In Tom Thibodeau’s first season as the Minnesota Timberwolves head coach, people expected the Timberwolves to be contending for a playoff spot. What those people did not expect was the growing pains that would come with being one of the youngest teams in the NBA.

Minnesota clearly has the firepower to compete with the top teams. Its young core of Andrew Wiggins, Zach LaVine and Karl-Anthony Towns is set to lead the new generation of superstars in the NBA. The trio averaged nearly 70 points a game by themselves this season.

They did well for themselves on the offensive end, ranking 13th in the league in points per game at 105.6, while they ranked eighth in field goal percentage at 46.7 percent.

But before they can headline the NBA and make the playoffs, this team of young superstars need to learn how to play with each other and that struggle is what people saw this year from the Timberwolves.

The first step to being a competitive team night in and night out is becoming a solid defensive team, something the Timberwolves were on the brink of being at the end of the season. They ranked 26th in defensive efficiency and gave up about 106 points per game.

Thibodeau felt his team actually took a step forward defensively halfway through this season. He told reporters on March 9th that at the time, Minnesota was the 13th ranked defense in the NBA which was a “quantum leap” for them.

They obviously dropped off come the end of the season since they were ranked at 19th, but the fact that they are actually showing improvement on that end is a good sign of things to come.

How LaVine comes back from his ACL injury is going to be significant to Minnesota’s development. If he comes back from this injury once again averaging roughly 19 points a game, then he, Wiggins and Towns will be the NBA’s newest “Big Three.” If he comes back from this injury not the same player, then that is going to be a huge hit to his team.

If the Timberwolves are going to have any success next season, then they are going to need to have a legitimate bench. They ranked dead last in the NBA in points off the bench with only 22 a game.

Minnesota needs to do what the Utah Jazz did with its bench and add some solid veteran players that can help lead this team. The Jazz are already reaping the benefits of having veteran Joe Johnson on the team as he hit the game-winner in the teams first playoff game this year.

One player they should pursue heavily in free agency this offseason is Taj Gibson. Him and Thibodeau already have a great relationship from their Chicago days and Gibson is known for playing that back-up power forward role at a high level. He is that player that every coach wants on their team because of his leading ability and his tough-as-nails playstyle that Thibodeau loved about him in Chicago.

Gibson would bring much needed defense to Minnesota as well.

Frankly, if Thibodeau did not think the Timberwolves could one day be a dominant team in the league, then he would not have taken the coaching job in the first place because he was offered other coaching jobs but chose Minnesota.

If the Timberwolves can continue its offensive success next season while also improving defensively and building an actual bench, then this team will be competing for a playoff spot anywhere from an eighth seed to maybe even a five seed.

Erich Fisher is a Staff Writer that covers the NBA for The Sports Blaze. Follow him on Twitter at @ETFisher24