Here are our player scouting reports and analysis.
Experience: 5 years
+ Elite playmaking and defensive point guard limited by poor shooting
+ Decent standstill jumper with slow release but low-percentage finisher
+ Big for a point guard and has exceptionally quick hands
Though he plays for the Timberwolves, Rubio is a basketball fox. Why? He knows many things. There's passing, of course. Rubio is not only a prolific passer who delivers the ball on time and on target to open teammates. There's also defense, where Rubio's ability is underrated. Because of his size (6-foot-4), Rubio remains capable of affecting a shot even when he's beaten off the dribble, and he led the league with 3.5 steals per 100 plays. He's also an excellent defensive rebounder for a point guard, and his defensive rating in ESPN's real plus-minus ranked second at the position.
But there's that one, big thing Rubio doesn't know: how to make baskets. He actually made a career-high 62 3-pointers last season at a 32.6 percent clip, but opposing guards can comfortably play off him because Rubio's release is so slow. More than his outside shooting, though -- Rubio has actually become fairly adept at the pull-up jumper off the dribble -- his finishing is a problem. Amazingly, Rubio's 51.7 percent accuracy within three feet was a career high, per Basketball-Reference.com (league average is 62.4 percent). And he has no in-between game to speak of, making less than 30 percent of his attempts between three and 16 feet, so it's no surprise Rubio drives to pass rather than to score.
At this point, the book is out and defenses won't overreact to Rubio penetration, daring him to beat them as a scorer. If and when Minnesota becomes a playoff team, defenses might aggressively play off Rubio, cramping the floor for everyone else. As a result, it's an open question whether Rubio will still be around at that point. With rookie Kris Dunn as a potential replacement, the Timberwolves might look to get value for Rubio, who has three years and $42 million left on a reasonable contract extension that kicked in last season.
Experience: 2 years
+ Uber-athletic combo guard who is two-time defending slam dunk champion
+ Doesn't have a point guard mentality and played better after moving off the ball
+ Noncompetitive defender who will be challenged to do more by Tom Thibodeau
February 2016 was a big month for LaVine, and not only because he reached deep in his bag of tricks to beat Aaron Gordon for his second consecutive slam dunk championship. After spending the first year and a half of his NBA career trying to make him a point guard, Minnesota wised up and moved LaVine into the starting lineup alongside Rubio. He averaged 16.4 points with a .595 true shooting percentage after the All-Star break, and the Timberwolves' new starting five outscored opponents by 3.9 points per 100 possessions according to NBA.com/Stats.
Despite his strong handle, LaVine was never asked to create shots for teammates before reaching the NBA because he was so good at creating them for himself. That's not necessarily the case at this level. While LaVine's leaping makes him a good finisher when he gets to the basket, he tends to take too many off-balance shots off the dribble, many of them long 2-pointers (he shot just 35.1 percent on 2-point jumpers beyond 16 feet, per Basketball-Reference.com, in hoisting 3.4 per game. But LaVine is an excellent spot-up shooter whose 64.9 percent effective field-goal percentage on such shots ranked sixth among players with at least 100 attempts according to Synergy Sports tracking on NBA.com/Stats. Those 3-pointers (he shot 43.7 percent after the break) and easy looks generated by running the floor made LaVine an efficient scorer at shooting guard.
The next step in LaVine's development will come at the defensive end after he ranked in the NBA's bottom 10 in defensive RPM. While LaVine's 6-foot-8-plus wingspan should make him effective defending shooting guards, his effort and focus are lax. Thibodeau won't stand for that, and LaVine will either make strides or he won't play.
Experience: 2 years
+ Ultratalented former No. 1 pick who has yet to become more than volume scorer
+ Good at creating his own shot one-on-one but poor passer and outside shooter
+ Has physical tools to be elite defender but needs to improve focus
If Rubio's a basketball fox, Wiggins might be the basketball hedgehog -- for now. The one big thing Wiggins knows is how to score. In his second season, the 2014 No. 1 overall pick and 2014-15 Rookie of the Year averaged 20.7 points, making him the youngest player in the league's top 20 in scoring. Yet the rest of Wiggins' game hasn't developed as expected, making this a critical season to determine whether he's actually on track for superstardom.
Wiggins made important strides as a scorer in Year 2, boosting his usage rate from 22.6 percent of Minnesota's plays to 27.2 percent while improving his true shooting percentage from .517 to .543 (slightly better than league average). Save Wiggins' even younger teammate Karl-Anthony Towns, every player who has used more than a quarter of his team's plays with above-average true shooting in a season began at age 20 or younger has become an All-Star.
As an isolation scorer, Wiggins was fairly average despite a quick first step because those plays tended to result in lots of long 2-pointers. But he was excellent at posting up wing defenders (his 208 points on post-ups led all perimeter players, per Synergy Sports tracking on NBA.com/Stats) -- something that might be more difficult now that LaVine's emergence has bumped him to small forward -- and Wiggins excels at drawing contact and getting to the free throw line. The 565 free throws Wiggins shot ranked seventh in the league and helped pad his efficiency.
The next step for Wiggins is making plays for others. Among 20-point scorers, only forward/center Anthony Davis averaged fewer assists per game than Wiggins' 2.0. He should probably drive to score but can develop the ability to make the cross-court pass when he sees defenses cheating toward him in isolations. Wiggins is also still working on his 3-point shot. He made more 3s (57) than he did as a rookie (39) but saw his accuracy drop slightly from 31.0 percent to 30.0 percent.
When Wiggins was drafted, scouts touted him as an elite wing defender. That hasn't yet materialized. Given his athleticism, Wiggins gets relatively few steals and blocks, and he's an awful defensive rebounder for a wing. (Rubio grabbed defensive boards nearly twice as often.) Timberwolves color analyst Jim Petersen has pointed to Wiggins not being in a defensive stance off the ball, which makes it difficult for him to explode into action to pursue loose balls. Wiggins actually does fairly well defending one-on-one, providing Thibodeau a base to work with defensively.
Experience: 1 year
+ Uniquely versatile big man with MVP potential after winning Rookie of the Year
+ Accurate outside shooter who's also effective scoring in the post
+ Fluid defender at home both on the perimeter and protecting the rim
Before his 20th birthday, Towns served notice of his potential to the league with a 28-point, 14-rebound effort in his second NBA game. After the No. 1 pick of the 2015 draft was unanimously named Rookie of the Year, I made the case that he's the best prospect at his age since LeBron James. Towns' 12.4 wins above replacement player (WARP), the most by a rookie since Blake Griffin in 2010-11 (12.5), were second to James among players who started a season as teenagers. That suggests big things to come.
John Calipari accelerated Towns' development during his one season at Kentucky by forcing him inside. Towns retains the soft touch from the perimeter that made him such a promising prep prospect. He shot a below-average 34.1 percent from 3-point range but his 50.6 percent accuracy on 2-pointers beyond 16 feet ranked second among players with at least 100 attempts, per Basketball-Reference.com. Thanks to Calipari forcing him inside, Towns is also dangerous in the post using hooks with either hand and a fadeaway jump shot. His 231 points on post-ups ranked in the league's top 20, per Synergy Sports tracking on NBA.com/Stats. And when Towns draws fouls, he's an excellent free throw shooter for a big man (81.1 percent), boosting his strong .590 true shooting percentage.
Towns' potential is equally great at the defensive end. He blocked shots at an above-average rate as a center, though he still has improvement to make as a rim protector. Yet Towns also moves his feet well enough to comfortably defend power forwards and even switch onto guards. He offered a hint at his potential in a late-season road win over the Golden State Warriors, switching out on MVP Stephen Curry and holding him in check. That kind of flexibility should be a major weapon in Thibodeau's defense.
Experience: 3 years
+ High-post center who is also a good finisher around basket
+ Solid midrange shooter with ability to find teammates as passer
+ Frequent shot blocks haven't translated into effective rim protection
Not long before LaVine moved into the starting lineup at shooting guard, Dieng replaced the injured Kevin Garnett as a starter, moving Towns to power forward. Dieng averaged 12.5 points and 7.9 rebounds in a starting role, setting him up well entering the final season of his rookie contract. Dieng can be a restricted free agent next summer, and Minnesota might hold off on an extension to take advantage of Dieng's small cap hold.
The Timberwolves' offense flourished with a pair of centers on the court because both Dieng and Towns are comfortable playing away from the basket. In fact, though Dieng is a good finisher, he's probably best in the high post. He shot a respectable 43.4 percent on 2-point attempts beyond 16 feet according to Basketball-Reference.com and is a good passer for a center, averaging 2.3 assists per 36 minutes (more than Wiggins). After unleashing one of the league's most exaggerated pump fakes, Dieng will occasionally drive from the perimeter, and he also has worked on a corner 3 (making six triples in 20 attempts).
Drafted primarily on the strength of his defense, Dieng has been something of a disappointment there. While he generally has blocked shots at an average rate for a center -- it dipped last season playing alongside Towns -- it hasn't translated into rim protection. Opponents shot 52.6 percent inside five feet against Dieng, per SportVU tracking on NBA.com/Stats, putting him in the bottom quarter of qualifying centers. We'll see whether that improves in Thibodeau's system.
Experience: 21 years
+ Aging superstar who might no longer be physically capable of contributing
+ Remains an accurate midrange shooter
+ Still a good defender, particularly against pick-and-roll
This looks like the final season of Garnett's first-ballot Hall of Fame career -- if he plays at all. Unable to suit up for the final 37 games of the 2015-16 campaign because of knee soreness, Garnett has weighed retirement after turning 40. If he returns for a 22nd season, Garnett is more likely to contribute veteran leadership in the locker room than on the court given his physical limitations.
In the 38 games he did play, Garnett used a career-low 11.8 percent of Minnesota's plays, down from 17.8 percent the previous season. No longer capable of creating his own offense, Garnett mostly served as a midrange jump shooter. An incredible 57.4 percent of his shot attempts were 2-pointers from beyond 16 feet, per Basketball-Reference.com. Garnett still made those at a 45.5 percent clip -- nearly exactly his career average of 45.4 percent -- but because he rarely shot free throws (only 21 all season), Garnett's true shooting percentage was just .491.
Despite his physical decline, Garnett still posted good defensive numbers. He remains a strong defensive rebounder and came up with 2.5 steals per 100 team plays, better than his career mark (1.9). Garnett's savvy and expertise make him a good pick-and-roll defender (if not the elite one he was in his prime), and the Timberwolves allowed an incredible 12.4 fewer points per 100 possessions with him on the floor, according to NBA.com/Stats.
+ Big, athletic point guard with potential to be above-average starter
+ Good at getting to hoop and finishing but only adequate outside shooter
+ Has all the necessary physical tools to excel defensively
Despite teams trying to trade up for him, Minnesota stayed put at No. 5 and drafted Dunn. The late-blooming Providence product starred during his brief stint at the NBA summer league in Las Vegas, scoring 48 points on 19-of-35 shooting in two games before being sidelined by a concussion. Now the Timberwolves deal with the good problem of potentially having two quality point guards. While Thibodeau has said they can play together, Dunn's emergence could eventually lead to a Rubio trade.
Like many athletic point guards of his ilk, Dunn might find getting to the basket easier in the NBA because of better floor spacing and rules restricting hand checking on the perimeter. He already averaged 5.8 free throw attempts per game as a redshirt junior in his final college season and lived in the paint in Vegas. Dunn is also an unselfish playmaker on the drive and averaged 7.5 assists per game in 2014-15, which dropped slightly to 6.2 last season. Like Rubio, Dunn might eventually see defenses play off him and dare him to shoot. He shot 37.2 percent from 3-point range last season but wasn't a particularly prolific outside shooter, making 42 in 33 games. That's an issue if he plays shooting guard, though Dunn does move well without the ball and was able to share ballhandling duties with Tyus Jones in summer league.
At 6-foot-3 with a 6-foot-9 and a half wingspan, Dunn has an ideal frame for a point guard. Physically, he's comparable to George Hill but probably stronger than Hill was when he entered the league. Using those long arms, Dunn was a prolific at steals in college and an excellent defensive rebounder from the point. Dunn would take plays off defensively at times but should be able to go hard in shorter minutes as an NBA reserve.
Experience: 6 years
+ Big backup center who historically has been effective on a per-minute basis
+ Good pick-and-roll player; not really a midrange threat
+ Plus shot blocker who struggles defending on the perimeter
On a per-minute basis, Aldrich was one of the league's most productive centers last season as he backed up DeAndre Jordan with the Clippers. According to Basketball-Reference.com, Aldrich and Hassan Whiteside were the only two players in the NBA to average better than 12 points per 36 minutes (14.8), 12 rebounds per 36 minutes (13.0) and three blocks per 36 minutes (3.1). Aldrich parlayed that production into a three-year, $22 million deal to return home to Minnesota.
With the notable exception of his 2014-15 season with the New York Knicks, Aldrich has been a high-percentage shooter. He has made 53.2 percent of his 2-point attempts, including a career-high 59.6 percent last season. The difference was the Clippers used Aldrich primarily in the pick-and-roll. Per Synergy Sports tracking on NBA.com/Stats, Aldrich's 62.5 percent shooting as a roll man ranked fourth among players with at least 100 attempts. The Clippers gave Aldrich few touches in the post, where he likes to shoot hooks from long distances with either hand, which can occasionally end up missing everything. Though he's a good free throw shooter, Aldrich isn't a floor spacer; he didn't make a shot last season outside 10 feet.
Aldrich boasts a wingspan near 7-foot-5 and is a consistently strong shot blocker, if not quite as good a rim protector as his blocks would suggest. Playing limited minutes allowed Aldrich to be aggressive last season, and he averaged 6.3 fouls per 36 minutes. He'll probably have to tone things down somewhat. But since Aldrich doesn't overhelp, he's also an above-average defensive rebounder for a center. He struggles only when pulled out of the paint to defend on the perimeter, where he has poor lateral mobility.
Experience: 7 years
+ Athletic big man whose team impact has rarely matched box score stats
+ Capable midrange shooter and presence on the offensive glass
+ Good defensive rebounder but not enough of a rim protector to play center
After one season with the Indiana Pacers, Hill landed with the Timberwolves on a two-year, $8 million deal with the 2017-18 salary non-guaranteed. Essentially, Hill is Garnett insurance for Minnesota, presuming Thibodeau wants to play two traditional bigs at all times as he did with the Chicago Bulls. In some ways, Hill is overqualified for that role after starting 100 games over the last three seasons. But he couldn't hold on to a key spot in the Pacers' rotation last season and barely played in the playoffs.
Largely a garbage man when he entered the NBA, Hill has moved his game to the perimeter. While he's still an above-average offensive rebounder who can create his own offense via putbacks, Hill took nearly 40 percent of his shots from beyond 10 feet last season. He shot just 33.8 percent on 2-point attempts beyond 16 feet per Basketball-Reference.com, down from his career 37.3 percent mark, but was over 50 percent from 10-16 feet. Expect those two figures to meet somewhere in the middle.
The Pacers played Hill primarily at center, a role in which he's miscast. He's a below-average shot blocker for a power forward, let alone a center, and doesn't deter opponents at the rim. With three centers on the roster, Hill should mostly be a power forward with the Timberwolves. Quicker fours can give him trouble on the perimeter but Hill is mostly athletic enough to hold his own and his rebounding is a plus from the 4-spot.
Experience: 3 years
+ Power wing who likes to play in the post
+ Not a threat as an outside shooter
+ Inconsistent defender at best
This is a key season for Muhammad, who can be a restricted free agent next summer, and it's easy to see him clashing with Thibodeau. Though Muhammad was a rotation player last season in Minnesota, his poor defensive effort and focus on creating for himself don't seem to fit with Thibodeau's vision for his team.
Offensively, Muhammad is basically a 6-foot-6 power forward. He's strong and likes to take smaller defenders to the post, where he averaged an impressive .95 points per play last season according to Synergy Sports tracking on NBA.com/Stats. Muhammad also generates attempts around the basket by driving on slower defenders in isolation -- though he predictably will try to finish with his dominant left hand -- by running hard in transition or with his penchant for grabbing offensive rebounds. Muhammad is less effective when asked to spot up. Though he's a good cutter, Muhammad shot just 28.9 percent from 3-point range in 152 attempts last season.
It's troubling how much harder Muhammad works when he has the chance to score. Witness his rebounding. While Muhammad is a good offensive rebounder for a small forward, he's weak on the defensive glass, which makes it difficult to play him as an undersized power forward for anything but spot minutes. Improved conditioning has helped Muhammad's one-on-one defense, but he remains unfocused and doesn't benefit from his strength as much as you'd hope. As a result, Muhammad's defensive RPM ranked 461st out of 462 qualifying players.
Experience: 8 years
+ Quality 3-and-D specialist before torn ACL who revived career last season
+ Good catch-and-shoot player who struggles to create own shot
+ Has added weight since the injury and is now more of a combo forward defensively
Entering last season, Rush had played only 689 ineffective minutes in two seasons since tearing his ACL in November 2012. So it was certainly surprising when Rush emerged as a capable fill-in starter for the Warriors in Harrison Barnes' absence, helping them start a record 24-0. Golden State went 21-4 overall in Rush's 25 starts, which earned him a one-year, $3.5 million deal from Minnesota.
Rush provides the Timberwolves badly needed outside shooting, in addition to Muhammad insurance. He shot 41.4 percent from 3-point range last season and made more 3s (65) in 1,055 minutes than any Minnesota player besides LaVine. Early in his NBA career, Rush could create his own shot, but that's no longer the case. Per Basketball-Reference.com, 100 of his 111 field goals last season were assisted.
Since the injury, Rush has put on weight and doesn't move as quickly. So now he's more of a 3/4 defensively than a 2/3. At 6-foot-6, Rush is certainly small to defend power forwards, but his rebound rate was above average for a small forward. Rush will block the occasional shot.
Experience: 1 year
+ Combo forward with wing skills most effective defending 4s
+ Came on as shooter during second half of rookie season
+ Had a difficult time defending NBA-caliber athletes
Nicknamed "Professor Big Shots" because of his key buckets overseas, including a game-winner during the 2015 EuroBasket competition, Bjelica didn't get many chances to live up to that moniker during his first NBA season. Bjelica struggled with the adjustment to NBA athleticism and played sparingly at midseason before getting more time late in the year. Minnesota stocking up on forwards seems to be a bad sign for Bjelica's chances at increased playing time this season.
In Europe, Bjelica played frequently as a point forward of sorts. Naturally, he didn't get as much opportunity to handle the ball with the Timberwolves and served more as a spot-up shooter on offense. Bjelica's playmaking skills still have value in his NBA role, whether it's opportunities to start the break or driving against closeouts and kicking out. After a good start from 3-point range, Bjelica slumped during midseason before finishing with 12-of-19 3-point shooting in the month of April. And he proved a creative finisher, shooting 72.7 percent inside three feet according to Basketball-Reference.com.
Foul trouble was a big factor in Bjelica's limited playing time. He averaged 5.2 fouls per 36 minutes, tending to grab when he got beaten -- which was often. Bjelica isn't really quick enough to guard NBA wings and though 6-foot-10, he gave up strength to power forwards. By the end of the season, Bjelica had started to look more comfortable and proved effective hedging and recovering against pick-and-rolls. But he'll probably never be better than adequate defensively.
Experience: 1 year
+ Skilled point guard with limited physical tools
+ Makes good decisions on offense and can shoot the 3
+ At defensive disadvantage against most opponents
After playing sparingly as a rookie, Jones saw the Timberwolves draft a new point guard of the future in the lottery. After Dunn dazzled during the NBA summer league, however, Jones showcased his own skills in leading the team to the summer league championship game without the injured Dunn. Still just 20 -- more than two years younger than Dunn -- Jones could make it easier for Minnesota to move starting point guard Rubio with his development.
A big difference between Jones' rookie season and his summer league was how well he shot from 3 -- 40.6 percent after making just 30.2 percent of his 53 attempts against NBA competition. Because of Jones' small stature, he's unlikely to ever be effective finishing in traffic. He shot just 53.1 percent inside three feet last year, per Basketball-Reference.com. So to score efficiently, Jones will have to make the 3 on a consistent basis, as he did in his one season at Duke (37.9 percent). Always a good decision-maker who makes the right pass, Jones posted an impressive 3.48 assist-to-turnover ratio as a rookie.
A slight 6-foot-2, Jones will always mostly be at a physical disadvantage even against backup point guards. Teams looked to post him up last season and Jones isn't a presence as a rebounder or a help defender. On the plus side, Jones has quick hands and good anticipation, which produced a good steal rate. And he is generally quick enough laterally to keep opponents in front of him.
Experience: 2 years
+ Former mid-first-round pick who has yet to play at above-replacement level
+ Pick-and-pop big man; hasn't been able to extend range beyond 3-point line
+ Mechanical defender with poor instincts
After two disappointing seasons and a regime change, Payne looked headed out of the league before showing signs of life as a veteran in Vegas. He averaged 15.5 points and 7.6 rebounds during summer league, including 22 and 16 in the championship game. Still, Payne might have to impress during training camp to get the Timberwolves to pick up the $3.1 million fourth-year option on his rookie contract.
Payne played fewer minutes all last season (486) than in 29 games after he was acquired from the Atlanta Hawks in February 2015 (720). Given his inaccurate shooting, it was hard to justify keeping Payne on the court. Because of his heavy reliance on long 2-pointers, Payne shot just 38.9 percent on 2-point attempts. To his credit, Payne has attempted to add the 3-pointer to his game, but he made only nine of his 32 tries last season (28.1 percent). As a result, Payne's .422 true shooting percentage was third-worst among NBA players with at least 100 field-goal attempts.
Things haven't gone much better for Payne at the defensive end, a supposed strength coming out of Michigan State. As he showcased in summer league, Payne is a good defensive rebounder. But he's often out of position as a help defender and allowed opponents to shoot an atrocious 64.6 percent on shot attempts within five feet, per SportVU tracking on NBA.com/Stats. Payne isn't much better away from the basket, where he's too stiff to defend pick-and-rolls effectively.
Experience: 6 years
+ Burly, surprisingly agile center with good touch around the basket
+ Limited to 12 games last season by career-threatening Achilles injury
A troublesome Achilles might end Pekovic's career. It has already ended his entire 2016-17 season, after the team announced Sept. 25 that he will miss the season due to recurring right ankle pain. The big man, a fixture in Minnesota's starting five as recently as 2014-15, underwent a debridement procedure on his right Achilles in April 2015. He returned in January and played 156 minutes over 12 games before the Timberwolves shut him down just after the All-Star break to continue his rehabilitation. Pekovic, who has two years and nearly $24 million left on his contract, is unlikely to see that contract out.
When Pekovic was on the court, he was a shadow of his former self. A 53.5 percent shooter his first four seasons, Pekovic dropped to 42.4 percent from the field in 2014-15 and 38.0 percent in last year's small sample. The rest of Pekovic's game remained reasonably strong before the surgery, but last year he rebounded like a guard and failed to block a shot. So even if Pekovic is physically able to play, with Minnesota flush at center he's a long shot to rejoin the rotation.