Additions: Anthony Tolliver, Josh Okogie, Keita Bates-Diop, Luol Deng
Subtractions: Jamal Crawford, Nemanja Bjelica
Projected Starting Lineup:
PG: Jeff Teague
SG: Jimmy Butler*
SF: Andrew Wiggins
PF: Taj Gibson
C: Karl-Anthony Towns
Key Bench Players: Derrick Rose, Anthony Tolliver, Gorgui Dieng, Tyus Jones
The whole Jimmy Butler trade debacle is still going strong with the Miami Heat currently in the lead for his services. In return, Minnesota is looking to receive Bam Adebayo, Josh Richardson, and a protected 2019 first round pick for the four-time All Star. Losing Butler will hurt the Timberwolves playoff chances significantly, but at this point with him wanting out of Minnesota, GM Scott Layden and coach Tom Thibodeau must trade him for any assets they can receive.
Without Butler, this team will revolve around Karl-Anthony Towns every possession. Butler, in my opinion, is the best player on this team for his number one option scoring capabilities as well as his four-time Second Team All-Defense resume. Butler was their leading scorer at 22.2 PPG but did struggle with a meniscus injury that sidelined him for 23 games. Towns, on the other hand, is one of the best centers in the game, but due to his lack of defense, will forever be stuck behind Anthony Davis, Joel Embiid, and DeMarcus Cousins. A true 7-footer, Towns is a phenomenal scorer, as his career numbers include 21.6 PPG on 54.3/38.7/83.6 shooting. His offense alone puts the fourth year big man into the top five centers in the game. Even if his defense were at least average, it would still be difficult to rank him above the three centers listed above, as Davis and Embiid are too consistent Defensive Player of the Year candidates, and Boogie Cousins is a stronger two-way player.
Andrew Wiggins is an extremely polarizing figure in the NBA landscape. He is a proven scorer throughout his first four seasons with a career average of 19.7 PPG. His problem is his affinity for mid range jumpers and serving as a black hole on offense. He is nowhere near as good on the defensive end as he should be with his otherworldly physical abilities. The former first overall pick still has potential, don’t get me wrong, as he is still only 23, but as a prospect being compared to LeBron with slogans such as “Winless for Wiggins”, he has to turn that potential into legitimate production on both ends of the floor in an attempt to reach the playoffs.
Filling out the rest of the starting five is point guard Jeff Teague and one of Taj Gibson or Anthony Tolliver at power forward. I would lean towards Gibson, as he is a former Chicago Bull under coach Thibodeau, making Tolliver the primary backup to replace Nemanja Bjelica’s stretch-four role. Teague is a fine starting point guard that ranks in the middle of the league. He isn’t a star, but he can do a lot of different things on the floor, whether it be creating shots for his teammates, spot-up shooting, or defense. Teague is not a flashy player but he gets the job done. Taj Gibson is now 32 but remains a decent defender and rebounder. He still cannot stretch the floor by any means but that can be forgiven due to Towns’ sharpshooting. His role is more of an energizer and to help Towns on the defensive end.
This is a very weak Minnesota bench. Tolliver is a fine sweet-shooting big man off the bench, but there is no clear cut number one option with Jamal Crawford not resigning. Derrick Rose showed strides last year in the playoffs as a capable sixth man, but with his injury history and lack of a three point jump shot, it is difficult to see him lead a second unit without his athleticism. Gorgui Dieng is an average rebounder and defender, but lacks shooting and scoring ability. Tyus Jones is a very good backup point guard and will most likely force Rose to play more shooting guard off the bench. A pesky defender, good playmaker, and average shooter, Jones may be their best player off the bench heading into his fourth season. He was also reportedly being looked at by the Phoenix Suns to become their new starting point guard in a possible three-way trade if Jimmy Butler were to be dealt. Coach Thibodeau would be ignorant to expect any quality minutes from former Bull, Luol Deng. If the Wolves begin to struggle, I would expect them to hand more minutes to the younger guys in Josh Okogie, Keita Bates-Diop, and Justin Patton. All three are young, talented, and athletic and could have an impact. Bates-Diop may be the most likely candidate to secure the backup small forward position after winning Big 10 Player of the Year in his redshirt junior year with averages of 19.8 points and 8.7 rebounds per game.
It could be difficult for the Timberwolves with Jimmy Butler to make the playoffs in the loaded Western Conference. Without Butler, it may be near impossible. This looks like it could be a year where Minnesota drafts in the late lottery with hopes of securing another starting caliber young player. They need veterans who can contribute, whether as a starter or in a bench role, if they want to have success. If Butler stays and they still miss the playoffs, we will be blaming their putrid bench. I fully expect Butler to be traded prior to opening night.
Picture Courtesy of NBA.com (Jimmy Butler)
*For yesterday’s article on the Milwaukee Bucks, click here
Up next tomorrow: New Orleans Pelicans
University of South Carolina ’21