The 2015-16 Minnesota Timberwolves currently sit among the lower half of the league when it comes to not only their win/loss record but also their payroll. Coincidence? Maybe.
Though, San Antonio, Toronto and Memphis could argue that you don’t have to make it rain like you are Drake at the club to be successful. With a payroll of just over $69 million, the Timberwolves fall under the $70 million league salary cap, but their tight wallets may be one reason free agents aren’t jumping to sign in Minnesota.
All About the Benjamins (Players that are worth their contract value)
Kevin Garnett ($8,500,000)
From a statistical standpoint, an $8.5 million contract for a player who is entering his 20th season, hasn’t seen a full season since 2004-05, posted single digits in points his last two seasons and played only 20 minutes a night, is by all means a waste of money. However when you look at it as an investment into one of, if not the greatest player in franchise history, and an on-court mentor for the next wave of Timberwolves, then it is money well spent. Unlike some of the veteran players in the league, Garnett will embrace playing limited minutes and provide more of a voice in the locker room. Think of Garnett as a very expensive assistant coach.
Andrew Wiggins ($5,758,680) – If the recent NBA.com GM survey has any merit, then Wiggins’ play will outpace his pay. Voted to be the player most likely to have a breakout season, which after a rookie season of 16.9 points and 4.6 rebounds gives the Timberwolves fans a lot of positives to look forward to this season.
It is only the second year of his rookie contract, so this could be seen as cheating, but when you consider all the intangibles that Wiggins brings to the Minnesota franchise on and off the court and if he can truly take another step in the growth of his game, then the Timberwolves are on the right path.
In the T-Wolves five exhibition games, Wiggins showed that he can be ready to take his game up a notch with a pair of 20-plus-point games, however he has to make this a nightly habit. Recently coach Sam Mitchell stated that Wiggins would start the season as the off-guard, rather than the small forward. Regardless of where the 6’8″ Canadian ends up on the floor, at this point, the Timberwolves successes lie in his young hands.
Zach LaVine ($2,148,360) – There are a lot of expectations on LaVine this season, maybe just a much as there is on Wiggins or Karl Anthony Towns. A good chunk of those expectations came off of an 18-game stretch to finish last season when the hybrid guard averaged 18.7 points 5.3 assists and 4.9 rebounds. These are necessarily numbers that fans should expect from LaVine at this stage in his career (or maybe at any stage). The former UCLA Bruin found himself the subject of many coaching debates throughout the summer over whether he should play the 1 or the 2.
At the start of the preseason, the Timberwolves coaching staff gave LaVine the opportunity to start alongside Ricky Rubio and Wiggins, but a poor shooting display has put the second year guard back on the bench.
If LaVine can match or even slightly increase his numbers from last season (10.1 points, 3.6 assists, 2.8 rebounds) across the board in year two, Timberwolves brass and fans should be happy.
Mo’ Problems (Players that are not worth their contract value)
Considering the Timberwolves roster, there are only two players who are pulling in eight figures. Statistically, both players at certain points in their careers have proven to be valuable commodities. However, the one glaring problem with justifying their salary is the amount of time that they are actually on the court, or even in uniform for that matter.
Ricky Rubio ($12,365,000) – The fifth year Spanish point guard is a valuable asset for the Timberwolves—if they can find a way to keep him healthy. Rubio has struggled with injuries in three of his four NBA seasons and is entering his fifth coming off of offseason surgery. A throwback point guard of sorts in the sense that he fills the role of play caller and distributor, Rubio has never been much of a scoring threat.
Averaging only ten points a game and only taking around 10 shots a night, Rubio doesn’t compare to point guard peers Steph Curry, Russell Westbrook, Damian Lillard or Chris Paul. While Rubio’s stat line isn’t horrid when you look at his box score numbers, but his shooting percentage of 35.6. When you are bringing in the big bucks, you have to meet higher expectations of management, teammates and fans.
Nikola Pekovic ($12,100,000) – After seeing his numbers and value to the Timberwolves increase in each of his first four seasons, the big man from Yugoslavia had not only a dip in his numbers but also his playing time, in large part due to a season-ending Achilles injury. So, it’s easy to see why Pek is on this short list. With the additions of Towns and Nemanja Bjelica and the improved play of Gorgui Dieng and Adreian Payne, it may be tough to find minutes for the sixth year forward.
As with Rubio, it isn’t exactly his talents that has been the reason for Nikola’s limited floor time, but rather uncontrollable injuries. At 30 years of age, recovering from an injury is not easy, especially a serious one for a big man who makes a living battling in the paint. Regardless, it may not come to much of a surprise if the team tries to offload Pekovic at some point throughout the season.