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The Future of NBA Non-Playoff Teams: Western Conference

While the fate of the NBA season is still up in the air, for the 8 teams that did not qualify for the playoffs, the offseason has essentially started. They now have to focus on evaluating their assets and determining how they want to approach free agency and the draft.

In this article, I will go over the biggest question each of the organizations have to answer and the position that the team has to fix through either the draft or free agency. This will be a two-part article, as this week will focus on the teams in the Western Conference and next week will cover the Eastern Conference teams.

As you will see, despite ending their season on a sour note, many of these teams have a lot of potential, and if done right, they could drastically change their fortunes for next season.

Golden State Warriors

Biggest question- Will the Andrew Wiggins experiment work?

Positional needs- Center and a versatile wing-defender

The Warriors are one of the most interesting teams this offseason. Obviously their season was affected by the injuries to both Steph Curry and Klay Thompson, and the loss of both Kevin Durant and Andre Iguodala.

Despite the entire NBA community understanding that this was essentially a lost season for the Warriors, many were perplexed by their decision to trade away star guard D’Angelo Russell for Andrew Wiggins. A player that, despite being the first pick in the 2013 draft, has been viewed as an overall disappointment.

Wiggins has been mediocre for the majority of his career averaging only 19 points per game on a lackluster field-goal percentage of 44% and an even worse three point field goal percentage of 33%.

Considering the fact that Wiggins is under the league average for both field-goal percentage and three-point field goal percentage, he has never truly proven himself as an elite talent.

Along with his mediocre offensive capabilities, Wiggins is also an average to below-average defender. Despite these questionable decisions, the Warriors have proven time and time again to have a solid track record when acquiring talent.

Many in the past questioned their acquisitions of Andre Iguodala and Andrew Bogut. But both of those acquisitions were key players in the initial championship run for the Warriors.

In my opinion, the Warriors are planning to put Andrew Wiggins in the same role that they had both Harrison Barnes and Kevin Durant in. He will be a forward whose primary role is to provide a third scoring option on offense.

The idea is that by doing this, it will alleviate the pressure off of both Klay and Steph, while also allowing them to focus primarily on off-ball movement instead of consistently creating on the team.

With the West growing in competition, this is a major gamble that could ruin the Warriors’ dynasty. However, if they are able to develop Wiggins into a legitimate scoring threat, then I believe they could return to Championship form.

In addition to having the trade for Andrew Wiggins, the Warriors still have a lottery pick this year which is projected to be in the top five. With this draft pick, it is imperative that the team fill the void of Andre Iguodala. This means a player that is a versatile defender and could be either a playmaker or a three-point threat.

With both Andrew Wiggins and Steph on the court, the team will undoubtedly have defensive issues that will need to be addressed to ensure success next season.

Lastly, a serviceable center would be incredibly helpful for both rim protection and to provide a potential pick n’ roll threat. However, I don’t think it is the highest priority, as they have serviceable bigs, and players like Paschal and Green who could play the center position if they run a small-ball lineup.

While the Warriors may be last in the league this season, if they make the right offseason adjustments, they can again return to form and be a true threat in the Western Conference. 

Minnesota Timberwolves

Biggest Question: Can the duo of D’Angelo Russell and Karl Anthony Towns contend in the Western Conference?

Positional Needs- Three-point specialist and a playmaking guard   

The Minnesota Timberwolves are an intriguing team. With their recent trade, they were able to replace Andrew Wiggins with star guard D’Angelo Russell. While this is an obvious upgrade, there are still concerns on whether this fit will truly lead to success.

Don’t get me wrong, on paper this could be one of the best young duos in the league. The problem is that, because of the deal that Russell is under, it essentially puts a bind on overall improvements that Minnesota can make on the team. The Timberwolves are betting all future success on whether or not this combination of stars can compete in a very difficult Western Conference.

Minnesota has to create a system that maximizes the strengths of both stars, and unlike other duos, they cannot have a situation like Philadelphia where it is clear that neither star player is being utilized fully, as they simply do not have other supporting pieces. And as stated previously, the duo of KAT and Russell appear to complement each other’s game.

Russell is a very effective shooter, scorer, and is an underrated playmaker.  Meanwhile, Towns is the prototypical modern big who is able to score from anywhere, while also having the ability to abuse smaller match-ups in the post. The pick n’ roll between Towns and Russell should leave a lot of open shots for both players.

However, basketball is a team game, and players Josh Okogie, Jarett Culver, and Malik Beasley will have to step up in order for Minnesota to have a chance to contend. They all understand their role on the team and have significant ceilings of improvement.

Beasley is a solid scoring guard, Culver has potential to be a solid forward, and Okogie is an amazing defensive player. However, none are true three-point specialists. Okogie in particular is a very inefficient 3-point shooter, as evident by his abysmal 26.7% three-point percentage.

The Timberwolves need to acquire a player that is a significant threat from beyond the arc. This will force defenses to respect spacing and will prevent them from freely doubling KAT or Russell without suffering significant consequences.

And in spite of all of these changes and improvements, I honestly still have my doubts on whether or not this team can truly contend against the best teams in the league. At best, they are a fringe playoff team and would need at least one more star player to be considered in the upper echelon of NBA teams next year.

In order to attract this third option, they need to prove that they are a viable playoff team. However, if they don’t show significant improvement next year, then not only will they lose out on potential free agents, but they will have to reconsider their entire roster.

It’s going to be an important year for the Timberwolves, as it could determine the fate of the team for years to come. 

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