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2021-22 Season Preview: Minnesota Timberwolves

Minnesota will continue to build while determining the on-court chemistry between stars Karl-Anthony Towns, D’Angelo Russell and Anthony Edwards.

Steve Aschburner

Steve Aschburner

Can D'Angelo Russell be a difference-maker this season for the Wolves?

If no one from the front office has gotten axed in the past 48 hours, if none of the players already is spending hours each day in the trainer’s room, then the state of the Timberwolves is pretty good by relative standards. Gassing chief basketball exec Gersson Rosas a week before camp opened was regrettable but not unrecoverable. And one thing about working or playing for Minnesota, there generally are negatives that can to be flipped into positives.

For 2021-2022, that means staying healthier and having a coaching staff in place from the start. It wasn’t just the injuries that plagued the Timberwolves last season, it was who and when they occurred. Consider the Wolves’ three best players – Karl-Anthony Towns, Anthony Edwards and D’Angelo Russell – started only eight games together (3-5). And Malik Beasley, arguably the team’s fourth best player, started none with the other three due to a hamstring injury.

Chris Finch was hired after Ryan Saunders’ 7-24 run into February and, after a stretch of acclimation, steered Minnesota to an 11-11 finish. Mixed in the possibility of a Ben Simmons trade – the Wolves remain optimistic heading into October – and there is actually a shot at some buzz at Target Center.


BIGGEST QUESTION

How long is Towns going to be, or at least behave like, a happy camper? The two-time All-Star, a player many GMs named a few years back as the guy they would choose to start a franchise, opened a vein at Media Day about the instability of this franchise and the various ordeals he has endured. Minnesota, in Towns’ six seasons, is a combined 94 games under .500 (185-279) with one playoff appearance. His production (22.9 ppg, 11.6, 1.4 bpg, 52.7 FG%) and demeanor deserve better, and the contract extension he signed in 2018 runs out in 2024.


SEASON PREDICTION

Just playing basketball, developing Edwards’ and Jaden McDaniels’ games in their sophomore years along with getting Towns and Russell at a level for All-Star consideration are keys. So is cinching up the defense, which ranked 28th with status such as 9-44 when giving up 110 points. Don’t count on the franchise’s second playoff spot in 18 years, but do count on progress. Predicted finish: 33-49.


PROJECTED STARTING FIVE

D’Angelo Russell: His contributions were solid on offense, but his defense put him in the red.

Malik Beasley: Wolves need his perimeter shooting (40.6% on threes since getting to Minnesota), so availability is key.

Anthony Edwards: His post-All Star production (23.8 ppg, 5.3 rpg, 3.4 apg, 45.4%) nearly snagged the ROY award.

Jaden McDaniels: Rare late first-round hit for this franchise, became coveted two-way player as season played out.

Karl-Anthony Towns: Had 32 point/rebound double-doubles, and might get more time at PF this season.


KEY RESERVES

Patrick Beverley: Has played in 11 playoff series in nine seasons, compared to Wolves’ 11 in 32.

Taurean Prince: Wolves hoping he can be a 3-and-D option at the power forward spot.

Josh Okogie: Hard worker and stout defender, but his sputtering offensive game doesn’t keep him on the floor.

Naz Reid: Reliable backup big with more width than height, eager to boost his value behind or alongside Towns.


LAST 5 SEASONS

How the Timberwolves have fared stats-wise over the last 5 seasons …

Season W L Win pct. OffRtg Rank DefRtg Rank NetRtg Rank
2020-21 23 49 .319 109.3 29 114.5 28 -5.3 26
2019-20 19 45 .297 107.6 24 111.6 20 -4.0 24
2018-19 36 46 .439 110.6 13 112.2 24 -1.6 23
2017-18 47 35 .573 112.5 4 110.2 25 +2.3 10
2016-17 31 51 .378 110.0 10 110.9 27 -0.9 20

OffRtg = Points scored per 100 possessions
DefRtg = Points allowed per 100 possessions
NetRtg = Point differential per 100 possessions


STAT TO KNOW

+9.7%, +11.2 — Among 197 players with at least 150 field goal attempts both before and after the All-Star break last season, Anthony Edwards saw the fourth biggest jump in effective field goal percentage (43.4% before the break, 53.0% after), along with the 11th biggest jump in free throw rate (16.2 attempts per 100 shots from the field before the break, 27.4 after it).

— John Schuhmann

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Steve Aschburner has written about the NBA since 1980. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter.

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