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Thursday Cup of Canis

A look in the rearview mirror at what was a wacky 2021 for the Timberwolves

Boston Celtics v Minnesota Timberwolves Photo by David Berding/Getty Images

Lo and behold, we’ve made it through another calendar year of Timberwolves basketball. In many ways, 2021 was a better than normal year for this franchise. That’s not exactly a high bar to clear, but we’ll take the small victories, right? It wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows by any means, but let’s take a look back at some of the good times in 2021.

February — Ant Detonates, Chris Finch Arrives

Anthony Edwards has made a lot of “wow” plays in his young career, but the first one that truly broke the internet was this vicious dunk on February 19th over poor Yuta Watanabe.

Good grief. There’s so much about this play to love. Not only does the graphic show that in was in the midst of a massive run by the Timberwolves, but you can see Edwards think about taking a tougher jump shot before driving to the rim and obliterating Watanabe at the rim. The elevation on this dunk is insane. The best part, by far, though, is Ant’s smile after the dunk. He knew what he just did, and the kid couldn’t help but smile.

Shortly after Ant’s monster dunk, Gersson Rosas decided to move on from Ryan Saunders and replaced him with Chris Finch. It’s never a good thing to see someone lose a job, so we’re not celebrating Saunders being let go, but I do think it’s fair to celebrate the job that Chris Finch has done thus far. In many ways, his biggest impact has been felt on the defensive end of the floor, where he has committed to bringing Karl-Anthony Towns to the level of ball-screens, which has changed the defense in a major way.

Minnesota currently sits 10th in defense this year, which would basically be their best finish since the invention of sliced bread. Finch is a calm, cool, collected leader, and has thus far proven to be exactly what this team needs.

March 18 — KAT and Ant each explode in win over PHX

Make no mistake, the Timberwolves were still losing a lot of games in March, but this game was a rare moment of joy during that stretch, where KAT and Ant showed just how dynamic their pairing could be. In a four point victory in Phoenix, Towns had 41/10/8 and Edwards added 42/7/3 to defeat the eventual Western Conference champions. That was one of the first times you could see how these two could be lethal together. It didn’t mean much in the grand scheme of things at the time, but it was simply a fun night.

April/May — Wolves get healthy, wins follow

I’ll admit that I was very skeptical of the KAT/D’Lo iteration of the Timberwolves for a long time, but the stretch to close out the 2020-21 season at least showed a glimpse of promise. As the Wolves got all of their pieces back, they started to look like a team ready to make a jump next season. Minnesota famously went 11-11 to finish the season. Ironically, while the Wolves have improved to looking like a playoff-caliber team this year, the process is way different. The 2020-21 end of season run was fueled by elite offense and bad defense, while the beginning of the 2021-22 campaign has largely been driven by defense, as the offense has lagged behind.

August — Welcome, Patrick Beverley

In mid-late August, the Timberwolves were able to acquire Patrick Beverley from the Grizzlies in exchange for Juancho Hernangomez and Jarrett Culver.

Beverley has proven to be a leader in the locker room and on the floor, and has regularly been attributed with changing the defensive mindset of many of the younger players. Bev has that dog in him, and he’s been better on offense than I expected as well. He is a key part of the Timberwolves best lineup, their starting lineup. His ability to play with or without the ball on offense is helpful, but his biggest contribution comes on the defensive end, where he takes the tough perimeter assignment and allows D’Angelo Russell to play the free safety role he has excelled in this year. All in all, this trade was a huge win for Minnesota.

2021 Season

There have been too many fun aspects of this team to go through and name individually, but I’ll try to hit a few.

KAT reclaiming his place among the elite Bigs

Towns had fallen out of the discussion of best big men in the league, and while he still may not quite be on Nikola Jokic or Joel Embiid’s level, he’s pretty damn close. Towns has been nothing short of phenomenal this year. He is as efficient as ever, and has been much more effective in the more aggressive defensive scheme Minnesota is playing. It’s been great to see KAT look as good as he has.

D’Angelo Russell, defensive signal caller

Much of the credit on the defensive end of the floor deservedly goes to Beverley and Jarred Vanderbilt, but Russell has found a niche on that end of the floor too. His physical limitations make him a poor point-of-attack defender, but with Beverley taking on that role, he has been solid by using his good instincts and being a great communicator. Nobody is going to look for Russell on All-Defense teams, but he’s not a drastic negative on that end of the floor right now, either.

The Vando experience

Every good team needs a scrappy role player fans can adore, and needless to say, Jarred Vanderbilt is that guy. He understands his strengths and weaknesses, and he does everything he can to help Minnesota win. He’s gone from a throw-in in the Robert Covington trade to what he is now, which is an indispensable part of Minnesota’s best lineup. His energy makes him an elite defender and rebounder, two things that Minnesota sorely misses when he is out.

Anthony Edwards growth, as a player and a leader

It’s hard to love a player more than this fan base loves Ant, and for good reason. He is worth the price of admission most nights on his own, just waiting to explode for a big scoring flurry at any moment, or dunk from a seemingly impossible spot. He is absolutely electric. He had 48 points in a loss at Golden State, and 38 in a win at Denver where he made 10-14 from three. Beyond that, he’s shown he’s ready to take on more of a leadership role, which is imperative for him as he grows. Ant is the best.

There have been many other fun tidbits this year, namely the Miami game, Jaylen Nowell’s emergence, and others that I surely missed. It hasn’t all been good, but relative to previous years, 2021 was a good one for the Timberwolves franchise. Here’s to hoping 2022 brings a few playoff victories.