The Minnesota Timberwolves 2015-2016 Season Review


 

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Another NBA season has come and gone for the Minnesota Timberwolves, and yet again they were one of the league’s bottom feeders with a record of 29-53. They missed the playoffs for an embarrassing 12th straight year, and they are drafting within the lottery once again. This is pretty much the norm regarding this team each year, Wolves fans everywhere are used to it.

But why has moral never been higher? How is there so much optimism for a team that has been the laughing stock of the NBA since the hiring of David Kahn? Oh yeah, this is a team stacked with young talent and potential that even the biggest doubters of this team cannot deny any longer.

This is a team that features back-to-back number one overall picks/back-to-back Rookie of the Year winners in Andrew Wiggins and Karl-Anthony Towns (very probable). They have an up-and-coming star in Zach LaVine who just needs the right coaching to develop him some more before he truly breaks out. They also have a point guard in Ricky Rubio who is only 25 and is considered one of the most elite level players defensively at his position with the ability to get everyone else on the team involved.

As stated above, they are in the lottery once again. It’s bad because every Wolves fan is sick and tired of being in the lottery, they crave a successful team who can actually play past the month of April and longer into the summer. They want a team who has aspirations of actually competing for a championship, instead of just having “potential” year after year.

It’s also a good thing because they have a chance to add another young stud to a roster full of them, or they can use the pick as a trade chip to try to obtain a veteran who could really help the team. Whatever position they end up in after the Draft Lottery will dictate what will be done with their pick. It’s really a win-win situation.

The Timberwolves also just hired one of the best coaches in the league in Tom Thibodeau. He previously led to the Chicago Bulls to the playoffs for five straight seasons from 2010-2015, even making the Eastern Conference Finals in 2011.

With his elite level defensive prowess combined with the offensively talented Timberwolves, this seems to be a match made in heaven for both parties—a young and talented team combining forces with one of the most respected coaches in the league can spell doom for this historic playoff drought.

Ok, enough with all this optimism and hubbub. It’s time to review the 2015-2016 season with an easy-to-read good and bad list:

The Good

  • For most teams, ending the season 29-53 would be a sign of failure. But after only winning 16 games the year before, a 13 game improvement is a pretty big deal—especially considering how many fourth quarter meltdowns this team accumulated early on in the season. There were way too many double digit leads blown because of many coaching errors early on, but with the team being so young, expectations were not high anyway.
  • Post All-Star break was considered the coming out party for this young squad. They ended the second half of the season with a 12-16 record, with some pretty big wins over Washington, Portland, and of course Golden State. Finding a consistent starting group was huge, even though Dieng may be better suited as an off the bench big, he played very well with Towns. The starters of Rubio, LaVine, Wiggins, Dieng, and Towns had an offensive rating of 106.8—good for 11th in the league. 
  • After a rough first month or two, Gorgui Dieng really stepped up to fill in for Kevin Garnett when he was out for the majority of post all-star break. Defensively he was solid, offensively he was adequate, and he really improved his jump shot this season. His pairing with Towns was surprisingly effective.  For example against the Chicago Bulls on February 6, him and Towns combined for 50 points, 30 rebounds, and they both played 41 minutes. 
  • Ricky Rubio was yet again the glue that held this team together. Would people please get over the fact that he is not a scoring point guard, and that he is “holding back” the Wolves because of his shooting deficiencies? There are four other players on the court as well and some of the defense played by them was not pretty all season long. Rubio is considered one of the top defensive guards in the NBA, he is even in the running to make an All-NBA Defensive team once voting is completed.  He averaged 10.1 points, 8.7 assists, 3.4 rebounds, and 2.1 steals per game this season. Rubio is primed to lead this team of young guns into the playoffs next season. With Coach Thibodeau ready to teach a real NBA defensive philosophy to the team, expect the other guys to become better defenders to support Rubio.
  • Zach LaVine’s year two improvement was awesome to see. Last year we saw a young kid who looked in way over his head, especially at the point guard position. He looked to have a low BBIQ, turning the ball over too many times, and was not that great of a defender. Year two he took some big strides, especially when he was moved to shooting guard. He looked more comfortable out on the court, and at any point he had the ability to take over the game offensively.  He seemed to have made some strides defensively as well, getting around screens and playing a little better team defense. With the best shooting mechanics on the team, lighting quickness, and the ability to create his own shot, the Wolves have themselves a keeper who will continue to improve under the guidance of coach Thibodeau, especially on the defensive side of the ball.
  • Andrew Wiggins quietly looked better as well. He was the go-to scorer at the end of game time situations and made some nice strides finding his teammates better when he began to get double-teamed. After a year of averaging 20.3 points for the season, it is time for this young pup to add to his game. If he can improve his ball handling, grab more rebounds, and continue to develop his court vision, he will be a force to reckon with in the very-near-future. He is also very defensively gifted, and will only get better under Thibodeau.
  • Finally we have Karl-Anthony Towns. This is a kid who was not expected to come in and instantly become a top 15 player in the league, especially in his rookie season. With a historic rookie PER of 22.5, Towns averaged 18.3 points, 10.4 rebounds, 2 assists, and 1.7 blocks per game. His defensive talent showed in many games, and he had a few games early on in the season with some big blocks to save a few wins for the Wolves. He also was great at defending smaller players when he was forced to switch defenders. For example he shut down Stephen Curry in a huge win near the end of the season. The kid can dribble, shoot, defend, pass, and just wow you with everything he does. Towns would become a NBA superstar regardless if Thibodeau came to Minnesota or not. He is just that good, and he will be a top five player in the league sooner rather than later.

 The Bad

  • The Wolves were second only to Oklahoma City in fourth quarter meltdowns this season. There were many times this season where the Wolves would be up by double digits just to ultimately lose the lead and eventually the game as well. The Wolves could have been more competitive for a playoff spot if they were able to close out more games this season.
  • The Timberwolves ranked 27th in the league in defense. This definitely attributed to a lot of the fourth quarter collapses this season. Per 100 possessions, the Wolves had a defensive rating of 107.1. This is the biggest problem with the team that needs to be fixed ASAP. They have the player personnel to be a great defensive team, they just need the motivation to put it together. Luckily with the hiring of one of the best defensive minds in the NBA in Thibodeau, the Wolves will likely shoot up the ratings on the defensive side of the ball.
  • The Wolves coaching (Sam Mitchell) was very questionable for the first half of the season. Some of the losses could be attributed to coaching not changing up the game plan when needed, playing horrible rotations with players that complimented each other poorly, and running a playbook from the 90s featuring the long two as the go-to-shot.  The use of Towns early in the season was a huge factor to why the Wolves lost games they should have won as well. Many of the earlier games this season featured Dieng playing big minutes in the fourth quarter over Towns for reasons still not known by anyone besides Mitchell. Luckily with a new coaching staff in place, this team should improve immensely with their game planning and in-game changes.
  • Shabazz Muhammad had a disappointing season. Don’t get me wrong, he had some pretty big games and looked impressive when he was hot. He was also a big reason why the Wolves beat Golden State near the end of the season, he shot an efficient 9-12 with 35 points. However, when he isn’t hot, he can really hurt the team when he is on the court. He’s been a horrendous defensive player since he came into the league and he doesn’t look to pass the ball ever. I’m hoping Thibodeau can help him put it all together, but I’m not very convinced Muhammad will ever amount to anything more than an inconsistent spark plug off of the bench. His trade value might not get any higher than it is now, look for the Wolves to hear offers for Muhammad this summer. 
  • Speaking of bench play, the Wolves bench had been pretty bad all season long. Bjelica started the season hot and was a big reason the Wolves started off 8-8, but eventually he got injured and seemed to lose all confidence throughout most the season, Alexey Shved style. He came back the last ten games playing very well though, hopefully he can bring that into next season. Adrien Payne shouldn’t see the floor, period. That was a bad move by Flip Saunders to trade a future first round pick for this guy. Tayshaun Prince added some veteran presence and a little defense, not much else though. Tyus Jones showed flashes of being a competent NBA backup point guard. He still is going to struggle guarding bigger and much more athletic players, especially defensively. He’s a smart player though, he’ll figure out the ins and outs soon. There isn’t much to say on Nikola Pekovic, he’s just trying to make the minimum amount of games to play to continue to get paid $12 million a season, we won’t see much of him before he is retired. 

The Future

The Timberwolves are a young squad looking to finally end the playoff drought that has been plaguing Minnesota for the last 12 NBA seasons. They are definitely a team on the rise with the potential stars in Towns, Wiggins, and LaVine.

With the starters pretty much set, except maybe the power forward spot, management needs to focus on getting some better bench pieces this summer to compliment the starters going forward. The bench was a big reason why the Wolves gave up a lot of big leads throughout the season, and a stronger bench will help lead this team into the playoffs.

With the hiring of Thibodeau as Coach and President of Basketball Operations, look for him to mold the team into his vision of greatness that he was unable to fully do while in Chicago. He has a high draft pick, cap space, and an owner in Glen Taylor who is willing to spend to make this team a contender to work with. Look for a much-improved team in the 2016-2017 season.

 

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