51 Q: When will the Timberwolves break through?


Out of the teams that can be considered “rebuilding,” it’s hard to argue that any are in a better long-term position than the Minnesota Timberwolves. They have the reigning Rookie of the Year in Andrew Wiggins, the No. 1 overall pick in Karl-Anthony Towns, a slew of other intriguing young prospects, and some of the best veteran mentorship you can ask for in Kevin Garnett and Andre Miller. Wiggins’ and Zach LaVine‘s high-flying acrobatics make them a League Pass must from an entertainment standpoint. But entertaining and good are not the same thing, and these Wolves are still a ways away from achieving the latter.

The Timberwolves have so much attractive individual talent that it’s easy to lose sight of the fact that they still won’t win a lot of games this year. They had the league’s worst defense last season, giving up 109.6 points per 100 possessions, and that isn’t going to change dramatically. They were better with Garnett on the floor, but he’s a 20-minute-a-game player at this point, and everyone else on the roster with the potential to be a good defender (Wiggins, Shabazz Muhammad, Gorgui Dieng) still needs a ton of seasoning.

Minnesota was beset last season by so many injuries that its young core hasn’t had much of a chance to build chemistry together. An ankle injury limited Ricky Rubio to just 22 games, and he’s the clear-cut starting point guard. He also can’t shoot, which is going to be a problem when Wiggins, LaVine and the Timberwolves’ other young wings have inconsistent shots. But the offense functions better when he’s out there, and his passing will put those players in positions to get better shots. But he has to stay healthy, and that’s been hard for him the last few years.

Rubio isn’t the only player on this Wolves team who has to prove he can stay on the court. Nikola Pekovic, Kevin Martin and Shabazz Muhammad all missed over half of last season, and are all key pieces to the Timberwolves’ hopes of improving on the fifth-worst offense in the NBA.

All of this, by the way, will be managed by an interim coach. Sam Mitchell will be in charge of the Timberwolves while Flip Saunders undergoes lymphoma treatments (get well soon, Flip!) and this many moving parts get all the more hazy when the person in charge isn’t a long-term answer.

There are a lot of reasons for Timberwolves fans to be excited. This team has the foundation of a roster that’s going to be competitive for years to come. But their defense is going to be awful once again, and in the crowded Western Conference, it’s simply difficult to see them being seriously competitive for a playoff spot. Not now, anyway. In a year or two, they’re too talented not to make that leap. For now, they’re League Pass fodder on the outside looking in.