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Minnesota Timberwolves: NBA season preview, roster and schedule 2018

Tom Thibodeau and Jimmy Butler should take the Timberwolves back to the playoffs, but are they good enough to be an elite team out West?


Offseason Recap

Arrivals: Jimmy Butler, Jeff Teague, Taj Gibson, Justin Patton, Jamal Crawford, Aaron Brooks, Amile Jefferson, Marcus Georges-Hunt, Melo Trimble

Departures: Ricky Rubio, Zach LaVine, Kris Dunn, Omri Casspi, Jordan Hill, Adreian Payne, Nikola Pekovic, Brandon Rush

Disappointed by last season’s underachievement, Tom Thibodeau went out and made this Minnesota Timberwolves team into the image of his old Bulls teams this offseason. 

Thibs absolutely stole Jimmy Butler from the Bulls, giving up a package of an injured Zach LaVine, a bust of a top-five pick in Kris Dunn, and the No. 7 pick, which turned into Lauri Markkanen. In Butler, Thibs now has a legitimate superstar to pair with his two young stars in Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins.

Thibodeau also brought in an old favorite in Taj Gibson, who along with Butler should help solidify a defense which was wildly disappointing last year. He also finally got rid of Ricky Rubio, whom he was not a big fan of, and signed a better shooting point guard in Jeff Teague.

Meanwhile, he added veterans Jamal Crawford and Aaron Brooks, and brought back Shabazz Muhammad to improve one of the least productive benches in the league last year.

The Butler trade alone makes this offseason a rousing success for Minnesota. However, Thibs didn’t quite address the team’s need for more shooting, and it remains to be seen whether the players he chose to surround his top three stars of Towns, Butler, and Wiggins will work out and form a cohesive unit capable of true contention in the West.

Projected Depth Chart

C – Karl-Anthony Towns / Gorgui Dieng / Cole Aldrich / Justin Patton

PF – Taj Gibson / Nemanja Bjelica / Amile Jefferson

SF – Jimmy Butler / Shabazz Muhammad / Marcus Georges-Hunt

SG – Andrew Wiggins / Jamal Crawford

PG – Jeff Teague / Tyus Jones / Aaron Brooks

Strengths

With Towns and Butler, the Timberwolves have two players currently ranked in the top-five of their respective positions. Towns has been an unbelievably advanced offensive player through his first two years in the league and figures to get even better. Meanwhile, Butler has thrived even in less-than-ideal situations in Chicago over the past few years to become an All-NBA-caliber player. 

Wiggins, who showed signs of becoming a reliable scorer, will now be a somewhat over-qualified third option. The Wolves were already a top-five team in terms of their free-throw rate last season and will add a legitimate star in Butler who has upped his average free-throw attempts in every single year of his career. 

The talent of their Big Three alone should be enough to make the Timberwolves a top-10 team offensively once again this season.

Minnesota also figure to be one of the most physically imposing teams around. Thibodeau’s Bulls teams played with a lot of physicality, and the additions of Gibson and Butler should help instill that mentality to the team. 

That physicality should manifest itself on the offensive glass. They were already one of the top offensive rebounding teams last season thanks to Towns and Dieng; they should be even better this year with Gibson, who is a fine offensive rebounder himself, also crashing the boards.

Weaknesses

The Timberwolves have a real lack of shooting on this team. While they have a few capable three-point shooters like Teague, Crawford, and Wiggins on the roster, none can be classified as above-average spot-up shooters, which are what this team needs to create space for Towns and Butler. 

The T-Wolves’ lack of shooting and versatility along the frontcourt is particularly concerning. Their two best options to play next to Towns (Gibson and Dieng) can’t effectively stretch the floor, which could limit them offensively. Only Nemanja Bjelica can fill that stretch-four role, and he might be diminished after suffering a bad foot injury last season.

The defense figures to take a step up with the addition of Gibson and Butler, two veterans of Thibodeau’s highly successful defensive system. But then again, it was supposed to improve significantly with the arrival of Thibs and the team was a bottom-five defense last season.

Meanwhile, the Timberwolves could be asking a lot of 37-year-old Jamal Crawford to prop up a bench unit which was one of the worst in the league. Crawford’s advanced metrics (PER, True Shooting Percentage, Win Shares) have been steadily declining in each of the past three seasons.

Player to Watch – Andrew Wiggins

Even though Wiggins could very well end up signing a max contract extension by the time the season starts, this campaign will be something of a make-or-break year for the young wing. While the Canadian has grown into a 20-point scorer in this league, he has fallen way short of expectations on the defensive end. 

Perhaps he was just too preoccupied with scoring buckets and fell into some bad habits. Whatever his reasons, he’s running out of them now that he’s entering Year 4 in the league. He will be playing alongside an established star in Butler, who has taken on the challenge of being a top defender while also leading his team’s offense during his days in Chicago. 

The thinking is Butler’s terrific tenacity and work ethic should rub off on Wiggins, who still has a lot of room to grow as a player. If the 22-year-old can finally tap into that potential starting this season, Minnesota can become even more dangerous than they already are. He’s the true X-factor on this team, and it’ll be fascinating to see what path he takes.

2017/18 Schedule

1 Oct 18, 2017 @ San Antonio Spurs     

2 Oct 20, 2017 vs. Utah Jazz     

3 Oct 22, 2017 @ Oklahoma City Thunder     

4 Oct 24, 2017 vs. Indiana Pacers     

5 Oct 25, 2017 @ Detroit Pistons     

6 Oct 27, 2017 vs. Oklahoma City Thunder     

7 Oct 30, 2017 @ Miami Heat     

8 Nov 1, 2017 @ New Orleans Pelicans     

9 Nov 4, 2017 vs. Dallas Mavericks     

10 Nov 5, 2017 vs. Charlotte Hornets     

11 Nov 8, 2017 @ Golden State Warriors     

12 Nov 11, 2017 @ Phoenix Suns     

13 Nov 13, 2017 @ Utah Jazz     

14 Nov 15, 2017 vs. San Antonio Spurs     

15 Nov 17, 2017 @ Dallas Mavericks     

16 Nov 19, 2017 vs. Detroit Pistons     

17 Nov 20, 2017 @ Charlotte Hornets     

18 Nov 22, 2017 vs. Orlando Magic     

19 Nov 24, 2017 vs. Miami Heat     

20 Nov 26, 2017 vs. Phoenix Suns     

21 Nov 28, 2017 vs. Washington Wizards     

22 Nov 29, 2017 @ New Orleans Pelicans     

23 Dec 1, 2017 @ Oklahoma City Thunder     

24 Dec 3, 2017 vs. Los Angeles Clippers     

25 Dec 4, 2017 @ Memphis Grizzlies     

26 Dec 6, 2017 @ Los Angeles Clippers     

27 Dec 10, 2017 vs. Dallas Mavericks     

28 Dec 12, 2017 vs. Philadelphia 76ers     

29 Dec 14, 2017 vs. Sacramento Kings     

30 Dec 16, 2017 vs. Phoenix Suns     

31 Dec 18, 2017 vs. Portland Trail Blazers     

32 Dec 20, 2017 @ Denver Nuggets     

33 Dec 23, 2017 @ Phoenix Suns     

34 Dec 25, 2017 @ Los Angeles Lakers     

35 Dec 27, 2017 vs. Denver Nuggets     

36 Dec 28, 2017 @ Milwaukee Bucks     

37 Dec 31, 2017 @ Indiana Pacers     

38 Jan 1, 2018 vs. Los Angeles Lakers     

39 Jan 3, 2018 @ Brooklyn Nets     

40 Jan 5, 2018 @ Boston Celtics     

41 Jan 6, 2018 vs. New Orleans Pelicans     

42 Jan 8, 2018 vs. Cleveland Cavaliers     

43 Jan 10, 2018 vs. Oklahoma City Thunder     

44 Jan 12, 2018 vs. New York Knicks     

45 Jan 14, 2018 vs. Portland Trail Blazers     

46 Jan 16, 2018 @ Orlando Magic     

47 Jan 18, 2018 @ Houston Rockets     

48 Jan 20, 2018 vs. Toronto Raptors     

49 Jan 22, 2018 @ Los Angeles Clippers     

50 Jan 24, 2018 @ Portland Trail Blazers     

51 Jan 25, 2018 @ Golden State Warriors     

52 Jan 27, 2018 vs. Brooklyn Nets     

53 Jan 29, 2018 @ Atlanta Hawks     

54 Jan 30, 2018 @ Toronto Raptors     

55 Feb 1, 2018 vs. Milwaukee Bucks     

56 Feb 3, 2018 vs. New Orleans Pelicans     

57 Feb 7, 2018 @ Cleveland Cavaliers     

58 Feb 9, 2018 @ Chicago Bulls     

59 Feb 11, 2018 vs. Sacramento Kings     

60 Feb 13, 2018 vs. Houston Rockets     

61 Feb 15, 2018 vs. Los Angeles Lakers     

62 Feb 23, 2018 @ Houston Rockets     

63 Feb 24, 2018 vs. Chicago Bulls     

64 Feb 26, 2018 @ Sacramento Kings     

65 Mar 1, 2018 @ Portland Trail Blazers     

66 Mar 2, 2018 @ Utah Jazz     

67 Mar 8, 2018 vs. Boston Celtics     

68 Mar 11, 2018 vs. Golden State Warriors     

69 Mar 13, 2018 @ Washington Wizards     

70 Mar 17, 2018 @ San Antonio Spurs     

71 Mar 18, 2018 vs. Houston Rockets     

72 Mar 20, 2018 vs. Los Angeles Clippers     

73 Mar 23, 2018 @ New York Knicks     

74 Mar 24, 2018 @ Philadelphia 76ers     

75 Mar 26, 2018 vs. Memphis Grizzlies     

76 Mar 28, 2018 vs. Atlanta Hawks     

77 Mar 30, 2018 @ Dallas Mavericks     

78 Apr 1, 2018 vs. Utah Jazz     

79 Apr 5, 2018 @ Denver Nuggets     

80 Apr 6, 2018 @ Los Angeles Lakers     

81 Apr 9, 2018 vs. Memphis Grizzlies     

82 Apr 11, 2018 vs. Denver Nuggets     

Prediction

With Butler, Towns, and Wiggins, there’s too much talent for the Timberwolves not to make the playoffs again. However, they missed an opportunity to get much better this offseason by failing to acquire more shooters, particularly along the frontcourt.

The defense probably improves as expected with Butler and Gibson, which should deliver around 50 regular season wins and a top-five seed. But their lack of shooting and adequate spacing will likely hurt them in the postseason where they don’t figure to get past the first couple of rounds.

Can the Timberwolves still make noise in the postseason despite obvious flaws? Discuss in the comments below!

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Brad Taningco

Brad Taningco has been a RealSport NBA contributor since Decemeber 2016. But apart from basketball, he's also a fan of soccer, American football, baseball, and ice hockey.

Minnesota Timberwolves: NBA season preview, roster and schedule 2018

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