NBA Preview: Breaking: The Wolves Have Great Players, Per CBS Sports and ESPN
Not-so bold prediction: the Minnesota Timberwolves will get a lot of media mention in the next few months, violently on one side of positivity or the opposite. There won’t be a lot of “on-the-fence” behavior. I know, I’m really going out on a limb here.
With any sport, there comes a hypo season. Football has August, basketball has September and October. Soon enough, we’ll see the bulk of the talking before preseason tipoff. This week, CBS notably participated in that wave with CBS Sports’ positional rankings ahead of the 2022-23 season. ESPN did the same for all players, with Rudy Gobert, Anthony Edwards, and Karl-Anthony Towns presumably clocking into the top 25.
Safe to say, the Wolves had a sizable presence.
KAT Goes from Top 3 to Top 5
Yes, KAT traded blows with now-teammate Gobert for the title of third-best center in the league for the last few years, coming out on the better end of that year. But now he’s a 4, and thrown into a patchwork group of former small forwards, actual power forwards, as well as “former” centers like himself.
Giannis, KD, and LeBron are ranked ahead of him. Duh.
But then comes the Zion conundrum, who’s also ranked ahead to put Towns fifth. I’ve thought the double standard interesting in how players are ranked when they can’t stay healthy. It’s criteria for some, and others seem to miss it altogether. I’ve always found Kyrie to be someone who is on the negative end of this. I think KAT was as well in 2019-21 after a couple injury-plagued seasons. Even LeBron seems to take a hit in terms of his perceived effectiveness because of his inability to consistently be on the court. If it’s a part of how you think, great! If it’s not, awesome. I just find it pretty inconsistent across the board.
For some reason Zion always ducks this. I think AD is also in this category. Don’t get me wrong – if we’re talking about “number of games played” not being a factor, Zion is as electric and special as anyone in the league. Full stop. And I think it’s part of the answer to my point/question above. But he’s also played 85 games since he’s entered the league. I would love to see more of a sample size in how he handles an 82-game season with the amount of energy he’s expected to bring to the floor every night.
Would I Change It?: Yes. Until Zion can prove his dominance and upside consistently, I would not put him above a reigning All-NBA player. I’m malleable, but KAT has earned that.
Ant Finds Footing in Top 5
This is where things get really interesting and volatile.
Again, strictly going off this list; ranking all five positions strictly in an position-less game is tough. That said, Edwards was ranked as the fifth-best shooting guard heading into this season. The names ahead of him (in order)?
4) Brad Beal
3) Zach Lavine
2) Donovan Mitchell
1) Devin Booker
Personally? I think there’s a case he’s better than Bradley Beal right now. I won’t make it, but it’s there to be had. The other thing that should make people pretty damn excited? If Ant takes “the leap”TM, There’s a chance we could see him as high as two on this list at the end of the year, or dead even with it. Donovan Mitchell showed vulnerabilities in his offensive game this postseason in settling for shots, and has gotten progressively worse defensively. That’s mostly the care factor, in my opinion. While still early, Edwards showed that inverse as the season went on. Mitchell’s move to Cleveland should be a positive to his game. But so should the acquisition of a true paint anchor for the Wolves to Ant. It helped Spida!
Would I Change It?: Not right now, but Washington has a chance of being abysmal yet again this year. If another season of empty point totals continue for Beal during potential Timberwolf success, we may need to revisit.
Gobert Holds at Numéro Quatre
That’s four in French, by the way. Seven years of taking French in school that I previously thought useless have led up to this year. This is not the last eye roll you’ll give me for a half-french subheading.
(Editor’s note: next challenge for Andrew is to put our old friend y = mx+b to good use in his next article)
Anthony Davis to me is a “front-court” player and doesn’t necessarily get a center classification, but for all intents and purposes, I’d call this accurate. Though AD is coming off a rough, injury-plagued season, and on top of it all is working with the Lethal Shooter, he rightfully finds his way above Gobert. And frankly, a ranking won’t have much merit to what the Stifle Tower brings to Minnesota. He’s going to reel in a ton of rebounds and likely output a scoring average in the low double-digit points. He’ll also probably make the team net rating look pretty good, too, which is far more important. Expectations for Gobert are completely different than those for the players above him, so I don’t have many issues with this.
For more on this, see Mike O’Hagan’s excellent piece, “Cheering for Rudy Gobert, for Dummies.”
Would I Change It?: No.
One Last Thing
D’Angelo Russell was left off the top 22 point guards. I don’t have much of an argument for putting him above any of the listed players, but I do have an argument against counting CJ McCollum and Marcus Smart as point guards.
Russell clocked in at No. 93 on ESPN’s overall list, so there’s only a slight discrepancy. However, it did cause me to think about where D-Lo was perceived upon coming over from Golden State, and where he is now; the ability to climb back to that conversation with a loaded front court and perimeter defenders to make up for his shortcomings. It’s on him this year to revive that, but certainly in the realm of possibilities this season before he hits unrestricted free agency next summer.