season. That, of course, is in addition to his reliable defense, which he again put on display in the preseason.
If the flashes we’ve seen from Culver and Okogie become consistent elements of each player’s game, both the ceiling and floor of this team raise considerably, and could enable the Timberwolves to be more versatile in the lineups they play and have one of the better bench units in the NBA in terms of both scoring and overall scoring margin.
Malik Beasley and Juancho Hernangomez Replicate Their Post-Deadline Performance
After arriving in Minnesota last season, Malik Beasley and Juancho Hernangomez were both excellent contributors for the Wolves. In 14 games, Beasley averaged 20.7 points and 5.1 rebounds on 47.2/42.6/75.0 shooting splits in 33.1 minutes per night, while Hernangomez put up 12.9 points and 7.3 rebounds on 45.3/42.0/60.9 shooting splits in 29.4 minutes of action per game. While neither are likely to be that efficient this season, there is a world in which Beasley still shoots north of 37 or 38 percent from deep on high volume and averages close to 20 points per game, and Hernangomez provides value as a floor spacer that defenses can’t afford to leave open. If our world is that world, there’s no telling how dynamic and explosive the Minnesota offense could be.
Anthony Edwards Becomes a Bench Engine That Swings Games
We saw what the number one pick in the draft was capable of in last Thursday’s preseason victory over the Dallas Mavericks. Edwards scored 17 points on 5/15 shooting (3/8 from downtown), while collecting 3 rebounds and dishing out 3 assists without committing a turnover.
Ant-Man was dynamic off the dribble coming off high ball screens and pulling up for 3, connecting on each of his first two pull-up treys. He was aggressive in attacking the rim and got to the line twice, making all four of his free throws. When deployed with Ricky Rubio and Jarrett Culver in the bench unit, Edwards will receive plenty of opportunities to initiate offense, to receive high ball screens that allow him to operate in space, and more generally, to look to score.
For a young man just 19 years old, who was an aggressive, high-octane scorer with the ball in his hands in his lone season at Georgia, allowing him to do what he did well in college (score off the dribble in the high PnR) will not only make him more comfortable earlier, but also move up his production timeline and help him become an impactful bench player in his first couple months in the NBA.
The path to the good place for the Minnesota Timberwolves is primarily paved through its offense, and particularly Karl-Anthony Towns. The ceiling for this off is a top five offense in the NBA, but that can’t happen unless everything I’ve laid out rings true. In the good place, the Wolves are a 6 or 7 seed that draws a tough matchup with an experienced playoff team, like the Nuggets, Clippers, or the Blazers. While it certainly is possible, the Wolves have to take things one step at a time. Towns needs to be the focal point of the offense every time he steps on the floor, which hasn’t happened in years past, in order for the team to even sniff the good place.
However, if Towns starts this season like he did last, with a huge bang, and the rest of the team follows his lead, the 2020-21 season could be one hell of an offensive ride for Wolves fans, and one we hope we’ll ride all the way playoff games back at Target Center this summer.