By: Jonah Sprinkel
After a rough first outing in San Antonio, the Timberwolves will look to rebound as everyone’s favorite point guard, Ricky Rubio, comes to town with the Utah Jazz.
The Jazz opened their season on Wednesday with a win at home against the Denver Nuggets. Rudy Gobert led the way with 18 points and 10 boards.
Last season the Jazz were 12th in the league in offensive rating and 3rd in the league in defensive rating. With the loss of Gordon Hayward, many expect this team to continue to forge their identity on the defensive end of the floor. Granted, it’s only one game, but this proved true in their first game of the season against the Nuggets by holding them to 96 points. Last season, the Nuggets were 4th in the league in offensive rating and they added Paul Millsap over the summer. Expect a rough and tumble type of basketball game between the Puppies and the Jazz.
What: Jazz @ Wolves
When: 7:00 PM CT
Where: Target Center
Where to watch: Fox Sports North
Where to listen: 830 WCCO
What to watch for:
Karl Anthony Towns against Rudy Gobert: After a performance that left quite a bit to be desired, Towns now must go mano-a-mano against the runner for last year's Defensive Player of the Year award. With such a tough matchup, expect Thibs to rely heavily on Butler and Wiggins.
Minnesota's offense: After struggling to move the ball and put points on the board against the Spurs, last season's best defense, the Wolves once again have a tall task in front of them. The good news is that the Jazz aren't quite the defensive team the Spurs are, though it is close. The bad news is that Rudy Gobert will be waiting at the rim for every drive or post up.
Continuing to adapt: As everyone saw on Wednesday, the Wolves have a lot of growing to do before they’re ready for playoff basketball. The biggest thing is simply chemistry, hopefully that is something that comes with time. All new teams struggle, especially when they pair an All- Star with two potential All-Stars. Yes, the game against the Spurs was disheartening. But, this team needs time. Expecting them to blow the doors off any top tier team is simply irrational, even if I’m ready to finally see the Wolves win. Be patient, the wins will come Wolves fans.
Minnesota: PG Jeff Teague, SG Andrew Wiggins, SF Jimmy Butler, PF Taj Gibson, C Karl-Anthony Towns
San Antonio: PG Ricky Rubio, SG Donovan Mitchell, SF Joe Ingles, PF Derrick Favors, C Rudy Gobert
San Antonio: Raul Neto (sore leg), Dante Exum (separated left shoulder)
The Wolves will spoil Rubio’s “homecoming” with their first win of the season! 108-105. The defense finally looks passable but that might just be because the Jazz aren’t nearly the offensive system that the Spurs are.
KAT records 22 points and 10 rebounds while Jimmy Butler finds his footing with 26 points 5 assists and 4 rebounds. Wiggins continues to dial it up from downtown.
By: Dan Slaubaugh
It's opening night in San Antonio, and the Wolves are fully capable and ready to begin the quest of bringing playoff basketball back to the city of Minneapolis.
The Spurs, who didn't have a great offseason losing Dewayne Dedmon and Jonathan Simmons in free agency, will look to begin the 2017-18 season strong without all-star forward Kawhi Keonard - my pick to win the MVP award this season. That leaves LaMarcus Aldridge and Pau Gasol, who make a potent duo in the frontcourt, as the main guys to carry the scoring load for the Spurs. Newly acquired forward Rudy Gay will also be asked to balance the offensive scoring not only tonight, but throughout the season, bringing size but not much passing to San Antonio. As a team, the Spurs led the league in Defensive Rating the past two seasons, so I'll make a wild guess and say they'll be tough as nails even without Leonard.
This makes for a tough first test for the Wolves, who will go to war for the first official time with new Wolf Jimmy Butler. The preseason figured to be a crash course in chemistry and unity for the Wolves "Big 3". Now we'll see if they can figure it out, knowing when to take a backseat and when to be assertive. Tonight marks a new era of Wolves basketball. Let's hope they can start with a bang.
What: Wolves @ Spurs
When: 8:30 PM CT
Where: AT&T Center
Where to watch: ESPN, Fox Sports North
Where to listen: 830 WCCO
What to watch for:
Butler against Kawhi-less Spurs: Jimmy Butler, who will make his Wolves debut tonight in San Antonio, is certainly not complaining about Leonard missing the season opener. That said, Jimmy Butler and Andrew Wiggins need to take advantage of their matchups tonight, although Danny Green and Rudy Gay are no slouches defensively.
Minnesota's defense: For the most part, the Wolves played crummy defense in their three preseason games. Granted, two were against the Warriors, but it wasn't pretty. Tonight will be another tough test versus a team with great spacing and lots of threats from beyond the arc. San Antonio was the No. 1 team in three-point shooting last year at 39.1 percent. Wolves head coach Tom Thibodeau has stated Minnesota needs to improve in "closing out" defenders. For the Wolves to stop the Spurs barrage of three-point shooting, that defensive skill will need to be on display tonight.
Adapting: On the Wolves side, there are a lot of new pieces. This game not only marks Jimmy Butler's Wolves debut, but also Jeff Teague, Jamal Crawford, and Taj Gibson's. How quickly they mesh will be a big factor in their success early in the season. Concerning the Spurs, playing without Kawhi is always an adjustment. "We have some chemistry built up. It's not like we are all new, and the new pieces are doing well", guard Manu Ginobli told Tom Osborn of San Antonio Express-News. The Spurs are too good to think they won't be competitive without Leonard, so the Wolves will need to have the same mindset tonight in as if Leonard were playing.
Minnesota: PG Jeff Teague, SG Andrew Wiggins, SF Jimmy Butler, PF Taj Gibson, C Karl-Anthony Towns
San Antonio: PG Dejounte Murray, SG Danny Green, SF Rudy Gay, PF Pau Gasol, C LaMarcus Aldridge
San Antonio: Kawhi Leonard (right quadriceps), Tony Parker (left quadriceps)
Who's ready to play basketball? Who's ready for possibilities? Who's ready to break this 26-way tie for best record (at least tied!) in basketball and get some games on? Who's ready to put some meat on these playoff dreams?
Do you believe?
If you don't, I'm not sure why you're here. It's opening night, basketball is here, and we're one win away from being tied for first place in the Western Conference. What more could you want?
Wolves offense proves to much for the Spurs. They get the dub, 106-100. KAT finishes with 27 points, 12 rebounds. Jimmy Butler shines in Wolves debut with 22 points, 6 rebounds, 4 assists, 2 steals.
By: OTP Staff
This is the fifth piece in a series of articles that will look at each individual position on the Minnesota Timberwolves roster heading into the 2017-18 season. Today we feature the centers.
In the transcript below, On The Prowl writers Dan Slaubaugh, Zach More, and Jonah Sprinkel discuss what KAT needs to do do take the next step in his NBA career, then converse about what roles Cole Aldrich and Justin Patton will serve this season. This conversation has been lightly edited.
Zach: I think that everyone knows a lot about KAT already. You don’t need to be a great basketball mind to know he is on his way to being a superstar. For KAT it really comes down to refining his craft and the big thing playing defense. Dan you wrote a piece earlier that had great thoughts on him. Do you have that link?
Dan: I do! Thanks for the kind words. Here is that link, where I break down what KAT needs to do to take the next step in his NBA career.
Zach: Awesome. I think it’s easier people just read the article instead of us retyping out all those thoughts on here.
Dan: I feel like Cole Aldrich is one of the most “normal” dudes on the team. I remember last winter I was sitting inside the Starbucks across from Target Center after covering the Wolves practice upstairs at the Mayo Clinic Square when he walked in and asked me, “How are you today?” With my mouth full of muffin, I mumbled “I’m doing very well, thank you. How are you Cole?”, and he responded “wonderful”.
Zach: Cole seemed to fall out of favor early with Thibs last year and never get back on his good side. I Thought he would be bigger part of team last year and just never did much. Judging by training camp, he will be a bench body unless an injury occurs. Best thing he can do for Wolves is be part of a trade package.
Jonah: When the Wolves initially signed Cole I really thought he would become a key rotational player. I’m not sure if it’s lack of knowledge within the system or what but like you said Zach, he fell out of favor early and can’t seem to get back in the good graces.
Again, like Zach said, I do hope he becomes part of a trade package for someone that will actually receive minutes and contribute in a meaningful way.
Dan: Do you guys believe Aldrich can believe a solid rotation player if needed? I think I do. He’s shown it before in New York and Los Angeles.
Jonah: I definitely do, I can’t remember the numbers off the top of my head but he was very effective and efficient during his time with the Clippers.
Dan: Absolutely. In a way, let’s hope he is not needed this season.
Jonah: Agreed. If things are bad enough to where Thibs believes he needs to play Aldrich then something went wrong.
Dan: For sure. And regardless of his consistent impact on the court, he serves well as a great locker room guy. From what I’ve heard, he and Jimmy Butler have been listening to country music together, which doesn’t surprise me at all.
Dan: Is Patton the least talked about Wolves rookie in the past decade?
Zach: Yes I really think he is. With the huge offseason the Wolves had the rookie finally isn’t the big news going into the year. The injury didn’t help him at all in these regards. With him not playing in summer league he wasn’t able to gain excitement either
Jonah: Probably, it’s hard to talk about someone we never see. Out of sight, out of mind. There simply isn’t much to say right now simply because he can’t play. The hope for the future is obviously for him to get healthy and try to get up to speed as quickly as possible. I can pretty much guarantee he’ll spend time in the G-League.
Dan: It will be interesting to see how many games he plays for the Iowa Wolves. 30? 50? Time will tell. This kid balled out last year at Creighton. Once he’s ready for the NBA I think we’ll be very impressed with his rim-running ability. He runs the court tremendously for a big.
Zach: Even with him not being talked about much Patton is a promising rookie. I will watch him close in G league. He needs to get healthy, but he is the new type of big man in the NBA. A player like him is why having a G league team is so big. He Needs time to develop but if the Wolves are patient with him I think he will be important for future.
By: OTP Staff
Congratulations, basketball fans. You've made it. The 2017-18 NBA season is upon us, which means it's time for our 3rd annual OTP Season Predictions Roundtable.
Most Valuable Player
Dan: Karl-Anthony Towns. He averaged 28 and 13 in Minnesota's final 31 games last year. Sure, he won't get as many touches with Butler on the team, but I think 26 and 12 is a realistic line for KAT. With improved defense, KAT could be a darkhorse for NBA MVP, let alone Wolves MVP.
Zach: Jimmy Butler: I think KAT will be the best player on the team but Jimmy Butler will be the most VALUABLE. He is the player that will put this team back into the playoffs. His defense will affect the whole team positively and make life much easier for Wiggins and KAT offensively. Butler will also be able to be like a 2nd coach to these young players which is incredibly valuable.
Jonah: Jimmy Butler. Butler will be the defensive stalwart while carrying a heavy share of the scoring load. Essentially, he’ll do it all for the Wolves.
Cal: It’s between Jimmy and Karl. If I had to pick one I would say Karl, but he needs to play consistent defense and still produce on the offensive end at a high level.
Louie: While many people will want to jump to Jimmy Butler here right away, I think this year belongs to KAT (again). While adding Jimmy is a huge addition for the Timberwolves, I think that the player that will add the most value this year will be Karl, and the outcome of the season weighs heavily on his shoulders.
Most Improved Player
Dan: Andrew Wiggins. The roster is much more set for Wiggins to be successful now. Minus the fastbreak points Ricky got him, the offensive is now more conductive for him. Teams can no longer double him and prevent him from getting to "his spots" on the court. If he can shoot the three ball at a 36% rate, Minnesota will have a better third-fiddle than 95% of the league.
Zach: Andrew Wiggins. Even though Wiggins scored at a high rate last year there were parts of this game that we needed more from. I think this is the year that we see Wiggins take a big step with his entire game. The addition of Butler will give Wiggins more favorable matchups and with Butler in his ear I think his defense will improve. Wiggins said he will make a collective effort to rebound better. His three point shot looks improved as well, which will help him score more efficiently.
Jonah: Tyus Jones. Last year we saw flashes of a true backup point guard in Tyus. With another year in the same system, he has the opportunity to take over as the sole backup.
Cal: Shabazz Muhammad. I think he has shown signs of improvement and potential. I think the addition of some veterans like Butler and Jamal Crawford will be very beneficial to him.
Louie: Tyus Jones. We saw glimpses of what Tyus can do, and while his athletic ability will limit his NBA career, his basketball IQ will not.
Defensive Player of the Year
Dan: Jimmy Butler! He's always been a "Thibs guy", one who plays defense first and offense second. He'll play as many minutes as Thibs wants him to and always play the hardest.
Zach: Jimmy Butler. Butler is the best defensive player on this team and it really isn’t close. He can guard 3 positions with ease and is a good team defender as well. His combination of strength and speed is what makes him an elite defender, not just on the Wolves but in the NBA.
Jonah: Jimmy Butler. Butler and Kawhi Leonard are the only active players with more steals than fouls. Enough said.
Cal: Jimmy G Buckets! I think this one is pretty obvious. Jimmy Butler was already an elite defender in Chicago, and is considered one of the best two-way players in the NBA. Not to mention he is reunited with Thibs, who have had a lot of success together.
Louie: I’ll be watching Jimmy closely this year when it comes to defense, and not necessarily what he is doing directly. The effect he will have on the other players on the defensive side of the ball will give him the crown of defensive player of the year.
Who leads the team in scoring?
Dan: Karl-Anthony Towns. With the ability to post-up, handle the ball, and shoot, the 2016-17 all-star snub has established himself as one of the top offensive forces in today’s game.
Zach: Karl-Anthony Towns. This is a tough one with three great scorers on the team but I think KAT is just too dynamic and can score in so many ways. He may average the least shot attempts of the big three and average the most points. Put packs will be where he has the advantage over the other two.
Jonah: Karl-Anthony Towns. KAT is the only player on the team who can play inside and outside virtually anywhere on the court. His soft shooting touch and near robotic post moves should allow Towns to remain nearly unguardable.
Cal: Karl-Anthony Towns. He led the team in scoring last year, and played out of his mind after the All-Star break. I see no reason why he can’t do it again.
Louie: While the Timberwolves now have three players who do not struggle to get their own on offense, look for Karl-Anthony Towns to do a bulk of the scoring this year (see 2016-17 post All-Star game stats).
Three bold predictions
Dan: 1. The Wolves trade for Jared Dudley at the deadline. 2. Gorgui Dieng finishes in the top 5 in 6th Man of the Year voting. 3. Wolves win at least one game versus the Cavs AND Warriors.
Zach: 1. Bjelica shoots 40% or above from three point land – not much to go off to give me this feeling. I think his shot selection will help. 2. Jeff Teague makes us forget about Ricky Rubio….well maybe not forget about it but he will win over the Wolves fan base with his quick play. 3. The Wolves make a trade deadline deal that plays a big role in the second half of the season and in the playoffs. Aldrich and a 2nd? Will the OKC pick need to be used? Not sure, but it will be a needed.
Jonah: 1. The Wolves take the 4 seed. 2. Shabazz plays a key bench role. 3. The Wolves make a trade at the deadline.
Cal: 1. Wolves will at least make the Western Conference Semi-Finals. 2. Wolves will be the 3-4 seed in the stacked Western Conference. 3. KAT will be All NBA First team.
Louie: 1. The Timberwolves win the division. 2. Jimmy, Karl, AND Andrew make the All Star game. 3. Tom Thibodeau wins coach of the year
Vegas Over/Under (Currently at 46.5)
Dan: Barely over. I'm placing them at 47-35. 6th in the West.
Zach: Over. I have the Wolves winning 48 game this year. It’s a little under what some national projections put them at but is still a huge jump and SHOULD put them in the playoffs.
Jonah: Over. I said this before last season but I guess I’ll have to repeat myself; this year is finally the Wolves year. The places are all in place for an extremely successful season.
Cal: Over. I think the Wolves have brought in a lot of what they needed this off-season and really have improved. They brought in defense which was much needed, and another star in Butler.
Louie: With the over sitting at 46.5, I’ll be optimistic and say the Wolves are going to win 48-50 games this year. But Vegas knows, Vegas always knows.
Any All Stars?
Dan: KAT and Jimmy! These stars will light up Target Center night in and night out and will have the opportunity to light up New Orleans next February.
Zach: KAT. Karl-Anthony Towns will be an all-star this year. He put up all-star type numbers last year but the Wolves record made it tough on him to get it. Another year of recognition and being even better will be enough to get KAT the all-star game bid.
Jonah: Towns and Butler. Butler has been an All Star previously and as one of the two faces of an up and coming team he should be more popular than ever. Towns is the other face of this up and coming franchise and possibly one of the most skilled players in the league. That combined with his infections personality will get KAT into his first All Star game
Cal: Jimmy and KAT. Jimmy was an All-Star last year so I see no reason why he couldn’t do it again. I think it will be more difficult with the West being so stacked, but he is more than capable. Karl should have been an All-Star last season, so I think this year people will recognize how great he really is.
Louie: See three bold predictions.
And finally, the burning question: Will the #Wolves end their 13-year playoff drought?
Dan: I answered it above, but yes, they will. There is too much talent on this team (feel like I've said this for three years) to miss the playoffs in a league where 8 of the top 15 teams in each conference make the playoffs. Biggest difference maker will be an improved defense.
Zach: The Minnesota Timberwolves WILL end the 13 year playoff drought! This isn’t that bold if you go off of projections, but still extremely exciting. I can’t even imagine what it will be like to have playoff basketball back.
Jonah: Yes, as I said above all the pieces are in place. If it doesn’t happen then this team is cursed and we’re all doomed.
Cal: Yes, the Wolves will make the playoffs this season. They have the talent and offensive capabilities. Its going to come down to defense. Bringing in Taj Gibson and Butler is definitely going to help.
Louie: Yes, especially with the recent coach Thibodeau quote about not waiting and being patient, I feel like all of the Timberwolves eggs are in this years basket.
Most Valuable Player
Dan: Kawhi Leonard, who finished third in MVP voting last year. If San Antonio, can grab a top three seed in the Western Conference playoffs, Leonard will have been a massive factor and receive the attention he rightfully deserves. BEST TWO-WAY PLAYER IN THE GAME!
Zach: I know it’s an easy answer but I believe LeBron James will be the MVP this year. He will play massive minutes white IT is out and will be determined to put up huge numbers. Durant and Curry came to mind as well, but I think there is just so much star power on that team that it neutralizes the numbers a bit.
Jonah: LeBron James. After last year’s Finals loss, LeBron seems extremely motivated. The only NBA player to average 26 points, 8 rebounds and 8 assists on 54 FG% + was 2016-17 LeBron James.
Cal: Kawhi Leonard. He was already in the running for MVP last season as well as DPOY, so I see no reason why he can’t win this year. Especially sense the two other candidates last year (Westbrook and Harden) have added more stars to their rosters than the Spurs. He just needs to get healthy.
Louie: Kevin Durant. I was lucky enough to be invited to participate in NBA Math’s #CrystalBasketball rankings this year, and I am proud to say I am the one of the only people who voted KD as the best player in the league this year.
Most Improved Player
Dan: D'Angelo Russell. His career has been nothing short of a roller coaster so far. However, his talent remains undisputed and he will have every opportunity to find himself in Brooklyn. Being away from the bright lights of Los Angeles will only help.
Zach: Brandon Ingram. I chose Ingram for a couple of reasons. First off, his season was so bad last year that it will be easy to improve greatly. Secondly watching Ingram play this preseason he looked like a different player this preseason confidence wise. Lastly, the Lakers aren’t going to be a very good team and Ingram is going to have the freedom to put up a ton of shots.
Jonah: Nikola Jokic. Jokic should be able to fully assume the role of franchise centerpiece with another off-season under his belt while being paired down with the underrated Paul Milsap.
Cal: Derrick Rose. He is in a good atmosphere with Cleveland and I think LeBron can teach him a lot.
Louie: I can see this going to many players, but I think with Carmelo getting shipped off to OKC, look for Porzingis to make some big strides in his game this year.
6th man of the year
Dan: Will Barton. One of the Association's top bench scorers in the league. He's not only the first guy off the bench for Denver, he's entrusted with anchoring reserve lineups as the main scorer and shot-creator.
Zach: Eric Gordon. This is a tough one this year with Crawford and Igudola becoming older and especially in the case of Crawford, less effective. Gordon may be counted on less with the additions Houston made, but if he continues to hit shots he will get the minutes again and put up big numbers.
Jonah: Nick Young. Young hit 43% of his threes for a mediocre Laker team last year. Now he’s in one the most talented offensives ever.
Cal: Nick Young. I just think that he will thrive in Golden State.
Louie: As bad as I want to tell you our very own Minnesota Timberwolf Jamal Crawford will be the 6th man of the year, again, I know this wont happen. Lou Williams and Eric Gordon are a couple names to watch out for.
Rookie of the Year
Dan: Dennis Smith Jr. He is the rookie class’s pick to win Rookie of the Year, earning just over 25 percent of the vote. Smith Jr. has boatloads of potential and the athleticism to win Rookie of the Year.
Zach: Lonzo Ball. I think Ball will have enough of an impact on the Lakers to have what most consider a productive season. Ball will also be in the spotlight all year playing in LA and make a lot of splashy plays, which always help with this award.
Jonah: Kyle Kuzma. Forget Lonzo Ball, forget Markelle Fultz, Kyle Kuzma is going to take the league by storm.
Cal: I have to go with Lonzo Ball or Dennis Smith. They are both great young talent and will be a big focal point with their teams. They were both great in the summer league as well.
Louie: Ben Simmons is a name you will hear all year for a Rookie of the Year candidate, as long that he stays healthy. After the preseason, Kyle Kuzma will be a fun “sleeper” pick for Rookie of the Year.
Team that will surprise people
Dan: Charlotte Hornets. Nicola Batum's injury hurts, but a couple-month absence isn't nearly enough to write them off. Charlotte is well-coached with a fairly cohesive rotation full of players who’ve developed chemistry together. The Hornets are a highly likely a playoff team, not someone who many think will be fighting for a playoff spot . After all, they play in the East.
Zach: Washington Wizards: I think people forget that it’s more than just Boston and Cleveland in the East. Washington has the players and experience to compete for the second spot in the East.
Jonah: Boston Celtics. I don’t believe the Irving-Hayward pairing is a match made in heaven. It will take some time for these guys to learn how to play with each other.
Louie: I think that a team, out of the West, that will surprise many people will be the Utah Jazz with our beloved Ricky Rubio. I think this year will be Gobert’s breakout year from “VORP Twitter” to “Everyone Twitter”.
Defensive Player of the Year
Dan: Rudy Gobert, who will block nearly 3 shots per game into the hands of Spanish wonderboy Ricky Rubio. Gobert alone makes Utah a top 10 defensive team.
Zach: Rudy Gobert. I think this one explains itself. Gobert is a beast inside and will put up huge block numbers and great rim protection numbers. Gobert is also a bigger name now and that usually helps with winning these awards.
Jonah: Kawhi Leonard. Year in and year out Kawhi brings top tier defense to a defensive system that swallows up the opposition.
Cal: Draymond Green. That’s what he does best and Golden State needs him to continue to be that guy.
Louie: As I just mentioned about Rudy Gobert and his breakout season, I think the Stifle Tower will grab the defensive player of the year trophy this year.
Coach of the Year
Dan: Erik Spoelstra. If the Heat finish get a top five seed the East, Spoelstra will take home the Coach of the Year award that he rightfully deserved last season. I'm all in on Erik Spoelstra.
Zach: Tom Thibodeau: This is probably a homer pick but I think Thibs will at least be in the running. The Warriors are so good every year I don’t think Kerr will get it. If the Wolves can end the 13 year drought and win 50+ games, Tom will be as good of a pick as anyone.
Jonah: Tom Thibodeau. The Wolves should win 45+ games this season. After winning only 31 last season this level of improvement would not go unnoticed.
Cal: Tom Thibodeau. The Timberwolves made some great offseason moves and will make the playoffs for the first time in 13 seasons.
Louie: While my bold prediction for Thibodeau to win coach of the year is fun to entertain, Brett Brown may be a bold prediction to lead the 76ers out of the depth of hell.
Bold predictions, anyone?
Dan: The Bulls finish last in the East. Joel Embiid finishes top 10 in MVP voting. James Harden rolls his eyes at Chris Paul and everyone claims the Rockets have massive chemistry issues.
Zach: 1. LeBron and IT don’t mesh well on the court and the Cavs have to limit IT’s minutes with LeBron. 2. The Warriors finish with the best record in the NBA. BOLD I know! 3. The Spurs lose in the first round of the playoffs
Jonah: The Lakers suck and Lavar Ball gets thrown out of a game.
Cal: Joel Embiid will be healthy for an entire season.
Louie: With the new All Star Game format, 75% of the players will be from the west.
Eastern Conference Playoffs Predictions
Dan: (1) Cavaliers
Zach: (1) Cavaliers
Jonah: (1) Cavaliers
Cal: (1) Cavaliers
Louie: (1) Cavaliers
Western Conference Predictions
Dan: (1) Warriors
Zach: (1) Warriors
Jonah: (1) Warriors
Cal: (1) Warriors
Louie: (1) Warriors
Eastern Conference Finals Matchup
Dan: Cleveland Cavaliers vs. Boston Celtics
Zach: Cleveland Cavaliers vs. Boston Celtics
Jonah: Cleveland Cavaliers vs. Washington Wizards
Cal: Cleveland Cavaliers vs. Boston Celtics
Louie: Cleveland Cavaliers vs. Boston Celtics
Western Conference Finals Matchup
Dan: Golden State Warriors vs. Houston Rockets
Zach: Golden State Warriors vs. Houston Rockets
Jonah: Golden State Warriors vs. San Antonio Spurs
Cal: Golden State Warriors vs. Oklahoma City Thunder
Louie: Golden State Warriors vs. Houston Rockets
NBA Finals Matchup
Dan: Golden State Warriors vs. Cleveland Cavaliers
Zach: Golden State Warriors vs. Cleveland Cavaliers
Jonah: Dan: Golden State Warriors vs. Cleveland Cavaliers
Cal: Golden State Warriors vs. Cleveland Cavaliers
Louie: Golden State Warriors vs. Cleveland Cavaliers
Dan: Golden State Warriors
Zach: Golden State Warriors – I wish this wasn’t my prediction, but they are just so darn good!
Jonah: Golden State Warriors
Cal: Golden State Warriors
Louie: Golden State Warriors
By: OTP Staff
This is the fourth piece in a series of articles that will look at each individual position on the Minnesota Timberwolves roster heading into the 2017-18 season. Today we feature the power forwards.
In the transcript below, On The Prowl writers Dan Slaubaugh, Zach More, Cal Colbert, and Jonah Sprinkel discuss what the arrival of Taj Gibson means to the Timberwolves, then debate what Nemanja Bjelica needs to do to become an impact player in Tom Thibodeau's rotation. This conversation has been lightly edited.
Dan: TAJ GIBSON WELCOME TO MINNESOTA!
Jonah: Well Dan, your wish came true. Taj Gibson is a Timberwolf.
Dan: Haha! I feel like I’ve been predicting this signing for two years now. I’m not entirely sure if I was predicting it because I thought he would actually sign here or if I just really wanted him in a Timberwolves uniform. He was a bit spendy (28 million over two years), but I like what he brings to this team in toughness and defensive grit. He’s a winner.
Zach: With Gibson you know you are going to get a guy who is going to be a leader on and off the court. You know he is going to give you 100% effort all of the time. His defense is what this team really needs. He is very versatile and can guard multiple positions. The guy lives on the offensive boards and does damage around the rim. The one thing we have seen so far this preseason is his ability to stretch the floor, something that hasn’t been seen in the past. If Taj can be a consistent 3 point shooter, even if it’s just in the corners that makes his value even higher than it was and makes that contract look a lot better.
Cal: I completely agree with you Zach. Taj is definitely a better fit for this Wolves team, and I think the younger players will learn a lot more from Taj than they would have than someone like Pattrick Patterson. I just can’t get over the fact that we paid 2 years $28 million for him. Just seems steep.
Jonah: I feel like I have to point out that Taj’s skillset is quickly becoming extinct in the NBA. It should be interesting to see how he’s used against the smaller and more mobile teams.
Zach: That’s a good point Jonah, I do believe if a team is going so small that Taj can’t guard the 4 guard that will be the times we see Butler at the 4. Taj should be able to handle most 4’s, as he still moves his feet pretty well on the defensive end.
Jonah: Could we see Taj play some 5?
Dan: I think the only time we would see Taj at the 5 is if/when he shares the court with Nemanja Bjelica. I can’t see that happening very often, so I’d say we won’t see Taj at the 5 much this season. I’m just not sure there are many productive lineups with Taj at the 5.
Zach: Yeah, I don’t see Taj playing much 5, this season. I think we all can agree on though that he is going to be a big help to the front court.
Dan: Taj brings a skillset to this team that was needed the most heading into the offseason - defense. If Minnesota can even sniff the league average on defense, they could be a real and immediate problem. Gibson’s toughness and versatility (which many people will be surprised about) on defense will go a long way in accomplishing that feat.
Dan: I feel like we literally could copy and paste last year’s season preview for Bjelica and no one would notice. If he can play adequate defense and stretch the floor by hitting threes, he will serve a nice role in the second unit. If he can’t, he doesn’t do much on the court. That said, his defense has improved since he’s arrived from overseas.
Jonah: Bjelica’s three point percentage dropped by nearly seven percent last year. That needs to come back up. But, I was a big fan of the hot streak he went on at the end of last year before he got injured. Man, that killed the season.
Zach: I agree Dan, Bjelica seems to be in the exact situation he was last year. Bjelica did show some flashes however down the stretch last season before injury. For Bjelica to be effective and good for the second unit he needs to become the stretch 4 the Wolves need. At times it looks like Bjelica doesn’t exactly know what he is. Sometimes he tries to be a playmaker and sometimes he wants to be a shot taker. Bjelica seems to make his mind up too early at times. He drives when he should shoot and shoots when he should drive.
Dan: All great points, Zach. Before his injury last season he was playing well, providing serviceable minutes off the league’s least productive bench.
Zach: For sure! I think the game is starting to slow down a bit for him, which is the first step. Now he needs to become that catch and shoot threat from deep for him to take the next step. If not, the Wolves could be looking for a player to replace him. This is why Bjelica is the X factor. If he plays well he could be the 4 to close out games as the shooting stretch. If he doesn’t play well he could see very limited time and Wolves could look to replace him.
Dan: I think it all comes down to Bjelica knocking down threes at a 35% clip. Like you were saying Jonah, his three point percentage dropped by nearly seven percent last year. We’ve always said Bjelica would be a nice pairing in the frontcourt with KAT, opening up space for the offensively skilled center, barring he serves as the stretch four he was suggested to be when coming over from Serbia.