With the 2021-22 NBA regular season officially behind us, a few of the staff members at Canis Hoopus decided to get together to do a Roundtable Roundup to recap the best moments from the last six or so months as well as look ahead towards the play-in tournament (and beyond).
Without further ado...
QUESTION ONE: What is a storyline from the season that sticks out to you the most? What is the most memorable thing in your mind that will make the 2021-22 Minnesota Timberwolves stand out?
Leo Sun: As the old adage goes, “Offense wins games, but defense wins championships.” Well, apparently defense wins games too. The defensive development of the Wolves has been the most notable and surprisingly storyline for me. We all knew the makeup of this team was capable as a top 5 offense (Currently 6th ORTG), but who would’ve thought a top 15 defense was possible (Currently 14th DRTG)?
I would’ve said you were out of your flynning mind if you told me that Chris Finch could get them flying around with this much purpose. Have they tailed off in the final 3 weeks of the season? Sure. That said, I’m still damn proud of how much Finchy (and Pat Bev) has gotten this team to buy-in on that end of the court.
Andrew Carlson: Chris Finch. Full stop. Seriously, go back to the night where Ryan Saunders was fired and we immediately double-took and the proceeding notification that the Wolves were hiring Finch to be the full-time coach. The narrative at the time is that Finch was a guru offensively, but there were questions on how he could relate to a team. It was almost impossible to come up with less ideal circumstances for a coach to start. Now more than a year later, for a variety of reasons, Finch is making a serious early run to be the best coach in franchise history. The offense has been multiple, fully unlocking Karl-Anthony Towns. He’s taken Anthony Edwards’ game to a new level, and made a team that seemed unable to play defense, play defense. Oh, and players love him.
Towns on Chris Finch: "I have a thing when we’re talking: is this a player & coach talking or 2 guys drinking a beer? He’s an amazing man, amazing person, obviously as a coach he’s shown this league how special he can be for a team and we’re fortunate to call him coach."— Chris Hine (@ChristopherHine) April 4, 2022
Gabe Schneider: Pat Bev will be the first thing that comes to mind when I think about this season. He’s at the core of our most prominent improvements this year. It’s never been more clear than now (bad defense down the stretch with him out) that the team needs him on the court to stifle opposing offenses, as opposed to just “his impact” helping our defense.
Jack Borman: Karl-Anthony Towns taking a leap. Throughout his first six seasons in the league, no one ever thought KAT was good enough to impact winning and lead a team into the playoffs as an alpha dog on both ends. Towns has legitimately driven winning on offense with his refined shot mix that has gone away from posting up and towards attacking the rim with drives instead. His attitude about how dominant he is has certainly changed for the better, which is something we’ve been waiting for throughout his career. His 60-point game is definitely the thing I’ll remember the most about this season.
Logan Alten: The weird extremes this team bounces back and forth from on each end of the offensive and defensive spectrums. To start the season Minnesota was an elite (!!!) defense and they were struggling to score. Then they started scoring and stopped playing defense. Then it’s just bounced back and forth throughout the season. If the team could ever figure things out, play a little more consistent, and maybe get an upgrade here or there there are blueprints for a top 10 defense and offense for this team going forward.
QUESTION TWO: Which player has surprised you the most, and outperformed your preseason expectations? The Wolves have had difficulty guarding good big man play all season. What is another potential concern you have for this team heading into postseason play?
Leo: I’m not afraid to admit that I was a huge nonbeliever in the D’Angelo Russell experiment after his first season and a half in Minnesota. The careless turnovers, poor shot selection, and defensive ineptitude left me yearning for a vacation at Wiggins Island.
However, it appears that it was more a byproduct Drip Saunders at the helm than it was D’Lo’s individual play. Despite some of his bad habits still popping up every now and then, he seems like a completely different player. Careless turnovers have turned into to beautiful no-look dimes that has resulted in a career-high in assists per game. Poor shot selection has morphed into clutch shot making. Defensive ineptitude has turned into a Draymond Green-like effect on team defense. The cherry on top? The way he has gotten fans involved in games and on their collective feet.
My greatest concern for the Wolves is their Jekyll & Hyde display of effort and energy. One night, you get a team that’s flying around covering defensive gaps like there’s 8 Wolves players on the court at once. The next night, you get a team that is lazily rotating on defense in which a single opposing dribble-drive results in a wide open corner 3. This type of inconsistency will absolutely doom them in the postseason.
Andrew: Taurean Prince. I wasn’t originally a fan of the Rubio - Prince + a 2nd swap. I thought Rubio was still someone the Wolves should have kept around. Especially at the beginning of the season, the deal looked to be a sunk cost. Rubio was making a serious early case for 6th man of the year, and Prince was collecting DNPs while not seeing many meaningful minutes. All of that changed mid-way through the year, and I literally have no idea what. Prince has made cerebral defensive plays, taken charges, guarded 1-4 on a pretty consistent basis, and has made some BIG three-pointers for this team this season (he’s shooting 37% on the year). I hope he’s someone the team can have stick around after this season for the right price. He seems to be a great veteran presence as well on a team that desperately needs it.
Gabe: Jaylen Nowell. I came into this season assuming he wouldn’t get much run, so to see him fight his way into the rotation (doing it in this rotation is impressive, too) and maintaining a role off the bench caught me off guard. He’s so much fun to watch. He might not have been able to get run in the past because his defensive limitations were amplified on teams that couldn’t defend, but now that the team can afford to sacrifice a bit of defense for more offense, he can thrive.
Like Leo, I’m worried about consistency. The Clippers are absolutely going to capitalize on mistakes (as will the Suns or Grizzlies), and if the Wolves make too many, that could be their downfall. Recently it’s seemed like a 50-50 shot that the team shows up on defense, which is incredibly concerning walking into the play-in tournament.
Jack: Jordan McLaughlin. I never believed that J-Mac would impact the game the way he has this season, simply because his game in previous years would come in waves with high peaks and very low valleys. This season, however, has been a different story; he entered the rotation around Christmas during the Wolves’ team-wide battle with COVID-19, and hasn’t looked back since. He has driven the league’s best scoring bench unit since the January 1 and has certainly added intrigue to the D-Lo conversation this summer. Is McLaughlin really that much worse than Russell? I’m not sure Finch thinks so, and I wouldn’t be surprised if McLaughlin’s play this year forces Minnesota to explore trading Russell this offseason, with a combination of McLaughlin and Point Ant™ filling the gap.
The biggest concern I have for the Wolves entering postseason play is complacency. This is a team who has far too often taken its foot off the pedal once it gets up double digits. That won’t fly in the playoffs, because teams with have far more fight, right down to the final buzzer. They’ve disrespected the game by taking opponents lightly after creating healthy leads, which has created some unhealthy finishes to games. Whether it’s Ant, KAT, Finch, or another player, someone has to go full Charlie Kelly and rip out the brakes every night. Wildcard baby.
Logan: Is it considered a cop out if I just reply to the first part with “yeah, what Leo said! “..? D’Angelo Russell, while having some struggles/shooting slumps here and there, has had arguably his best season of his career. His quarterbacking of the defense has been brilliant when it’s rolling and is definitely one of my favorite things Chris Finch has configured. He’s also cut out a lot of the egregiously bad shot selection for the most part which is a major plus.
My biggest concern is the way some teams totally broke the offense by swapping a 4 onto KAT while letting a five roam the paint. Those handful of games where teams were doing it earlier in the season were a nightmare to watch. It doesn’t help that it seems like smaller players get away with a lot more physically against KAT. If that happens, Jarred Vanderbilt will almost be unplayable and the team will have to lean hard on Taurean Prince or Jaden McDaniels to make their shots and keep teams honest.
QUESTION THREE: This will be the first NBA postseason minutes Target Center has seen in four years. What is your expectation for this team as they go for the conference’s 7th or 8th seed?
Leo: For all the wringing of this 7-8 matchup against the Clippers, I’m expecting a Wolves team that has often stepped up to the challenge of a tough matchup to respond positively. I know that a Paul George Clippers team easily disposed of this team thrice in November. I also don’t need to be reminded of how we dropped “must-win” games against the Wizards, Raptors, Mavericks, and even Magic lately. That said, the November Wolves are not the same as this April Wolves. Also, need I remind you of how we stepped up big at Philadelphia, Miami, and Denver? Wolves snag the 7th seed and earn a date with the Grizzlies, baby. Then I anticipate a quick reality check: A gentleman’s sweep by Memphis. Nothing to be ashamed of, all things considered.
The Grizzlies just dropped 55 PTS in the 3rd quarter— NBA TV (@NBATV) April 9, 2022
That's just 3 PTS off the all-time record (58 PTS) set by the Buffalo Braves in 1972 pic.twitter.com/gO9BYJt5ua
Andrew: I’ll keep it short. Beat the Clippers on your home floor. I get that it’s a tough matchup, and historically this season it hasn’t been pretty. But Minnesota has more talent. Ant is finally himself again after struggling with his knee injury, and KAT will be coming off a game of rest. More on if they lose below.
Gabe: Being honest, the Clippers are horrifying. Now with Paul George and Norman Powell back, they’re capable of making some serious noise. They’re so versatile on defense, well-coached, and have a stud in PG ready to remind us how good he is. It’s probably a good thing that the Wolves play them for just one game, as I don’t think the Wolves could beat them in a series. I hate to be pessimistic, but I’m expecting a loss to LAC and a win in the next play-in game. Bring on the Suns.
Jack: I fully expect the Timberwolves to lose to the Clippers, simply because LA is a terrible matchup for Minnesota. That opens them up to playing with fire against likely the New Orleans Pelicans, who employ a player who brings out the worst in KAT in Jonas Valanciunas, two microwave scorers in Brandon Ingram and CJ McCollum, and a shooter in Devonte’ Graham that could rip off seven or eight 3s if the Wolves aren’t careful. New Orleans is eighth in defensive rating, ninth in offensive rating, and fifth in net rating since the All-Star Break. It’s a dangerous matchup, but the Wolves will prevail and end up taking the No. 8 seed.
Logan: The pessimist in me has been telling myself how nice the better pick would be if the Wolves lost out in the play-in. That being said...I fully expect Minnesota to win one of the games. If they lost it would have to be in a way that shows some critical flaws/raises red flags for how this roster is constructed. A few key moves may need to be made in the offseason if that happens. I’d also treat the Clippers game as a win or go home game. The Wolves have shown themselves capable of beating Memphis. Phoenix, on the other hand, would be looming as their matchup should they lose to the Clipper and they’re the scariest team in the league.
QUESTION FOUR: From the point of tip-off against the Clippers on, what is your dream scenario? Who do you think is the most ideal series draw?
Leo: Beating the Clippers is imperative to securing the series against the Grizzlies instead of the Suns. Although the Wolves played the Phoenix tough in their 3 losses during the regular season, it’s much less desirable than the young Memphis team. I don’t anticipate a series win regardless of the matchup, but I would be ecstatic with 2-3 wins in round one. You might get that against the Grizz.
Andrew: In my mind, and I feel like in many peoples’, Tuesday feels like a must-win if you want to push for the Western Conference semifinals, which is my dream scenario. A date with the Grizzlies, while still not favorable, is a winnable series due to the plethora of reasons we’ve seen and heard this season. Lose to the Clippers, and you play for the expiration date on your season (aka, a series where the Suns own home court). It would be fun to see what kind of an effort would be put forth against Phoenix, but it would be nothing short of miraculous to come out of that.
Gabe: Dream scenario is a win against LAC and a matchup with the Grizzlies in the first round. We played Memphis well this year, and I want absolutely nothing to do with the Suns (the visual of Devin Booker mocking KAT’s half court scream/celebration at the end of the game in November is etched in my brain forever). Getting a win or two in a first round playoff series is the best-case scenario.
Jack: Echoing the above, the ideal scenario is grabbing the No. 7 seed and beating the Grizzlies. Minnesota should be 4-0 against Memphis this season. Instead, they’ve blown two leads of 10+ against the Grizzlies and instead sit at 2-2 against them this season. They matchup very well against the Grizz and have done an excellent job of keeping Ja Morant in check in large part because they have the personnel in Beverley and Edwards to give him trouble on the perimeter. Memphis is a better matchup for Minnesota than the Clippers, so the win over LA would go a long way in the confidence (and rest!) department heading into the first round of the playoffs.
Logan: I think we’re all on the same page here. Winning against LA is key. Memphis doesn’t match up well against the Wolves, the Suns, on the other hand, do. I don’t think there’s much else to say that these brilliant folks haven’t already.
QUESTION FIVE: The Timberwolves make the Western Conference Semifinals if ___________.
Leo: The big 3 all contributing is important. Bench consistency is vital. I mentioned the key being effort and energy earlier. However, for the Wolves to truly overachieve (in my book), Minnesota’s going to need Black Jesus Anthony Edwards. The Ant that single handedly took down the McCollum Blazers with 40 points. The Ant that squared up with Jimmy Butler. The Ant that took over both games in Denver. The Ant that just dropped 49 in relentless attack mode. Black Jesus must ascend to Black God.
HE IS ONLY 20 YEARS OLD pic.twitter.com/MYs3CLkoHD— Minnesota Timberwolves (@Timberwolves) December 16, 2021
Andrew: They buck a recent trend of not playing defense with any effort whatsoever. It’s a little better with Pat Bev in the lineup, but outscoring your opponent should not be a relied-upon item in playing the Clippers in order to not play the Suns.
Playoff teams that make a run always have a player looking to earn another contract go nuclear. My money would be on Malik Beasley being that guy (if it were to happen). In addition to the Big Three™ all playing at an all-star level, an emergence from someone would need to take place to give an extra, needed boost.
Gabe: The structure of the NBA playoffs does the Wolves no favors, as a seven-game series against a superior team doesn’t provide much chance (unless injuries happen).
I hate to state the obvious, but in order to have a shot the Wolves will need their big three to show up big time. There can’t be any “off” games. Star-level production from each of them is essential. Each of the three need to elevate in the first round, and if they don’t, that’s where the Wolves’ season will end.
Jack: Anthony Edwards plays like an All-Star every night. If the Wolves slow down Ja Morant, Memphis’s chances of beating Minnesota in a series would be slim as long as Edwards was dominant. The Wolves have a two-headed monster in the half court that the Grizzlies simply do not have. It’s not at all a pipe dream to think the Wolves can be in the second round of the playoffs. The ironic part is that there’s a lower chance of them beating the Clippers than there is of them advancing past the Grizzlies if they were to beat LA in the play-in game.
Logan: I think there are a few variables that need to hit in order for this to happen. First, they beat LA and draw Memphis as a first round matchup. Then in a playoff setting KAT isn’t hounded by foul troubles (with a few suspect calls). On top of that, all three of the big three play to their two-way potential. From there it’s just a matter of their role players doing their things. Stuff like Jarred Vanderbilt having his batteries recharged or the likes of Malik Beasley, Jaylen Nowell, and Taurean Prince hitting their threes. If those stars line up perfectly, not only will Minnesota be able to get past Memphis, they could be looking at a Western Conference Finals appearance. Beating Denver or Golden State seems just as manageable as beating Memphis. Also, beating the Wiggins led Warriors would be hilarious.
A major thanks to Leo, Logan, Jack, Andrew, and Gabe for putting their responses together to look back — and look ahead — at this exciting Timberwolves season. Feel free to leave your own responses below and let us know what you agree and/or disagree with.