The season is winding down for the Minnesota Timberwolves as only 13 games remain in the 2018-19 forgotten season. This year was one that began with playoff aspirations for the second consecutive season and has ended with the team right in the middle of the NBA standings. Not quite good enough to reach the postseason, but not exactly bad enough to finish with high odds of landing a top pick in the NBA Draft.
Just because the remaining games might not have a ton of meaning in terms of where the Wolves ultimately finish up doesn’t mean that there aren’t things worth watching over the next month. Here are five things to keep an eye on as the Wolves continue their trek to the finish line.
Towns’ All-NBA chase
Karl-Anthony Towns has been on an absolute tear since the NBA All-Star break. He’s been the best offensive big man in the NBA in that time and has looked absolutely deserving of a spot on this season’s All-NBA team.
As of now it certainly looks as if the spots on the first two All-NBA squads for the center position will belong to Philadelphia’s Joel Embiid and Denver’s Nikola Jokic, in some order. The spot on the third team is most likely up for grabs between Towns and Utah’s Rudy Gobert.
Gobert has a significant edge over Towns on the defensive end of the floor, but the same could be said of Towns offensively. It will be interesting to see how the voting shakes out, especially with the fact that the Jazz will be a playoff team, and team success could sway some voters.
This achievement for Towns would mean his paychecks over the next five seasons would become larger. If he makes the All-NBA squad, he’s locked in for $190 million over the next five years. If he doesn’t, that contract would be worth $158 million. That’s a pretty significant motivator for Towns to play his best down the stretch. And Towns’ best makes it worth tuning in every single night.
Tyus Jones as the future?
Jones is finishing up his fourth season in the NBA, just like Towns. Unlike Towns, Jones didn’t receive an extension from the team this past summer. That means he’s going to be entering restricted free agency when the new NBA league year begins on July 1.
Jones will have an interesting market. He never seemed to click with former coach Tom Thibodeau, but interim coach Ryan Saunders and he seem to have a terrific bond, and Saunders has much more of a belief in him than Thibodeau did.
It’s yet to be seen what Jones will fetch in free agency, whether it comes in the form of an offer by the Wolves or an offer sheet from another franchise. How he plays in the final 13 games could be indicative of what he’s worth. This hasn’t been the best season for Jones, having to deal with uncertainty and injury, but he could be worth re-upping this offseason.
Can defensive improvements happen?
Since Saunders took over the job the team has been bad defensively. Since his first game on Jan. 8 against Oklahoma City, the Wolves rank 29th defensively with a 115.3 rating. Those are both worse marks than what they were under Thibodeau. The only team that’s been worse on the defensive end of the floor since then is Cleveland, and one or two more bad games and the Wolves could surpass their 115.6 defensive rating.
Part of the reason for this is that Saunders has dealt with far more injuries than he would like since taking over at the helm of the team. Robert Covington has yet to play a game under Saunders, and with only 13 games remaining it’s fair to question whether or not he’ll be in action at all for the rest of the season. Shutting him down without the playoffs to play for may make some sense.
That doesn’t mean the defense can’t, or doesn’t need to improve. It both can, and needs to for Saunders’ hope to have the interim tag removed from his job title. The Wolves have allowed 120 points or more in 14 of the 29 games the Wolves have played under Saunders. They’re 13-16 in that stretch, and are 3-11 when giving up 120 or more.
Josh Okogie getting over the rookie wall
Okogie has the looks of a guy who certainly could be part of the rotation of a really good team in his career, and maybe even a starter on it. He’s showed flashes this season of being a good NBA player, particularly on the defensive end of the floor.
With that being said, Okogie’s inconsistency on the offensive end has turned into consistency, just in the wrong way. His last eight games have been horrific, as he hasn’t scored over six points once, and is shooting 29 percent from the floor and 26.7 percent from 3-point range.
That’s something that the Wolves need to see improve. His numbers for the season aren’t nearly as bad as that recent stretch, but this absolutely has the look of someone that’s hit the rookie wall. If Okogie could rebound from this offensive downswing over the course of the final 13 games, it would renew the hope for Okogie to be a key piece of the Wolves moving forward.
Aside from this rookie wall, Okogie will benefit from a full offseason preparing for his second season in the NBA. It would probably make sense to send both he and Keita Bates-Diop to participate in the NBA Summer League out in Vegas.