While much of the Minnesota Timberwolves’ focus has been on the recent passing of popular team president Flip Saunders, head coach Sam Mitchell and the rest of the franchise’s management now have to get the players’ minds back on the business of the start of the new season. On the back of a dismal 12 months, both on and off the court, the arrival of number-one draft pick Karl-Anthony Towns has given Minnesota fans reason to feel relatively optimistic heading into the new season.

As well adding one of the most exciting youngsters to have come through the draft in a generation, the franchise have exercised team options on five players that could have big roles to play. While guard Zach LaVine and forwards Adreian Payne and Andrew Wiggins had their third-year options exercised, fourth-year options were also taken up on centre Gorgui Dieng and Shabazz Muhammad. It’s no surprise the Timberwolves have fairly long NBA Championship odds, but keeping some consistency to this roster can only help their chances of surprising a few people this season.

Having been drafted 13th overall last year, LaVine recorded an impressive average of 10.1 points with 3.6 assists in his rookie campaign, averaging 24.7 minutes a game, going on to earn his place on the 2014/15 All Rookie Second Team. Following his move to the Wolves in February of this year from Atlanta, Payne went on to establish himself as a solid member of the roster, averaging 6.7 points and 5.1 rebounds in his 32 appearances. On the back of a breakthrough rookie season, Dieng enhanced his reputation as an NBA big man, improving his career average to 7.5 points with a useful 6.8 rebounds a game. 

Last year’s number-one draft pick forward, Wiggins, was one of the real highlights of the season, racking up a very useful average of 16.9 points and 4.6 rebounds, with his displays resulting in him being named the NBA Rookie of the Year. The youngster showed just why there was so much interest in him heading into the 2014 draft before the Cleveland Cavaliers picked him only to trade him to Minnesota. Wolves fans will be hoping this year’s top pick will have a similar if not bigger impact than Wiggins.

Heading into his third season in the league, Muhammad did enough to earn himself an extended stay in Minnesota by averaging 13.5 points in 38 games for the Wolves. The 24-year-old was the 14th overall pick in the 2013 draft after being selected by the Utah Jazz, going on to establish himself as a reliable option from the bench with the Timberwolves in his first season. While he might still be some way away from being a regular starter, Muhammad did more than enough to warrant more court time in his third year. 

The morale of an already deflated Minnesota side has been dealt a significant blow following the loss of Saunders, but a promising start to the season would be the best way to lift the whole franchise and their supporters.