The Minnesota Timberwolves have had a hell of a makeover since the 2017 NBA Draft just a couple of weeks ago. They have gone from a team considered to have "high upside" and "loads of potential" to a team that will be expected to not only just make the playoffs for the first time in 13 seasons but also to be highly competitive in them as well.
Adding Jimmy Butler, Jeff Teague and Taj Gibson to a roster desperately in need of veteran leadership, playoff experience, and toughness have changed the expectations for the Wolves significantly heading into the 2017-2018 season.
Since we already know what Butler adds to this roster, let's take a look at what Teague and Gibson will bring to the table.
For a lot of Timberwolves fans, the Ricky Rubio trade was semi-surprising and sad. As a fan favorite, Rubio had been virtually on the trade block since he was drafted in 2009 (cc all the rumors to the New York Knicks), but to see him actually traded was still stunning. However, the trade opened up the opportunity for Tom Thibodeau to target a point guard in free agency that he felt would be a better fit for his system.
The addition of Teague at 3-years and $57 million to the Timberwolves have been generally viewed as a positive by the media and fans alike. If you are someone who trusts the vision of Tom Thibodeau, then you are fairly happy with this signing because, for Thibodeau's system to be utilized, the point guard needs to be able to hit open shots while playing off of the ball. The offense will mostly be running through both Butler and Andrew Wiggins the majority of the time.
Per Basketball Reference, Teague's Career Shooting Numbers:
7.6 2-point attempts per game, making about 48%
2.4 3-point attempts per game, making about 36%
Rubio's Career Shooting Numbers:
6.4 2-point attempts per game, making about 40%
2.1 3-point attempts per game, making about 32%
Although Rubio has a ton of strengths at the point guard position such as his playmaking ability, assists, rebounding and perimeter defense--he hasn't been able to shoot the ball at a consistent level to make his opponents respect him. A lot of the time, whoever is guarding him will sag off of him and clog the lanes, disrupting a lot of the movement within the offense. So if you're all-in with Thibodeau and his vision, then Rubio needed to be traded in able to bring in more of a scoring threat at the point guard position.
Skeptics of the Rubio trade will argue that Teague really doesn't add too much to the squad except for being a slightly better shooter overall, so Rubio's contract at $14 million per year seemed like better value to have. They would also argue that Rubio provides better playmaking abilities and is much more superior defensively, while also arguing that Rubio wouldn't need to be relied on to score more because of the addition of Jimmy Butler. Butler adds 24 points a game (ppg) to a team that has Wiggins and Karl-Anthony Towns who also add 20+ ppg. In the eyes'of Rubio supporters, the addition of Butler would have been more than enough to win games and get into the playoffs. Also with the addition of Butler and Gibson, the team would have been able to hide their weaker defenders (Wiggins) if they followed Thibodeau's game plan.
If we look at the advanced stats, Rubio is at about the league average in win shares per 48 minutes, compared to Teague who is slightly above average.
Regardless, it's a fact that Teague fits in slightly better than Rubio based off of how Thibodeau is trying to envision the team. Teague's ability to knock down open shots and to keep the opposing team's point guard honest when he's out on the floor should benefit the Timberwolves greatly. With his ability to space the floor in general and in "crunch time", look for the Wolves to be able to close out games better this next season compared to last.
The addition of Taj Gibson at 2-years $28 million is perfect. Although he isn't a "Stretch-4" by any means, the pickup is substantial for this Wolves squad. Not only was he a product of Thibodeau's system when they were together in Chicago, but he also brings in much-needed toughness and defensive know-how.
For his career, Gibson's Defensive Box +/- has been at +1.6 with his best defensive seasons under Thibodeau. With his added defensive prowess to go along with Butler's, not only should the Timberwolves approve upon their 24th ranked defense from last year, one would think they have a chance to jump into the top 10 of defensive rankings overall. That's assuming Wiggins and Towns continue to grow under Thibodeau's system.
This also leads to the teaching abilities that Gibson can provide to the other big men on the team. Since he already knows Thibodeau's system and is a defensive expert, expect Gibson to help teach Towns, Gorgui Dieng and new rookie, Justin Patton, the nuances of the system and how to play really good team defense.
The biggest knock on Towns and Dieng defensively has been their team defense and rotation assignments. All season long you could see both of them late on a lot of rotations, leading to a lot of easy baskets. With the addition of Gibson, expect the interior defense to uphold their part of the scheme this upcoming season.
So there you have it, with the addition of Butler, Teague and Gibson-the Wolves starting lineup looks like it should be able to compete with the top of the other Western Conference contenders. Although they still have ways to go against Golden State, San Antonio and Houston, a lot of these games should be close overall.
There are still some upcoming roster moves for this team, but the Timberwolves are now considered a "contender" of sorts in the NBA. I don't think that's been heard since the 2004-2005 season, which turned out to be a disappointment after their 2003-2004 Western Conference Finals run. Nonetheless, the Wolves are a playoff threat for the first time in more than a decade, and are primed to make some noise in the postseason.