Weren't the Minnesota Timberwolves supposed to beat up the NBA odds last year? Injuries threw a wrench into their season, but the Wolves look even more valuable for 2015-16.
The Western Conference isn't an easy place to rebuild. If you look at the teams from the Great Tank Parade of 2013-14, the Milwaukee Bucks (No. 2 in the draft lottery) and Boston Celtics (No. 6) were able to turn their franchises around and make the playoffs in the Eastern Conference. None of the Western teams in the lottery were able to do the same.
That includes the team that ended up with the No. 1 overall pick. We had the Minnesota Timberwolves as our preferred choice to go OVER their regular-season win total last year. Things didn't quite work out that way; the Wolves were by far the most injured team in the league and didn't come close to their total of 27 wins, locked in the basement at 16-66 SU and a disheartening 35-46-1 ATS. So why would we want to put Minnesota in our NBA picks this year?
Pretty much the same reasons as last year, but the reasons have become even more compelling. The Timberwolves remain about as low as a “buy-low” commodity can get, but we now know that Andrew Wiggins (13.9 PER, –2.3 BPM) is on the right track after being named NBA Rookie of the Year for 2014-15. And as a reward for their troubles last season, the Wolves have yet another No. 1 overall pick in Karl-Anthony Towns from Kentucky.
But wait, there's more. Minnesota also traded up to No. 24 to snag Duke PG Tyus Jones, and they signed reigning Euroleague MVP Nemanja Bjelica, who was versatile enough at 6-foot-10 to play point forward for Fenerbahce. Put all that talent on a team with Ricky Rubio (15.2 PER, –0.5 BPM), Gorgui Dieng (17.2 PER, +2.5 BPM) and Shabazz Muhammad (19.9 PER, –1.8 BPM), among others, and there's no reason the Wolves can't succeed this year – if they stay healthy, of course.
There are three other potential “buy-low” teams in the West, but all three appear to have major front-office problems: the Los Angeles Lakers (21-61 SU, 36-41-5 ATS), the Sacramento Kings (29-53 SU, 33-46-3 ATS), and the Denver Nuggets (30-52 SU, 36-43-3 ATS). Of this trio, the Lakers probably did more to right the ship this offseason than anyone else, but if they start doing well next year, it'll take about zero seconds for the betting public to jump on the bandwagon and ruin things.
That leaves us with the Utah Jazz (38-44 SU, 44-35-3 ATS). They're the Western team we can count on the most to make the leap next year, even though the Jazz had a very quiet offseason – why mess with a club that went 19-10 SU and 16-11-2 ATS after trading Enes Kanter to the Oklahoma City Thunder? Our only concern is that the Jazz might not be undervalued enough in the marketplace after all that talk about how they'd be a playoff team in the Eastern Conference. That probably won't keep up from putting Utah in our NBA picks, though. Nobody will ever confuse the Jazz for a glamour team like the Lakers.