The Minnesota Timberwolves and their fans have something to be very excited about in early August, and it has nothing to do with the Cleveland Cavaliers or any trade rumors involving superstar Kyrie Irving.
The Wolves are expected to be a contender in the Western Conference, at least according to a recent ESPN column using Real Plus-Minus to predict the success of every team in the NBA.
OK, maybe “contender” is too loaded of a word because of Golden State Warriors play in the West. But the Wolves are about to embark on their most exciting season since… when? Maybe 2004? I don’t think any of the Kevin Love-Ricky Rubio teams rivaled the energy and enthusiasm that the Jimmy Butler trade has provided the team’s fan base. I think you’d have to go back to when Kevin Garnett was winning the MVP to match this level of casual fan interest.
“Good team that makes the playoffs” seems like a fair expectation for Minnesota. How far will the go? How good can they be?
That’s a tough question to answer. So much of it is unknown. From Karl-Anthony Towns’ development, to Butler’s immediate impact, to Tom Thibodeau with another offseason, a roster more of his choosing, and a point guard that can shoot. I have no idea how much any of these things will show up in the standings.
But thankfully for us, ESPN is smarter than I am.
They have a projected win total for Minnesota, and they’re pegging the Wolves to win 50 games and finish 4th in the West.
This based on ESPN’s Real Plus-Minus, and Kevin Pelton’s subjective adjustments where necessary.
The projections said the first three seeds in the West would go to the Warriors (62 wins), Rocket (55), and Spurs (52 wins).
The Thunder, having added Paul George and Patrick Patterson to reigning MVP Russ Westbrook, are projected for 49.5 wins, according to the ESPN article. That means the Wolves “hold” on home court in the first round is tenuous at best. And obviously when we’re dealing in future forecasting, pretending that anything is certain is a dangerous exercise.
Still, if the marks are even close to accurate, it would seem to validate the excitement that’s currently buzzing around the team. The Wolves won just 31 games last year, after all. (They’d been projected to win 37 by Real Plus-Minus, for what it’s worth.) A 19-win improvement is nothing to sneeze at.
Here’s an excerpt from Pelton’s column explaining the ratings:
…With Jimmy Butler joining budding stars Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins, this time feels different. RPM doesn’t even project the Timberwolves to defend particularly well (20th in defensive rating); this projection is largely a testament to the league’s second-best offensive projection.
Feel that, Wolves fans? That’s what optimism feels like.