Wow, we’re here.
It felt like we might never get to Timberwolves season but now we are less than 24 hours away from tip-off. Some of you might be reading this even closer to that moment, or even after. But, as I write this just after 8 PM on Tuesday night, I can’t help but get overly excited about a team I haven’t seen yet, like any good Minnesota fan. I’m high on Minnesota optimism.
I want to caution everyone though, including myself, before watching on Wednesday. This team hasn’t played together…ever. It’s a brand new team, without much for chemistry. We can all hope and believe they’ll mesh like a good peanut butter sandwich right away, but that’s not how it usually works.
When the LeBron James took his talents to South Beach, he and his new Miami Heat teammates lost their first game to the Boston Celtics, in the Garden 88-80. That’s not quite the offensive performance you would expect from a team that featured LeBron James, Dwayne Wade, and Chris Bosh. That same team would continue to struggle early that season, starting 9-8 before winning their next 12, and 21 of their next 22, before losing in the Finals.
When LeBron went back to Cleveland, after winning two titles in Miami, he joined forces with another dynamic duo in Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love (after giving up Wiggins) for another super-team. How did they start? They lost their first game 95-90 to the New York Knicks, who haven’t been good since like 1997, so I doubt they were good in 2014. That Cavs team would go on to start the season 5-7 before eventually losing in the NBA Finals.
Even the Warriors, who broke records the previous season before acquiring Kevin Durant for 2016-17, lost game 1 after acquiring the superstar. Yes, that Golden State team, that everyone handed the Finals trophy to before the season even started. They went 0-1 to start the year and 4-2 before catching fire and winning 67 games in a season that led to another championship.
I mention all of this so we might remember these struggles Wednesday night, and throughout the season, when our team is stumbling and fumbling, like it will at times. The newly constructed Wolves are going to take some time to become the team Thibs sees in his mind. But, I’m perfectly confident the they will get there. I am confident they’ll be battling to go to the Western Conference Finals, when all is said and done. Thibs and Co. have done a great job in building this roster.
I wasn’t as high on the Jimmy Butler deal as others. I was in love with Zach LaVine and the idea of our self-made big 3 turning into the next big thing in the NBA. This offseason has shown me how far away the Timberwolves really were. And, after signing Butler, Teague, and Gibson, Thibs was able to fill out the roster better than I expected with the money he had remaining under the salary cap.
Dieng and Crawford combined for 22.3 points per game last season. The Wolves bench, in total, combined for 22.8 PPG according to hoopsstats.com, in 2016-17. That’s pretty incredible.
Combine those guys with the return of Shabazz Muhammad and the growth from Nemanja Bjelica and Tyus Jones…. we might have a legitimate bench on our hands.
But the grit that was injected into the starting lineup with Butler and Taj Gibson, two former teammates in Chicago, might be what ends up showing as most important change, by the end of the season. As bad as the bench was last year, the Timberwolves didn’t have a huge issue scoring. They ranked 14th in PPG with 105.6. They need to play better defense. Thibs, Butler, and Gibson together, should be able to bring that grittiness and hard work to the defensive end of the court. KAT projects as a good-enough defensive player and Wiggins once projected as an elite talent on defense.
On offense, Thibs really wants to take notes from Greg Popovich and the San Antonio Spurs. He wants the ball to move and flow through the offense to the eventual open shot. He wants to run and gun with this young, athletic offense and punch teams in the mouth with pace of play. We’ve all talked about how much Jimmy Butler is going to help on both ends of the floor. I mean, the guy averaged 24 PPG last season and is a top-3 two-way NBA player. But, I’m really excited to see how Jeff Teague changes things from the point guard position.
We have watched Ricky Rubio run that operation for a long time and, for the most part, gotten very used to seeing defenders drop back around the free throw line and dare him to shoot the outside pull-up, which he struggled with. Teague can hit that shot. And, he might not be Rubio, but he can pass too. This is a guy who averaged over 15 points and almost 8 assists per game.
Once this new-look Timberwolves team has some time to gel, the roster is busting at the seams with talent. The team was also put together, knowing the common goal: to win a championship. Ego’s shouldn’t be an issue. Everyone is going to get paid in today’s NBA. Hunting for championships is what can really make you that money.
Winning a championship for the state of Minnesota would also leave you a legacy here that would never be live forever. You would be a mythical figure. God-like as you walk through the streets of any city in Minnesota.
Now, let me be clear on two things:
- I DON’T expect the Timberwolves to win an NBA Championship THIS season.
- I DO expect THIS Timberwolves team to WIN an NBA Championship in its Tenure.
So, be patient this season Timberwolves fans. Sit back and enjoy the great moments (there will be many). Also, remember that low-points are to be expected, as this roster gels together throughout the season, especially early.
Aren’t you excited to watch Timberwolves Playoff basketball in a few months? We have only waited a decade-and-a-half.
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