As the 2016-17 NBA season winds down, 16 teams will turn the page to the postseason, while a handful of others have been focused on the offseason for the better part of the last month. Meanwhile, the Minnesota Timberwolves have plenty to learn over their last nine games. These last two weeks of the season can help give head coach Tom Thibodeau and general manager Scott Layden a good idea of what to look for in an important offseason.
The first and most important thing to keep an eye on is the play of rookie guard Kris Dunn. In comparison to the rookie contributions of Zach LaVine, Andrew Wiggins and Karl-Anthony Towns in recent seasons, Dunn has been quite a disappointment as the fifth overall pick in last summer’s draft. He has averaged 3.9 points and 2.3 assists while shooting only 38.6 percent from the floor. The one bright spot has been his 2.0 steals and 1.0 blocks per game per 36 minutes.
As the Timberwolves have watched their playoff hopes fade away recently, Thibodeau has given Dunn extra minutes in the last few games. In Minnesota’s two-game road trip in Los Angeles and Portland, Dunn averaged 32.0 minutes — nearly double his season average — 14.0 points, 5.5 rebounds, 2.5 steals and 1.0 block per game while shooting 52.0 percent from the field. His 17 points in Saturday’s 112-100 loss to Portland was a career-high.
What is even more interesting is the different roles in which Thibodeau has used Dunn. After logging just 25 minutes together in the team’s first 70 games of the season, Dunn shared the backcourt with starting point guard Ricky Rubio for 30:50 during the two-game trip out west. If Thibodeau likes what he sees in this backcourt, it would, at the very least, give him the option of keeping Rubio around while still allowing Dunn to get more minutes. Look to see more of the Rubio-Dunn backcourt as the season winds down.
One player who has seen his minutes dip a bit because of Dunn’s presence is forward Shabazz Muhammad. After playing 24 or more minutes in the previous four games, Muhammad played only 12 minutes against the Lakers in a game that went to overtime and 20 minutes (12 of them in the fourth quarter when the game was all but over already) against the Trail Blazers. Muhammad will be a restricted free agent this summer, so it is possible him slipping in the rotation in favor of other young players is a sign of what may come this summer.
Another player with a lot to prove in the minutes he gets is recently-signed forward Omri Casspi. Through three games with his new team, Casspi has produced a quiet 3.0 points per game in 18.0 minutes per contest. If Casspi were able to show his ability to shoot over 40.0 percent from behind the 3-point line, like he did the last two seasons in Sacramento, Casspi would give currently-injured forward Nemanja Bjelica some competition as a stretch-forward on next year’s roster.
There’s really not much more to see from Wiggins and Towns at this point. In a perfect world, Thibodeau would probably like to see better defense and situational passing from both of his young stars, but that’s probably more for the offseason than it is for the final nine games. All the Timberwolves can hope for is that their two young cornerstones finish the season healthy and on a high note.
With six games remaining against Western Conference teams currently in the top-8, and three against the Lakers and Kings, Thibodeau should have the opportunity to test his young players against the conference’s best, as well as other young teams. Even though the games may feel meaningless, there is still plenty to see from the Timberwolves during their final two weeks.