With the NBA 2K franchise releasing NBA 2K23 on Saturday, social media
had is still having a field day with player ratings and facial recognition scans.
“Jaden McDaniels is a 75???”
“What the... that looks nothing like Ant!”
“Where’s Ant Jr.???”
That’s all fine and dandy, but at the end of the day, it’s about the wins and losses. How will the season actually pan out? The 2K team heard my pleas and sent me an access code so that I could begin my hardcore investigative work. I got my notepads, magnifying glasses, and energy drinks ready... just to give the RNG gods all the marbles to decide the fate of the 2022-2023 NBA season, simulating everything all the way to June 2023.
Now it’s time to share the fate of the 2022-2023 Minnesota Timberwolves with Canis Hoopus:
To leave this simulation as untainted as possible, I made sure to set everything in the MyLeague settings to “Auto”. That means all transactions such as trades and signings, and gameplay was controlled by CPUs.
October: Thunderstruck Out of the Blocks
Many had predicted a record closer to 1.000 rather than .500. A noticeable change right from get-go was in the starting lineup. Jaden McDaniels must have had a poor training camp and preseason because head coach Chris Finch instead opted for known bucket-getter, Jaylen Nowell, to join D’Angelo Russell, Anthony Edwards, Karl-Anthony Towns, and Rudy Gobert in the first line.
The results would be mediocre at best.
The Wolves were shocked by the Shai Gilgeous-Alexander led the Oklahoma City Thunder in the season opener. However, more shocking was the surprise start of rookie sensation, Chet Holgren, who had somehow miraculously been deemed healthy enough by the Oklahoma City medical team to suit up to start the season. Perhaps his surprise appearance caught the Wolves off guard as D’Lo, Ant, and Jaylen Nowell combined to shoot 14 of 44 from the field on their way to a 0-1 start. Minnesota also carelessly sent the Thunder to the charity stripe 22 times compared to their own franchise record-low of free throws attempted in a single game: Three (This is scary foreshadowing, FYI).
I’m assuming Ed Malloy was working this game.
The Wolves would end up losing again to the same Thunder team later that week. Three wins over the Spurs would keep Wolves Nation from fully melting down by the end of October, but a 4-3 start would stir lots of questions about this Nouveau Wolves era. The one thing they would be able to hang their hats on was defense, leading the league as the only team holding opponents under 100 points per game.
November: Ups, Downs, and Re-Upping
Minnesota finally hit a stride with an impressive 7-2 stretch in November. On November 21st, President of Basketball Operations Tim Connelly struck a deal with D’Lo to a three-year, $75.57 million extension to stay in Minnesota. At about $24.8 million a year, it was significantly less than the max that many had feared.
The Timberwolves had secured their point guard for the foreseeable future. Shortly after putting pen to paper, Russell would go on to lead Minnesota to their ninth victory of the season over the General Soreness Miami HEAT, with a team-high 28 points and eight assists.
Unfortunately, the month would end on a sour note with four consecutive losses which sent the Wolves right back to .500. With about a quarter of the season over, Minnesota’s “Big 3” would all average over 20 points per game
December: Season of Winning
Things would bounce right back up for the Wolves, starting the month off with three consecutive wins. Though they would experience four losses in eight nights shortly afterwards, Minnesota would still win six of their final seven games including games against the contending Dallas Mavericks, Boston Celtics, HEAT, and Milwaukee Bucks. Unfortunately, during their visit to South Beach, Rudy Gobert would be on the receiving end of a Bam Adebayo elbow, accidentally breaking the former Defensive Player of the Year’s nose and sidelining him for one to two weeks.
On the flip side, the Giannis Antetokounmpo-less Bucks (High left ankle sprain) would get stomped by a season-best performance by the Wolves. Minnesota’s 32-point win included a career-high 32 points for Nowell. Just like December 2021, “Joyeux Noël” would enjoy a fruitful final month of the calendar year.
January: Infestation of Injury Bugs
If you have not gotten the hint yet, the teeter-totter of a season continued for the Wolves. Just like it was opposite
day month, Minnesota would lose six of their first seven games to start 2023. They would eventually string a few victories together near the latter part of the month, but it did not come without a price. Feast your eyes on injury report throughout January, which already included Gobert (Nose) at the start of the month:
- January 6 (W vs Clippers): Kyle Anderson pulls left calf, out 4-6 weeks.
- January 21 (W vs Rockets): Jaden McDaniels breaks left toe, out 4-6 weeks.
- January 30 (L vs Kings): Jaylen Nowell breaks right leg, out 6-8 weeks.
Ever the tinkerer, Connelly started looking around the league. The February 3rd trade deadline was coming up and it appeared the Gobert experiment was not panning out as expected. Despite having just acquired the Frenchman and Kyle Anderson the previous summer, rumors began to circulate that Connelly was eyeing Memphis’ Desmond Bane as well as Cleveland’s star big man, Evan Mobley. The only deal that actually came to fruition would be an exchange of CJ Elleby to the Charlotte Hornets for the older brother of Jaden McDaniels, Jalen McDaniels. That said, Big Mac remained in the dog house, now far behind in the depth chart below Anderson and Taurean Prince. Perhaps this was a move to help motivate the young talented forward.
February: Feeling the Pressure
The uneven performance of the Timberwolves continued to get more and more rickety as they entered the All-Star break. A 3-5 start to February had them treading just one game above .500. Some good news was needed and came in the form of the All-Star weekend participant announcement. Not only did Towns make the list, but young Anthony Edwards would earn his first All-Star bid as well. To top things off, he would co-star in a loaded Dunk Contest at Salt Lake City, joining Ja Morant, Zion Williamson, and 2022 Dunk Contest Champion, Obi Toppin in the event (Williamson would go on to win the competition).
Unfortunately, back to reality, the losing continued after the break. Another tumultuous month had the Timberwolves sitting dangerously at 32-32 and officially out of play-in eligibility, coming in at 11th in the West. Minnesota entered the final 40 days of the season at a crossroad: Push hard to write the ship or prepare the tank.
March: The North Strikes Back
What was that noise? A deep rumbling and vibration sounded like sprockets gearing up in the garage. Losses to LeBron James’ Los Angeles Lakers and the hapless Sacramento Kings officially dropped the Wolves below .500 by two games. This was it. A season marred by injuries resulted in an epic flop. Minnesota called a players-only meeting to probably announce the time of death on March 4th.
Wait... that wasn’t the sound of a tank engine they heard.
It was a bellowing horn from the U.S.S. Finchy.
Coach Finch, who welcomed back starter Jaylen Nowell from injury, was alerting the league as he spun the helm to right the direction of the ship. He would get his team to finally respond with five straight wins against a murderous row of Joel Embiid’s 76ers, Kevin Durant’s Nets, Trae Young’s Hawks, Jayson Tatum’s Celtics, and the Chicago Bulls. A loss to the Toronto Raptors would only restart another five-game win streak.
Did the Wolves finally arrive?
April: Ballin’ Like It’s 2018
Now squarely in the play-in race, the Wolves had four more games to wrap up the season. Key bench contributor, Naz Reid, missed a few games due to back spasms, but Minnesota was able to stay alive before his return for Game 81 against the San Antonio Spurs. He had key contributions (10 points & five rebounds) in the victory which put them into a tie for 8th with the Warriors heading into the final day of the season.
April 9th would be the fateful day to determine who would earn the second seed of the play-in tournament. Both Minnesota and Golden State sat at 44-37, though the Wolves held the tiebreaker with a 3-1 record over the Andrew Wiggins-led champs during the regular season. This meant if Finch could lead his team to a final victory, they would automatically earn a play-in date with the New Orleans Pelicans. As fate would have it, Minnesota would get an early look at the Pelicans (7th) while Golden State faced the Portland Trailblazers (11th).
After trailing 11 points at the half due to a hot shooting night by Brandon Ingram (31 points), the Wolves would make like their season-long journey and bounce back to take a 80-78 lead entering the final 12 minutes. They used a 32-14 fourth quarter to runaway with a victory thanks to six players scoring double-digits, as well as a 14 of 34 three point advantage compared to the Pelicans 3 of 22 display. Despite Minnesota’s win, Golden State rallied in the fourth period to get to overtime against the Blazers, but ended up losing in extra time just for good measure.
The Wolves were locked into the 8th seed on the last night of the regular season... again.
Once the regular season awards were announced, no names from the Timberwolves were present. Jaylen Nowell was in contention for MIP (Evan Mobley). Rudy Gobert was expectedly in the DPOY discussion (Matisse Thybulle). Both Minnesota starting bigs were edged out by Bam Adebayo for All-NBA 3rd Team. These results were fitting though, as the Timberwolves up-and-down play throughout the season made them longshots for any of these end-of-season acknowledgements. Notably, Luka Dončić commanded MVP votes by averaging a 40-point triple-double on .521/.445/.878 splits. Amazing.
Postseason: Ballin’ Like It’s... 2022?
Play-in: Instead of entering the play-in tournament as the number seven seed host team like they did in 2022, the Wolves visited New Orleans for a playoff ticket in 2023. Though the losing team would have another chance to make the real playoff bracket, it was likely they would have to meet the defending champion Warriors on deck (Golden State would end up getting upset by the Oklahoma City Thunder).
This time, the 2022 play-in version of KAT was not present at Smoothie King Arena.
What we were treated to instead was a MVP caliber Towns. He flexed his talent early and often, tuning the Pelicans up for an extraordinary 43-point triple-double. KAT absolutely dominated the game, helping the Wolves win every single quarter while Gobert cleaned up on the defensive end with 12 rebounds and seven stocks. Edwards casually chipped in 28 points on 17 field goal attempts while Russell double-doubled as well. The Pelicans lost their chance for revenge, getting beat up behind the woodshed 62-38 in the paint. It was not a close game.
Minnesota would march into the 2-7 matchup looking for retribution. They didn’t want anyone else other than the Memphis Grizzlies.
The red hot Wolves wanted revenge.
Game 1: The Wolves entered the playoffs with a clean injury report while firing on all cylinders. With the experience of last year’s playoffs, it felt as though everyone on the Wolves roster had something to prove. The Grizzlies, on the other hand, were missing sharpshooter Desmond Bane, who was out for the year with a dislocated knee. Despite that, neither team would take a big league through three quarters of play, battling back and forth all the way until the final minutes. After a missed Ja Morant (35 points) shot, a struggling D’Lo would leak out for a wide open transition dunk for a late 117-116 lead with less than a minute left.
Next, Ja would miss another floater before fouling out on a Russell layup attempt. One more Russell free throw would get them a two-point lead. On the other end, without Morant, John Konchar would draw a foul, but also split his freebies. Forced to foul again, Memphis would send Nowell to the line which he calmly took care of business. With a three-point lead and 21.9 seconds left, Minnesota would play staunch defense resulting in a poor Dillion Brooks mid-range jump shot. A big win for Minnesota, taking an important 1-0 lead.
Game 2: Unlike the nail-biter that was the first game in the series, Karl-Anthony Towns would engineer a demolition of the Grizzlies, setting a franchise-record 43 points in a playoff game. To boot, he would add 10 rebounds, 11 assists (His second 40-point triple-double in his last 3 games), and three stocks while shooting 14 of 16 from the field. Despite an early Memphis lead, there was no doubt who the better team was. Beautiful ball movement (40 to 23 win in assists) and a pristine 18 of 33 display from beyond the arc would be too much for the number two seed to overcome. Wolves took a commanding 2-0 series lead as they headed to Minneapolis.
Game 3: Minnesota, still riding the momentum from the previous game, would put up a remarkable 42-point first quarter. They would ride that to a 13-point halftime lead, as an insurmountable 3-0 series lead was just 24 minutes away. However, there was one extremely unfortunate incident that would occur in the first half as well. After going up for a block on a Morant layup attempt, the Stifle Tower would land awkwardly on a teammate’s foot, sending him crumpling to the ground, grabbing at his right ankle. He would eventually be helped off the floor and be immediately ruled out for the remainder of the game with a high ankle sprain.
To make matters worse, game three would also be the emergence of noted Wolves Slayer, Dillon Brooks. The Wolves would yield points to Ja Morant, as expected, but coach Taylor Jenkins would dial up his special: Plea to the officials. He would summon Brooks to lead the Grizzlies parade to the free throw line, as he finished with a mindboggling, franchise-record 20 free throw attempts. The visitors would give the Wolves a taste of their own medicine, scorching them for 45 of their own points in the third quarter to take a three-point lead.
A back and forth final period would come down to the final minutes of play. With 1:14 left, tied 128-128, D’Lo would dribble down the court, isolate Apple Valley’s Tyus Jones, and score a huge and-one floater.
With 61 seconds left in the game, Jenkins would go back to the well. With no Rudy Gobert on the court, Memphis would continue to put pressure on the rim, forcing the zebras to make a call on some flailing Brooks drives. After two more Grizzlies free throws, D’Lo would isolate Jones again. This time, “Stones” would hold his ground, forcing Russell into a missed fadeaway jumper. As if the game was some simulation, they experienced déjà vu by repeating that exact same sequence again. Brooks drew a foul, canned two freebies, Russell isolated Jones, missed another mid-ranger, and would ultimately be forced to foul out. Now down three, the Wolves had one final chance to tie the game.
Just like that, the Grizzlies were back in the series, albeit down 1-2.
Game 4: Prior to tipoff, the Timberwolves would announce that Gobert would be ruled out for the rest of the series, at minimum. Towns, who had just set a franchise record in points in a single game, would be up for the task. He would try to take matters into his own hands, outdoing himself by setting franchise records with 46 points and 19 field goals made, while also tying the franchise high of seven three pointers made. This would be an offensive shootout between both teams, each tallying over 55% from the field, but Minnesota would be outgunned as Anthony Edwards dealt with early foul trouble. A quiet 11-point night in 29 minutes would keep him out of rhythm before he was eventually disqualified with his sixth foul in the third quarter. The series was knotted up, 2-2.
Game 5: The ever-pivotal game five would be one-sided. With the pendulum of momentum at full tilt, a raucous FedExForum would force the Wolves into a very shaky performance. Perhaps it was the thought of how they blew a number of games against Memphis last year. Perhaps it was some home cooking by the referees, as every Wolves starter would be whistled for four or more personal fouls, including six on Towns this time. Fresh off another record-setting performance, KAT mustered up 40 less points than in game four, finishing with a measly six points in a frustrating night. A 50-burger by Morant would be hard to overcome, but it was the unfathomable 49 free throws attempted by the Grizzlies that would be the death knell. That number would tie a single-game playoff high for a team since 2003. It was a simple game plan for Memphis: Attack the paint with no Gobert in the game. The Grizzlies would easily jump ahead in the series, 3-2.
Game 6: The Timberwolves returned home, determined not to repeat their fate from 2022. In a win or go home situation, would the Gobert-less Wolves be able to push Memphis to a deciding game 7?
Smelling blood in the water, Ja Morant would fearlessly swim into the paint without Minnesota’s paint protector there to deter him. 10 of his 16 made field goals would come at the rim, but he would supplement that with six of nine shooting from deep. A 47-8-8 line, along with 20+ point performances by Jaren Jackson Jr. and Dillon Brooks, would easily dismiss the seventh seed. KAT and Edwards would play through foul trouble (Drink!) and score 30 points each, but the Grizzlies would once again double up Minnesota at the line, attempting 30 free throws to Minnesota’s 14. D’Lo would set a franchise playoff record with 15 assists, but another inefficient night shooting the ball did not help. Just like that, the Grizzlies advanced past the Wolves, 4-2... again.
It was an unceremonious end to a wild season for the Timberwolves. They hit full strength at just the right time, easily dismissing the Pelicans in their play-in match and marching out to a two, almost three, game lead in the first round, but lady luck would not be on their side. Losing Gobert was clearly a knockout blow that Minnesota could not recover from. Towns continued to impress in the playoffs, averaging 31.3 points, 11.5 rebounds, and 5.8 assists on blistering .617/.513/.929 shootings splits, but his co-stars, Russell and Edwards, were much less efficient. Shoutout to Jaylen Nowell for a breakout series and season despite injuries of his own. Meanwhile, Morant’s series averages of 41.1 points, 7.1 rebounds, 8.2 assists, and 10.5 free throw attempts were equally impressive, though he had much more consistent and balanced help from players two through nine on his depth chart.
There you have it. The 2022-2023 Minnesota Timberwolves season ends with the same fate as their 2021-2022 endeavor. Was it heartbreaking to see? Certainly. Will injury luck be on their side in the future? Who knows. But is there still hope for next season?
Misc. notes for those of you interested in what happened to end the season:
- LeBron James would lead the Lakers to an easy first round victory over MVP Luka’s Dallas Mavericks, but move on just to get rocked by Ja Morant in the second round, 4-1. James would surprisingly retire at season’s end.
- Western Conference #1 seed Suns entered the playoffs without Devin Booker (Broken hand), but would also lose Chris Paul to a pinched nerve in his back. They would get swept in the first round by the #8 Pelicans.
- Denver Nuggets would blow a 3-1 lead against the Pelicans, who had certainly become the fairytale story of the playoffs.
- New Orleans trailed 2-3 against the Grizzlies, but would once again bounce back, earning their first NBA finals appearance.
- Cleveland Cavaliers surprised the Bucks and Celtics, advancing to the Eastern Conference finals while dropping just one game in the process.
- Philadelphia would also cruise relatively easily to the finals, dismantling the Cavs to await their Finals opponent. They would draw the Pelicans and put them away in a gentlemen’s sweep, 4-1.
- Joel Embiid wins Finals MVP averaging an insane 39.4 points, 16.2 rebounds, 5.4 assists, and 3.8 stocks per game. James Harden, Tobias Harris, and Tyrese Maxey all averaged over 20+ points per game in the Finals as well.
- Zion Williamson averaged 31.8 points on .708 FG%, but played through a strained groin against the Sixers. Ingram 28.8 points per game, but they got little support from their teammates.