Are the Minnesota Timberwolves for Real?

NBA: Boston Celtics at Minnesota Timberwolves
Bruce Kluckhohn-USA TODAY Sports

Minnesota Timberwolves fans were quietly hopeful, behind the scenes, during the NBA offseason. Everything just felt like it was suddenly coming together a little bit. Anthony Edwards appeared poised to take the next step in his career, after stealing the spotlight for Team USA at the FIBA World Cup.

Karl-Anthony Towns, too, looked like a different guy, after leading the Dominican Republic international team. But most importantly, everyone from players to coaches to team executives seemed much more confident about year 2 of the Rudy Gobert experiment.

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But then… the season started and the Wolves jumped out to a (classic) disappointing 1-2 start that included an epic 2nd-half collapse vs Atlanta Hawks. And just like that, many of those once hopeful fans (I won’t name names) were crying one iteration or another of, “same old Wolves…”

But since that collapse vs the Hawks, the Minnesota Timberwolves are 3-0. They’ve won 4 of 5 and currently own the 4th seed in the Western Conference at 4-2 overall. Wait, it gets better.

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Two of the three wins during their streak have come at home vs the best teams from each conference. On Wednesday, they took down the 4-0 reigning NBA Champion Denver Nuggets. Then, on Monday night, the 5-0 Boston Celtics came to town and left with their first loss, as well.

Throw in a beat down of the Utah Jazz in between and it’s one of the best week-long stretches we have seen from the Wolves since Kevin Garnett left in 2004. That’s just as sad as it is impressive but facts are bitter-sweet sometimes.

Timberwolves defeat 5-0 Boston Celtics

The most impressive part about the Wolves win on Monday night might have been the mediocrity in which they played, offensively. Anthony Edwards was awesome again, carrying the team throughout the game whenever needed, finishing with 38 points, 9 rebounds and 7 assists.

Karl-Anthony Towns embarrasses himself (again)

Karl-Anthony Towns regressed back to the worst version of himself. Not only was he flailing around and whining like a spoiled middle schooler, but he wasn’t producing offensively either. He fouled out in overtime and it was probably the best thing that could have happened to the Wolves because he was mentally checked out and dragging down the mentality of his team.

The selfishness he displays is mind boggling to watch sometimes, especially when all you hear from teammates is how much he just wants to make everyone happy. He ended the night with just as many turnovers as points and one of the worst overall box score lines of his career: 3/10 FG | 1/7 3PT | 7 PTS | 10 REB | 7 TO.

Jaden McDaniels, Anthony Edwards come through late

Jaden McDaniels couldn’t get himself going, on the offensive end either, until he and Edwards took over late. But man, when the Wolves needed someone to hit a big shot at the end of the 4th quarter and in OT, Jaden came through hitting a 3-pointer that tied the game 101-101, which was the score that went into overtime.

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The extra 5 minute period was Ant’s show. He flipped the switch and, suddenly, it felt like every single shot that left his fingertips was going in. He shot 4 of 6 in OT, including two 3-pointers and scored 8 of the Wolves’ 13 points.

It was pretty incredible to witness, especially when we as Wolves fans have literally never seen a superstar who has a late game gear even other NBA stars don’t have. Without a superstar, an NBA team cannot legitimately compete for a championship. But Anthony Edwards made it clear last night, the Timberwolves can check that off their list of needs.

Defense, defense, defense

But the story, through five games this season, has been the Minnesota Timberwolves’ unrelenting defense. That is not a sentence you normally read in a regular season blog about an NBA team but that’s the best way I can describe the way the Wolves bring it on that side of the floor.

That’s why they are winning all of these games, no matter the opponent or how efficient they are operating that night, offensively. Obviously, the sample size is small. But as of Tuesday morning, the Wolves rank 1st in both defensive efficiency rating and adjusted defensive efficiency rating, which is keeping their net efficiency ratings near the top of the league, despite very average offensive efficiency.

2023-24 (5 GP)DefAdj DOffAdj ONetAdj N
Timberwolves102.0198.57111.13111.829.1213.25
NBA Rank1st1st18th14th4th2nd
Basketball-Reference

Rudy Gobert seems much more like the dominant defender we thought the Timberwolves were getting last year. Anthony Edwards and Jaden McDaniels make for the best wing defending duo in the NBA and the team’s overall length makes it often impossible for opposing offenses to break down in the half court.

Their only issues, defensively, have come on the fast break. The entire team has to focus on getting back, after offensive possessions, because opponents have targeted that as the easiest way to score.

There’s no doubt Chris Finch wants this team’s identity to come from its defense, which I love. Offensive flow will come and go but, if you are always fighting on defense in the NBA, you have a chance to be in every game because most teams do not have much fight on that side of the floor until the postseason comes around.

Yes, the Minnesota Timberwolves are for real.

So, to answer the original question posted at the top of this blog: Yes, the Minnesota Timberwolves are for real. They have a budding superstar who has already proven he can close games and a defense that fights harder than most others in the league. That’s a recipe for a lot of regular season wins and a top-4 seed in the Western Conference.

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Eric Strack | Minnesota Sports Fan