In a league where you need superstars to win, the outlook was bleak for the Minnesota Timberwolves around 2012. With Kevin Love wanting out (and not being a superstar anyway), no one was really sure when that coveted star would be possible. The Wolves have busted more times in the draft than most teams, including one of the worst slip-ups in NBA history, choosing both Ricky Rubio AND Jonny Flynn over some dude named Steph Curry.
Luckily, with the late, great Flip Saunders at the helm, the Wolves traded Love to the Cavaliers for a package that included college star Andrew Wiggins. The very next year, the Timberwolves had the #1 overall pick in the draft, and they chose Karl-Anthony Towns. These two players have both excelled greatly in their short time in the NBA, and heading into the 2016-17 season, hopes were high for the Wolves.
After Saunders’ tragic death, and a year of interim coach Sam Mitchell, the Timberwolves hired veteran and Team USA coach Tom Thibodeau. Thibodeau is known as a defensive stalwart of a coach, and with defense being arguably the Wolves’ most glaring issue, this was looked at as a home run hire for the Wolves.
Combine that with a core of Towns, considered by most a generational talent, Wiggins, a young guy who can score at will, and Zach Lavine, a freakishly athletic guard that oozes raw talent, many predicted the Timberwolves could make a playoff run for the first time in 13 years.
Well, needless to say, that didn’t happen.
What were the issues for the Minnesota Timberwolves this season? The main glaring hole was the bench. The Timberwolves were dead last in the NBA in bench scoring – and it wasn’t even close. Rebounds? Same thing. Blocks? You guessed it. The bench, simply put, was complete garbage this year. And although you don’t need an incredible bench to make the playoffs, it can’t be this bad.
Another big issue for the Wolves was the disappointing play of their offseason acquisitions. Jordan Hill, signed in the offseason, only appeared in seven games. Brandon Rush only appeared in 47 games, and he wasn’t good in them either – despite averaging over 20 minutes per game, he had just over four points per game. Cole Aldrich barely played either, averaging 8.6 minutes per game, and putting up a paltry 1.7 points per game.
The most disappointing player on the team this season was arguably top draft pick Kris Dunn. The Timberwolves recieved many offers for the pick, some revolving around superstar Jimmy Butler – but opted to hold onto the pick, and they selected Dunn, who many thought would slot in as starting point guard, with the inevitable departure of Ricky Rubio. Although he was very solid defensively, he was very lackluster on the offense end, finishing last on the team in field goal percentage.
Injuries also played a factor into this season being such a disappointment. With the Timberwolves in close pursuit of the 8th and final seed in the Western Conference, Zach LaVine and key bench player Nemanja Bjelica both sustained season-ending injuries, effectively putting the nail in the coffin for this season.
With Nikola Pekovic’s gargantuan contract coming off of the books this season, the Wolves will likely have some cap space to use up – which will surely be used in search of bench players. In addition to that, with the team only winning two more games than last year, they will likely have a top five pick in the NBA Draft.
Although the future looks bright for the Wolves, it remains to be seen if they can actually make something out of it. After wasting the prime of the generational Kevin Garnett, and the awful David Kahn era, Wolves and basketball fans alike are skeptical. In order to have championship aspirations, or even make the playoffs, they’ll need to avoid injuries, get a half-decent bench, and hope their star players can reach their potential. With a new brand and identity, the Wolves will power into next season with hope – let’s see if they can finally put it together.