The Minnesota Timberwolves extended the current longest playoff drought in the NBA, failing the reach the post-season for the 13th term on the bounce in the 2016-17 campaign.
Tom Thibodeau took the reins at the club from Sam Mitchell, whose temporary time in charge came to an end at the culmination of the 2015-16 campaign and a 29-53 record.
Kevin Garnett called time on his career, ending his 21 years in the NBA at the franchise where it all started out for him in 1995.
The 41-year-old’s departure was not a significant loss for the Timberwolves considering that he played only 38 matches in his last campaign.
Minnesota made minimal additions to their roster, beginning with first-round draft pick Kris Dunn. Meanwhile, Cole Aldrich, Brandon Rush and Jordan Hill were added through free agency to add a veteran presence for Thibodeau’s men.
Despite the change in regime, the Timberwolves were unable to make serious strides forward in an attempt break their playoff drought.
They did make a slight improvement from the previous campaign, adding a couple of victories on to their record, which was their second-highest total for a season over the last nine years.
Thibodeau has made a point of rebuilding the club from top-to-bottom and his moves this off-season have sent out a strong signal that the Timberwolves’ days of not competing in the playoffs are over.
However, there is still a lot of work ahead of the franchise and we’ll now take a look back at the last campaign to see where they fell short.
The Timberwolves’ campaign started off poorly, losing their opening match of the season on the road to the Memphis Grizzlies. Andrew Wiggins put in a strong performance as he scored 25 points, but that could not stop his side slipping to a four-point defeat.
Wiggins was influential once again against the Sacramento Kings, while Gorgui Dieng notched 14 rebounds over the course of the contest. However, it was not good enough to life Minnesota to their first win of the term, losing out by three points at the Golden 1 Center.
Zach LaVine and Karl-Anthony Towns got Minnesota off the mark in their opening match on home soil, defeating the Grizzlies by a comfortable margin. Thibodeau’s men were not able to build on their first win as they lost their next three matches on the bounce.
LaVine stopped the slide with a fine display against the Orlando Magic before Wiggins delivered an outstanding performance, notching 47 points over the course of the contest to lead a hammering of the Los Angeles Lakers at the Target Center.
Momentum could not be sustained in November and the club lost seven out of their last nine matches to end the month.
The pressure did not abate as the Timberwolves fell to 6-18 in their season by December 11. However, Towns, Wiggins and LaVine managed to rally their side to a decent run of form towards the end of the year, which included a comfortable win over the Milwaukee Bucks in their final match of 2016.
Minnesota began the new year much like they started the campaign – on the back foot.
Thibodeau’s men lost their opening four matches of 2017, despite putting in decent efforts against playoff-calibre opponents in the form of the Washington Wizards and the Utah Jazz.
Not even a 41-pointer from Wiggins was good enough to defeat the Wizards as Bradley Beal starred at the Verizon Center.
The Timberwolves were able to bounce back from their run of defeats as Towns took the initiate to dominate the month of January, producing his best form of the campaign.
He alone inspired victories over the Dallas Mavericks and the Oklahoma City Thunder before notching 37 points apiece in two wins towards the end of the month, seeing off the Los Angeles Clippers and the Brooklyn Nets.
January proved to be a high point of Minnesota’s season as they clawed respectability back in their record, leaving them at 19-29.
Not even Towns’ impressive form could stop a slump at the beginning of February, losing four matches on the bounce, including a 113-111 defeat at the hands of the Miami Heat. Wiggins returned to his best to deliver back-to-back wins over the Mavericks and the Denver Nuggets.
He maintained that form through early March as Thibodeau’s men appeared to be set for their highest win total since the 2013-14 season following an impressive win over the Golden State Warriors at the Target Center.
However, their propensity to drop matches in bunches continued, losing six straight towards the end of the month, while their campaign ended with an identical run, finishing 31-51 for the term.
The future does look bright for a change in Minnesota and it would be a surprise if their playoff drought were not to end at least the next two terms.
Thibodeau has a great deal of talent on his roster led by Wiggins and Towns, who were sensational last season, although at times the support around their talented duo was lacking.
The Timberwolves made a statement to end that struggle by acquiring one of their head coach’s former charges at the Chicago Bulls – All-Star Jimmy Butler. The 27-year-old was named an All-Star for the third season on the bounce following another fine season for the Bulls and was the speculation of trade reports with many teams in the NBA.
However, Minnesota were able to snag his signature by sending Dunn, LaVine and the rights to the seventh selection in the 2017 Draft – Lauri Markkanen – to Chicago. They received in turn Justin Patton, who was selected 15th overall in the Draft along with their new star man.
Thibodeau also made the decision to move on from point guard Ricky Rubio, who was traded away to the Jazz in exchanged for a 2018 first-round draft pick. The 26-year-old played well for Minnesota last season, averaging nine assists and 11 points per game, but the club have chosen to move on from all three their starting point guards thus far in the off-season.
The star power of Butler, Wiggins and Towns will carry the fortunes of the team going forward and whether that will be enough to break their 13-season drought will be up for debate. It certainly would be unlikely to see them win the NBA Championship, with odds of +5000 with BetFred.
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