What’s up fellow basketball junkies? Have you ever loved these NBA Playoffs? Nicely, so have we! Now that there will probably be fewer playoff video games, it’s time for an additional installment of Basketball Insiders’ Now What? sequence. Over the previous few weeks, we’ve seemed over what the long run holds for groups like Chicago and New Orleans. Immediately, we flip our consideration to the Minnesota Timberwolves.
Coming into this season, the Timberwolves nonetheless hadn’t recovered from a earlier period of a lot hype however minimal progress. When it was throughout, their current remained principally helpless. Miraculously, their future then again seemed promising. Once more. And this time, we will not be left on the altar. With that, let’s start.
At first, if you see that, in response to Basketball-Reference, Minnesota had the sixth-lowest offensive ranking within the league this yr – scoring 109.5 factors per 100 possessions – you’ll suppose that it’s a nasty factor. If you happen to dig a little bit deeper, you’d see that the offense got here alongside properly because the season got here down the house stretch.
Beginning in March, the Timberwolves’ upped that ranking to 112.9 points per 100 possessions, good for thirteenth general within the league in that span. So what modified throughout that point? D’Angelo Russell’s return actually helped, however that didn’t occur till April fifth. Nope, on the middle of it was each the rise of Anthony Edwards and the hiring of Chris Finch.
Edwards exploded from March onward. From there till the tip of the season, he averaged 23.6 factors on 45/34/77 splits. These are electrifying numbers for any participant. The truth that it was a rookie ought to give the Timberwolves loads of hope. Minnesota going 16-21 in that point isn’t good. Seeing how they solely had 23 wins complete, that reveals surprising promise.
And hey, talking of Russell, as soon as he got here again, Minnesota’s offense vaulted even greater. They scored 114.8 points per 100 possessions as soon as D-Lo returned. That didn’t push them greater than thirteenth amongst NBA groups, however going 11-11 in that point demonstrated much more progress.
The truth that this all got here proper across the time when Edwards started to place the league on discover makes it really feel prefer it wasn’t a coincidence. And don’t you dare imagine we’re forgetting about one Karl-Anthony Cities. We may discuss his numbers, however the ones he put up are what we anticipate from him at this level.
One of the simplest ways to speak about his impression is to deliver one last enjoyable reality to the desk: Cities, Russell, and Edwards performed in solely 24 video games collectively. That three-man lineup posted a internet ranking of plus-4.9. That’s a stable internet ranking. Not a terrific one. Amongst different three-man lineups that performed a minimum of 300 minutes collectively, they didn’t even have the very best one. What ought to catch your eye is that, after they performed collectively, Minnesota received 13 of these 24 video games.
The event was refined, however the Timberwolves offense progressed sufficient that followers must be ecstatic for what comes subsequent season.
Sadly, Minnesota’s offensive evolution didn’t make up for his or her shoddy protection. In keeping with Basketball-Reference, the Timberwolves allowed 115 factors per 100 possessions this previous season. That made for the third-lowest defensive ranking within the league.
Earlier than you ask, no, it didn’t enhance with time. Whereas the Timberwolves’ new-and-improved offense tantalized, their horrific protection remained. They had been held again due to it. It began just about on the prime. It’s not signal when your three most prolific gamers – Cities, Russell, and Edwards – all make you worse defensively after they’re on the ground.
Minnesota’s defensive ranking with Cities:
On the ground: 114.7
Off the ground: 112.8
On the ground: 116.8
Off the ground: 111.9
On the ground: 115.6
Off the ground: 109.5
Of their protection (no pun meant), nobody in Minnesota’s rotation made their protection higher. Even gamers usually considered apt defenders on this workforce like Ricky Rubio and Josh Okogie failed to try this. Jarred Vanderbilt was their solely participant that benefited their protection (that performed a minimum of 1000 minutes). Their protection allowed 6.2 fewer factors per 100 possessions with him on the ground.
The Timberwolves have loads of work to do to select it up defensively. Since they’re made up of defensive liabilities principally, there received’t be any fast fixes. Hypothetically, perhaps a Head Coach like a Tom Thibodeau may use his defensive wizardry to resolve their defensive shortcomings.
At this level, we already know what to anticipate from the duo of Cities and Russell. Cities is a invaluable commodity. Russell, not a lot. Nevertheless, each are licensed bucket getters. Whereas that’s all effectively and good, their groups haven’t fared too effectively with them on the helm for probably the most half. We knew this time final yr that, for Minnesota to develop into related once more, they wanted a cornerstone-like participant. The early returns say that they’ve that participant in Anthony Edwards
Edwards seems like the reply Minnesota’s craved for effectively over a decade. His huge enchancment as a participant over time ought to make everybody giddy about what his potential may do for him and the workforce. It already paid dividends on one aspect of the ball. Possibly the protection will do the identical. Solely at a slower tempo.
Even when the protection will want time, the offensive potential doesn’t stem from Edwards alone. When the Timberwolves went on their late-season scoring surge, Malik Beasley suffered a season-ending hamstring harm in early April. The identical Beasley who put up career-high scoring numbers (19.6) on 44/40/85 splits wasn’t current when the workforce was at their peak.
Whenever you issue his return, Edwards’ growth, and Cities’ and Russell’s well being, the Timberwolves’ offense could possibly be deadly for years to return.
Six years into his profession, Karl-Anthony Cities is already one of the crucial offensively-skilled bigs within the league. Sadly, all he has to point out for it winning-wise is one playoff look. Since 2015, it already looks like he’s seen all of it. The Tom Thibodeau period failed. The Jimmy Butler commerce backfired. Cities’ pairing with Andrew Wiggins amounted to just about nothing. Six years after being drafted, we should always have seen some modicum of progress from the Timberwolves. The tough fact is, we haven’t.
Cities has needed to take loads of punches since coming into the league. It’s gotten to the purpose the place you actually surprise what number of extra he can abdomen as a Timberwolf. Even when Anthony Edwards blossoms into the famous person everybody believes he could be, if constructive workforce outcomes take their candy time to do the identical, how lengthy till Cities justifiably decides he’s fed up with all of the shedding?
Let’s be actual although. Minnesota has carried out what they will to make him pleased. It doesn’t matter what anybody thinks of D’Angelo Russell as a participant, buying and selling for him was sensible for Minnesota. It was additionally regarding. Pairing Cities together with his greatest good friend was an efficient technique to appease him in the interim. Nevertheless, it signified that Minnesota was already apprehensive about Cities’ longevity with the workforce. It is perhaps for him to play with Russell, but when nothing improves, how lengthy till he asks, “Can’t I play with a winner and my greatest good friend on the identical time?”
Edwards’ fast progress and scintillating highlights are what Minnesota desperately wants, however the clock will tick with regard to Cities’ future and by extension, Russell’s if progress both comes slowly or halts fully.
It’s not good, however there’s much more optimism (albeit cautious optimism) for Minnesota’s future. That begins and ends with their new golden boy. With Anthony Edwards’ potential, their future is perhaps vivid sufficient to persuade Cities and Russell to remain long-term. That might be extra sure in the event that they had been to take one other step ahead, which won’t be a cakewalk within the Western Convention.
The Timberwolves can relaxation straightforward realizing that Edwards is perhaps the franchise participant they hoped Andrew Wiggins can be. Even when Cities and Russell go away anyway, Edwards alone seems like a stable basis. After what the Timberwolves have been by means of, they couldn’t have requested for something extra.
The headline out of Minneapolis is that there’s hope once more for these Timberwolves. We couldn’t say the identical final yr.