The NBA finished it’s season not so long ago using the bubble format. The Los Angeles Lakers with LeBron James and Anthony Davis at the helm worked their way through the playoffs quite effortlessly and won the championship.
In an effort to get the 2021-2022 NBA season back on track to start at the regular time, the NBA is electing to begin the season early this year, considering how recently the Finals just concluded. This December 22nd start should allow the league to catch up this year, as the finish to the regular season is currently slated for May 16th.
Each team will play a 72 game schedule and the Play-In Tournament will be continued for this season, where the 7-10 seeds in each conference play to determine the final two playoff seeds.
With individual player workouts starting this week and preseason games starting on December 11th, let’s take a quick look at how the Wolves roster is shaping up and what we can reasonably expect this year.
Guard/Wings: Ricky Rubio, D’Angelo Russell, Malik Beasley, Anthony Edwards, Jarret Culver, Josh Okogie, Jake Layman
The Wolves made a couple big moves this offseason to help bring some stability to the roster. First, Minnesota used their 1st overall pick to draft Anthony Edwards, an athletic scorer whose potential is through the roof. Adding Edwards to the mix should help provide another dynamic scorer to the lineup.
Perhaps more importantly for the short term, the Wolves brought back franchise icon Ricky Rubio. I still remember being at the first preseason game after he was drafted and fans kept chanting for Ricky, despite the fact that he was still in Spain.
On draft night when the trade was made, my wife and I had the following conversation.
Me: Hey, guess what the Wolves just did?
Her: Screwed up the draft?
Me: Fair point but no. We traded for Ricky Rubio!
Her: Didn’t we trade him because he sucked?
Her point had some validity as Ricky’s inability to score the ball really made it difficult sometimes to appreciate his elite playmaking ability and defense. While giving him away and replacing him with Jeff Teague was a mistake from the beginning, letting him go wasn’t in theory terrible.
Getting him back is both exciting and actually worthwhile. Ricky has been a respectable shooter in his past few years in Utah and Phoenix, raising his field goal percentage to above 40% and his 3-point percentage to around 34%. Combine that with elite playmaking and leadership and Ricky is a great addition to this young squad.
Bigs: Karl-Anthony Towns, Ed Davis, Juancho Hernangomez, Naz Reid
I actually like what the Wolves did by adding a dynamic defensive weapon in Ed Davis. He leaves a lot to be desired offensively, but Minnesota needs defense to pair with Towns’ offense.
When gauging fan interest and excitement, there seems to be a lot of hype believing that Minnesota can be a legitimate playoff team. While the team should no doubt improve from their 14th place finish in the Western Conference last season, it is hard to know how far they can go.
For perspective, teams that are undoubtedly better than Minnesota include: Los Angeles Lakers, Los Angeles Clippers, Denver Nuggets, Houston Rockets (as long as they have James Harden), Dallas Mavericks, Portland Trail Blazers and the return of the Golden State Warriors. Those are my top seven.
Teams that are in the same tier as the Wolves potential, but are likely still better than the Wolves include: Utah Jazz and Phoenix Suns. Those are my top nine.
Teams that are in the same tier as the Wolves who I think they can reasonably be better than: Memphis Grizzlies, San Antonio Spurs and New Orleans Pelicans. That slates Minnesota hopefully at the 10th spot in the West.
Minnesota is a young team that has a little time to reach their potential. Besides Davis and Rubio, everyone on the roster is under the age of 26, meaning this year probably isn’t their year to make a big splash anyway. However, the Wolves should be in competition for the 10th seed and the Play-In Tournament.
If the Wolves aren’t close to that 10th seed, this year will be considered a failure in my book. However, if Minnesota can stay competitive, show improvement over the course of the year and perhaps even slip into the playoffs, I do like their future outlook. A closing lineup of Ricky Rubio (or Malik Beasley), D’Angelo Russell, Anthony Edwards, Josh Okogie and Karl-Anthony Towns does get me rather excited.
Realistically, some of these Western Conference teams are beginning to age out and the Wolves could become quite relevant over the course of the next few seasons. It begins with a 36-36 season and a shot at the playoffs.