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The Timberwolves' bright future will still have growing pains

With Karl-Anthony Towns and Tom Thibodeau leading the way, the Timberwolves will be contenders soon. But this process is going to take time.

Minnesota Timberwolves v Golden State Warriors Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

Paul Flannery and Tom Ziller are previewing all 30 teams via conversation. Next up: the Minnesota Timberwolves. Find all of the Flanns and Zillz previews here.

FLANNERY: The Timberwolves are at a fascinating point in their evolution. They have gobs of young talent led by perhaps the preeminent young prospect in all of basketball. They now have a proven coach with an incredible track record of delivering wins and top-rated defenses, both of which have been in short supply over the years in the Twin Cities.

And yet, I think people are getting a little bit ahead of themselves. There is a lot of work to be done still in terms of player development and assigning roles. I have tons of faith in Tom Thibodeau and am extremely confident in Karl-Anthony Towns' potential as a legit franchise player. If I'm buying, I'm buying all in on the Wolves. But I think expectations should be tempered just a bit here.

You agree?

ZILLER: Definitely. Towns is the only can't-miss star on the roster. Andrew Wiggins has a real shot at being a star, and should be at worst a good starter who can defend three positions and attack the rim. Kris Dunn is a rookie point guard, which is actually Latin for "we'll see." Ricky Rubio, despite being a Thibodeau type, screams trade bait, and Zach LaVine is still somewhat of a question mark in terms of position and ceiling. The team really lacks shooters and there's a pretty substantial hole next to Towns up front.

This stuff is all fixable (I think Gorgui Dieng is a good fit with Towns, for example), but it's going to take some time. I'm torn, honestly, between remembering how swiftly Thibs turned the Bulls into a defensive powerhouse and remembering how bad the Wolves were most nights last season. The idea that this is a playoff team right now is confusing to me. Coaches don't matter that much, do they?

I'm eager to hear your thoughts on Wiggins.

FLANNERY: I'll get to Wiggins, but let's stay on Thibs.

Coaching matters a lot. It can't make up for talent deficiencies, but over the course of an 82-game season, a good coach can make a huge difference. The regular season is all about building habits and there aren't many better than Thibs in that regard. That adds up, although I have no idea how to quantify that in terms of wins and losses. I'm sure there are smarter people than us who have tried to figure that out. Remember though, the Bulls were an interesting also-ran before he got there and they were hosting Game 1 of the conference finals in his first season.

So, Wiggins. This won't endear me to basketball Twitter, but I'm just not as high on him as so many others are. The shooting is still a major concern for me, and as you noted, that's a team-wide malady. He's still so young and I love that he's durable and willing to guard multiple positions on the floor. There's tremendous upside there, obviously, but I don't know if we're seeing a star in the making.

That's not the worst thing, by the way. At worst he'll be a good two-way wing for a decade. You disagree with that assessment?

ZILLER: At worst he's Andre Iguodala? I can be on board with that, even if it's not exactly what Minnesota needs or wants. I think the upside is somewhat higher -- Jimmy Butler, Paul George -- but it'll take some good fortune. (And imagine if Thibs had gotten Butler for the Dunn pick as rumored!)

Rubio is such an interesting piece of all this. He's a textbook Thibs dude on defense, but Thibs drafted Dunn. I think Minnesota could get a starting forward for him, but is that in the best interest of the team? I suppose it depends on how ready Dunn looks at season's start. Am I overrating Rubio's usefulness to both Minnesota and other teams?

FLANNERY: I'm a Rubio believer. The world has started to catch up with the notion that he's a terrific defender and that has so much value at the point guard position. We all know he's a tremendous passer and unselfish playmaker. The shooting, well, we know about the shooting. Rubio is the kind of guy you don't miss until he's gone. The numbers have proven that the Wolves can barely function when he's off the court.

His contract is fine in the current environment and one would think he'd generate interest on the trade market. I'd be patient, to a point. Dunn may need some seasoning, but with enough minutes I think he could be a legit Rookie of the Year candidate. So I think the writing is on the wall with Rubio, and yes I believe he'd prosper with a good team.

ZILLER: Rubio is what we wish Rajon Rondo still was. He probably needs to be on a team with a sharpshooter. Imagine him on the Rockets!

So it feels like we've arrived to our thesis: the Timberwolves are exciting, but pump the brakes, y'all. More time is required for this bread to rise. How long? Two years? Three?

FLANNERY: I think the Wolves will be formidable by the end of this season and then look the hell out. They're coming.


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