Timberwolves

Winners and Losers of the Timberwolves Preseason

Credit: Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

The Minnesota Timberwolves wrapped up the preseason on Thursday night when they beat the Dallas Maverick on the road in overtime.

Normally, there’s not a lot to take from the preseason. I remember working a Timberwolves vs. CSKA Moscow preseason game back in 2013. It was one of the worst games I’ve ever been to, I think I was hungover (I was 23 years old, don’t judge) and of course, the game went into overtime.

This year, teams are doing all they can to find out what they have with the regular season starting next week. What did we learn about the Wolves in these three games? More than a normal preseason.

Here are two winners, two losers and a look at what’s next:

WINNER: JARRETT CULVER

Last year’s No. 6 pick Jarrett Culver did not look good as a rookie. He was too small and looked lost. In Culver’s defense, he missed out on Summer League because of weird NBA draft-night trade rules and he never really caught up.

He received a lot of Twitter shade over the offseason, and I thought there was a 95% chance he would be traded before the season given how many wings the Wolves have. But he wasn’t and we now know why. Culver looks bigger, more confident and his shot doesn’t look like a catapult built in 1650.

In three preseason games, Culver played 22.5 minutes per game and averaged 11.3 points, 2.3 assists, 3.0 rebounds and 1.7 steals per game. He shot 43.5% from the field and 57.1% from the 3-point line. Is Culver going to shoot above 40% from the 3-point line in 2019-20? No, but if he can even get to 35% that would be a huge accomplishment.

Culver is going to play this season. Someone will have to play defense and Malik Beasley will probably be suspended at some point.

I’m normally the “don’t give up too soon” guy and I should have taken my own advice. Culver might not be as good as Tyler Herro or Brandon Clarke, guys who were taken after him, but that doesn’t mean he won’t be able to be a really impactful player.

LOSER: DEFENSE

If the Timberwolves are going to make the playoffs in 2020-21, they’ll need to play better defense. They were downright miserable last season and well, things aren’t looking exactly great as we head into this season. The Wolves allowed 119 points per game in two games against the Grizzlies and one game against the Mavericks. It’s worth noting the Mavericks game went into overtime.

I hate to be so blunt, but D’Angelo Russell and Karl-Anthony Towns are two of the worst defenders at their positions in the league. Towns has the ability to shine, but after 10 regular-season games, he normally appears bored or uninterested in playing dedicated defense. That will need to change if Towns wants to be taken seriously as a star and if the Wolves have any hopes at making the playoffs.

Players like James Harden, who had stoppers around him, can get away with that. KAT plays a more important position defensively and while Culver and Josh Okogie are solid defenders, they aren’t enough to trickle down to the rest of the team.

WINNER: TIMBERWOLVES FANS

Jordan McLaughlin is back!

Our guy Shams reported on Thursday night that our other guy Jordan McLaughlin signed a two-way deal with the Timberwolves. It’s a move that will make him an unrestricted free agent in 2021.

The Wolves needed a third point guard behind Russell and Ricky Rubio. McLaughlin helps solve that and considering the shortened season, and that neither Russell nor Rubio have always stayed healthy, we’ll probably see quite a bit of McLaughlin.

The problem here is that McLaughlin is better than a two-way player and should have never been in this situation to begin with. Which brings us to . . .

LOSER: JORDAN MCLAUGHLIN

I’ll be completely honest: I don’t know exactly how contracts work with two-way restricted free agents. But it surely seems like McLaughlin had absolutely zero leverage, and now he is back to being a two-way player even though we all know he is much better than that.

McLaughlin could have accepted a low-ball offer that would have locked him in somewhere for cheap, or he could take a $449,155 salary and bet on himself to cash in next season.

What can McLaughlin expect to get next season? Well, De’Anthony Melton just cashed in on a three-year deal that will pay him $9 million per season.

Maybe something more comparable is Trey Burke’s three-year, $9.4 million deal with Dallas.

Either way, if McLaughlin can stay healthy, he’s going to probably at least triple his salary and get some long-term stability.

I have a feeling that it probably won’t be with the Wolves considering Rubio is under contract until 2022. McLaughlin deserves to go somewhere where he will get a bigger opportunity.

Let’s not forget that in the last 15 games last season, McLaughlin averaged 10 points, 5.1 assists and 1.4 steals per game while shooting 55.2% from the field and 41.5% from the 3-point line.

I’m glad that McLaughlin is back with the Wolves. It just stinks that the circumstance wasn’t more favorable for him.

WHAT’S NEXT?

The Wolves start the regular season in FIVE DAYS! What in the world. Minnesota will host the Mason Plumlee-led Pistons on Wednesday, Dec. 23 before the Wolves start a three-game road trip from Dec. 26-29 against the Jazz, Lakers and Clippers.

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Credit: Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

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