(Side note to start: I’ll be honest — this might just be for me. I’m not in the heads of every single Minnesota Timberwolves fan, but I do have Twitter. I read the tweets. If this doesn’t apply to you...great! But hopefully this resonates with a few of you. If not, please excuse me working through my own second-guessing as a Wolves observer.)
It can be easy to get caught in a rut.
Between a D’Angelo Russell injury spell, watching Karl-Anthony Towns cringe as he tends to his bruised hind parts, and while Anthony Edwards continues to find his place as a star in this league, games will be, and have been, lost.
Patrick Beverley has battled injury. Jaden McDaniels dealt with an illness that cost him games and literal pounds. Malik Beasley has shown flashes but has yet to find a semblance of the rhythm we saw a year ago.
But the Wolves still find themselves in the 9th slot in the Western Conference, albeit a 12-15 record. After propping themselves up to an 11-10 mark near the end of November, possibilities felt more bountiful than they had in years — maybe minus one particular year not long ago, where wins came amidst a lingering feeling of general soreness.
But injuries hurt. Add in a bad case of the flu in the mix and a rough stretch of the schedule and things can turn on a dime. And they have.
The season has been an odd one to work through. Russell’s improvement defensively has made his statistical value as close to indispensable as you can get. As the Wolves suffered through their five-game losing streak, D-Lo battled a streak of missed games. As the numbers continue to accumulate, one thing is clear: as the roster is currently constructed, the Wolves need Russell on the floor to be at their best.
It’s a nice surprise, in a way, but also not what most fans expected. In an ideal world, most hoped (or maybe just assumed) Towns and Edwards would co-mingle as a No. 1 option by-default system, with Russell serving more as a streaky third option and a liability defensively.
Instead, Russell’s defense has remained a fairly steady constant. Ant, meanwhile, seems to have hit a bit of a snag, where teams have started deploying their use of film on him, crowding lanes and making it much harder for him to finish at the rim. They’re daring him to shoot, and it’s occasionally working to the opponent’s benefit.
D'Angelo Russell on his defense this season:— Dane Moore (@DaneMooreNBA) November 30, 2021
"Nobody wants to be that guy to get scored on. I watched in the playoffs, teams bring the worst defender up and attack them all night. Bring me up if you want to. See how that goes. I'm confident in my defensive abilities."
But the bad stuff is still there.
It’s resulted in some annoying losses. They gave the Pelicans their first win of the season, and more recently, got run out of their own gym three straight games. There have been some good moments, but often times, the ugly moments have more easily stuck into our collective minds. They’re more reminiscent of past seasons, a familiarity Wolves fans were keen on forgetting as the wins started to pile up in November.
But what were we expecting?
When the season started, many fans predicted the Wolves would finish with a play-in spot. When I did my own predictions, I had them slated in the 9th slot in the West. And as it stands, that’s exactly where they sit.
It’s easy to get worked up over a bad loss to the Pelicans, a series of blowout losses at home, or the ugly play in the absence of their starting (and, for a while, backup) point guard. It can be easy to ride the high of winning seven-of-eight games (Wolves fans don’t get to experience that much!). It’s aggravating to see KAT’s offensive foul rate continue to stay towards (or at) the top of the league.
Looking into the trade market is probably something Sachin Gupta and the front office are doing, and rightly so. While the Wolves might be at about the point we expected, it’s always better to aim higher. We’ve seen the flashes of a team that could skip the play-in altogether and simply make the playoffs.
Not to mention, coming up with trade scenarios is fun, AND we get to use Gutpa’s trade machine when we do it! How nice would Myles Turner look next to KAT? How much would that help ease some of the stress he faces at the rim? How much would that help his play offensively? Is Ben Simmo....you know what? Never mind.
Let’s try to take a collective breath. The Wolves have had (mostly) good health to start the year. The team has taken massive strides defensively. They have some rough losses, but also a few key wins against quality opponents to help balance it out.
Anthony Edwards on needing this win in Portland tonight:— Dane Moore (@DaneMooreNBA) December 13, 2021
"Man, everybody was so uptight, so this win just made everybody take a deep breath, calm down. So, man, we good, we back to ourselves."
There have been rumblings of the Wolves being potential trade partners around the league, but it’s never wise to rest everything on a hot commodity that half the league will make a call about.
Should we analyze each game, look for the good and the bad, and try to come away with a better idea of the team we’re watching? Of course. Should we get frustrated when KAT picks up a series of silly fouls, when Ant settles too much from deep, or when we see a shell of the Jaden McDaniels we saw at the end of last year? Absolutely. Should we be pissed when the Wolves lose to the winless Pelicans? Yep.
But, by (mostly) our own standards at the start of the year, this team hasn’t fallen off-course. It’s not a time to panic. It can be easy to get caught up in the mess of it all, but it’s not worth it if you can’t enjoy yourself in the process.