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Friday, 06 October 2017 22:31

Minnesota Timberwolves vs. Boston Celtics: 2017-18 NBA Season Preview

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Minnesota Timberwolves vs. Boston Celtics: 2017-18 NBA Season Preview | Powered by CLNS Media

2016-17 Round-up: The Minnesota Timberwolves were perhaps a season too soon in their inauguration as the NBA’s “trendy” pick. Last season was a wake up call, a reminder that young teams - even ones led by Tom Thibodeau, in his first season with the team - generally go through a couple of bumps before finding their feet.

The bright spots: Karl-Anthony Towns put together one of the greatest statistical seasons from a 21-year-old in NBA history, joining Shaq for some select company. Towns has a ways to go defensively - a trait that should evolve quickly under Thibodeau - yet outside of Anthony Davis, Towns is the most dynamic young big man in the league (Porzingis closely follows; Embiid needs to stay healthy).

Andrew Wiggins, the T-Wolves’ other No. 1 pick, continued to get better slowly on the offensive end, averaging 23.6 points on 45 percent shooting. Wiggins’ detractors will point to his lack of production outside of scoring as well as his lack of a killer instinct late in games and his inconsistent defensive effort. Minnesota is apparently banking on Wiggins (21-years old last season) vastly improving after offering him a 5-year $148 million max extension.

After getting pegged as a Pippen-esque defender after coming out of Kansas, Wiggins has been a disappointment on the defensive end thus far in his young career. He sported the second worst individual defensive mark on the team (behind Towns), and owned the same amount of defensive win shares as notable defensive sieve Jamal Crawford.

The Timberwolves were on the wrong end of a number of statistics last season (including age. With an average age of 24, the Timberwolves were the youngest team in the NBA).

Minnesota finished 26th in defensive rating, while they fell to dead last in the NBA in three-point attempt rate (the percentage of attempts from three-point range).

Slam dunk champ Zach LaVine scored at an 18 point per game pace - well above where many predicted he would ever be - however it became clear after LaVine was lost for the season due to an ACL tear that the team may be better off with an established veteran in LaVine’s place.

Offseason Grades: A

The NBA offseason as a whole was an absolute blur (a shape-shifting deal may be going down at this very moment), yet it’s important not to underscore how big of an acquisition Jimmy Butler was. Twenty-seven-old three-time All-NBA players in their primes don’t fall off of trees, and considering the previous tug-and-pull between the Boston Celtics and Chicago Bulls over Butler, the T-Wolves acquired Butler at a low cost.

After experiencing many growing pains last season as a team, Thibodeau opted to go with players whose inexperience is no longer an issue, signing the ageless Jamal Crawford, old Bulls favorite Taj Gibson and going with eight-year vet Jeff Teague in place of the long-tenured Ricky Rubio.

A source of frustration and what-ifs for many people so far in his career, Rubio put together the best scoring stretch of his career last season scoring 16 points with a 55 percent true shooting percentage in 24 games following the all-star break. Thibodeau, wanting a more consistent shooter at point guard, opted to let Rubio go to the Utah Jazz.

LaVine, Kris Dunn and the No. 7 pick from 2017 (Lauri Markkanen was selected by Chicago) leave the T-Wolves for the Bulls as a part of the Butler trade. Minnesota drafted center Justin Patton as a part of the trade agreement.

Training Camp Questions: Can Butler cede shot attempts to Towns and Wiggins? Butler averaged 16.5 shot attempts last season (a career-high) as the No. 1 scoring option on a talent-barren Bulls team. Will the team possess enough shooting to compete with the elite squads? As previously noted, the T-Wolves attempted the least amount of three-point attempts last season (they simply didn't possess the personnel). Can Butler, Crawford and Butler help make that respectable? Will Towns take the next step defensively in Thibs’ system?

Next Move They Make: Ironically, Wiggins would have been a good fit in the Kyrie Irving trade, but with his extension coming, Wiggins appears fit for the long-term in Minnesota. The team could certainly use more shooting, although Thibodeau’s bully-ball may just be enough.

How They Beat The Celtics:The Celtics went 2-0 against Minnesota last season, however, Towns averaged 22 points and 16 rebounds in those two losses. Add in Butler to defend Boston’s wings, let Gibson play physical down low and allow Wiggins to worry about his own shot, and the Celtics would certainly have a difficult time dealing with the Timberwolves.

Trending: Minnesota has been absolute wasteland as a franchise. Considering Kevin Garnett’s best teammates were a 33-year old Latrell Sprewell and a 34-year old Sam Cassell, this may be Minnesota’s most talented team to date. Towns is an MVP candidate in the making, while Wiggins at the very worst is a great scorer for his career. Butler is signed for at least two more seasons, giving Minnesota an upward trajectory for the near and distant future.

Final Record/Standings Prediction: 48-34, 5th in Western Conference

The West is loaded with talent, and while there is the conventional wisdom that says these teams will beat up on one another, a few teams have to emerge from the destruction to win 50-plus games. The T-Wolves have the talent as well as the toughness to emerge.

Considering how difficult it is for newly formed to teams to gel in their first seasons and the difficult nature of Thibs’ defensive schemes, Minnesota may have to settle for a solid playoff berth this season, and nothing more.

Thibodeau’s intense and infectious coaching style will translate with the youngsters, while the vets he brought in already understand his concepts, Butler in particular. Butler should shine as a leader in the locker room and as an overqualified No. 2 next to Towns.

With Wiggins’ responsibilities lessened and the team poised to improve upon their 26th defensive rating from last season, the Timberwolves should be a difficult playoff opponent come spring.

 
Cory Prescott

Cory Prescott is the Editor at Large for Boston Celtics coverage on CLNS Radio. 

Cory is a graduate of Susquehanna University, graduating with a degree in Communications - Journalism.  While at Susquehanna, Cory spent three years as the sports editor for the school's weekly newspaper.  He also worked for the Crusaders Athletics Communications Department.

Following graduation, Cory spent time writing for the Maine Hockey Journal, as well as Boston Sports Then & Now, in addition to his own blog, Brain Freeze.

A native Mainer, Cory has been residing in Boston for the past few years.

Follow Cory on twitter @CLNS_Prescott.