As of March 22nd, the Minnesota Timberwolves are 28-42 on the year and are trailing five games behind the eighth-seeded Denver Nuggets. This is a far cry from the striking distance they were at coming out of the All-Star break and while there are still games to be played, the only real thing Minnesota has to play for is better position in the upcoming draft.
At the end of December, the thought of a playoff berth this year seemed liked a joke, then Zach LaVine suffered an injury that put him out for the rest of the year that made it seem like ‘Tank City’ was going to be the destination for the remainder of the year, but then something happened. A feeling Timberwolves fans aren’t very accustomed to: hope.
The Wolves not only starting winning, but they were winning consistently and against playoff caliber teams. With Sacramento trading DeMarcus Cousins, it seemed like just one more obstacle cleared on the way to a Cinderella story of bottom-feeder to eighth seed in one year. Even the often battered by media and fans Ricky Rubio started showcasing why he belongs as the starting point guard.
Yet, it wasn’t to be. The Wolves have lost four-in-a-row after going 5-2 in the previous seven games before. Nemanja Bjelica being added to the out-for-the-season list with a foot injury didn’t seem like it would be as dire after the team bounced back from LaVine, but the lack of any sort of depth from the bench finally caught up.
The real question now is what’s next for this young team. The Wolves fought hard enough that they are currently holding the seventh worst record in the league, so a high lottery pick is unlikely unless the rest of the season goes more awry than expected. These remaining games should highlight the importance of immediately addressing two issues.
First and foremost, the aforementioned lack of depth off the bench. While Ricky Rubio has been riding off potential and is finally fulfilling that, a guy like Shabazz Muhammed has yet to find a consistency or role on the team.
Rookie Kris Dunn has also been a top-five candidate for biggest flop draft pick of the season. The rookie that was projected to take over the starting role after 20 games at the start of the season has struggled to find his footing on the court. How he comes out of his first NBA offseason could help predict what kind of future he’ll have in the league.
Aside from every other spot on the bench being up for grabs, the next biggest obstacle in the way of evolution from pups to Wolves lies in what the franchise can do to fix the four spot.
Currently the Wolves are utilizing a converted center in Gorgui Dieng at the spot.
Karl Anthony-Towns has cemented himself at the five and has been dominating in his sophomore season, pairing him up with a power forward that can stretch the floor will give even more room for Towns to dominate in the paint and dish out if need be. A lot of energy has gone into pointing out what’s wrong at other positions but the Wolves could use a modern athlete occupying the spot.
The Wolves are on the cusp of something special as they continue to grow. I predicted earlier in the season that it may be too soon to expect the playoffs and it seems that it will unfortunately come true but, for once, saying next season doesn’t seem like a stretch.