2017-18 AWAW Season Preview Roundtable Spectacular Extravaganza! (Part Two)

Photo by David Sherman/NBAE via Getty Images

The Minnesota Timberwolves kick off the season less than a week from now – Wednesday, October 18th at 8:30 in San Antonio, to be exact. We’re getting you ready with a (nearly full) staff roundtable full of predictions, projections, hopes, and fears for the upcoming season. So sit back, relax, and enjoy part two of our two part series. (Editor’s Note: If you missed part one, you can find it here.)

Without further ado…

Over/under – 55.5 3-point field goals made for Taj Gibson?

Lucas: Under. After what we saw in the preseason, I think Gibson shooting threes is here to stay, but probably only 1-1.5 per game. In order for him to hit the over at that pace he’d have to shoot something like 45% and, since he’s 4/35 for his career, I’m not sure we see that happen. However, if he can shoot 33-35% that would be incredibly valuable for the Wolves.

Andy: Allow me to approach this one with some #analytics:

Taj has made 4 three-pointers in 8 NBA seasons, meaning that he averages 0.5 three-pointers per season.

Okay, that’s the end of the analytics. Under. (For real though, I think that despite the new corner three that he’s unleashed in the preseason, it will fade into “very occasional” territory once the games matter for real and he’s playing with his deeper muscle memory and trying fewer things that feel like tricks. I’d like to be wrong.)

Tim: Under. I like Lucas’ reasoning. If Taj can stretch the floor, even if it means the shot itself isn’t terrifying right away.

Bill: I’m going to say over. I think he’ll be a pretty consistent corner safety valve on a lot of plays when the defense will collapse to contain a Butler/Wiggins drive, or a KAT post-up.

Patrick: Under. The dude can shoot, but I think it’s currently more of an experiment than a thing.  

Dr. LIC: Under. My hope is that he takes one a game, but realistically, that means he’s only gonna make about 28 of them.

Over/under – 200.5 Defensive Rating for the minutes Shabazz Muhammad and Jamal Crawford share the floor together?

Lucas: Is infinity bigger than 200.5? If so, I’ll go with the over.

Andy: “What does ‘defensive rating’ have to do with getting buckets?” is my answer to this question.

Tim: Over. Way, way over.

Bill: Under. If the line was 190.5, that’d be a little more believable. 200.5 is just silly.

Patrick: To up the ante, let’s move the over/under to infinite.

Dr. LIC: I’m scared. Gonna give my “The Price is Right Answer” and say 201.

Photo by David Sherman/NBAE via Getty Images

Over/under – 40.5 DNP’s for Cole Aldrich?

Lucas: Over. I think things will have to get rather out of hand for Aldrich to see the court and the Wolves will probably be in their fair share of close games.

Andy: Over. Cole’s time here has been weird. With the Knicks and Clippers — his two teams before coming home to Minnesota — Aldrich seemed like an underused and underrated big man who just needed a better opportunity to shine. Basically, he was a low minutes/good advanced stats guy. After he signed his three-year deal to play for Thibs, that opportunity presented itself — and then it didn’t. He barely got on the floor last year from right out of the gates. (And when he did play, he wasn’t very helpful.) Now that the team has added Taj Gibson and now that Nemanja Bjelica seems to have discovered how to play NBA basketball, there isn’t any room for Cole in the lineup. He will be on the end of the bench this year and will only play if multiple bigs get injured.

Tim: Probably over. The only time Aldrich will see the floor will be due to injury or foul trouble knocks on wood. The addition of Gibson, and Dieng coming off  the bench makes the odds of Cole’s need, even for matchups, far less than last year.  knocks on wood again

Bill: Over. The way the roster is lining up, he’s going to get the Jordan Hill treatment.

Patrick: Over.

Dr. LIC: Sadly over. I’m a big proponent of Cole, as a guy who knows his role, knows his weaknesses, and does his damn job. I’m a little scared that there isn’t even a question in this roundtable about Justin Patton, but with Taj joining the team, I think Cole’s minutes and his number of games played get squeezed.

Over/under – 0.5 additional former Chicago Bulls signing with the Wolves?

Lucas: Over. I’m not sure you can ever rule out a Michael Jordan comeback.

Andy: I think Thibs has emptied the proverbial clip on signing and acquiring former Bulls — for this season, anyway. He got Jimmy. He got Taj. Now he even got Aaron Brooks. I doubt Luol Deng or Joakim Noah or even Kirk Hinrich will be walking through that door. I think he’s gonna ride with what he’s got here.

Tim:  I think everyone is ready for Trenton Hassell to make his triumphant return. I know I am. What? He didn’t play for Thibs? Yeah, haha, like that matters.

Bill: Way over. Mike Dunleavy and Kirk Hinrich, come on down!

Patrick: Under.

Dr. LIC: Over. I’m hopeful that Kirk Hinrich joins the team. Never thought I’d say those words, but I like him more than Brooks or Tyus.

Over/under – 1.5 All-Stars the Wolves will send to Staples in January?

Lucas: I think under. I’m pretty confident that Towns will make his first appearance, but the guard/wing depth is so incredibly deep in the West so Butler will have a tough road to slog. It’s not impossible, but it may require Butler playing at a near MVP level.

Andy: The West is loaded. From last year’s All-Stars it’s hard to imagine any of the following not making this season’s 12-man roster: Curry, Harden, Durant, Kawhi, Davis, and Russ. If those 6 are absolute locks, that means that in order for both KAT and Jimmy Butler to make the team, only 4 of a loooooong list of alternatives would make the team. That pool includes Draymond, Klay, CP3, Paul George, Marc Gasol, Mike Conley, Boogie, Blake Griffin, DeAndre Jordan, Rudy Gobert, and Melo. I probably left out some other really good players. I think I have to take the under on this one. I’d guess KAT makes it and Butler does not.

Tim: Over. The West is hilariously stacked, but Butler and KAT making the Wolves successful again should get them both in the game. Butler is the assumed lock, and KAT’s numbers’ matched with some wins should get him in.

Bill: I’d say Towns is very likely, but I have a hard time seeing Wiggins or even Butler cracking the very, very deep wing position in the West. Under.

Patrick: Under, and I think it’s KAT who is again overlooked. Butler will be there.

Dr. LIC: Under, I think KAT makes it, and Butler gets snubbed because of the glut of talented guards/SFs in the West.

Over/under – 1.5 All-NBA players?

Lucas: Again, I think I’m going to take the under. Towns’ improvement on defense will determine if he makes second or third team (he could make first team if the Wolves win 50 games) and Butler would have to beat out an insane amount of competition. I’m not confident enough to bet on that happening.

Andy: Under.

Tim: This is tougher. I’ll go under on this. Butler (again) should get there, but KAT will be in tight competition with the likes of DeAndre Jordan, Marc Gasol, DeMarcus Cousins, Rudy Gobert and Anthony Davis. Of course, he’s going against them (along with non-center frontcourt players) for the All-Star game as well, so it could go either way.

Bill: Under. I actually don’t think the Wolves will have any; Dray, Boogie, Brow, Marc Gasol and Rudy Gobert stand in the way of KAT, and Jimmy was probably the 15th man on last season’s teams. It’ll take 54 wins and a top-4 seed to make it happen, so I don’t see it happening.

Patrick: I’m with Bill. Under.

Dr. LIC: Under. I think KAT takes Rudy Gobert’s place for no good reason whatsoever.

And now, we get to the fun part… Over/under – 46.5 victories?

Lucas: This is a much better line than Vegas’ 48.5, but I’ll still take the under with 45 wins. Don’t be shocked if it takes some time for the Wolves to gel (especially on defense) and, in case you haven’t heard, the Western Conference is stacked! Still, 45 wins would be a 14 win improvement over last season, tied for the largest in team history without a lockout shortened season involved (the 1995-96 Wolves improved from 26 wins to 40 wins in the 1996-97 season). I think Wiggins and Towns would have to take massive leaps forward, particularly on defense, in order for the Wolves to win 47+ games.

Andy: Over by more than a couple wins. I think they’ll top 50 wins. Close your eyes, and meditate long enough until you can imagine that you never knew anything about the Timberwolves and their history of only making the playoffs when they had Kevin Garnett in his prime. (I realize this will be a long meditation session.) Now that you have forgotten about all of the lottery-pick busts, irresponsible trades, illegal Joe Smith contracts, and horrible coaches, just ask yourself a basic question: How good would a team be if it had Tom Thibodeau coaching Jimmy Butler and Karl-Anthony Towns? If you’re like me, you quickly answer that with, “Really, really good.” The West is too loaded for a wild prediction like 57 or 58 wins and a 2-seed, but this Wolves team is loaded and well coached. They’ll have a really good season if they can stay healthy.

Tim: I’ll go slightly over. I think my official guess on Wolves Wired (plug!) was 47 wins. I’m going to stick to that. Again, the West is ridiculous, so this number could (okay, will) be way off one way or another. But on paper, clean slate, 47 seems like the proper number right now.

Bill: The team is still top-heavy; an injury to either Butler or Towns, even for a month, would be devastating. The bench is weak and I’m not convinced the defensive issues are fixed. Under. 43 wins sounds about right.

Patrick: Over. If we aren’t optimistic now, will we ever be?

Dr. LIC: I’m sad that Bill won’t let me have the lowest estimate, but I’m gonna go with 45. Prior to the preseason, I would have said 46 or 47, but I was not impressed by what I saw, and furthermore, it made me wonder if the team even addressed their three big offseason concerns: defense, bench, and three-point shooting. On defense, I give them a “B-/B” because of Taj alone, but the preseason games made me seriously concerned about transition D. On bench, I give them a “C” because the bench defense seems nonexistent (although I’m intrigued enough by Bazz’s improvements on on offense that I could see them holding teams at bay). On three-point shooting, I give them a B+ because Teague is an upgrade over Rubio, and I think Jamal Crawford could be useful here. So, not much improvement. In other words, this is how highly I think of Jimmy Butler–that he is worth a 14-game win improvement all by himself.  Having said all this, I think their win total is HIGHLY contingent on what happens through November. The Wolves have a very favorable opening 1.5 months, and if they somehow get it together despite only 3 games together in the preseason, the winning could snowball. If they get stuck in 11-8 mode, it could be a long sludge of a season.

Some final thoughts, now… Will the Minnesota Timberwolves make the NBA Playoffs?

Lucas: I think the Wolves will sneak in with the 7th seed, ending their 13-year playoff drought, and will face the Houston Rockets in the first round. A top five seed will have to wait for another year.

Andy: Yes. Whether they end with the 4 seed or the 7 will depend in part by just how deep this West reveals itself to be. If teams like the Jazz and Nuggets realize their potential, it could be one of those brutal Western Conference seasons where 49 wins gets you the 8th seed and 48 gets you a fresh pack of lottery balls. But I think the Wolves will be in there somewhere with at least 50 wins.

Tim: Yes. The last few years, I’ve said ‘yes’ in more of a “YOLO” type of prediction. This year, they really should make the postseason. They have a true and proven star, and two young, budding stars that should be figuring things out in a fun way this year. Their depth isn’t great, but they have enough depth. They should get there.

Bill: Yes, but barely; I have them as the 7th seed in the West.

Patrick: Yes. I can see them as a 6th seed.

Dr. LIC: Yes. I think the West ends up with a few 45-48-win playoff teams.

And finally, will the Minnesota Timberwolves win a playoff series?

Lucas: Not this year. Even if they somehow get a top 4 seed, the West is stacked. Baby steps.

Andy: Sure, why not?

Tim: The top of the West is too good, and they almost certainly won’t get homecourt advantage. They’ll get there, but it isn’t this year.

Bill: No, but if they can steal a home game against the Warriors in the first round, I will be very, very happy with the season.  

Patrick: This season? I don’t think so, but next season I think they will.

Dr. LIC: I think they match up well with some of those top teams. For example, Houston. So, we could see it happen.

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  1. Dr. LIC makes a good point about getting better without really addressing our concerns all that well (and spending a barge of cash). Although an additional concern that we may have addressed is lack of learning/growth from our young core (now young two guys). The addition of Butler and Gibson (prolly not Teague) could help get these guys on track. Thibs showed a complete inability to teach these guys without vets babysitting on the court and in the locker room. If these guys can learn, Butler can learn ’em. So that’s a nice aspect of the offseason. But we still have a version of all our worst weaknesses (take your pick!) last year. I don’t expect much from 3 preseason games and 2 of them in China, but we looked bad. What got me the most is the offense. I get that the D is going to come a bit slow, be a teaching process. But at times it was awful. Still, what really surprised me was how stilted and at times confused our offense looked. Despite weaknesses we were a good O club last year and Rubio kept us well oiled and pushing pace. Not so much so far, and if your system isn’t humming to some degree there is a limit on how much firepower can do. Agree with Dr. LIC again in that much of this is softened by just how good and well rounded Butler is (and fun to watch). He gives instant excitement to fans hoping to be a good team that makes the playoffs despite it all. Impressive. Still, I am afraid we are going to struggle with expectations. I don’t think Wiggins is as good as most people seem to think and his value thus far has only been as a super high usage guy who basically only scores a lot. That’s not his role anymore. He needs to be efficient, do sh*t and he’s maybe the 3rd most important offensive player. Can he do that role well enough? Generally, gelling is going to take a lot longer than folks expect. The glue/pushing/team involvement/good offense despite crappy system that Rubio brought and we totally took for granted is gone, as is excellent D from the PG position. We are thin in some ways and injuries will occur and steal wins. Lastly, the NBA is nuts this season, particularly the West. It’s crazy. Not just crazy good, which is true, but also just really new, odd and unpredictable. Just figuring out how to play teams is going to be so hard. Oh, and I’m not sold on Thibs as a coach or his ‘system’ at all, and so going up against Pop or Kerr and other really good coaches might be an instant disadvantage. I’m not a Vegas odds or over under kind of guy. I’m very interested to see this team develop, but I also am holding back my expectations. If they exceed them, great it will be exciting. I’m just not expecting too much,

    Side note: The Jazz (my new adopted 2nd team) look fun. They may surprise people in the crazy west a bit, but at the same time, they are going through major growing pains from change just like us. It looks like they still need a lot of time to gel. Rubio has been oddly focused on scoring in the preseason with mixed yet promising results. Gobert is one of my favorites. Also kind of like following the Bucks a bit..

  2. A few more over/unders:
    Gibson 3s that hit the side of the backboard: 9.5
    Thibs stinkfaces: 199.5
    Thibs smiles: 2.5
    Towns social media posts after a loss where he’s working out: 3.5
    Dieng drives that end up with his butt on the floor: 14.5

    Essentially, the Wolves are like those teams who everyone picks to miss the playoffs because they don’t have something “fun” to the way they play, yet they often make the playoffs. They have more talent than those groups, but they’re also more prepared for the grown man grind of the season than they’ve been since “feed my family.”

  3. I’ll definitely take the over on all-stars. Butler is a given and I think KAT may be as well. That leaves Wiggins to make it three. Certainly, he is going to be a bench addition at best, but Wiggins could be the fifth best SF in the league behind KD, Klaw and George/Melo duo. With Heyward in the East, it may be a case that Wiggins gets there too. Remember, that the new all-star game is not based on East v West, so Wiggins could be better than anything out of the East.

    The West is so deadly this year, that it isn’t a given that the Wolves make the playoffs. I would love to say that they are the fourth best team in the West, because Wiggins is going to make a big move up in defense and shooting efficiency and KAT is going to be a great rim defender and the bench will run up and down the floor on teams. However, it is interesting that a lot of scribes say Thibs is the best coach in the NorthWest, and I think he may be fourth at best. Given his penchant for playing no bench and beating his starters into the ground, I think that he will cost the Wolves a few games and that may be the difference between fourth and ninth place. The first game in San Antonio could be a good indicator of where this team is going to land. If they can make the spurs look old, and throw them off their game, I think they have a chance to have home court for the first round of the playoffs. Be last year’s Utah Jazz. Let’s hope because as Pyrrol says they spent a barge full of money to get out of the lottery. I hate to think we are still a player away.

  4. I cannot see any reason they can beat warriors/thunders/spurs/rockets in a playoff series. Btw, is there any question like: over/under 2.5 players got season ending injury?