2019-20 Season Preview: Minnesota Timberwolves

NBA.com Global on Oct 21, 2019 01:35 PM
2019-20 Season Preview: Minnesota Timberwolves
FILE - MINNEAPOLIS, MN - MARCH 9: Karl-Anthony Towns #32 of the Minnesota Timberwolves goes up for a dunk against the Washington Wizards on March 9, 2019 at Target Center in Minneapolis, Minnesota. (Photo by David Sherman/NBAE via Getty Images)

By Steve Aschburner, NBA.com

Well, that was nice while it lasted. Just when the Timberwolves thought they were back amongst the cool kids, they swiftly found themselves at home on Saturday nights, again playing video games. What was supposed to have been a sustained end to their 13-year playoff drought in 2018 lasted just that lone appearance. Outrageous melodrama swamped them last season, triggered by Jimmy Butler's trade demands and the eventual firing of Tom Thibodeau. They backslid by 11 victories, from 47 to 36, and seem destined to go backward again before they go forward.

ICYMI

Anyone who didn’t like last year’s Timberwolves ought to love this year’s, because the entire operation has been revamped … Owner Glen Taylor flipped the keys to new president Gersson Rosas, who has made over the front office and much of the support staff … Ryan Saunders had the interim tag removed, hired as coach for the position his late father, Flip, once held, with a new staff of assistants that includes Pablo Prigioni and David Vanterpool … Dario Saric was shipped out on Draft night when Minnesota traded up to No. 6, grabbing guard Jarrett Culver of Texas Tech when it was their turn … Others who are gone include Derrick Rose, Tyus Jones, Anthony Tolliver, Taj Gibson, Luol Deng and Jerryd Bayless … Newcomers include Jake Layman, Shabazz Napier, Jordan Bell, Noah Vonleh and Treveon Graham

THREE POINTS

1. Wiggins an All-Star? Hey, hey, hey, no snickering allowed. Or at least, aloud. Wiggins said on video after last season that yeah, this season would be the one where he’s motivated to chase down an All-Star berth. He also talks a lot about wanting to prove people wrong. But of course it doesn’t work that way. If the immensely talented but forever-stuck-in-idle wing player does one day achieve great things on the court, it will only confirm how right his critics were to the point where he changed.

2. Okogie for the defense. The second-year wing was thrown into some tough defensive assignments as a rookie, so he’s a candidate to resume that role this season. If, that is, he can justify long minutes on the floor with some improvement as a shooter (especially from deep).

3. Ryan Saunders must be his own man. It’s one thing to come in as the good cop or substitute teacher, the person who allows everyone to relax after they’ve gotten worked over or chewed out by, well, the bad cop or the everyday teacher. But kumbaya only gets a team so far, and unless Saunders can not just hold players accountable but get them to change (or get them gone), he’ll be presiding over the sort of country club Minnesota has been known to be.

MAN ON THE SPOT

When you have the most at stake in a situation, it behooves you to seize control of things within your grasp. That’s where Karl-Anthony Towns stands now. He has just begun the first year of his five-year, $190 million contract extension, and has slid into presumed leader role that Jimmy Butler so ham-handedly mangled last fall. That means more than referring to yourself as such in media interviews -- Towns has to get on teammates when appropriate (did someone say Wiggins?) and he has to lead by example. In the marvelously skilled center’s case, that means more responsible defense and a better rein on emotions that get him into foul trouble.

STARTING FIVE

Karl-Anthony Towns | 24.4 ppg, 12.4 rpg, 3.4 apg
Missing all-NBA cost him $40 million. He should seek it anyway.

Robert Covington | 13.3 ppg, 5.5 rpg, 1.3 apg
Instant impact on Wolves’ D upon arrival undercut by missing 46 games.

Andrew Wiggins | 18.1 ppg, 4.8 rpg, 2.5 apg
Sleek scorer whose motor in games is lacking at times.

Jarrett Culver | 18.5 ppg, 6.4 rpg, 3.7 apg (Texas Tech)
Will be sized up as eventual point guard.

Jeff Teague | 12.1 ppg, 2.5 rpg, 8.2 apg
Not a fan favorite, but Wolves were 23-18 when he started.

KEY RESERVES

Josh Okogie | 7.7 ppg, 2.9 rpg, 1.2 apg
Shooting 39% overall (28% 3FGAs) won’t cut it.

Gorgui Dieng | 5.9 ppg, 4.6 rpg, 0.5 apg
Longest tenured Wolves player might scrounge for minutes.

Jake Layman | 18.2 ppg, 6.3 rpg, 2.5 apg
Coaches intrigued by newcomer’s versatility, ball skills

THE BOTTOM LINE

The Timberwolves were the good vibes crew of the summer, with all sorts of good will generated by Rosas’ hiring and the staff he corralled, by Saunders’ confirmation in his dad’s old job and by repeated reminders that Butler and Thibodeau are gone. All for a new regime that hasn’t proven yet it can win one game or come close to breaking even over 82. The new group is winning press conferences that the previous administration lost. There isn’t much urgency for them to transfer it to games, though. Thirty victories looks like a ceiling.

Steve Aschburner has written about the NBA since 1980. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter.

The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting.

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