“We still lost, we still lost. You’ve still got to burn. You’ve still got to want something. What have you achieved? This is a team sport. This is not tennis. It’s not golf. It’s not an individual sport. If you don’t win the championship, then what have you accomplished? I just want to win.”
- Kevin Garnett on whether or not a season can be considered a success if you lose in the playoffs
Since the Kevin Garnett era ended in Minnesota, the franchise lost something it hasn’t been able to regain. Sure, we’ve had glimmers of hope and phases where it seemed like a new direction was possible. But take the last twenty years in totality, and the franchise looks like a wayward zombie; a faltering corpse unable to regain the beating heart it once had.
While this season is going to blur into the wayward zombie years, something is beginning to shift. The glimpse we saw of Anthony Edwards in the playoffs was the basketball equivalent of looking at a flatlined EKG machine with a sudden, slight blip. A sign that this franchise may indeed have a pulse.
“I’m not a young star yet. Win the first round. Get out of the first round. I can’t get sent home again,” Edwards said after Game 1 in Denver. “Can’t be a young star and keep getting sent home.”
Special players have a hunger that transcends their talent.In the twenty years since Garnett left, many talented Minnesota Timberwolves players have graced the floor of Target Center. Many of them were hungry to win, but no player combined hunger and talent like KG. That is, until now.
Edwards still has a lot to prove. Like all young players, his game has flaws to iron. But for the first time since the KG era, fans are seeing that unique mixture of hunger, talent and will that makes for a generational player.
Let’s get to the grades.
1. These grades are roles-based, so the stats I’m looking at for each player are different.
2. There will be three major components of the grades: Regular season (70%), playoffs (25%) and extracurriculars (5%)
3. The extracurricular category is a new one that takes into account things that happened on and off the court that wouldn’t be captured by numbers: Awards, injuries, locker-room problems, etc… One extra way to quantify things that happened this season that would otherwise be missed.
4. For players who spent the majority of the season in the G-League, I’ve added in their stats from the regular season and Showcase Cup.
Anthony Edwards Final Grade: 94% (A)
I’ve already rhapsodized about what Edwards means to this franchise, so let’s break down the numbers and the grade more directly.
Edwards regular season had a slow start and a meandering finish but he stepped it up to another level in the postseason. Once Karl-Anthony Towns went down for an extended time with his calf injury, Ant kept the team afloat and played at a high enough level to earn his first All-Star berth. During this stretch, his game made the fabled “third-year leap” that everyone was hoping for all off-season.
Fast forward to the playoffs. Offense, defense, splash plays - every game had moments where Edwards’ hands were all over it. The Denver Nuggets may well be the best team in the league this year, but Edwards met them punch-for-punch and gave the Wolves a chance to be competitive.
Extracurriculars: An “A” in this category for being a first time All-Star, raising the level of his game when the team needed it the most, and the type of teammate he proves himself to be. Edwards is just as quick to put the spotlight on his own faults and shortcomings as he is to use it to shine a bright light on the success of his teammates. It is a rare leadership quality for a twenty-one year old to show.
The Big Question: Is Anthony Edwards (and the franchise) ready for him to take control?
First, here are the things Edwards can control on the court to prove he can be a franchise player:
- He needs to come into next season locked in and ready to play at the same level we saw in the Denver series. The offseason promises of practicing with Jaden McDaniels and traveling to France to visit Rudy Gobert have to be more than words.
- Speaking of Gobert, he needs to develop some kind of passing chemistry with the Frenchman to put a different kind of pressure on the defense.
- He needs to keep growing as an offense initiator and turn the ball over less; being able to quickly read what a defense is doing and break it down with the correct basketball play.
As for the franchise, both Chris Finch and Tim Connelly have made it clear that Edwards is the focal point for the team. Edwards should be the final introduction at home games from here on out - which may lead to some harder conversations with Karl-Anthony Towns, but we’ll save those for KAT’s big question.
A repeat of this season from Edwards won’t earn him an “A” next season, but for this one, the first-time All-Star took the leap we all were hoping for in Year 3.
Jaylen Nowell Final Grade: 60% (D-)
Based on expectations and his perceived role coming into the season, Jaylen Nowell goes down as the most disappointing player for the 2022-2023 Timberwolves in my grading system. Last offseason, Chris Finch referred to Nowell as a key part of the Timberwolves young core, and even in my preseason preview, I wrote that an “A” season for Nowell would involve him playing his way into conversations for sixth man of the year.
Well, fast forward nine months, and it would be relatively shocking to see the Timberwolves offer Nowell any type of contract in the offseason. The cause of the down season for Nowell is hard to pinpoint as it was probably a combination of things: A knee injury, cold shooting, lack of chemistry with a refined bench unit, a shorter leash from Finch or potentially just the pressure of trying to secure a future NBA contract.
Extracurriculars: A “C” grade here as there just wasn’t a lot to quantify because of the above issues. Whatever went wrong this season, there was never any indication that it came from a lack of effort.
The Big Question: Does his unique scoring skill set offer enough to earn him a roster spot in the NBA?
I’d answer that question with a yes, but not for the Timberwolves. It seems like this will be a natural breaking point for both Nowell and the team. Nowell has the scoring prowess to be an NBA player when everything is clicking, but so much of development in an NBA career is about the situation; here’s hoping he’s able to find the right one.
Austin Rivers Final Grade: 78% (C+)
Austin Rivers’ 2022-23 season was exactly what the Timberwolves asked for when they signed him to a veteran’s minimum contract last summer. He came in, earned a roster spot as a deeper bench veteran, and when he got the opportunity for minutes early in the season, he took advantage with a hot shooting stretch that helped him climb above erstwhile Timberwolf Bryn Forbes.
The shooting stretch didn’t last, and he would eventually fall back out of the rotation until the playoffs. His playoff performance is a key part of his story this season: The Timberwolves don’t win Game 4 against the Denver Nuggets without his big game poise and key shot-making.
Considering expectations associated with a not fully-guaranteed contract and having to earn a role, Rivers gets a slight bump in my final grade. He ultimately exceeded expectations this season, even if it was just climbing from a fringe roster guy to the team’s eleventh or twelfth best player.
Extracurriculars: An “A” in this category from me. When Rivers was a big part of the rotation, he was accessible to the media and was always ready and willing to give some unique basketball insight. When he fell out of the rotation, he kept himself game ready and stepped up when the team needed him most.
The Big Question: Did Austin Rivers ever get a chance to meet Charlie Conway?
Rivers made his love of the Mighty Ducks franchise clear, but as far as I know, there has been no follow up to his desire to meet with players from the team. If Rivers ends up signing elsewhere next season, this may just be a plot thread from the season left dangling.
Wendell Moore Jr. Final Grade: 68% (D+)
It is not an easy task to grade a rookie who played sparingly throughout the season. When you draft a player in the late first round, the general expectation (or role) for that player is usually going to be to start the season on the bench, get practice/G-League reps, and should injuries or roster turnover arise, step in and try to make some noise in limited minutes.
Moore Jr. had one standout moment this season: The November 30th game against the Memphis Grizzlies where he matched up with Ja Morant. Like a holster to Morant’s hip, he held the All-Star point guard to 8/20 shooting as he flashed the promise of his most NBA ready skill: defense. Beyond this effort, it’s hard to remember other impact moments from his season, and as you can see from both the NBA and G-League stats above, his offensive game is a work-in-progress. While the expectations for Moore Jr. weren’t high, overall the season finished as a slight disappointment that he didn’t have more moments like the Memphis game.
Extracurriculars: A “C” grade here since there just wasn’t a lot to go off of in terms of actual interaction with the media, fans or in-game moments. There were a lot of nice practice photos from the Timberwolves instagram account!
The Big Question: Will Wendell Moore Jr. be a part of next season’s rotation?
A lot of that question may hinge on whether or not the team signs Nickeil Alexander-Walker and if Jordan McLaughlin is back. If they aren’t able to resign NAW, or let McLaughlin go, I would lean towards a “yes” to that answer just out of necessity.
For what it’s worth, Christian Braun of the Nuggets showed what an “A” season looks like for a late first-round draft pick. He started the season as a deep bench player, slowly began carving out his role with positive in-game appearances, and eventually, solidified his role to become the team’s eighth best player and earning playoff minutes. During the series against the Timberwolves, he made positive impact plays in each game, but maybe most importantly, was not a liability on either side of the ball.
That is the blueprint for Moore Jr. next year. If he hasn’t started to take those steps by mid season, it’s not out of the question that he becomes a trade sweetener in a bigger deadline deal.
A Jersey Retirement Ceremony
It is time to bridge the gap between the two generations. Hang Kevin Garnett’s jersey up in the rafters and let Anthony Edwards soak in the spectacle. Target Center will sell out as fans old and new will want to show up to honor the greatest player in franchise history, a chance for one night to show unbridled appreciation for a player who left his heart on the court every time he stepped out there.
The ceremony can be the long overdue coming home of the franchise’s most important player. Secondly, it will be a passing of the torch to the player that gets Target Center engaged in a way no one has since KG’s prime.
This is the era of Anthony Edwards, the player who will define Timberwolves basketball for the next generation of fans.