Why Tom Thibodeau's arrival and Minnesota's young core makes the Timberwolves the most promising team in sports.
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There was a time when MTV would label certain music videos "buzzworthy." If you happened to be paying attention to MTV Jams around 1997, this word mattered. Thrown in with the regular rotation of hits, "buzzworthy" was a cue that the song in question was a) new and b) could be big. The predictions didn't always come true, but it was a chance for sorta-hip teens everywhere to pretend they were insiders. This is worth remembering because no team in sports is currently more buzzworthy than the Timberwolves.
It's actually getting a little ridiculous. For the sake of balance, let's remember that Minnesota won 29 games this season. It hasn't made the playoffs since 2003–04. The Kings, an ongoing horror film of a franchise that defied belief on a near-weekly basis this season, still finished with a better record than the Timberwolves.
And yet in this exact moment all but a few fan bases would trade places with Minnesota's for the next 10 years. How does that make sense?
It starts with Karl-Anthony Towns. There will come a time when KAT hyperbole should be dialed back, but we're not there yet. He's 7 feet, 244 pounds, and he won't even turn 21 until early next season, yet he can do everything. Coast-to-coast on a fast break? Sure. Hit threes and stretch the floor? Yes. Punish smaller defenders with post moves? Definitely. A one-man interior defense who can also run the offense through the high post? That's the future.
Towns is alarmingly close to what you'd come up with if you were playing a video game and creating a big man to one day dethrone Steph Curry and LeBron James. The Warriors and small ball have changed the geometry of NBA offenses, and it will take a few years for teams to process things. By that time, a fully realized Towns could drive them all crazy again.
Then there's Andrew Wiggins. At 6'8" and just 21 years old, Wiggins is obscenely gifted physically and overqualified to be the sidekick on a great team. Think Scottie Pippen or Kawhi Leonard, or maybe Paul George, who hasn't yet had the life he deserves.
Beyond Wiggins, there are Zach LaVine and Ricky Rubio in the backcourt, the former a Hall of Fame dunker and the latter with an avalanche of passing highlights. But can they be part of a playoff team? We will find out soon because now Tom Thibodeau is in Minnesota.
Thibs, who last Wednesday reached a five-year, $40 million deal to become the team's president and head coach, is a relentless innovator with a grumpy traditionalist's worldview, and thus he enjoys appeal among the new and old school alike. He's as legendary for his three-hour practices as he is for the revolutionary defensive tactics he installed as an assistant in Boston and as the head man in Chicago. And he's the coach everyone wanted for the team everyone's excited about.
One way to think of it: If Thibs could make Jimmy Butler an All-Star and turn Taj Gibson into a weapon for the Bulls, what can he do with Towns and Wiggins? The modern NBA is dominated by great coaches and superstars, and the T-Wolves are on track to grow with both.
That's not to say it will be easy. Right now the Timberwolves are the 2008–09 Thunder with Durant and Westbrook. Or the 1993–94 Magic with Shaq and Penny. Or the '84–85 Rockets with Olajuwon and Sampson. All of those teams had great expectations and none of them won a title. (At least not yet, OKC.)
This may not work. The personalities may not mesh. Thibs's practices could grind Andrew Wiggins into dust. But the "buzzworthy" label never guaranteed a hit. It just meant we all should pay attention.