With NBA 2K17 set to be released on September 20, a handful of players are getting advance copies, and they’re sharing photos of themselves playing the game on social media, as one does. One of those players is Karl-Anthony Towns, the reigning Rookie of the Year and presumptive Next Once-In-A-Generation NBA Superstar. He posted a picture on his Instagram account of his TV screen, where he’s playing as the Timberwolves against the Lakers, which makes sense — he was the No. 1 pick in last year’s draft, and D’Angelo Russell was the No. 2 pick.
But wait, look at the Timberwolves’ rating in the game. They’re rated fifth overall, from the looks of it — as in, the fifth-best team in the entire NBA, in the same tier as teams like the Warriors, Cavaliers, Spurs and Clippers.
It may be time to pump the breaks just a little bit on the Wolves’ hype train. Towns is a generational prospect, and Andrew Wiggins isn’t far behind. They have a collection of solid young supporting players, too, including Zach LaVine, Gorgui Dieng and No. 5 overall pick Kris Dunn. And they have a new coach, Tom Thibodeau, who had an enormous amount of success in Chicago. So it’s easy to see how the hype can get out of hand.
But it’s worth keeping in mind that this team, with most of the same pieces, won 29 games last season. With the continued development of Towns and their other young players, and the coaching upgrade from Sam Mitchell to Thibodeau, it’s reasonable to expect them to be a lot better this season. Making the playoffs this year isn’t a guarantee, but it’s absolutely within the realm of possibility if everyone stays healthy and everything breaks right.
But calling them the fifth-best team in the NBA, for this upcoming season, is insane, and a completely unfair expectation to place on them. When the Boston Celtics improved from 24 wins in 2007 to 66 and a title in 2008, it happened because they traded for in-their-primes superstars Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen. That’s what it takes to make that kind of jump, not just a better coach and some improvement from young players.
Few teams, if any, have a brighter future than Minnesota, and if 2K were ranking teams based on their prospects over the next five years, it’s totally reasonable to put them in the top five. But ranking them that high for this season is a reach.