Zone Coverage: Why it matters that the Timberwolves' season is over

Zone Coverage explains why the Wolves being left out of the return-to-play format has serious implications.
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Ryan Saunders

The Minnesota Timberwolves’ 2019-20 season has come to an end in the month of June.

Under normal circumstances, this would be cause for celebration. This would mean the Timberwolves were in the NBA Finals and had won the Western Conference Finals.

Of course, these are not normal circumstances. The Timberwolves’ 2019-20 season ending in June indicates just how poorly the team played throughout the season.

The NBA Board of Governors passed a proposal by a 29-1 vote to play the remainder of the 2019-20 season to include 22 teams that are within six games of a playoff spot. Minnesota’s record of 19-45 falls short of that requisite, thus ending its season.

“While we are disappointed for our team and our fans that our season is coming to an end, we understand and accept the league’s plan to move forward with 22 teams,” president of basketball operations Gersson Rosas said in a statement. “It is important that we be a good teammate not only to the NBA, but to the other 29 teams to support the efforts to complete this season and prepare for next season in a healthy and safe manner.”

While the Timberwolves’ final 18 games likely would not have mattered in terms of a playoff picture, those games do represent valuable minutes that the team is missing out on. Minnesota’s roster has went through incredible turnover in the past two seasons. Josh Okogie, who was drafted by the Timberwolves in the 2018 NBA Draft, is the second-longest tenured member of the Timberwolves, behind only Karl-Anthony Towns of course.

Let that sink in for a moment.

Rosas and his team have made sweeping changes to usher in a new era of Timberwolves basketball that presumably includes Ryan Saunders as the head coach. D’Angelo Russell and Towns form one of the best 1-2 offensive tandems in the NBA. Meanwhile, Malik Beasley proved in just 14 games with the Timberwolves can he can fill it up as well, averaging over 20 points per game and shooting over 42 percent from beyond the arc. Of course, the trio of scorers weren’t able to build chemistry due to injuries and the sudden end to the season.

Juan Hernangomez also proved to be a valuable addition as a perimeter shooter and scorer for the Wolves in 14 games after being acquired. He averaged over 12 points per game and shot 42 percent from three-point range as well. Minnesota was in dire need of perimeter shooting prior to the trade deadline, and it appears as if they got it.

Plus, Saunders appears to be embracing an analytics-based approach as this new era forms in Minnesota. He and members of the coaching staff have increasingly mentioned efficient shot selection as a key component to success moving forward. The moves made to add shooters align with this new philosophy that the franchise has mostly ignored until now.

With the season cut short, these new acquisitions did not get play valuable minutes with their new teammates. Plus, Jarrett Culver‘s rookie season, one that showed promise but also some definite areas where improvement is needed, has been cut short.

This leaves many, many questions heading into what will be a pivotal offseason for the Timberwolves. Is Beasley, who will become a restricted free agent, firmly a building block of the future? Is a solid showing in 14 games enough to solidify Hernangomez, who is also a restricted free agent, as a reliable role player moving forward? Or what about Kelan Martin, another solid role player that filled in admirably as the Timberwolves adjusted throughout the season? How does Minnesota plan to fill out the rest of the roster for 2020-21 after scrambling virtually all season to field a team in 2019-20?

Answers to some of these questions will start to form on Aug. 25, when the NBA Draft Lottery is scheduled to take place. The Timberwovles have the third-best odds to win the No. 1 overall pick, and are essentially as likely to earn the top pick as they are to earn any of the next six picks. The Wolves also have the Brooklyn Nets first-round pick in the 2020 NBA Draft as long as Brooklyn qualifies for the 16-team playoff, which appears likely.

The NBA has entered murky waters, but the Timberwolves’ outlook is particularly unknown. So much turnover prior to a completely unexpected shutdown has inevitably thrown off some of what the Timberwolves front office had planned.

This story first appeared at Zone Coverage and was re-shared through a collaboration with Bring Me The News

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