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Minnesota Timberwolves, the New Contender in the House

The result of more than a few blockbuster trades in the NBA this summer is several super teams in the league. If we don't count the Golden State Warriors, who had already become a super team with the addition of Kevin Durant last year, we now have at least three more teams with at least two super stars that are considered title contenders. In all pre-season predictions, one team has gone under the radar, though. No basketball analyst is seriously counting on the success of Minnesota Timberwolves, mainly because they have missed the playoffs for the past 13 years. A multitalented combination of experienced and young stars, however, has to make this team go deep in the playoffs this year.

The most obvious super team apart from the Warriors is the last-year finalist and the 2015 champion, LeBron James-led Cleveland Cavaliers. Beside the best player of his generation, they also have the all-star point guard Isaiah Thomas, power forward Kevin Love and James's long-time friend, the veteran star Dwyane Wade. Whoever James' supporting cast is, one can almost always count on the Cavaliers making the NBA finals, especially being in the weaker, Eastern Conference, but this year's sidekicks seem more than capable.

Next to last-year's MVP, Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City Thunder has an addition of two All-Stars: Paul George and Carmelo Anthony. It is hard to imagine how the three will divide their shot attempts between themselves, but three stars on one team is not a bad recipe for success.

Last year, Houston Rockets had 55 wins with only one superstar on the team, James Harden. This year, they added a second one in Chris Paul, the imaginative point guard. Clint Capela is a promising center and Mike D'Antoni is the best offensively-minded coach in the league, but Houston seems to have its quality too concentrated in the backcourt to be a serious contender.

With the addition of Kyrie Irving and Gordon Heyward, Boston Celtics can be a serious threat to the Cavaliers' dominance in the West. With the help of the versatile centre Al Horford, and able leadership of Brad Stevens, Celtics could bring a glimpse of the old glory to the Boston Garden.

One can never write off San Antonio Spurs either. They only have one true star in Kawhi Leonard, but Gregg Popovich, arguably the best coach in the league, can squeeze out all the potential from every individual on his team, including the dangerous power forward LaMarcus Aldridge.

This brings us to the perennial underdog from the Twin Cities. Even though most pundits agree that the Timberwolves are better this than last year, when they managed to win only 31 out of 82 games played, no one dares to predict their success. Only the die-hard Minnesota fans prognosticate more for them than just barely making the playoffs this season. Nevertheless, a few changes over the past year work in their favour.

As opposed to last year, when they didn't have enough veteran leadership, they have it now. Jimmy Butler, who was traded for Zach LaVine, Kris Dunn and Lauri Markkanen, is an NBA All-Star, the most improved player of 2015, who has scored more than 20 points per season for the past three years. He provides Minnesota with confidence and experience. Also, Jeff Teague is a consistent point guard who emanates the essential assurance and calm.

The greatest asset of the team, however, is the two young stars, Andrew Wiggins and Karl-Anthony Towns. Last year, the two 21-year olds did not have enough experience to lead their team to the playoffs. These one-and-done college phenoms are now in their fourth and third NBA seasons respectively, and they are ready to make a difference. Wiggins, the 2014 number-one draft pick is an incredibly athletic 6-8 shooting guard/small forward, who is gradually fine-tuning his outside shot, the only missing peace in his formidable arsenal. KAT, the 7-foot 2015 first overall pick, averaged 25 points and 12 rebounds last season. He might be the most versatile center in the league.

With the addition of a solid power forward, Taj Gibson, the seasoned veteran Jamal Crawford and the potential outside/inside threat Nemanja Bjelica of Serbia, this team has success written all over the 2017/18 season. Some would consider a place in the playoffs, even as the eighth seed in the conference, a success, but this article contends that in about a month, when everyone realises how good this team is, everything less than a conference semifinal will be a disappointment.

With the final piece of the puzzle destined for a major improvement, the skillful orchestration of Tom Thibodeau, a premier defensive strategist, Minnesota Timberwolves - barring serious and prolonged injuries, of course - are the team to beat this year.

Svetozar Postic

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