The Scouting Report: Minnesota Timberwolves
Projected startling line-up: Ricky Rubio, Zach LaVine, Andrew Wiggins, Gorgui Dieng, Karl-Anthony Towns
Injuries: Kevin Garnett (knee), Nikola Pekovic (achilles)
The Minnesota Timberwolves look like they are playing some of their best basketball of the season. They’ve won the first two games of their final road trip of the season, including Tuesday’s stunning win in Oakland over the Golden State Warriors. The victory confirmed what I’ve been thinking about the Wolves throughout the season would say to the rest of the league: enjoy right now, because these guys are coming.
Towns was a top-five center the moment he stepped on to an NBA court and he might be even better than that now. Let’s just take a look down memory lane to put into context just how amazing young Towns is already. And if I had an All-NBA vote, I would seriously consider putting him on at least the third team. No disrespect to DeAndre Jordan, but this guy is doing things you just don’t see.
Simply put, Towns is having one of the best seasons for a rookie in league history. He’s averaging 20.4 points, 11.8 rebounds, 1.9 blocks and 2.2 assists per 36 minutes. Only two players in NBA history have had similar numbers as a rookie: Arvydas Sabonis in 1995-96 and Ralph Sampson in 1983-84, both recorded averages of +20 points, +22 rebounds, +1.5 blocks and +2 assists per 36 minutes in their rookie season. And what’s perhaps the craziest thing of all is that Towns, at 20, is three years older than Sampson was when he was a rookie and 11 years younger than Sabonis was!
I will not come off my stance that if the Wolves had a better coach they would have been a playoff team this season. By all accounts, players love current coach Sam Mitchell and he knows how to work/connect with them in a season where he was thrown into the job due to horrible circumstances. This I am not arguing against. But the two games in Minnesota against the Blazers showed me enough to confirm that a sizable gap that exists between he and a tactician like Terry Stotts. If they don’t hire a top-notch coach, I will be shocked, because every coach without a job, even ones with a job, would want to coach a guy with as much talent and maturity as Towns. Towns is going to wreck everything in the league soon and the Blazers will have to face him four times a season. To make the most of the special talent they have, they can’t let it go to waste.
Andrew Wiggins is another reason for everyone in the league to look over their shoulder. Wiggins hit some big buckets down the stretch against the Warriors and can get his shot up off anybody. The Blazers have done a good job against him for the most part and Moe Harkless will likely get the first crack at guarding him.
Ricky Rubio is not a great shooter, but he has improved his finishing around the rim and his ultimately a plus for this Timberwolves team. His smart passing, good ball handling and size on defense help make up for the fact he doesn’t have the prettiest jumper. HIs defense against Damian Lillard was the best of any player they have on their roster and when Rubio sat during the last meeting in Portland on Jan. 31, Lillard moved freely once Rubio went to the bench.
Zach LaVine has also made strides as a player and has started to come into his own after being allowed to play more off the ball rather than be forced to play point guard. Gorgui Dieng is a smart, skilled big man who is a pretty good passer and a good deterrent defensively. And Shabazz Muhammad plays like a bruising 90’s guard who prefers to go to work in the post.
Long story short: although the schedule and the standings say this should be a walk over for the Blazers, it will be far from easy against a team they should be competing against for a playoff spot next year.