I do really hate the saying “there are two types of people in this world.” Not only does it erase any and all nuance in a conversation, but it’s also just quite frankly stupid. Turning human ideas into binary by making them into a yes or no question is the equivalent of asking someone to make you an omelet with nothing but a Fisher Price set.
That being said, there are way more than two types of people in John Schuhmann’s NBA.com survey, but they’re all NBA General Managers. And they all have no clue how the Minnesota Timberwolves will perform this year.
The Wolves did not actually lead this category. The Philadelphia 76ers, with their Beard-based-bedlam, received a full 30% of votes. The Dallas Mavericks and Oklahoma City Thunder both received just about 13% of votes respectively, which is fascinating in its own right as those two teams sit on opposite sides of the “up and coming” charts. No, the Wolves were surrounded by other Western Conference representatives in the Golden State Warriors and LA Lakers, and the treadmilling Toronto Raptors.
The official question to create this category was “Which team’s level of success this season is toughest to predict?”
That question seems to be one that most fanbases don’t want to hear, least of all the Wolves. Last season was preceded by head-scratching at the Rudy Gobert trade and simultaneous promises at a top-5 record in the West, a station Gobert had brought multiple times in the five years before his move from the state of salt lakes to the state of 10,000 lakes. What followed was tough to predict: a major injury, multiple punches, and a playoff win against the eventual champions.
This exact arc is why it’s so hard to predict this season. There are reasons to go in any which direction. Do you want to argue that the Wolves will slide out of the playoff race with the disappointment level that fans have grown to expect? That’s easy to say if Gobert continues to show his age and exhaustion, or if Karl-Anthony Towns comes back slow from a major injury, or if preseason standouts like Shake Milton take the same route as past preseason legends like Bryn Forbes or Kelan Martin once did.
Do you want to scream “Wolves Back” from the top of US Bank Stadium’s jagged glass cliffs and have it echo across the city, like a howl at the moon? That’s also easy to argue.
Anthony Edwards was ranked in a tie for third in the Best Shooting Guard category and was the top candidate for a breakout in this exact same survey. Gobert is still considered one of the best interior defenders. Head Coach Chris Finch has a top-three offensive scheme. Are you somewhere in the middle? Take a grab bag of any of the previous points, toss them together, and try your best not to contradict yourself.
Fanbases insulate themselves. It’s easy to make an argument and find yourself in an echo chamber of sorts. This is why every team thinks the refs hate them. But, when the NBA world as a whole has absolutely no clue who you are as a team, it’s a little worrying. This is why Chris Finch’s motto of “free-flowing with structure” is so vital.
The 2022 Timberwolves were a team treading water, keeping their head perilously above waves. It was a frantic season. There was no time for establishing of roles or for understanding how the team would work. There was only time to survive the PR nightmare that would’ve been a year without the playoffs.
At no point last year were the Wolves in a stable position, as could be seen by their inability to keep momentum in any direction. Following such a pivotal trade, there was no way to establish roles with KAT’s absence and no way to figure out the fit with the “big three” of over $40 million salarymen. There was no way of establishing Kyle Anderson as a sixth man when he was suddenly starting for fifty-odd games. There was no way of seeing Gobert as a pick-and-roll threat when the point guard hated him.
This year is different. The team has pieces to integrate but without massive fault lines in play styles. Everything said above about Edwards, Gobert, Towns, Milton, and the whole roster brings hope. That hope is built from the choice of the front office to run it back.
The other reason this year is different is because last year was so weird. We saw what the Wolves were last year with this roster minus KAT. It was a play-in team, miles away from the top-four record that was promised. Karl’s return brings expectations up, for some by a large margin. Gobert’s aging should bring it down. Ant’s continued ascendence should buoy those concerns. The impending free-agent status of three of the top seven rotation players should muddy the waters yet again.
In the case of any of the other mentioned teams in the survey, the variance factors are one and twofold. What if the Lakers’ age and injury status becomes more apparent? What if the Warriors fail to integrate Chris Paul and miss Jordan Poole’s scoring? What if the Raptors continue to do nothing but add 6-foot-9 forwards who can’t shoot? What if the new Sixers Head Coach Nick Nurse can’t appease an angry James Harden? For the Timberwolves, there are hundreds of questions. Each of them tilt the scale in any direction to an extremely subjective amount.
No one understands the Timberwolves. No one can. They don’t have any clear signs pointing toward failure, but they also have definite red flags that could derail a year. They have obvious reasons to be excited, most notably the return of a face of the franchise player and the growth of what may be the face of the association player, but also have to worry about a lot of the same problems they dealt with last year.
There are two types of people in this world: people who know the Wolves are back, and people who are scared that they aren’t. I’m both people. It’s easy to be confused.