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Early Check-In: Timberwolves Preseason Predictions

With the NBA All-Star break officially upon us, let’s take a quick timeout to reflect on our preseason predictions.

NBA: Minnesota Timberwolves at Phoenix Suns Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Five days before the Minnesota Timberwolves were set to host their 2021-22 Media Day, the team sent shockwaves through the NBA when they abruptly fired their President of Basketball Operations Gersson Rosas.

This stunning move capped off a less than thrilling offseason for the Wolves, which included no first or second round picks in the 2021 NBA Draft (due to the Andrew Wiggins for D’Angelo Russell trade) and no external free agent signings (Minnesota’s only moves were re-signing both of their restricted free agents in Jordan McLaughlin and Jarred Vanderbilt). Add in the uncertainty that comes with an ownership change and you had all the makings of what could have been yet another disastrous season for the Timberwolves.

All of the offseason factors listed above heavily influenced my preseason predictions last October when I forecasted the Wolves to finish 9th in the Western Conference (based on a predicted 39-43 record).

With the 2022 NBA All-Star break officially upon us, I thought it would be a good time to revisit some of these predictions, primarily the “best case” and “worst case” scenarios that I discussed last fall. Here was my glass half-empty look at the upcoming season:

The ‘Worst Case’ scenario for the Minnesota Timberwolves is yet another season filled with bad injury luck, organizational dysfunction, and ultimately far more losses than wins. If the team cannot finally elevate themselves from the Western Conference cellar this year, another rebuild may be inevitable.

Again, I wrote this back in early October 2021, and my biggest takeaway is that not only have the Wolves avoided any major injury to their roster (KNOCK ON WOOD), they’ve actually been on the right side of countless games where their opponent has been missing a star player due to various injuries. On top of that, we’ve yet to see any major “organizational dysfunction” from Minnesota, which is somewhat surprising despite all of the various moving pieces right now (new ownership, interim POBO, etc.).

Here was my prediction for the “best case” scenario:

The ‘Best Case’ scenario for the Minnesota Timberwolves this season is pretty simple: make the playoffs. This franchise has only made one trip to the postseason since 2004, and with new ownership on the horizon, the pressure to start winning has never been higher.

As we sit here on February 18, the Timberwolves are currently 31-28, good enough for 7th in the Western Conference. Minnesota trails 6th place Denver by 2.5 games, but more importantly has a 7.5 game cushion on the 11th place New Orleans Pelicans. In other words, it would take a fairly historic collapse (even by Timberwolves standards) for the team to not make some version of the NBA playoffs (whether that be the play-in tournament or the actual 16-team playoff bracket).

Last but not least, here was my write-up on the “most likely” scenario for the Timberwolves season:

The ‘Most Likely’ scenario is that the youngest team in the league experiences some early season growing pains, but ultimately settles down under Head Coach Chris Finch and makes consistent strides as the season progresses. With nearly half the roster in a contract year and/or extension eligible next summer, the Wolves should be extra motivated and financially incentivized to play the best basketball of their careers, ultimately resulting in a top-10 finish in the West.

After starting the season with two easy home victories against the Houston Rockets and New Orleans Pelicans, the Wolves dropped nine of their next eleven games, leaving them at 4-9 by the middle of November. Minnesota would eventually turn things around (as I predicted), inserting Jarred Vanderbilt into the starting lineup and forming a defensive identity that allowed them to win seven of their next eight games.

We all know the story from there — the Wolves (and their fans) have enjoyed somewhat of a rollercoaster type season thus far, with short losing streaks immediately followed up by short winning streaks. As mentioned earlier, Minnesota has ironically been on the right side of a lot of injuries to opposing teams, which has aided them in securing additional victories while also watering down the overall competition level this season in the Western Conference.

NBA: Minnesota Timberwolves at Chicago Bulls Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports

So where exactly does that leave us with 23 games left in the season? At 31-28, the Timberwolves need to win just 21% of their remaining games to surpass their DraftKings win total of 35.5 games. Back in October I predicted a record of 39-43, but as we currently sit here in February, the Wolves are actually on pace to win 43 games, which would be TWENTY (20!) more wins than they had during the 2020-21 NBA season (a season that only had 72 games, not 82).

Will Minnesota end this regular season with 43 wins? I’m a little skeptical, but going 12-11 over the final month and a half isn’t completely out of the question. The Wolves will play 13 of their final 23 games at home, and have a handful of games against bottom teams in the Western Conference (two against the Portland Trail Blazers, two against the Oklahoma City Thunder, and two against the San Antonio Spurs).

According to our friends over at DraftKings, the Timberwolves are currently -525 to make the playoffs (not the play-in tournament but the actual playoffs themselves), which indicates that the gambling community is fairly confident the Wolves will at bare minimum win one of the two play-in games they are currently slotted to play in (if not sneak into the top-6 altogether). While those odds aren’t necessarily tempting enough to throw money on (i.e. a low return on investment), I do tend to agree that a combination of a healthy roster, easy remaining schedule, and the standard post All-Star break Chris Finch pixie dust will lead Minnesota to 40+ wins and a guaranteed spot in the Western Conference playoffs.

Agree? Disagree? Let me know in the comment section what you think the Timberwolves final record will be at the end of the regular season and whether or not you like their chances of making the 16-team NBA playoff bracket.

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