The day we have all been anxiously awaiting is nearly upon us. The Timberwolves open the season on Wednesday the 20th at home against the Houston Rockets. If Minnesota wants to be taken seriously this season, it all starts with a win over a lesser team in their season opener. From there, it is anyone’s guess as to where the season takes them. In an attempt to forego the typical Wolves record projections for this upcoming season, I will go through 7 predictions for different scenarios that will happen this year.
Leandro Bolmaro plays more than half of the Iowa Wolves games.
First off, the G League has an interesting new format this year. The season begins in November with a 14-game Showcase Cup. After that, the “real” 36 game regular season begins on December 27th. At that point, I expect Leandro Bolmaro to head down to Iowa to take part in the G League schedule for the Iowa Wolves from December-March.
If that timeline happens, that would provide Leandro Bolmaro with nearly an extra 2 months to start the season with the big club in Minneapolis and continue to get acquainted with the NBA game. He has already had a major culture shock in moving to a new country where he knows very few people and is continuing to learn the language.
It may not be the best thing for him personally to send him to Iowa and try to re-learn everything after only a few weeks of training camp. Plus the one person he knows well, assistant coach Pablo Prigioni, is with the Timberwolves. Give Bolmaro a little more time to acclimate to life in the United States by getting familiarized with his surroundings and have a helping hand from Prigioni while he sits on the bench and plays garbage time minutes.
Once the G League season is ready to get started in earnest, then it will be time to send Bolmaro to Iowa. After spending the first 2 months of the season on the bench with few opportunities to play in games, he will be itching to get on the court. Once in Iowa I would love to see him play as one of the team’s primary ball handlers. What makes Leandro unique is his shiftiness and court vision with the ball in his hands as a 6'7" wing-sized guard. Let him lean into that to see if there is any star potential there. Otherwise we already know he is going to defend his ass off and play a high-IQ brand of basketball.
If he is indeed sent to Iowa towards the end of December to play the G League regular season, it is likely that he would then play most of the Iowa Wolves games and validate this prediction. Bolmaro may get called up a few times to provide depth in case of injuries, but the big club is pretty well-set at the guard position affording Leandro the opportunity to play, learn, and develop in Iowa.
The Wolves have no losing streaks longer than 5 games.
One would not think this will be a high bar to reach, but Wolves fans know all too well how easily a 3 game losing streak can turn into much more. 9 games into last season, the Wolves already had themselves a 7 game losing streak. They rode a 9 game losing streak heading into the All Star break. The previous season was even worse as Minnesota managed losing streaks of 11 games and 13 games at separate times. Amazing.
Let’s get optimistic this season. They will NOT lose more than 5 games in a row. Injuries and a lack of roster depth contributed mightily to those terrible stretches in the past. This roster seems to possess a better group of veteran depth players and a coach that could piece it all together well enough to scrape out wins when things are going poorly.
Good teams do not let losing streaks reach 5 or even 4 games. Are the Wolves a good team? That remains to be seen, but a little injury luck mixing with more talent and a better coaching staff should keep them from enduring those season-killing slides that have derailed fan interest in the past.
Anthony Edwards makes the All Star game as an injury replacement.
This is one of the more bold and least likely predictions. Anthony Edwards is 20 years old. He has exactly 1 half season of playing anywhere near all star caliber. Saying he is going to make an All Star team even as an injury replacement is probably not very logical, but here I am saying it.
Let’s look at his competition at the guard position in the West. Last season, 7 guards from the Western Conference made the team. Only 6 were actually in the game as Mike Conley was an injury replacement for Devin Booker. We can probably pencil in Steph Curry, Luka Dončić, Damian Lillard, and Donovan Mitchell. From there, they probably vote in 2 more guards. Vying for those spots are guys like Chris Paul, Devin Booker, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Ja Morant, Russell Westbrook, De’Aaron Fox, CJ McCollum, Mike Conley, D’Angelo Russell, and Anthony Edwards.
This is where team success will need to factor in. Are the Wolves above .500 as All Star voting commences? Is Ant on one of his hot streaks, and is it getting national attention? That would be a major influence here.
Devin Booker’s 1st All Star selection in the 19–20 season is a good comparison here. Booker averaged 26 points, 6 assists, and 4 rebounds on a mostly bad Suns team that season. Those are really good numbers, and he was rewarded with the All Star nod.
Maybe Anthony Edwards is able to put up 25 points, 4 assists, and 4 rebounds on a Wolves team that is surprisingly above .500 for the 1st half of the season. Ant would likely have some monster dunks, 40 point games, and maybe averaging over a steal per game as his defensive highlights become more frequent. Is that enough to be voted in outright? In the Western conference probably not, but it could put him at the top of the list when it comes to injury replacements that occur almost every season.
Karl-Anthony Towns does NOT make an All-NBA team.
My first negative-ish prediction on the list. I think, no, I KNOW Karl-Anthony Towns is going to have an awesome season. He’s in great shape, seems mentally prepared, and has some really talented players around him that complement his strengths on offense.
The issue is there are 3 All-NBA teams. So only 3 spots are available for centers and there just happens to be 3–4 centers that are on better teams and have been voted All-NBA teams recently. Nikola Jokić was last season’s MVP and is a safe bet to make one of the top two teams. Joel Embiid, was on the All-NBA 2nd team last season and is likely headed there again. That leaves the center position on the 3rd team to be fought over by the likes of Rudy Gobert, Anthony Davis, Bam Adebayo, and of course Towns. Other centers like Deandre Ayton and Clint Capela will toss their names into consideration as well.
Unfortunately for Towns, it seems a team’s success is the “tiebreaker” when it comes to these ballots. Gobert won the 3rd team spot last season and seems poised to anchor the defense of a top 3 seed in the Western conference. Anthony Davis figures to play the center position more often this season on a very good Lakers team. Bam Adebayo is an up-and-comer at the center position and could be at the core of a resurgent Miami Heat season. All of these players seem to have as good of a case as Towns despite KAT probably outscoring all of them on offense.
Maybe “The Big Meow” will prove me wrong and have such an undoubtedly great season that he forces the voters to add him to one of the teams. Would it need to resemble the beginning of his 19–20 season when notched a line of 26/12/4 and shot 44% from the 3pt. line in the first 18 games? Possibly! If he sustains something like that over a full season then he will be impossible to ignore as the Wolves will likely be a decent team in that case. I could imagine a little more modest stat line like 24/10.5/5.5 as he attempts to be a playmaker more than a pure scorer.
I would love nothing more than for KAT to reclaim his spot in the group of über-elite centers. I think he definitely gets close, but unfortunately the voters may cast their ballots for others based on more successful teams.
Josh Okogie finishes the season in the team’s top 5 of minutes played per game.
A weird prediction, right? On the surface many Wolves fans would look at this and say something went horribly wrong if Josh Okogie is getting the 5th most minutes on the team. I look at it the opposite way — to me this means Josh Okogie has improved his defensive capabilities to invaluable levels while finding a complementary niche on offense.
Okogie only played the first two games of the preseason, but in those minutes he appeared to be a game-changer on defense. His ability to provide incredibly effective perimeter defense at the point of attack while executing the new defensive scheme when placed in other positions was top-level. Quite simply, I think he has the best grasp on how this coaching staff wants to play defense and he will be rewarded for it.
Chris Finch is not naïve. He will not play Okogie or any player big minutes if they only contribute on one end of the floor. Defensively JO is an ace, but he has been a liability in the past on offense. However his minutes in the preseason on that end of the floor looked different than past years. Typically a poor 3pt. shooter, he took four 3pt. shots and made 2 of them. Very low volume? Absolutely, but his stroke looked quick and confident.
Okogie also seems more comfortable and controlled with the ball in his hands. That is likely a credit to playing point guard for the Nigerian National Team in the Olympics. The game may have slowed down for the perpetually energized young wing. Playing the style he showed in the preseason will secure plenty of minutes for Okogie alongside the team’s best players, and ultimately earn him crunch time minutes in plenty of games.
In his 2nd season JO averaged 25 minutes per game. Last season for the Timberwolves, Ricky Rubio averaged 26 minutes per game as the team’s 5th highest per game average. Maybe Okogie is able to slightly improve on his best season’s average by earning 26–27 minutes per game. If that can be the case then this prediction will come true and the Wolves may be better off for it.
Both the offense and defense are ranked in the teens.
Basically what the prediction is here is that the offense will not be quite as good as fans assume but the defense will be better than people think. Many Wolves fans are automatically penciling the Wolves offense into the top 10. While I believe the offense will be much improved, I have a hard time seeing that happening this season.
Brooklyn, Portland, Utah, LA Clippers, Phoenix, Milwaukee, Denver, Atlanta, Dallas, and Boston were all teams that had a top 10 offense last season. Might one or two of them fall out? Sure. But there are other teams like Chicago, Golden State, Sacramento, and Miami that could realistically make a leap. Minnesota will too, of course. But maybe they finish 11th-14th instead of in the top 10.
Defensively I do see a massive improvement coming. Effort on defense goes a long way in the NBA, and while I see glaring holes in the roster size and rebounding department there are also more smart veteran players with a penchant for defense and a coaching staff that wants to emphasize that end of the floor.
This is not to say the Wolves will be a top half defense, but 18th or 19th on that end could be attainable. The Washington Wizards finished as the 19th ranked defense last season in terms of defensive rating. If that team with Russell Westbrook, Bradley Beal, and a host of young players can do it, so can this year’s Wolves.
So where does that leave us if the Wolves finish something like 12th and 19th in their offensive and defensive ranks. Well last season the Boston Celtics finished 10th and 16th in offense and defense respectively and managed an exactly .500 record at 36–36. The Washington Wizards finished 18th and 19th and notched a 34–38 record. A 12th and 19th Wolves finish probably lands them somewhere between those records. Likely a few games under .500 in an 82 game schedule.
The X-Factor is going to be the crunch time offense and ability for the team to steal close wins. Those rankings mean nothing if a team fumbles away wins like the Wolves did so many times last season. I think the Wolves finally have the right coach and players to excel on offense at the ends of games. We will see if the defense can can enough stops in those scenarios to outperform those rankings with a better record.
Chris Finch will be in the top 5 for COY voting.
If all of my previous predictions come true, this one is probably easy money. The narrative alone would be enough to earn him some votes:
“Smart coach turns woebegone franchise into a play-in team.”
Finch has the dreadful past of the Wolves working in his favor. If he flops, it’s not really his fault. The Wolves always flop. If he succeeds, or even experiences a modicum of success this season he is likely regarded among the top handful of coaches in the NBA.
Coach of the Year votes typically go to new-ish coaches that exceed expectations. The top two vote getters in last year’s vote were Tom Thibodeau and Monty Williams. Both the Knicks and Suns blew their expectations out of the water, and the coaches (mostly deservedly) received the credit.
So who will be Finch’s main competition this season? I could see Erik Spoelstra with Miami getting some love if the Heat improve. Frank Vogel with LA, Steve Nash in Brooklyn, and Monty Williams again with Phoenix. All of those teams figure to have great seasons and the coaches could be recognized with COY votes. But there are always 1 or 2 teams that go from bottom-feeders to low seeded playoff teams, and those coaches are heaped with praise. If all goes well that should be Chris Finch this season.