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The Timberwolves Have Brought Their Fanbase Back

A reflection on what it’s like to have good, meaningful basketball back in Minneapolis.

NBA: Memphis Grizzlies at Minnesota Timberwolves David Berding-USA TODAY Sports

We’ve been waiting for this, the players have been waiting for this, and the people within the Minnesota Timberwolves ticket office have REALLY been waiting for this.

Through perseverance, a push from D’Angelo Russell, some youthful star-power, and most of all, joy, the Timberwolves have managed to bring one of the most weary, nervous, and beaten down fanbases in professional sports back to life.

Now sitting 36-29, a team with preseason expectations to just sneak into the Play-In Tournament has cashed the over on their season-long win total prop (35.5 wins) in Vegas with more than a month left in the season. Minnesota should also be favored heavily in each of their next three games.

The best part? This doesn’t feel like a fluke in any way, shape, or form. This is a team that has shown it can, and will, beat you in a variety of ways, with a variety of personnel groupings, and with an attitude and confidence that suggests they don’t plan on fading away anytime soon. This is a group of players who has shown that they will not quit, no matter the circumstances. In a recent media session, it was stated that this team had “earned their confidence”, and I’ve kept thinking about just how true that is.

When the Wolves narrowly lost to the Phoenix Suns on November 15th to fall to 4-9 on the year, they could have let things snowball. As Karl-Anthony Towns said around the same time, we’ve seen those stretches explode into double-digit losing streaks frequently, in the past.

This time, maybe it will be different, we had to tell ourselves, for the 100th time. What’s the definition of insanity, again?

Well, this time it really is different.

This time, there’s Patrick Beverley to put his foot down in the locker room to keep players engaged and focused on winning.

This time, Jarred Vanderbilt is here to serve as a one-man energizer bunny for the rest of the team, and to serve as the ultimate role player. He shows his teammates what it means to be selfless, and is willing to give up his body and take on the most difficult defensive matchup every night, without expecting anything in return on offense.

This time, there is a triumvirate of stars to carry the team offensively when nothing else is working.

D’Angelo Russell has brought a steadiness with him that has been infectious both on the floor an off. I always had thought of Russell as a feast or famine player, but this year, and especially since the calendar flipped, he has proven to be both a floor-raiser and a ceiling raiser for a franchise in desperate search for that steady table-setter in the backcourt. He’s turned into the undisputed leader of the team, in my opinion. He’s been so, so much better than advertised.

Anthony Edwards is sprouting into one of the most exciting young players in the entire league, proving capable of putting a team on his back and carrying them to victory when the #OldWolves would have floundered and lost a game they had no excuse to.

He has developed not only into an exciting player and person, but also into possibly the best teammate and hype-man in the NBA.

Karl-Anthony Towns is frankly just healthy for the first time in several season, giving him the opportunity to re-assert himself as an All-NBA level player. He’s the second-best player in franchise history, and it’s not close. Towns seems happy again, which, after the past few years, is one of the best stories of the NBA this season. He feels appreciated and accepted, and it’s making a world of a difference for him and the team.

Beyond all of that, you have a bench unit and coaching staff that are capable of stealing wins when the starters just don’t have it on a given night. In a bizarre twist, the Wolves all of a sudden have too many players who deserve to play real NBA minutes. Jaylen Nowell struggles to be in the rotation when everyone is healthy, but is capable of turning a game around all on his own, as he did on Saturday night against Portland.

Jordan McLaughlin has found his stride again as a spectacular table-setter, feeding the likes of Naz Reid, Malik Beasley, Taurean Prince, and the ever-blossoming Jaden McDaniels for easy looks. The synergy and chemistry that unit has displayed of late is beautiful, and has been a season-changing development for a team that was relying so heavily on their starters early in the season.

On top of it all, Chris Finch has found his groove, and probably belongs in the NBA Coach of the Year race. Finch is great with his X’s and O’s, as well as repeatedly pushing the right buttons with the rotation when necessary, but the thing that has always stuck out to me is his demeanor. Being able to critique your players without throwing them under the bus is a fine line, and it’s one that Finch has mastered.

He doesn’t show up to his post-game media duties and spew bullshit about whether a guy played poorly or not, but he does deliver the bad news in a way that won’t get him in trouble in the locker room. Instead of complaining about a players performance, or coming off as overly critical, Finch states things so matter of factly and honestly that it is impossible to construe his words as anything other than just stating what happened during the game. His players don’t take offense to the honest and fair analysis. The Timberwolves are lucky to have him as their leader. One who can be tough, but always fair.

On top of all that, the team plays a fun style to watch. They have one of the best offenses in the NBA, and their defensive style is aggressive, leading to an abundance of turnovers and exciting play in transition.

All of this has led to a closeted fanbase slowly, and now rapidly, re-emerging from the woodworks to support a team that has given them a reason to believe. A reason to take a risk on the franchise that has let them down so many times before.

The past decade-plus, the attraction to Target Center has been the opposing team coming into town. Even growing up, our trips to games were planned around the away team. Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook’s Thunder teams, the Heatles, Kobe and the Lakers, the Lob City Clippers — they were why fans were in the stands most nights, not the home team that was usually getting run over.

That’s changing, now. The Minnesota Timberwolves are the reason fans are showing up in numbers again, and others outside of the Twin Cities are taking notice.

On one of his latest episodes of the Lowe Post, Zach Lowe had The Athletic’s Jon Krawczynski on and noted, “I’ve seen a couple of their recent games, and the crowds have seemed, like, through the TV, I’m like, is this a Minnesota game? This is loud!”

That matches what you hear on TV as well as what you experience in person. D’Angelo Russell was right to ask for more from the fanbase, and now, he’s getting his wish.

At the March 1st win over Golden State, I noted that it had been ages since I heard Target Center as loud as it was that night.

Even that, you could partially chalk up to Steph Curry being in town, who’s probably the single biggest needle-mover in the NBA right now.

That argument died on Saturday night, when the Timberwolves, without Anthony Edwards and Patrick Beverley, packed the Target Center to play host to the obviously tanking Portland Trail Blazers. Minnesota basically played Anfernee Simons and a G-League team, and the fanbase still made their presence felt.

For most of us in the Minneapolis area and stretching out-state, we knew this was a state that had a strong love for basketball. We’ve seen it at the Holiday tournaments in Saint Cloud, featuring many of the best High School teams in the state that often required spectators to show up to St. Cloud Apollo or Halenbeck Hall several hours early just to get a seat. We’ve seen it at the Target Center many years for the State basketball tournaments, that generally feature more talent than outsiders would expect. We’ve seen it at Williams Arena, packing The Barn for mostly mediocre University of Minnesota Basketball teams over the years.

Minnesota may be “The State of Hockey”, and there’s no debate about this area’s love for hockey. There is room for both, though, in a metropolitan area this big. This area does have a passion for basketball, and the professional team specifically, that has just been in hiding for several years.

Finally, that fanbase has been given something to cheer for.

There’s still roughly a month left in the regular season, and there seems to be a few more games on the horizon for the Timberwolves in the postseason. Escaping the Play-In Tournament altogether is a very real possibility at this moment.

Either way, the sentiment I’ve gathered from talking to people is nearly all the same.

This is fun again. This team has brought so much joy to people who have been starving for a reason to watch meaningful basketball into the late-winter/early-spring. It is not just that they’re winning, but how they’re winning and how the team interacts with each other. I’m only 25, so please understand that I hardly knew what I was watching during the Kevin Garnett days, but for many people my age and younger, this is surely their favorite Wolves team ever. They’ve brought basketball back in a cold weather state.

Early in the season, you could wait until just after tip-off and buy a re-sale ticket for pennies to get into a game. Now, Wolves games are a real event that people are seeking out.

Regardless of what happens in the final month-plus of the 2021-22 season, this Timberwolves team has made it’s mark. Now we get to see how far they can take this.