The Minnesota Timberwolves suffered the playoff fate that is far too familiar for this franchise; a first round loss to a superior team, the Denver Nuggets. Contrary to last season’s loss to the Memphis Grizzlies which was full of “woulda, coulda, shoulda” games, this loss was clearly the result of a superior team squaring up against this depleted Timberwolves squad. Maybe this series could have been more of a coin flip with a healthy Jaden McDaniels, Naz Reid and Kyle Anderson, but that conversation is best saved for off-season talk about what, if any, changes need to be made.
While the series itself will ultimately be forgettable, a franchise altering shift did take place over five games: This is Anthony Edward’s team, franchise, and city. All the questions about player hierarchy we brought into this season are gone; Edwards is our superstar, and every element of the franchise needs to reflect that going forward.
Starting with the team’s first offseason meeting today, every conversation with ownership and coaching should center around how we build around the twenty-one year old All-Star. He’ll be the last player introduced next year, and with that, this team is going to have a whole new vibe.
The implications will only ripple outward from there, so in the meanwhile, let’s take a look back at the playoffs as a whole and see what we learned about Edwards and his teammates. As always, check out another great game recap, this one by Aidan Berg, otherwise, let’s get to the grades for the series as a whole.
Three important reminders:
1. These grades are roles-based, so the stats I’m looking at for each player are different.
2. Single grade games and playoff stats are going to be an incredibly small sample-size and very reactionary. There will be a lot more variance in grades from game to game.
3. Many of the stat ranges I’ve created have been upped from their regular season counterparts. Raised minutes and expectations will put more of a spotlight on performance.
Mike Conley Playoff Series Grade: 83% (B)
Through five games, Minnesota Mike brought you everything you could reasonably expect from a thirty-five year old point guard. He was the floor general on offense, helped his younger teammates on and off the floor, defended against a very talented offensive squad, and even helped the Timberwolves’ demeanor when it came to their interactions with the refs.
He is not the team’s long-term answer at point guard, but for at least one more season, he is the perfect vet to continue to help Anthony Edwards flourish in the next stage of his career.
Nickeil Alexander-Walker Playoff Series Grade: 90% (A-)
While the arrival of Edwards will have the longest-reaching effects for the franchise, the other positive development from this series was the emergence of Alexander-Walker as a role player we can trust. He battled Jamal Murray all-series long, and even with Murray ultimately landing a knock-out blow in game five, he made him earn it.
The final Murray matchup numbers are the following: 13/36 shooting (36.1%), 14 assists, and six TOs. Murray finished 4/12 from the three point line, and earned just two trips to the foul line. That’s a hell of a series for Alexander-Walker.
It is fun to dream of a locked-in defensive lineup next year that includes NAW, Edwards, and Jaden McDaniels making a team’s life miserable on the perimeter.
Anthony Edwards Playoff Series Grade: 95% (A)
The Denver Nuggets spent the last three games of the series doing everything they could to deter Anthony Edwards. And you know what? They couldn’t. A player who is still five years away from his NBA prime left the number one seed in the West with no answers.
His series stats: 31.6 PPG, 5.2 RPG, 5.0 APG, 2 BPG (including some game changers), 1.8 SPG, and 48/35/84 FG%, 3P%, and FT% respectively.
Something big happened to this franchise over this short series, and the most encouraging part of it? The best is yet to come.
Karl-Anthony Towns Playoff Series Grade: 67% (D)
Since this isn’t a game five specific write-up, I do want to say this: Towns was really good Tuesday night, featuring a return to form offensive second half and a game-long defensive effort against Jokić that was really good. For the series, Jokić ended up shooting 37.5% with Towns matched up with him - that’s borderline elite defense from Towns.
Now for the series as a whole - games one and two were the flush games, game three was okay, game four was pretty good and game five was good. Average all of those out and the Timberwolves just didn’t get enough from their max player. Specifically as a threat from the outside, Towns had less attempts per game than Alexander-Walker, and about the same as Conley and Taurean Prince. He just needs to utilize his generational talent from the outside more.
I’ll save more of this for the end of the season article, but for now, I will end his section with this hypothesis: Becoming the clear number two on the franchise pecking order will be a career-saving development for Towns.
Rudy Gobert Playoff Series Grade: 79% (C+)
Rudy Gobert was pretty good throughout the whole series, both his strengths and his flaws on full display.
His strengths: He was a force on the interior, matching up well one-on-one with Jokić, and he rebounded well throughout the series (minus a critical stretch in game five).
His weaknesses: Too brick-handed - he fumbled tons of passes and rebounds in each game, never quite showed the finishing touch needed to get consistent offensive touches. His 63% from the foul line played a role in how excited certain teammates were to feed him the ball.
I’ll still need some time to digest Gobert’s overall impact on the team this season, but considering the reputation he’s had in the playoffs in his career, it’s important to say this:
The Nuggets didn’t even come close to playing him off the floor, and when he was on the court, he did more positives than negatives.
Kyle Anderson Playoff Series Grade: 75% (C)
For a guy I dubbed the role-based MVP of the season, this playoff series was pretty meh from Anderson. He was really good defensively, but offensively, he just never found the right rhythm when he was on the floor. Most importantly, he couldn’t elevate an extremely poor bench unit - something that was a tall task for the whole team.
Taurean Prince Playoff Series Grade: 74% (C)
Like Anderson, Prince’s final series grade ends in the “meh” category. He had two good games, three poor games, but was just never quite able to make his mark on the struggling bench unit. To win this series, the Timberwolves needed the “Dearly Beloved” version to show up for at least one of the games.
Austin Rivers Playoff Series Grade: 79% (C+)
Austin Rivers did exactly what a veteran at the end of the bench is supposed to do: Stay ready when your number is called, and when you get a chance, let your play carve out a role in future games.
In a series that was full of bench lowlights, Rivers was the unexpected highlight off the bench who gave the Timberwolves a chance to extend this series past four games.
Jaylen Nowell Playoff Series Grade: 40% (F)
This was just a rough series for Nowell who could never find any kind of consistency in his offensive game. When he was on the court defensively, he was a marked man for the Nuggets. He’s been battling a knee injury for the last month of the year, and that undoubtedly played a role in his poor performance.
Jordan McLaughlin Playoff Series Grade: 40% (F)
Just copy and paste the Nowell section here: McLaughlin played his worst stretch of basketball as a Timberwolves player over the final month of the season. With an offseason to get the calf injury right, hopefully next season is a lot more of the Jmac we saw in the Memphis series last year, not this one.
A New Era
I’ll be back one more time this season to offer full season report cards for each player, including taking time to focus on how they fit into an Anthony-Edwards centric franchise going forward. RIP to the 2022-2023 Timberwolves, you were equal parts frustrating and captivating, but in the end, you’ve offered the franchise the most clarity it has had since the Kevin Garnett era.