Minnesota Timberwolves: 5 Bold Predictions After The All-Star Break

Dec 19, 2016; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Minnesota Timberwolves head coach Tom Thibodeau reacts to a call on the court during the second half against the Phoenix Suns at Target Center. The Timberwolves won 115-108. Mandatory Credit: Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

May 12, 2015; Cleveland, OH, USA; Chicago Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau reacts in the fourth quarter against the Cleveland Cavaliers in game five of the second round of the NBA Playoffs at Quicken Loans Arena. Mandatory Credit: David Richard-USA TODAY Sports

The Minnesota Timberwolves are at a pivotal point in their development. Here are five bold predictions for the rest of their 2016-17 season.

The Minnesota Timberwolves have had a roller coaster of a season so far in 2016-17. They have loads of promising young talent on their roster, but that has not yet led to victories. On the plus side, Andrew Wiggins and Karl-Anthony Towns have had monster seasons for the T-Wolves, and you can add Zach LaVine to that list as well.

On the minus side is the obvious ACL tear to Zach LaVine and what that might mean for his future. Ricky Rubio’s development appears to have completely stalled. Kris Dunn has not lived up to expectations and has been a colossal disappointment during his rookie campaign.

The Minnesota Timberwolves had expectations of at least competing for one of the last playoff spots in the West. Even though, as of today, they sit only 3.5 games out of the eighth seed, it isn’t quite how everyone imagined with a 22-35 record.

With 25 games left in the 2016-17 NBA season, there is still a lot that can happen. Here are five bold predictions about what is going to happen down the home stretch for the Minnesota Timberwolves.

Jan 24, 2017; Phoenix, AZ, USA; Minnesota Timberwolves guard Ricky Rubio (9) against the Phoenix Suns at Talking Stick Resort Arena. The Timberwolves defeated the Suns 112-111. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

5. Ricky Rubio Survives The Trade Deadline (Again)

Trade rumors have run rampant about Rubio at the trade deadline for a second straight season. This guy has been seen as an almost immediate disappointment since he made his much-anticipated Wolves debut in 2011.

Ricky Rubio has never lived up to the hype in Minnesota but that has not stopped him from showing off the spectacular passing he is known for. The trade gossip is nothing new for Rubio as he was subject to a whirlwind of rumors last year, including the possibility of being traded to the New York Knicks (trade rumor here) and the Milwaukee Bucks (rumor here).

There are rumors, once again, that Ricky Rubio may be traded to the Knicks. This time in exchange for Derrick Rose, according to Brian Windhorst of ESPN.  There are also rumors out there, via Sports Illustrated, that both Rubio and Shabazz Muhammad may be traded to the Detroit Pistons for Reggie Jackson.

Tom Thibodeau should be focused on the long-term future with the Timberwolves.  I don’t feel that either of those players would help Minnesota, especially Derrick Rose. Given Rose’s history with Thibodeau he may be the most likely player acquired.  His stats and numbers may look pretty, but he has been a black hole for the Knicks.

You add in Rose mysteriously missing a game and it doesn’t seem like he would be a good fit on the roster or in the locker room. After all is said and done and the dust has settled, we will still see Ricky Rubio in a Timberwolves uniform on Friday, Feb. 24 when they face the Dallas Mavericks at the Target Center.

Jan 24, 2017; Phoenix, AZ, USA; Minnesota Timberwolves forward Shabazz Muhammad (15) against the Phoenix Suns at Talking Stick Resort Arena. The Timberwolves defeated the Suns 112-111. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

4. Shabazz Muhammad WILL Be Traded

The Shabazz Muhammad trade offers have been far more infrequent than the Ricky Rubio rumors. However, I do not believe that means that a trade is less likely to happen.

Shabazz will become a restricted free agent this summer. Given that Rubio still has two years and $29 million left on his contract after this season, Muhammad’s contract will make him the easier piece to move for Minnesota.

Muhammad has also struggled with his overall game as he has posted a Player Efficiency Rating of 14.37. That PER is just under the league average of 15 and also happens to be Muhammad’s lowest since his rookie year. Muhammad struggles on defense and is stuck as a “tweener,” meaning that he is not athletic enough to guard most small forwards in this league but not big or strong enough to guard power forwards.

Marc Stein of ESPN reported that the Washington Wizards are a potential landing spot for Shabazz, though their trade for Bojan Bogdanovic obviously complicates matters.

The Minnesota Timberwolves must decide if Shabazz Muhammad is part of their long-term plan.  If the Timberwolves feel Shabazz can be a complementary player to their core of Wiggins and Towns, they will keep him at the deadline and re-sign him in the offseason.

If they do not feel he is part of their long-term plan they should move Muhammad and get something in return before they let him walk at the end of the season. My money is on the latter.

Mar 4, 2016; Milwaukee, WI, USA; Minnesota Timberwolves guard Ricky Rubio (9) gets a pass away from Milwaukee Bucks guard O.J. Mayo (3) in the second quarter at BMO Harris Bradley Center. Mandatory Credit: Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports

3. Ricky Rubio Will Average 35 Minutes Per Game The Rest Of The Season

Ricky Rubio hasn’t averaged over 32.2 minutes per game since his rookie season when he played 34.2 a game. However, due to the lack of quality point guards on the Timberwolves roster that will change after the All-Star break.

Rubio will average 35 minutes per game down the stretch as Thibodeau, who hates losing games, tries to make a push for that final playoff spot. Thibodeau has a bad habit of playing his players too many minutes and not respecting the wear and tear the NBA game puts on one’s body.

Thibs has not seemed to buck that trend after sitting out a year and becoming the head man in Minnesota this offseason. As it stands today, the Minnesota Timberwolves have three players ranked in the top eight in minutes played per game.

Rubio’s overabundance of playing time after the All-Star break will say less about him as a player and more about the two young guys below him on the depth chart. Both Tyus Jones and Kris Dunn have struggled mightily this year.

So far in February, Dunn has seen his minutes dip even with LaVine going down with an injury and minutes opening up at the 2. As far as Tyus Jones goes, he has not yet shown the ability to make up for his slight frame and average to below-average athletic ability. I see lots and lots of Rubio to finish the season.

Feb 15, 2017; Denver, CO, USA; Minnesota Timberwolves center Karl-Anthony Towns (32) and forward Andrew Wiggins (22) during the second half against the Denver Nuggets at Pepsi Center. The Timberwolves won 112-99. Mandatory Credit: Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports

2. Towns And Wiggins Average 28 PPG The Rest Of The Season

When I said this article was about bold predictions, I wasn’t lying to you. I wouldn’t lie, not this early in our relationship at least.

Wiggins and Towns each have unique talent in a league where talent is abundant.  If they are able to harness that talent, the sky is the limit. Towns and Wiggins will take that next step with the Timberwolves, showing the NBA they are a pair to be feared.

With Zach LaVine out for the year, there are only two guys on the roster who can create their own shot on a regular basis. And man, oh man, do both of these guys love to shoot.

Towns and Wiggins have combined to average 39 shots per game over the last seven games since LaVine has been out. That accounts for 47 percent of the Timberwolves shots over that span. The quantity of shots is there for the dynamic, duo but also the efficiency.

Towns has a true shooting percentage of 68.2 over that span while averaging 28.4 points per game.  Wiggins’ true shooting percentage is slightly lower, but he still has a true shooting percentage of 61.7 while averaging an astounding 31.1 points per game.

There is no reason that this kind of production should not continue for both Wiggins and Towns barring a trade or an injury to either one of them.

Jan 24, 2017; Phoenix, AZ, USA; Minnesota Timberwolves forward Adreian Payne (left), forward Andrew Wiggins (center) and center Karl-Anthony Towns against the Phoenix Suns at Talking Stick Resort Arena. The Timberwolves defeated the Suns 112-111. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

1. Minnesota Timberwolves’ Schedule Prediction

The Minnesota Timberwolves have 25 games remaining in their 2016-17 NBA season. While the season has not had positive results so far, there is still some time for the Timberwolves to turn that around.

Unfortunately, that will not happen. Minnesota will finish the season with 13 of their final 25 games against teams who currently hold a winning record. Sixteen of those 25 games are away from the Target Center in Minneapolis. That does not look like a recipe for success and I don’t believe it will be pretty the Wolves.

The following may seem less like a bold prediction and more like a major buzz kill. By my count, the Minnesota Timberwolves will continue to encounter difficulties the rest of the way.

They will find themselves winning two out of their three games remaining in February, beating the Mavericks and the Kings. In March they will finish the month with a record of 4-11. All four of their victories will come against the Lakers and Trail Blazers, whom they face two times each.

The Timberwolves will then finish the year going 2-5 in April. Their only two victories will be against the Kings and the Lakers (again). This leaves the Timberwolves with an 8-17 record after the All-Star break and far, far away from any playoff conversations.

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