The Wolves enter the 2019-20 season with a mix of both old and new faces on the roster, a totally revamped coaching staff and front office, and one of the game’s premier players. The expectations are different than they were a year ago, as is the lack of tension surrounding the franchise. Things have changed for what looks like the better, even if the payoff may be years down the road still.
Here are four realistic predictions for the 2019-20 Minnesota Timberwolves, plus NBA playoff and MVP predictions
Karl-Anthony Towns returns to the All-Star game, but not the All-NBA team
Towns has established himself as one of the NBA’s best offensive big men. There’s zero doubting that at this point in his career. Towns will find his way to Chicago representing the Wolves and the Western Conference at the 2020 NBA All-Star Game in February. He’s simply too good not to be there, especially with there being some roster flexibility that doesn’t exactly exist with the All-NBA teams.
The positional flexibility is the reason he’ll be left off of the All-NBA teams. That, paired with the fact that his team won’t have the success that most All-NBA players enjoy, will put him in the pecking order at center behind Los Angeles’ Anthony Davis, Philadelphia’s Joel Embiid, and Denver’s Nikola Jokic. The hope for Towns here is that Davis is classified as a forward, depending on how things shake out for the Lakers this year. Even if that’s the case, it will likely be a race between Towns and Utah’s Rudy Gobert for the final spot, as it was last season.
The Wolves make at least two trades during the season, but don’t acquire the star they’re still in search of
Minnesota has made it no secret that the recipe that it thinks will lead to success is pairing a second star with Towns. At some point the Wolves are going to land that talent, but it won’t be until next summer or later. With that said, the Wolves have a number of guys that could be valuable to other teams depending on the performance of the individuals and the Wolves as a whole. If Treveon Graham begins the season shooting well from the outside, he could be very valuable to a contender in search of 3-and-D help, Jordan Bell could turn into a flexible big that could help another team out, and even though Robert Covington would have a very lofty price tag to opposing teams, the Wolves will surely have teams inquire about him.
Jarrett Culver starts more than 20 games and makes an all-rookie team
Through the preseason Culver had his ups and downs with his shot from the outside. That’s probably going to persist throughout his rookie season and maybe longer. That aside, Culver is going to be too good at everything else for him to serve a bench role throughout the entire season. The Wolves don’t have a fifth starter that’s firmly cemented, and it’s a role Culver could find himself occupying in the second half of the season.
If the shooting is consistent and better than expected, Culver will find himself in the Rookie of the Year race, but if it’s not then he’ll still find himself as one of the 10 best rookies in the NBA this season. He’s too talented to not earn that distinction.
The Wolves miss the playoffs and finish 32-50 on the season
It’s difficult to imagine a path for the Wolves to find their way into the playoffs this season. Even the most optimistic of scenarios probably include the team missing the postseason just on the sheer strength of the Western Conference. It should come as no surprise if a 45-win team finds itself sitting at home in mid-April waiting for the NBA Draft Lottery. Even in the absolute best-case scenario, it’s tough to imagine the Wolves finding themselves getting past that mark.
Our friends out in the desert have the Wolves pegged to win 35.5 games this season. It’s a very fair number for a team that has an All-NBA caliber player and plenty of question marks surrounding him. But with the West as tough as it’s been in years, the Wolves are going to find themselves in a tough search for wins this season. Make no mistake, this isn’t a playoff team, but it isn’t a typical 33-win team, either. The talent on this roster probably projects them to be above the 35.5-win number, but the brutal schedule knocks them back down a little bit. It’s also plausible to think that if the Wolves aren’t in playoff contention as the trade deadline nears in February that the roster looks quite a bit different in the second half of the season than it does currently. The Wolves will finish 12th in the Western Conference.
Western Conference playoff teams
1. Houston Rockets
2. Denver Nuggets
3. Los Angeles Clippers
4. Los Angeles Lakers
5. Utah Jazz
6. San Antonio Spurs
7. Portland Trail Blazers
8. Sacramento Kings
(Had Zion Williamson not suffered a pre-season knee injury holding him out of the first six-to-eight weeks of the season, the Pelicans would have made the playoffs)
Eastern Conference playoff teams
1. Philadelphia 76ers (best record in the NBA)
2. Milwaukee Bucks
3. Boston Celtics
4. Miami Heat
5. Brooklyn Nets
6. Orlando Magic
7. Toronto Raptors
8. Indiana Pacers
NBA MVP – LeBron James, Los Angeles Lakers
Coach of the Year – Michael Malone, Denver Nuggets
Sixth Man of the Year – Lou Williams, LA Clippers
Defensive Player of the Year – Rudy Gobert, Utah Jazz
Most Improved Player – Dejounte Murray, San Antonio Spurs
Rookie of the Year – Darius Garland, Cleveland Cavaliers
NBA Champions – Sixers over Clippers in six games