Last year the Minnesota Timberwolves went 23-49. They haven’t reached the NBA playoffs since 2018 back when then, head coach Tom Thibedeau tried duplicating the success he endured in Chicago by bringing in Jimmy Butler, Derrick Rose, and Taj Gibson. At the time, the Timberwolves also had two prized young star talents in Karl Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins. After Jimmy Butler’s tirade after practice the following season in which he questioned his teammate’s work ethic, pride, and professionalism during a heated scrimmage against the starters while he ran with the third-stringers the team soon deteriorated. The only member left from that 2018 team is All-Star big man Karl Anthony Towns. Towns has continued to improve year in and year out but due to injuries hasn’t played more than 60 games since 2019. In addition to that, the Timberwolves haven’t been a formidable force in the Western Conference either without his presence on the court and are on their third current head coach in the same time span. Fast forward to 2021 with Chris Finch at the helm and another year under the belt of the core of Karl Anthony Town – D’Angelo Russell – Anthony Edwards the Timberwolves have a whole lot of promise ahead of them.
The Timberwolves are going to get a substantial leap from last year’s Rookie of the Year runner-up star forward Anthony Edwards. Edwards, who became a regular in the starting lineup last year starting in 55 of his 72 total games played, will be a cornerstone of this franchise for years to come. Still, just 20 years old, the Georgia product will be vital to the Timberwolves’ success going forward. In the opening game of the season vs the Houston Rockets, Edwards scored 29 points on 47% shooting from the floor, grabbed six rebounds, and added six makes from the three-point line. We have all been enamored by Edwards’ athletic ability and his 6’4 225-pound frame makes him a tough task to keep from living at the rim. Once Edwards masters the balance of when to exert his uber-athletic ability and pace he’ll be a scoring machine to be reckoned with. What makes it even more difficult to game plan for Edwards is the fact that you have to respect his perimeter jumper. Even though Edwards shot just 33% from deep last year he’s garnered the respect from NBA opponents as a perimeter jump shooter that you can’t leave open or go under on screens. His ceiling as a three-level scoring threat is ultimately one of the reasons the Timberwolves can reach greater heights in the competitive Western Conference.
Thus far in his career, Timberwolves point guard D’Angelo Russell has shown the whole league on brief occasions that he’s one of the most gifted skilled guards in the NBA and that there’s no moment that’s too big for him. The question has simply just been availability. Since being dealt from the Los Angeles Lakers in 2017, Russell has only had one season in which he played more than 50 games and that was back in 2019 where he made his first All-Star game and postseason appearance. When Russell came out of Ohio State NBA GMs and scouts weren’t just enamored over his creative scoring ability and craftiness but his passing ability and willingness to get others involved. Due to numerous different situations on different organizations over the course of his NBA career, D-Lo’s been forced to share ball-handling duties with guys like Steph Curry, Spencer Dinwiddie, and Ricky Rubio. Rubio started 51 games at the point guard position for the Timberwolves last year but that was only a luxury due to the fact that an arthroscopic left knee surgery held Russell to just 42 games played ultimately spoiling his first year in Minnesota. With Rubio now in Cleveland as the newest Cavalier, Russell now reclaims the starting point guard role. Russell is the biggest key to this Minnesota offense just because of his dual-threat ability to score and distribute the rock. Russell has always been an elite maestro in the pick and roll, often giving flashes of Manu Ginobli another lefty playmaker that used to dominate the pick and roll using touch, pace, and craftiness to expose his opponents. D’Angelo Russell’s already established himself as a player that gets hot from anywhere intermediate to the three-point line (career .36 3P%) and as a closer cue his “Ice In My Veins” alter ego.
Even if the offense is being run through, for example, Anthony Edwards, Russell is a dangerous catch-and-shoot threat that you absolutely can’t leave open on the perimeter because he’ll make you pay nine times out of ten. Towns already statistically is one of the best perimeter shooting big men of all time. With numerous threats from deep, the team will be able to spread the floor creating open lanes and plenty of pick and roll/pop scoring opportunities. Russell has never been a guy known to rely on his athleticism to be effective but will exploit you purely off of his skill and shot-making ability. Now D-Lo has the keys to the offense and with even more volume as the floor general and surrounded by scorers such as Karl Anthony Towns, Anthony Edwards, and Malik Beasley this Wolves offense should be one to look out for.
Other notable rotation players that’ll be vital to the Wolves looking to take that next step are guys like Naz Reid, Josh Okogie, and Patrick Beverley. Reid has proven that even when Towns needs a breather that he can step in and still be a source of offense. Reid also fits seamlessly next to Towns if the Wolves ever want to roll out a big lineup. Because both of them are pick and pop threats opening up their offense even more (Reid career .34 3P% on 2.7 3PA). The Jelly Fam big man truly plays bigger than his 6’9 stature and uses his body very well when getting to his spots in the post. He’s not afraid to play bully ball. get his hands dirty and give the Wolves a different dimension when he steps into the game. Patrick Beverly and Josh Okogie’s main tasks this season will be pestering all opposing ball handlers and scorers. Beverley, who’s 33 and entering his tenth NBA season, will provide plenty of veteran leadership and heart that the Wolves youth have lacked. Beverley has played in 59 career playoff games, more than the rest of his teammate’s career playoff games combined. Still one of the better 3-D guards in the league, his experience, grit, and heart will go a long way for the Wolves. The Timberwolves won’t turn into a Western Conference powerhouse overnight but they sure do have the formula and are just a couple roster moves away from establishing a team that can go the distance.
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