In his second season with the Spurs, Tim Duncan averaged a combined 38.9 points, rebounds, assists, blocks and steals per game—a high bar that Karl-Anthony Towns could reach this year. Towns's cumulative average was 33.2 in 2015--16, when he ran away with the Rookie of the Year award. Towns's game isn't a facsimile of Duncan's--certainly not on defense—but his potential is through the roof. Towns is a legitimate 7-footer who is light on his feet, with a natural athleticism most big men can only dream of. He can anchor the offense on the block, as a pick-and-roll partner with Kris Dunn, and with his developing outside shot.
Towns's defensive growth will benefit from the arrival of coach Tom Thibodeau. (That's true of his teammates as well. The T-Wolves were 28th in defensive rating. Only one of Thibs's five Bulls squads was worse than sixth.)
With an embarrassment of lottery riches—the top three scorers last season were all 21 or younger—Minnesota has the potential to become the NBA's next It team. But if the Timberwolves are going to end their 12-year playoff drought—let alone make a splash—Towns will have to more closely emulate Duncan as a two-way force.
PROJECTED LINEUP | 2015--16 stats
COACH TOM THIBODEAU (1st season with Timberwolves)
2015--16 RECORD 29--53 (5th in Northwest)
PG RICKY RUBIO
10.1 PPG; 8.7 APG; 2.1 SPG; 37.4 FG%
SG ZACH LAVINE
14.0 PPG; 3.1 APG; 45.2 FG%; 38.9 3FG%
SF ANDREW WIGGINS
20.7 PPG; 3.6 RPG; 45.9 FG%; 30.0 3FG%
PF GORGUI DIENG
10.1 PPG; 7.1 RPG; 1.2 BPG; 53.2 FG%
C KARL-ANTHONY TOWNS
18.3 PPG; 10.5 RPG; 1.7 BPG; 54.2 FG%
SF SHABAZZ MUHAMMAD
10.5 PPG; 3.3 RPG; 46.5 FG%; 28.9 3FG%
PF NEMANJA BJELICA
5.1 PPG; 3.5 RPG; 46.8 FG%; 38.4 3FG%
PG KRIS DUNN (R)
16.4 PPG; 6.2 APG; 44.8 FG%; 37.2 3FG%
(R) ROOKIE, COLLEGE STATS
A rival scout sizes up Minnesota
Tom Thibodeau has great taste in young talent and he found an organization that can benefit from his style and experience. I can't wait to see their prospects transforming into high-level defenders.... Karl-Anthony Towns will be viewed as a top 10 player at the end of this season. I'll take him over Anthony Davis right now. He's the total package offensively. He can score without being selfish, you can move him all over the court, and he has a great touch for a big guy.... Andrew Wiggins has the raw talent and youth to be a breakout candidate, but I'm with the people who question whether he will ever really deliver on the hype. He needs to prove that he can contribute within the structure and not just be an open-court guy who gets by on his athleticism.... Kris Dunn is the best player in this draft; I would have taken him No. 1. You can see the tools and the makeup of an elite guard in this league. He has the personality, the tempo and the pace to his game, the play-to-play intensity. They have a talented group around him with an upward trajectory, so he won't be asked to do too much.... That puts Ricky Rubio's future into question. He is a very good player, but they'll have trouble trading him for value because everyone knows they have Dunn. They don't need to rush it: Rubio is an excellent defender, and he can help set the tone.... Zach LaVine doesn't guard well enough to start. He should be a designated scorer and a spark plug off the bench. Thibodeau will either help turn him into a better defender and take his game to the next level, or neglect him because he still can't stop anybody.
TELLING NUMBER 38.9
The team to watch in 2019--20 would do well to finish in the top eight this year.