Friends! We’re at the official halfway point of the Minnesota Timberwolves season (or, we will be when this is published! Just roll with it!)!
Let’s sink our teeth into some of the good and the bad to open the season, and see where we’re at as observers, fans, etc.
1. Let’s start as basic as we can: Where are you at right now with this team? All the good and the bad considered, are you satisfied with where the Wolves sit?
Logan Alten: I’m curious and intrigued. This team constantly shows really fun upside and things to look forward to such as being able to consistently beat the bad teams they’re supposed to and roll with good teams, even without a big three member present. The thing stopping me from saying I feel great about them is the inconsistency (looking at Anthony Edwards, D’Angelo Russell, and Malik Beasley specifically) and glaring holes in the roster.
Andrew Carlson: Satisfied? Of course! This team is currently pacing for 40 wins, which is more than a lot of us probably would have said at the beginning of the year. HOWEVER - in being pleasantly surprised with how good the team is, the current state of the team leaves you wanting more. If before the season you said this team had built its identity on the defensive side of the ball, I would have been puzzled.
The offense glimmers in spurts, and sputters mightily in the same breath. Consistency lacks, but we see what it can be. The lackadaisical attitude towards inferior opponents HAS to change, too. Now that we know this team is for real, here’s to hoping that there aren’t as many games we wish we had back as the beginning of the season (*cough* Orlando, Memphis, LA Clippers).
Brendan Hedtke: I feel pretty good. I was highly optimistic heading into this season, thinking the Wolves would blow past their predicted Vegas win total of 35.5. They are currently on pace to do so and have still shown inconsistencies. If those inconsistencies can be hashed out and improved on, they’re looking at potentially skipping the play-in tournament. The biggest downside has been their offense, but that has picked up recently as well. If the defense continues at the top 10 pace it has performed at so far and the offense can get there as well, this team could be scary.
Leo Sun: I’m surprised, if not satisfied, for sure. Who knew a competent head coach and some roster consistency was all that was needed for some .500 ball? However, I am a proud sad card-holding member of the “Mash Wolves Under” club so I’m not so quick to be fooled. KG & Starbury. Three Wolves Era. Rubio-mania. Timberbulls.
The Wolves get our hopes up before some way, somehow, against all odds, they inevitably let us down. Until the Wolves make a progressive multi-season run in the postseason, I can’t say I’m fully satisfied. I do understand you gotta walk before you run, though. How low is the bar though? Multiple playoff runs? One playoff run? Play-in run? 34 wins? Having a roster full of “nice guys” I can root for? I guess, sub specie aeternitatis. What was the question again?
Tim Faklis: I think I’m more surprised by the landscape of the Western Conference than anything else. I’m surprised that the Blazers are in a tailspin. I’m surprised that the Lakers aren’t better than they are. I’m surprised (more sad) that the Nuggets have had further issue with injury and are battling to stay out of the play-in. The West is in a weird place this year, but it’s mostly been to the benefit of the Wolves. We’ve seen good development from Ant, seen KAT continue to be KAT, and seen the best version of D-Lo (especially defensively) that we could hope for.
All that said, them sitting in 9th halfway through the season seems....about right. It’s, give or take, where I had them pegged at the start of the season, but the circumstances that got them there was not something I expected. Is the underperforming of teams around them, thus giving them a chance at a playoff (not play-in) spot, a knock on them? I don’t think so, yet, but the second half of the season will complete my thought.
2. When the season opened, most looked at this team and saw Karl-Anthony Towns, D’Angelo Russell and Anthony Edwards and probably thought “high-octane offense, with something to be desired on the other end. But, as of now, NBA.com has the Wolves 8th in defensive rating, and 19th in offensive rating. How the tables have turned! What do you attribute this to, and what do they need to do to improve their offensive output?
LA: The biggest thing is the lack of playmakers/creators. D’Angelo Russell is a solid table setter when he’s looking to do it, Anthony Edwards is showing flashes of it but is a tad turnover prone, KAT loves flashiness too much, and Patrick Beverley, while a pleasant surprise in this front, is best served as a secondary ball handler. Jaylen Nowell emerging and carving out a nice role for himself should help this immensely though. If GM Sachin Gupta could talk LeBron James into giving Jordan McLaughlin his talent back after taking it in the latest Space Jam movie that would go a long way too.
AC: I alluded to it a bit in the previous question, but we DO see what the offense can be. The talent is there, no question. Consistency lacks, and I think that’s a product of 2 of the 3 “Big 3” being inconsistent shooters. Also, I’m a believer that pouring effort into one side of the ball can lead to shortcomings on the other end. The Wolves run a lot on defense, and find themselves in scramble situations all the time as a part of the scheme. It doesn’t surprise me on back-to-backs and other situations that the offense is lacking a little bit. Let’s hope some consistency can be found.
BH: The biggest thing the Wolves can do to get that offense up to the top half of the league is to continue the stellar ball movement that came to fruition during the absence of the team’s starting lineup during their bout with COVID-19. The, for lack of a better term, “fill-in” team played well by moving the ball and being selfless. That playstyle seemingly leaked into the fully healthy squad as well. The offensive rating has jumped to 121.3 over the last five games. The opposition may not have been the cream of the crop defensively, but that could be just what the Wolves needed to get rolling. D’Angelo Russell is starting to hit shots to go along with his effective and high-volume playmaking that he’s been doing recently and Malik Beasley looks like he maybe has found some semblance of a stroke of late. With more of what we’ve seen since the team got healthy, the offense has a real chance to reach top 10 status.
LS: I think the Fincherwolves are doing things the right way. Defense has to be foundational to sustained winning. The offense will come and go. I agree a lot with what Andrew mentioned above. A lot of these players are being asked to play defense harder than they’ve ever been asked to do. However, I do believe that it’s a matter of time before the offense catches up. There’s just too much offensive firepower on the roster for it not to. Shots will fall. I am honestly more intrigued to see if the defense can hold up at the current pace.
TF: A constant this year has been the Timberwolves defense being good when Russell is on the floor. That is not something that any of us expected, but it’s been a welcome change. A combination of Finch and Beverley’s leadership and Vando’s Tazmanian Devil effort have been a huge plus this season as well.
Offensively, I still expect a team with KAT, Ant and D-Lo to improve in the offensive rating category, even with a lack of consistent offensive depth. Whether they can sustain their defense is something I’m not ready to place full confidence in, but here’s hoping.
3. The trade deadline is officially less than a month away. Right now, as things stand, would you make a trade? If not, why? If yes, what/who is your target?
LA: Yes. I think this should be an easy answer given their needs for another power forward/center and a wing creator. Sure, the Ben Simmons, Myles Turner, and Jaylen Brown types would be incredibly exciting but I’m going to try to lean into a safer gamble. As mentioned above, the offense could use another creator and I’ve had Eric Gordon of the Houston Rockets circled for a hot minute now as my favorite trade target. If you could swap him in for Malik Beasley’s rotation spot the team works a lot better. He’s a lights out shooter (currently shooting 43.6% from three), can playmake, and is a plus on defense.
AC: A move on the margins to get height. The way I currently see the roster, Naz Reid is someone who adds positional flexibility at 6’9, who if you really want to, could play him at the three in special situations to grab a height advantage. A move on the margins for a “backup”/third center would be incredibly beneficial. Chris Finch seems to like the twin towers lineup with KAT and Naz late in games. What would it take for the Pelicans to send over a Jaxson Hayes, for example?
He would probably be someone who would want more minutes than the Wolves could give him, but think someone in that vein with an even lower salary. Athletic, defensive rim-runners can come at a low cost. Wanna get really spicy? I wouldn’t hate to see Malik Beasley go. I think we’re getting to the point where a divorce will happen at some point. This trade is for clicks: Get a third team involved to send height back to New Orleans, send Malik and a lottery-protected first, and a second, maybe something else, and find a way to get Jonas Valanciunas here.
Would he be a scheme fit defensively?
Probably not. But it would be incredibly fun to see him and KAT run twin towers on offense. A GREAT rebounder that gets big buckets. Watching him on Tuesday, he would be a guy anyone would like to have on their team. I’ve always been in love with his game.
BH: While I’m still on board with a trade to get Ben Simmons, I’m not sure what that would take or how feasible any of it is. Outside of that, I think the Wolves still need to get a little bit of help, specifically by adding a big body. This play could be someone as good as Myles Turner, but it doesn’t necessarily have to be.
Turner would be ideal because he’s an incredible shot blocker and a solid outside shooter, but the Wolves have been able to make it work very well with Vanderbilt on offense next to KAT. The big wouldn’t have to be a shooter, but they’d need to effectively play on offense like Vanderbilt has figured out. That can be done by hunting offensive rebounds and putting pressure on the rim by rolling hard in pick and rolls and cutting to the basket when a seam opens.
It’s tough to figure out who could be going out in a trade. I’m against trading any starter at this juncture. I get the idea of sending Russell out in a trade, but he’s been quarterbacking this defense with great effectiveness and his playmaking and clutch shot-making is vital for this team. I’m also against trading Jaylen Nowell and Jaden McDaniels. With those players off, or mostly off, the table in my mind, I’m not swinging for the fences.
The biggest player to send out would be Beasley, who doesn’t have a ton of value. I’d be okay with sending some picks too, but nothing over the top unless it’s for a high-quality player that is a seamless fit. I’d like to look into trying to acquire someone like a Nerlens Noel as a play-as-you-need backup big to protect the rim and handle some of the bigger centers in the league.
LS: I certainly wouldn’t make a trade just to make a trade. Churning Malik Beasley or Josh Okogie into more one-way players isn’t going to do anything. As we’ve begun to see, having consistency is crucial for growth. Chemistry matters. However, trading for good overall basketball players, even on the margins, is always wise.
There’s no teeth to me throwing this name out there, but I’d like to see someone who can help the bench unit stay organized like Corey Joseph. Not a sexy name, but the 30-year-old with 2 first names is a veteran guard that is productive at just ~$5 million per year (Player option next season). I also like Nerlens Noel too, as Brendan mentioned.
TF: I’m writing about this next week, so I’m going to stay silent on this one for now.
4. What’s your favorite part of the season so far?
LA: This may be a cop-out, but the team actually being fun and good. They’re winning games in fun ways, whether it be gutting it out or trying to break the team record for most points scored in a game. They’ve been relatively healthy so that probably plays a role in it, but it’s clear that Chris Finch is a pretty rad coach and that the team is building something fun.
AC: Patrick Beverley and everything about that move. Turning a bust and an overpaid slouch (sorry Juancho, you showed up out of shape) into one of the most important players on the current team is the basketball version of water into wine. There was a lot wrong with the Gersson Rosas tenure not related to basketball, but bravo on this one.
BH: Overall, my favorite part of the season has been the defensive effectiveness and scheme. I’ve been hoping for someone to get Towns out of drop coverage and I’m beyond excited that it is working. But, that feels like a cliché answer. So, my other favorite part has been the maturity we have seen from Anthony Edwards. He isn’t perfect, but it’s clear that he isn’t being developed in a losing culture anymore. He’s not okay with losing and I like that. We have needed that.
LS: The emergence of Jarred Vanderbilt. It’s impossible to watch a game that he’s playing in and not immediately notice his presence on the court. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a player flex his athleticism without the ball in his hands like Vando has all season. I get such a kick out of watching how annoyed opposing players get with him. This is a deep pull from my Canis comments section archive, but I imagine him much like how a commenter once described Kenneth Faried (paraphrasing here): “It’s like every time someone is trying to brush their teeth, (Vando/Faried) just bursts into the room and smacks their toothbrush onto the ground, toothpaste and all.”
TF: I’m stealing Andrew’s. Patrick Beverley. The leadership. The energy. The defense. The offensive spurts. Everything he brings is exactly what this team has needed.
5. What’s your LEAST favorite part of the season so far?
LA: Karl-Anthony Towns getting COVID again. It was such a freaking bummer to see. It’s great that it went better than last time and that he was able to get back onto the court relatively fast again, though.
AC: I’ll pivot off of Logan and be critical. I’m BEGGING for Karl-Anthony Towns to ascend to Jokic-Embiid level on a consistent basis. We see it so much in flashes. I get it, he’s been hurt and that’s taken away from crucial development time. But he’s so damn gifted and it’s so damn obvious. He’s also been incredibly loyal, and that’s something not a lot of elite players who have played for this organization can say.
But I want to see him personally bury teams, stop the lazy turnovers in the post, be more proactive on offense, and take stuff over when needed. And don’t get me wrong, he has at times! It just needs to be more consistent. That’s what I believe separates him from Embiid currently. Both have a ways to go before they get to Jokic.
BH: I won’t point to individual games, because I’ve put a big focus on not getting too high or low off of singular outcomes. With that said, there hasn’t really been a glaring least favorite part for me. The COVID-19 absences sucked, but the Wolves stayed afloat through them and everyone seems to be healthy. I guess I’d say the lack of shot-making from guys who figured to be solid shooters entering the season. I had high hopes for Beasley, Russell, and Prince and all three have struggled to hit shots.
LS: I’ll say what everyone else is obviously too scared to say. The demise of Leandro Bolmaro. Yes, him showing that he wasn’t quite ready to ball out in the big leagues as he has in the G-league has been a disappointing turn in his story so far. However, the biggest blow was upon learning that he prefers to go by “Lea” and not “Leo.” That means we are back to 0 Leo’s in the NBA, dating back to the 1950’s.
TF: That Ingram game-winner was a massive bummer. That comes to mind.
But in a grand-scheme mode of thinking, Beasley being less of a spark off the bench has been hard to watch. His movements and confidence haven’t wavered, but when he’s not hitting, it can kill the flow, especially when he’s supposed to be your first guy off the bench to keep the offense humming. The emergence of Nowell has curbed it a bit, but it hasn’t eliminated my frustration with Beasley’s bricks.
6. Knowing what you know now, what would you consider a success once we get to Game 82?
LA: Either not being in the play-in games (top 6 seed) or winning their play-in games and making the playoffs (although that would be something we’d only see after 82 games). Would love to see some more development across the board too. Karl-Anthony Towns maturing a little on court, Jaden McDaniels growing into his role on offense more, D’Angelo Russell removing bad early clock three point shots, and Anthony Edwards cleaning up his ball handling would all be great measuring sticks for internal development.
BH: The whole idea of “success” for a long season like the NBA’s is interesting. Goals of teams change week by week in the NBA by how everything unfolds. Before the season I would have said a play-in loss was a success, but now I don’t think so after seeing how wide open the middle of the Western Conference is currently. So, I’d say that I agree with Logan here.
Getting a full series of playoff basketball would be a success. Other things that could qualify as a success would be things like bringing in a high-quality player via trade, the offense finding its way into the top 10, or the defense sticking in the top 10 after 82 games. There are levels to it and I suppose it depends on how you look at it. Ask me again after another 41 games and I’m sure my answer would be different.
AC: Show me the postseason. I want April and May basketball so bad. If the play-in tournament is the card, let’s see if this team can get a little momentum and make it into the dance. Mainly, I just want this group to continue to gel. If that happens, it will make things more obvious in what needs to be done in the offseason.
LS: Beating the original Vegas line of 34.5 wins. That means they have 41 games to win 15! If the Wolves have taught me anything in this cruel world, it’s to set the bar extremely low so that when if you meet or exceed those goals then it’s cause for celebration. Or, as the Timberwolves have shown us time and time again, you can stare in utter awe of the fact that even they couldn’t hop over the low, low bar you set. Go Wolves!
TF: Make the play-in and compete. There’s still plenty of season, and we’ve seen bottom-dwellers go on runs before. The Wolves are in 9th with some wiggle room right now, but a losing streak, combined with a couple teams (Kings? Pelicans? Blazers?) getting hot at the right time could be ugly. The Wolves need to stay locked in and continue to make every game competitive. If they can get to the play-in, it’ll mean they’ve made the step forward fans were hoping for when the season began.