Welcome to SB Nation Reacts, a survey of fans across the NBA. Each week we ask questions of the most plugged-in Minnesota Timberwolves fans and fans across the country.
There is no question that the Wolves have positioned themselves in the thick of the battle for home-court advantage in next season’s Western Conference Playoffs.
By acquiring three-time All-Star and three-time Defensive Player of the Year Rudy Gobert, rock solid veteran Kyle Anderson, two solid value plays in the back-court with Bryn Forbes and Austin Rivers, and a rookie with the potential to play minutes this season in Wendell Moore Jr., Minnesota made it clear they needed to look externally to make a jump in a deep, reloading conference next season.
Currently, the Timberwolves are +3500 to win the 2023 NBA Championship, according to our friends at DraftKings Sportsbook. Those odds rank 14th of 30 NBA teams, and eighth in the the Western Conference, trailing the:
- T-1) Los Angeles Clippers (+600) — T-2 overall
- T-1) Golden State Warriors (+600) — T-2 overall
- 3) Phoenix Suns (+650) — No. 4 overall
- 4) Los Angeles Lakers (+1100) — No. 6 overall
- T-5) Denver Nuggets (+1600) — T-10 overall
- T-5) Memphis Grizzlies (+1600) — T-10 overall
- 7) Dallas Mavericks (+1700) — No. 12 overall
If you bet $100 on Minnesota to win it all next season, a winning wager would pay out a profit of $3,500.
- 1) Suns (+340)
- T-2) Clippers (+350)
- T-2) Warriors (+350)
- 4) Lakers (+600)
- T-5) Mavericks (+900)
- T-5) Nuggets (+900)
- T-5) Grizzlies (+900)
- T-8) Pelicans (+2000)
- T-8) Wolves (+2000)
If you bet $100 on Karl-Anthony Towns, Anthony Edwards and Rudy Gobert to bring the Wolves to summit the Western Conference mountaintop, and they do so, the wager would pay out a profit of $2,000.
The value is pretty solid if you think Minnesota (+175) will leapfrog Denver (-155) and outpace the Portland Trail Blazers to win the Northwest Division.
Personally, I don’t see a world of good health for the Wolves (knock on wood) in which the Lakers, Grizz and Mavericks are all better than Finchy’s crew. But we’ll see.
Even though President of Basketball Operations Tim Connelly and Head Coach Chris Finch didn’t bet on the team’s internal improvement being enough to take them where they wanted to go, that doesn’t mean it can’t play a major role in drastically improving the team’s chances in bringing home the franchise’s first Larry O’Brien Trophy.
I want to focus on a few returning players who are able to make plausible improvements to their respective games that can propel the Timberwolves into the world of home-court advantage in the first round of the playoffs and beyond.
1) D’Angelo Russell’s shooting efficiency
Russell has been a streaky shooter for the entirety of his seven years in the NBA. While his career shooting efficiency numbers haven’t strayed far from their season-long averages looking back at his year-over-year stats, they have a tendency to fluctuate — and at times rather heavily — throughout the course of the season. The former No. 2 overall pick is extremely dangerous when he has it going, and can win a game by himself (like we saw in Philadelphia last fall).
If the Louisville native improved his shooting splits to career bests of something in the neighborhood of 44.0/39.0/83.0, he could feasibly average 18 points per game again, but do so with a few less shots. Gobert’s screen impact should certainly help get Russell cleaner looks, especially in the mid-range, and Gobert’s rim gravity could open more opposite kick 3-point looks when Edwards or Towns drive to the rim.
2) Anthony Edwards’ mid-range scoring
Last season, Edwards shot 35.6% from three-to-10 feet, 33.8% from 10-to-16 feet, and 35.9% on 2-point jumpers beyond 16 feet. All of those marks were significant improvements from his rookie year splits, but he didn’t take a higher percentage of mid-rangers in large part due to his 3-point percentage jumping from 32.9% in Year One to 35.7% in Year Two.
3-point shooting was Ant’s focus last summer, but he wants to improve upon his playoff performance last season, in which he scored the most points in a series for a player age 20 or younger. He’s coming for Luka Dončić’s record for 21-year-olds next season.
“I mean 3-point shooting is still going to be top of the list, because you know you’ve got to keep that sharp, because some guys just naturally can shoot, and I’m not one of those guys. I’ve got to work on it,” Edwards said honestly in his exit interview with media the morning after the team’s Game 6 loss to Memphis. “Just being able to score everywhere. All around, the mid-range area, even posting, a lot of stuff. Being able to read the game, actually thinking the game.”
A good deal of “thinking the game” happens in the mid-range, from where you can read the entire floor and attack the defense as a passer or scorer. But Edwards is a scorer, and that’s the focus. For the sake of this exercise, Ant would improve his short mid-range makes from 50 last year to 80 next year, and his long mid-range makes from 29 to 45.
3) Jaden McDaniels’ off-dribble creation
McDaniels was at his best offensively when he returned to action after missing action late in the season with a high ankle sprain. He made 10 of his 20 3-pointers and eight of his 14 2-point attempts while getting to the free throw line 12 times, going 10/12, in the six-game series against the Grizzlies.
The former five-star recruit also flashed how impactful he can be off the dribble attacking closeouts. Prior to his 3-point hot streak, defenders didn’t close out aggressively enough for him to consistently attack them off the bounce. But if he can start beating defenders, larger and smaller, off the dribble in isolation or off closeouts next season, he’ll be far more dangerous than he was last season.
4) Karl-Anthony Towns’ interior defense
It is hard to project exactly how Towns will be used defensively next season. He still figures to play a prominent role on the perimeter playing at the level in the high-wall scheme when he plays the 5 with Gobert off the floor, but may find himself on the back-side defender in drop coverage alongside Gobert.
If that is the case, his interior defense improving could go a long way in the improving the Wolves’ defensive versatility, which will heighten his team’s playoff ceiling. If he cuts down on his fouls from 4.2 per game in the playoffs down closer to 3.0 while also deterring drivers at the rim in rotation, the Wolves could find themselves playing home games at the end of May.
5) Jaylen Nowell’s perimeter defense
There’s no doubting that Nowell will be one of the Wolves’ top offensive options next season — if his defense allows him to stay on the floor for 20-25 minutes per game. If he evolved into a league average defender on the perimeter, he could very well get reps at the 1 and 2 deep into the season. Minnesota desperately needs him to be able to play productive minutes in crunch time of games that require someone to go get a bucket. According to Synergy Sports, Nowell ranked 20th league-wide in points per possession in isolation (1.033) among those with at least 30 isolations and 50 games played; Towns (1.128) ranked fifth and Russell (1.043) ranked 15th. But, the Wolves can’t get that production if the defense isn’t there. If it’s there, he could be the bench player that closes over Gobert or McDaniels against certain opponents.
Now that you’ve had some time to think about these five improvements, which of the five do you think would give the biggest boost to the Wolves’ chances of winning the NBA Championship next year?
If you think it’s something different, be sure to leave your answer in the survey and down below in the comments.
You’ll see my answer in an update to this article this weekend.