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5 TIMBERWOLVES

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Shooting guard Jimmy Butler deserved more credit than he got for averaging 23.9 points, 6.2 rebounds and 5.5 assists while dragging a miserable Chicago team to the playoffs last year. Meanwhile, Karl-Anthony Towns flashed talent seldom seen from a second-year big man. Sadly, just as the Bulls' misery obscured Butler's brilliance, most fans had checked out on the Timberwolves by the All-Star break, after which Towns began putting up 28.4 points on 59.7% shooting with 13.4 rebounds.

Now they're both in Minnesota, ready to make the whole league pay attention to a franchise that has missed the playoffs 13 years in a row, two shy of the longest drought in NBA history. Last season Towns, Andrew Wiggins and new coach Tom Thibodeau were supposed to bring the T-Wolves back to life. They won 31 games.

While skepticism is understandable, the 28-year-old Butler will be even better than advertised, and he wasn't the only veteran acquisition; 6'9" Taj Gibson and Jeff Teague, who replaces Ricky Rubio at the point, should improve execution on both ends. If Towns and Wiggins can make progress on D, there is too much talent for the streak of futility to continue.

PROJECTED LINEUP

2016--17 STATS

COACH TOM THIBODEAU

(2nd season with Timberwolves)

2016--17 RECORD 31--51

(5th in Northwest)

55 [THE CROSSOVER TOP 100 RANKING]

PG JEFF TEAGUE [NEW ACQUISITION]

15.3 PPG; 7.8 APG; 44.2 FG%; 35.7 3FG%

11 [THE CROSSOVER TOP 100 RANKING]

SG JIMMY BUTLER [NEW ACQUISITION]

23.9 PPG; 6.2 RPG; 5.5 APG; 45.5 FG%

50 [THE CROSSOVER TOP 100 RANKING]

SF ANDREW WIGGINS

23.6 PPG; 4.0 RPG; 45.2 FG%; 35.6 3FG%

95 [THE CROSSOVER TOP 100 RANKING]

PF TAJ GIBSON [NEW ACQUISITION]

10.8 PPG; 6.2 RPG; 0.8 BPG; 51.5 FG%

14 [THE CROSSOVER TOP 100 RANKING]

C KARL-ANTHONY TOWNS

25.1 PPG; 12.3 RPG; 54.2 FG%; 36.7 3FG%

BENCH

SG JAMAL CRAWFORD [NEW ACQUISITION]

12.3 PPG; 2.6 APG; 41.3 FG%; 36.0 3FG%

PF GORGUI DIENG

10.0 PPG; 7.9 RPG; 1.2 BPG; 50.2 FG%

SF NEMANJA BJELICA

6.2 PPG; 3.8 RPG; 1.2 APG; 42.4 FG%

• THE CROSSOVER TOP 100 RANKING

*NEW ACQUISITION

ENEMY LINES

A RIVAL SCOUT SIZES UP MINNESOTA

I wonder about their shooting a lot. Their main perimeter guys—JIMMY BUTLER, ANDREW WIGGINS and JEFF TEAGUE—aren't great shooters, and they don't have a stretch four that I really trust. Spacing issues are bound to pop up. I wonder if they have all the right pieces to play TOM THIBODEAU's grind-it-out style—and whether that style will even work against tougher competition in the West.... They have too much hype for the second straight season. I worry how their younger players handle that if things start to go sideways again.... Butler and KARL-ANTHONY TOWNS is a phenomenal pairing, but I question how well everyone else meshes with them. It starts with Wiggins. He needs the ball and wants to play isolation and slash. He's a worse and younger version of Butler. Wiggins's physical talent is undeniable, but can he adjust in major ways to be a complementary guy? ... Teague isn't a huge step forward from Ricky Rubio, but I can see why they moved on after losing so many close games last year. Having a point guard who commands some respect with his shot is easier to work with.... Towns is a monster—shooting, range, length, power, polish. Total package. I'd rather have him offensively than Anthony Davis. Defensively, he needs to be a center, and that could still take some time.... I think Thibodeau will be most comfortable playing TAJ GIBSON with Towns down the stretch. Starting and finishing big. Thibodeau needs to prove he can adapt with the times. Most of the best teams in the West close with one big, not two.

TELLING 13 STATISTIC

BOTTOM LINE

This year's T-Wolves will make all of last year's T-Wolves believers look smart.