Top 5 Things to Watch as Timberwolves start the season

A new era in Target Center but can the players turn it into wins on the court?

Lindsey Peterson
October 23, 2019 - 3:24 pm

© Michael McLoone-USA TODAY Sports


The Timberwolves tip-off the 2019 season Wednesday night in Brooklyn.  

There is a brand new basketball operations staff surrounding this team, a new culture, a new way of playing on the court.  But, as always, it'll be up to the five guys on the floor to translate all of that into victories.  Here are the top 5 things we're watching in 2019.

RELATED: Timberwolves debut new Target Center food items.

Gersson Rosas and Ryan Saunders changing the style of play
Tom Thibodeau had a style.  It's not what the new group wants at all.  Saunders, who took over during the 2018-19 season now gets to implement his own style and plan completely.  Rosas joined this offseason after being in Houston since 2003.  

If you watch the team practice right now, you'll see colored tape on the floor indicating good shots (green) and bad shots (red).  Anything just inside the three-point line?  Bad.  Outside the three-point line and anywhere near the paint?  Good.

In the couple of preseason games the team played, we saw a lot more shots from beyond the arc, which should be no surprise to any fan who knows Rosas' background in Houston.  That team shot more threes than any team in history, and that's the preferred style of play in the NBA now (see Golden State).  Advanced stats are pushing teams to be more efficient, and this duo will lean on those numbers.  

Expect the Timberwolves to be more active beyond the arc than any year in the team's history (by far).  The question is simply:  can they make shots?  This isn't a team that is blessed with a lot of great shooters.  They did not shoot well in the preseason, for what that's worth.  

These are forward-thinking people who have a strong plan of action.  We'll have to see whether that translates to immediate success however. 

Can Karl-Anthony Towns become a "superstar"
He's certainly an All-Star level player.  He is as good as any big man in the league.  He's as versatile as any player in the league.  He's only 23 years old (24 in November).  And he's been extremely durable.    

Will he take the next step and start dominating on a nightly basis?  Will he be able to turn great numbers into wins?  Will his defense improve?  These are the sort of things that separates great players from the superstars.  

Last season, he averaged 25 points, 12 rebounds.  In the last half of last season, he actually improved those numbers.  He did some things not seen in decades in the NBA in decades (for example, Towns posted a statline in a December game vs. Miami nobody since Kareem Abdul-Jabbar had done).

Clearly he was getting better. Anytime you have someone of that talent on the team, there is hope.  Now, he needs to make the players around him better, and take over games down the stretch so those numbers become wins.  

The Andrew Wiggins Issue
There's no question he has talent.  You aren't the first overall pick in the NBA without that.  He works hard, according to anyone who is around the team.  He's had games where he has dominated.  

Then he disappears for long stretches, and has never built himself into a consistent scoring option for the team. 

And when it comes to efficiency numbers in the modern NBA, it gets downright ugly.  

Those are really bad numbers.  There is almost no spot on the floor (the right corner) where he is above the NBA average.  And in most cases he is way below the league average.  

How much of that was the scheme and system employed by previous coaches?  Is there hope with Rosas/Saunders that Wiggins will be a better player in this system?  Saunders is giving him a clean slate, but he has to shoot the ball better.  

Those answers will go a long way in determining if this team can stay in the playoff hunt, or will lag behind the rest of the Western Conference (which is loaded).  Wiggins is in year 2 of a 5 year deal and it pays him $27 million in 2019-20.  That's not a tradeable number (for anything of value at least) and the team really needs him to be better with that kind of salary cap hit.  

How good is the supporting cast
There are some bright spots.  

After the trade that brought him to Minnesota in the Jimmy Butler deal, Robert Covington made this team better.  He was extremely valuable on the defensive end, and hit 37% from three.  Then an injury shut him down for the back half of the season.  He's healthy again, and expectations should be high for his contributions. The Wolves really need Covington to be their 2nd or 3rd best player (if Wiggins improves). 

Last year's rookie Josh Okogie had some nice moments, and was very good defensively.  This year's rookie Jarret Culver has impressed so far.  He'll get his opportunities and Culver is already a good defensive player.  He seems more polished than Okogie on the offensive side already.  Those are two good, young players.  To really succeed, one or both needs to show real promise.  In today's NBA, you can never have enough 3-and-D wings.  Okogie, Culver and Wiggins give the Wolves three good options.  

Jordan Bell comes over from Golden State, so he's used to winning.  He'll have a chance to contribute on this team much more than he did in the Bay Area the last two seasons.  A calf issue has limited him so far, so we'll see how much he plays early, plus can he co-exist with KAT?  The two playing together is an intriuging option for Saunders.  

At point guard, Jeff Teague is back after an injury-plagued season.  Pushing him will be Shabazz Napier who came over in the offseason.  He's bounced around (Miami, Orlando, Portland, Brooklyn) and now lands with Minnesota in year 6.  Remember, there's no more Tyus Jones who signed in Memphis.  Point is a weak spot for this team for sure.  

Another new face is Jake Layman who came over from Portland.  Started 33 games for the Trailblazers last year and could start for this team with Teague/Towns/Wiggins/Covington.  

There's also Treveon Graham, Noah Vonleh, Jaylen Nowell and Naz Reid joining the Wolves this year.  There could be some useful contributions out of that group.  But don't expect any of them to make a major difference.  

Key losses include Derrick Rose, Jones, Taj Gibson, Dario Saric, Anthony Tolliver and Luol Deng.  

What should our expectations be?
Probably pretty low when it comes to wins and losses.  

As we mentioned earlier, the Western Conference is loaded.  And the Timberwolves are in the process of reinventing themselves.  Don't expect all to go smoothly.

Best case scenario:  Towns takes another step forward, Wiggins find his lane and becomes a go-to scoring option, Okogie/Culver are major contributors on the wing with Covington, and this team improves on last year.  36 wins becoming 40+ wins this season would be progress.  They stay in the hunt for the final spot in the playoffs and play some meaningful games in March/April.

Worst case scenario:  They still struggle too much defensively, they miss far too many 3-point shots, Wiggins continues to struggle with his shot and neither Okogie/Culver emerge.  If they regress from 36 wins last year, you try to move some pieces and are probably starting to think about "tanking" for a higher draft pick.  

The reality is probably in the middle of that.  Towns is a legit centerpiece to build around.  Any talk of the playoffs feels like a stretch.  

1- Become more efficient

2- Become more consistent

3- Improve outside shooting

This year has to be about improvement with his facilitation and making his teammates better, and then identifying who fits this new team.... and who doesn't.  If we get to next spring saying "this team is improving", that will be a positive. 

We'll start to learn more starting Wednesday night in Brookly as the Wolves take on the Nets.  Hear that game and every game this season right here on News Talk 830 WCCO!

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