As we turn the calendar from 2023 to 2024, there are certainly plenty of things we’d all love for the Minnesota Timberwolves to bring with them into the New Year.
Whether it’s a 63-win pace, owning the league’s top defense, beating (almost) all the bad teams they should, Mike Conley’s 3-point shooting, the team’s 91.7% winning percentage in games that enter clutch time, Rudy Gobert’s Defensive Player of the Year caliber play thus far, or all the incredible Anthony Edwards and Karl-Anthony Towns highlights late in games, the final three months of 2023 were great to us.
But that doesn’t mean there aren’t places in which we think the Timberwolves can improve. Some of our staff got together to give their New Years’ resolutions, Wolves edition.
Before they begin, I want to wish you all — from our family to yours — a Happy New Year and that 2024 is as good to all of you as 2023 was to us.
— Jack Borman
Let Uncle Mike Take a Break!
Since the Minnesota Timberwolves traded for Conley at the deadline last season, they have played 54 games. Minnesota Mike has played in all 54 of them. In of itself, this is already an impressive accomplishment. In the age where load management and general soreness run the league, the Iron Man 36-year-old continues to play... and play well. While I will never knock players for wanting to play, this becomes important as you zoom out and look at the grand scheme of what this Minnesota team wants to do this season. If they want to make any kind of deep run in the playoffs, the Timberwolves will need their sage veteran to be at 100% so he can work his magic. This may include allowing him to take a needed break when necessary.
82 games is a lot on anyone, and everyone gets bangs and bruises here and there but it is even more important to watch out for your older players when this becomes a topic of conversation. While it may be hard to have Conley miss any matchups, it is way better than playing the “what-if” game at the end of the season.
Jordan McLaughlin will have to pick up the slack in these moments but he should be functional for if and when this happens. Outside of that, barring any massive change, we should expect to see a trade take place sometime before the deadline. The hope would be that that mystery acquisition could also help take some load off of Conley, let him sit back, relax and enjoy the game from a cushy seat on the sidelines a handful of times down the stretch of the season.
— Benny Hughes
Gift Shake Milton a Rediscovery Trip
Pack your bags, Shake. No, don’t bring any basketball shoes. You’re not going on the road trip. You’re not heading to Iowa. You’re also not getting traded. You’re going on a week-long wilderness retreat to help rediscover who you are and what you were put on this planet to do. This isn’t going to be some Rudy Gobert Darkness Retreat, though that might not be such a bad idea actually, considering how well Big Ru is playing nowadays.
For all of the Wolves strengths this year, the effectiveness and efficiency of their offense hasn’t been one of them. We all know how easy it is for Ant or KAT to get going, but it’s the secondary and tertiary lineups that are faltering. The Milton signing this offseason should have addressed this. I was one of the many believers. Unfortunately, he has not looked like himself well through a third of the season. Everyone can see him overthinking every drive, every pass, and every jump shot. I truly believe that monsters aren’t real. I also believe that Monstars aren’t real. There’s no way Shake had his skills stolen from him. What I also believe is that if he just gets his confidence back, the floodgates will break open and the lack of bench buckets will be a thing of the past.
Now go walk around a foreign country, young Shake. Roast some marshmallows with some strangers over a bonfire. Go backpacking for a week and remember your purpose in life: To get buckets.
— Leo Sun
Better Late Than Never: Get KG in the Rafters
Do you guys remember when Kevin Garnett, completely unprompted, went on a rant calling Glen Taylor a snake? I do. It’s never good to have the best player in franchise history openly ripping into and hating the franchise’s owner, but it’s even worse when the team hasn’t even retired his iconic “21” yet.
But, as we all know, the reason for that was KG’s own refusal instead of Taylor’s.
However, Taylor will be out of the picture once minority owners Alex Rodriguez and Marc Lore close on the final 40% payment that will give them majority control of the Wolves and Minnesota Lynx. Taylor still owns 20% of the team, but there are new heads of the snake now. I can’t speak for Lore, but I feel like Rodriguez specifically should want to retire KG’s number. Rodriguez faced down his steroid usage and, like many great players of the era, saw it completely erase his legacy and the appreciation he should have had. KG did not face any similar level of scandal, but faced controversy at every front.
In my opinion, both should have jerseys retired. The New York Yankees are firmly entrenched in their choice to disregard A-Rod, but the Timberwolves can fix that wrong. Get KG up there next to Flip, exactly where he should be.
(And for gods sake, stop letting steroids take away the joy that A-Rod and Bonds and Clemens brought us.)
— Thilo Latrell Widder
Deepen the Rotation
On paper, the Timberwolves came into this season with one of the deepest rosters in franchise history. They acquired forward Troy Brown Jr. and guard Shake Milton from the free agent pool while keeping key players around, such as Naz Reid and Nickeil Alexander-Walker. Minnesota had a legit 11-deep team during the preseason; everyone was producing winning basketball up and down the roster.
Head Coach Chris Finch has always kept a tight leash with his rotation. Typically, the 54-year-old coach likes to run nine players on a game-to-game basis, regardless of the relative health of his roster. Heading into this season, I made the claim that Finch and his staff should try their best to consistently play at least 10 players, which would take some serious pressure off the starters.
However, Milton — one of the team's key offseason additions — has been a serious letdown; the former SMU star is averaging 5.3 points on 37.8% from the floor and 25.5% from deep. The 6-foot-5 guard, who Leo thinks should go on a wilderness retreat, has been DNP’d over Minnesota’s past two games. That move makes sense, but still, going deeper into his team’s bag of tricks off the bench could be of value for Finchy as we head into the new year.
Alexander-Walker, Reid, and Kyle Anderson have been the three most prominent fixtures off the Wolves’ bench this season, as they all average just north of 20 minutes per game. Brown Jr. has been a plug-and-play guy when his team is in dire need of a quick 3-point shot or solid defense. Jordan McLaughlin is another guy who rarely sees minutes, but when he does, good things happen on both ends in short stretches.
Going forward, playing TBJ and J-Mac more consistently could reap many benefits for the Timberwolves as a whole, especially the 36-year-old legs of Mike Conley and the 22-year-old legs of Anthony Edwards, both of whom do a lot of heavy lifting, despite being on the opposite end of the age spectrum.
— Charlie Walton
Anthony Edwards Becoming a More Mature Player
Edwards has the potential to be the face of the league. He’s charismatic, charming, funny, and authentic. His “Believe That” campaign with adidas for his newly unveiled AE1 signature shoe paired with his on-court play and unique mentality about playing every game create an aura around him that is rivaled by only few other stars in today's game.
The basketball results are unrivaled. He’s pouring in 26 points per game with five boards and the most assists per game in his career, while setting a career-high in plus-minus. He’s the main reason the Timberwolves have a Western Conference-leading 24-7 record. But that doesn’t absolve him from continuing to get better with on court production, and it’s time to grow up when it comes to being a more mature, complete player.
Outside of overall consistency and being more engaged off ball on the defensive end, Edwards has few flaws in his game. He has a good handle, can create 1) for himself at the drop of a hat getting downhill, 2) separation for open jump shots, and 3) open looks teammates as a result of great passes when the defense inevitably rotates over as he applies a ton of pressure at the rim.
The area he needs to show the most growth in comes with his disdain over missed calls with referees. I totally get it. Ant drives to the cup aggressively after a bevy of moves to get a defender off balance and miss the layup due to illegal contact. However, the clapping loudly at officials and screaming “C’mon man!” will not change the result of the play, whether it was a foul or not. It will probably only lead to officials giving him less calls, as they do with Towns on nights the big man is rather vocal.
The only thing it’s going to change in the course of a game is being called for a technical, gifting the other team free points and leaving your other four teammates out to dry when they hustle back and play transition defense.
The clapping is the most obvious thing, but complaining with the referees in general is annoying and no ref has ever gone “You know what? You clapping in my face and telling me to call the foul is correct. Let’s stop the game for you.”
I am all for the conversations at dead balls and before huddling during timeouts to explain what you’re feeling as a player and what the ref is seeing, but please stop complaining in real time when the ball is live.
Here is an example of him doing this in the most recent matchup with the Los Angeles Lakers at Target Center. His first reaction, as opposed to playing defense is to put his arms up to question the lack of a kick ball. He drags ass the entire way down the floor, and never puts a hand up to contest a Taurean Prince wide open 3-pointer. Once the ball comes out of the bottom of the net, he goes to complain again. It’s time stop this because it’s not going to change anything. Nickeil Alexander-Walker is in the back court by the time the ball crosses half court and he puts in more effort to contest the shot than Ant for crying out loud.
The NBA Recognizing What Chris Finch Has Done
Can you remember the last time the Timberwolves had a head coach win NBA Coach of the Year? Don’t feel bad if you can’t, it’s because it has never happened since the league began awarding coaches with the honor in 1963.
In the new year, as the regular season comes to a close, the NBA will finally award Minnesota with its first Coach of the Year when Chris Finch is awarded the top honor a head coach can receive annually.
What Finch has done in his time at the head of the Wolves this season has been impressive. When many thought this team couldn’t coexist and Minnesota should end up trading one of their stars, Finch figured things out to not only help the team improve so far in 2023-24 but to get off to the best start in franchise history. He has led a team that has traditionally been awful defensively into the best defensive team in the league while sitting atop the Western Conference and right at the top of the NBA.
Yes, an insertion of talent since his arrival in 2020 has helped in turning this franchise around, but you still need someone at the top to lead the way and to make it all work. Finch has done that in his tenure in Minnesota and has turned things up a notch this year.
In 2024, the NBA and fans across the globe will finally recognize Finch as what most Wolves fans already believe, that he should be the 2023-24 NBA Coach of the Year.
— Mitchell Hansen
Have Kyle Anderson Start Shooting Threes Again
After having his most efficient season from beyond the arc last season with a 3-point percentage of 41%, Kyle Anderson’s 3-point shot has been non-existent this season. He has shot 12.5% from deep this year and possibly even more alarming than that percentage is he a has only attempted 24 3-point shots all season.
Avoiding the 3-point shot seems like a smart move when it has been going in at that low of a rate until you look at how other teams have been guarding him. On most possessions, opposing defenses are completely ignoring Anderson and barely guarding him at all until he gets into the paint.
This allows other teams to stop a lot of what the Wolves are trying to do on offense, leading to a ton of turnovers, something the Wolves have struggled with all year. The Wolves have tried putting Slow-Mo on the ball more often, which has helped to some extent, but far from solved the issues the Wolves are having offensively when Slo-Mo is on the court.
In the new year, it is time for Anderson to begin attempting treys again to see to what extent he can get his 3-point shot back. The 41% he shot last year is almost certainly unrealistic, but can he shoot his career mark of 33.8%? Or is his shot completely gone and he will shoot sub-30% like he did in 2019-20.
If Anderson’s shot can get opposing players to take even a single step toward him when he’s behind the arc, that will open up so much for not just Anderson to drive to the rim, but also for Players like Karl-Anthony Towns and Anthony Edwards who have seen a ton of extra ball pressure on their drives to the rim.
Kyle Anderson has still provided value on the defensive end and with his playmaking, but if the Wolves want him to stay on the court during the playoffs, he will likely need to find some semblance of a 3-point shot.
— Ryan Eichten
Help Rudy Gobert Out Again
I can keep mine short. The last month has been hard to watch from a defensive perspective.
I think there are two parts to that:
1). We were absolutely spoiled for the first two months of the year in the utter dominance from Rudy Gobert inside, with precise point of attack defense that guided drivers right into Rudy’s lap
2.) The precision at the point of attack over the last month has gotten worse, and specifically lazier.
Over the last 10 games, the Wolves are allowing opponents to shoot 61% inside of 6 feet, one of their worst stretches of the season. It’s something even the Head Coach has made an effort to call out recently, specifically after the game against the Oklahoma City Thunder, in which OKC had its way offensively.
Chris Finch on last night: "The reality is our shell defense has been not really good for a couple weeks, and against a team that is going to exploit it the most, they did. Basically we just got exposed there. A lot of slippage in the shell."— Jon Krawczynski (@JonKrawczynski) December 27, 2023
While the Wolves’ 61% allowed at the rim is middle of the pack in the league, it’s not great for a team that has Rudy Gobert. The lack of precision in closeouts, sticking to assignments, and screen navigation forces him to try and clean up more messes defensively, which is a similar trap that was fallen into in Utah. The difference is that the Wolves have the defenders. Any slippage is a sign of resting on laurels.
During the Wolves’ historic November run, they allowed opponents to just 55% inside of 6 feet, good enough for the best mark in the league.
Elite defense is the path to this team finding itself deep into the postseason. It’s essential to re-develop these habits against good teams in the new year.