2015-16 Minnesota Timberwolves season preview

A star in the making, Andrew Wiggins is ready to take center stage.

David Sherman/NBAE/Getty Images

The Minnesota Timberwolves don’t have many NBA pundits shouting their praises as the 2015-16 regular-season approaches. They do, however, have a burning desire to represent their franchise in an exemplary manner this season.

When Flip Saunders, the Timberwolves’ head coach/president of basketball operations passed away Sunday after a four-month battle with Hodgkin’s lymphoma, it rocked an entire state and Minnesota’s roster. 

Thus, you can be assured Kevin Garnett and company will play with passion this season.

And, make no mistake, the Timberwolves have talent, too.

Andrew Wiggins is the reigning NBA Rookie of the Year. Big man Karl-Anthony Towns was the No. 1 overall draft pick last June. Ricky Rubio, when healthy, is an assist machine. And Zach LaVine is always good for a highlight-reel dunk or two.

There’s some increased on-court optimism for the Wolves — who went 16-66 last season — as Wednesday night’s regular-season opener against the Lakers draws near.

Here are the key storylines and individuals to keep an eye on this season:

STORYLINE TO WATCH: Playing to honor the late Flip Saunders

When Saunders succumbed to Hodgkins lymphoma over the weekend it was a stunning development; the 60-year-old had been told last summer that his ailment was curable. Now, in Saunders’ stead will be Sam Mitchell, a 52-year-old who once earned NBA Coach of the Year accolades in 2007 while leading the Toronto Raptors. Mitchell has deep-rooted ties to the Timberwolves, having been a member of their inaugural squad in 1989 as a player. Mitchell also sounds committed to developing Minnesota’s youngest players, like Towns, Wiggins and LaVine. Considering how much Saunders clearly impacted every member of the Timberwolves franchise, Minnesota’s players won’t lack for motivation this season, to say the least. 

NEWCOMER TO WATCH: Karl-Anthony Towns, PF/C

Say this for the Timberwolves’ top draft pick from last summer: He seems eager to represent his NBA franchise, both on the court and off. Whether walking the skyways of Minneapolis, or communicating with fans via social-media outlets like Twitter [https://twitter.com/KarlTowns], Towns has displayed an air of positivity. The versatile Kentucky product also carries himself with a confidence that belies his 19 years. Now, the question remains: Can "The Big KAT" maintain that positivity through the rigors of an 82-game NBA schedule, and while toiling alongside the demanding Garnett? Towns will be tested early and often as a rookie, in a Western Conference that includes talented big men like Anthony Davis, Tim Duncan, Marc Gasol, Serge Ibaka and DeAndre Jordan.   

UNHERALDED PLAYER TO WATCH: Kevin Martin, SG

THE PRESSURE IS ON: Ricky Rubio, PG

Rubio celebrated his 25th birthday last week. This will be his fifth season toiling in the NBA. This has the feel of a make-or-break campaign for Minnesota’s point guard. To this point, Rubio has proven to be a stellar passer (8.2 assists per game for his career), a solid defender and . . . a woeful shooter (36.7 percent from the field for his career). He also has a reputation for being injury prone, with just one season of 82 games played on his resume, in 2013-14. By all accounts, Rubio worked tirelessly on his shot in the offseason, though. If he can simply make the occasional 3-pointer this season — and stay healthy — perhaps Minnesota’s offense can make some legitimate strides.

STAR IN THE MAKING: Andrew Wiggins, SG/SF

Wiggins, who showed glimpses of jaw-dropping talent last season, should get every opportunity to become Minnesota’s go-to scorer in 2015-16. After playing in all 82 games a year ago, Wiggins made a concerted effort to add muscle to his 6-foot-8 frame over the summer. The 20-year-old averaged 16.9 points per game as a rookie and could easily increase his nightly output this season with even a slight uptick in his shooting (43.7 percent from the floor in 2014-15). It’ll also be interesting to see if Wiggins can evolve into a more assertive player as an NBA sophomore, especially in late-game situations.  

RED-LETTER STRETCHES: The Wolves’ most brutal road stretch of the season: March 11-18, a four-game gauntlet that includes trips to Oklahoma City, Phoenix, Memphis and Houston. Conversely, the most intriguing homestand of the 2015-16 campaign occurs Dec. 1-9, a span that includes games at Target Center against Orlando, Portland, the L.A. Clippers and the L.A. Lakers. . . . By the way: The T-Wolves’ best home games, in our humble opinion, come on Jan. 12 and Jan. 27, when Minnesota hosts all-world talents Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and the Oklahoma City Thunder.