After an offseason of sweeping change in the front office, the coaching staff and the roster, the Timberwolves are set to begin training camp with media day on Monday and their first official practices in Mankato on Tuesday and Wednesday. Here are some story lines to follow throughout camp and into the season:
What’s happening at point guard?
Jeff Teague enters as the incumbent starter, but at 31, Teague is the oldest player on a team that is getting younger and he is in the final year of his contract. Teague likely isn’t the future of the franchise at this position, but after declining to match Memphis’ offer sheet for Tyus Jones, the Wolves don’t have anybody pegged to be their point guard of the future.
This season will allow offseason acquisitions Shabazz Napier, Tyrone Wallace and Treveon Graham an opportunity to show what they have, and rookie Jarrett Culver has ballhandling capabilities the Wolves might utilize in a point guard-type role. But this position is one of the biggest questions on the roster going forward.
What do Wolves have in Jarrett Culver?
The Wolves traded up from No. 11 to No. 6 in June’s draft and selected Culver, sending Dario Saric to the Suns to make the move happen. They’re betting a lot on Culver, who will have a chance of starting from his first game. Culver’s work ethic from Texas Tech and growing up in Lubbock is the stuff of local legend — he even worked out the night after the Wolves selected him — but can that hard work translate to NBA success? Culver projects to help the Wolves defensively and has an array of skills offensively that he will need to hone. The potential is there, but is Culver in the right situation to thrive?
Will Andrew Wiggins become a different, better player?
It’s a fresh start for the Wolves and especially for their enigmatic highly paid wing. How will President Gersson Rosas and coach Ryan Saunders try to maximize the talent that others haven’t been able to before them? Rosas has been clear this offseason that the team expects more out of Wiggins but that Wiggins hasn’t had the consistency of structure around him to thrive. Now he will have that. Will he respond? Will his game change?
For instance, this new regime is analytically inclined, and Saunders has even gone so far as to place the value of certain shots on the practice floor during workouts. Wiggins likes to shoot a fair amount of low-value midrange jumpers. Will that dissipate from his game?
How will everything else change under Ryan Saunders?
Saunders and Rosas made some important hires on Saunders’ staff this season, bringing in David Vanterpool from Portland to be the de facto “defensive coordinator” and Pablo Prigioni from Brooklyn to be the “offensive coordinator,” as Rosas put it. Vanterpool has his work cut out for him with a team that finished 24th in defensive rating last season, but he at least has all-league defender Robert Covington back in the fold healthy after Covington missed the second half of last season because of a bone bruise in his right knee. Prigioni and Saunders are developing a faster-paced offense that revolves around center Karl-Anthony Towns. How that will look and whether it’s successful is up in the air.
What makes a successful season?
The Western Conference is loaded again this year with several teams making splashy moves to maintain their competitiveness. It’s going to be a crowded race to get in the playoffs — the Clippers, Lakers, Jazz, Nuggets, Blazers, Rockets, Warriors and Spurs all project as playoff teams. That’s eight contenders right there without getting into the up-and-coming teams such as the Pelicans or Kings.
The Wolves might not win a lot of games this year, but perhaps Wiggins takes a step forward, Culver becomes a star in the making while some of the Wolves’ other offseason signings, such as Jordan Bell, Jake Layman or Noah Vonleh, become long-term pieces. Maybe then the Wolves can say the season was a success without making the playoffs.