Welcome to Hoop Dreams, a season preview unlike any other you’ll read before the 2016-17 season tips off. The premise is simple. We’ll be providing 30 of these fictional forays because it simply stinks that only one team can win the title each year. The list of contending teams seems to shrink with each campaign, and we wanted to provide something to those fans who only get to dream of Larry O’Brien during the offseason. Before October, every team can win the NBA title. Don’t believe us? Then keep reading. – Ed
They’ll spend the whole summer trying to convince you that Karl-Anthony Towns is the big man of the future, how he’s single-handedly changing the way we think about the way basketball is supposed to be played and the size of those who should be playing. They’ll point to his 37.8 percent clip from three-point land, his ability to put the ball on the floor with purpose, and his ability to demand double-teams from further away from the basket than what was socially acceptable for a seven-footer in years past. But to regulate Towns as just the big man of the future is reductive. He’s the big man of today, and he’ll might not ever be more present than he is right now. Towns wasn’t just the NBA’s MVP and Finals MVP, but he became these things as a sophomore while redefining what it means to be valuable. Towns disrupted the NBA in the league’s most disruptive era with a sidekick who allowed him to thrive instead of hindering greatness.
They’ll spend the summer trying to convince you that Andrew Wiggins could have done more, a weird criticism for the number two option on a Finals-winning team. In reality, the best thing that Wiggins did for the Wolves is understanding when it was time to do less. Wiggins opened the season scoring 31 and 38 during the first two games of the year, both on the road. Tony Allen struggled to stay in front of Wiggins, and Marc Gasol was a little slow on rotations in his first non-exhibition game action since his foot injury this past February on Opening Night in Memphis. Against Sacramento, the Timberwolves defense created 12 loose ball turnovers that led to a myriad of acrobatic Wiggins and Zach LaVine dunks. After two games, Wiggins looked like the NBA’s most improved player, but the scoring numbers would come crumbling back to earth — due in large part to Wiggins choosing to defer to Towns, not because of a lack of ability. And his willingness to let Towns lead became a contagious ethos that trickled down the rest of the roster.
They’ll spend the summer trying to convince you that Ricky Rubio should still be traded to make room for Kris Dunn, and for the most part the argument will make sense, but it was Rubio running the offense that won the 2017 NBA Finals. It was Ricky Rubio whose hands irritated opposing point guards all season. It was Ricky Rubio’s vision that created passing angles that would cut your favorite player in thirds. It was Ricky Rubio who, for two months out of the season, patiently came off the bench to allow Tom Thibodeau to experiment with Dunn as the starting point guard. It was Ricky Rubio who graciously accepted his rightful starting role at the end of March to help lead the Timberwolves to a 15-5 stretch over the final 20 games of the season to secure a No. 5 spot in the Western Conference. They’ll spend the summer trying to convince you that Ricky Rubio should still be traded to make room for Kris Dunn, but Rubio did things we could only liken to a magician during the Timberwolves title run — will they convince you that Dunn can do the same moving forward?
It was a strange season for sure. Nothing happened during the offseason that suggested that we’d see anything other than a third-consecutive Finals featuring the Warriors and Cavaliers, but that’s because we didn’t get to see the Timberwolves put in work over the summer. There were hints all throughout the preseason that the Timberwolves would be fun, but the fun conversion rate doesn’t necessarily account for future success. The NBA is as socially stratified as any organization, and when a team wins 29 games in a season, there is usually a ceiling the amount of vertical mobility allowed from one year to the next. To comfortably make the postseason, Minnesota would have to be 15-20 games better in a loaded Western Conference. Not impossible, but unlikely by any predictive measures.