Timberwolves Promise Progress, Hope For Playoffs

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The Minnesota Timberwolves are officially back and, for the first time in a while, there’s a bit of hype surrounding the season start. Game 1 on Wednesday night vs the Houston Rockets, perhaps the worst team in the entire league, was a smashing success. Head coach Chris Finch was able to pull his starters with about six minutes left to play. The Wolves were up by 30 points (114-84).

The energy on both sides of the ball was outstanding. Those of us who watched preseason games saw it then, and that inertia has certainly carried into the regular season. For one game, at least.

Look, nobody (and I mean nobody) expects the Minnesota Timberwolves to win the 2021-22 NBA Finals, but… we’re seeing real growth.

And something about this Wolves team feels different. The talent, the energy, the comradery, the will to win? From the big three of KAT, DLo and Edwards (who scored a combined 81 points vs Houston) down to the end of the bench, everyone’s accepted a role and seems to be moving in the same direction. Which we all hope is the playoffs.

Big 3 Comes Up Big

Outside of new ownership partners and front office scandals, a lot of this past offseason for the Timberwolves was focused on making a splash addition via trade or free agency. That made sense given the names being thrown around. Ben Simmons and Myles Turner would have exponentially accelerated the growth chart for this young, budding team.

But instead of making any noteworthy external additions, the Wolves focused on developing their own players. That started with the big three they already have one roster. Improved efficiency on offense paired with more awareness and effort on defense is what Chris Finch was looking for.

And we’re seeing buy-in and improvement in all four categories, which paid them off in the box score. Edwards and Towns took over the first half, setting Russell up to close things out to bury Houson in the second half. Everyone on roster got to play and every player scored. But nobody outside of KAT, DLo and Ant had over 6 points.

The potential for this trio on offense is through the roof. Towns is one of the best shooting big men of all time, Edwards has developed into a true scorer from every level and Russell dictates the pace and energy. Defensively, these guys are never going to be elite. But that doesn’t mean they have to be a detriment.

If they can just play defense with consistent energy and focus, the Wolves will take giant leaps forward. And they’ll see it payoff in their numbers, individual accolades and (most importantly) wins.

The Other Big 3

Let’s be honest, it’s difficult to lack energy on defense when you’re playing next to Josh Okogie, Jaden McDaniels and/or Jarred Vanderbilt. If you want an overreaction to game one, it’s that those three guys on defense will be just as important to winning as Towns, DLo and Ant are on offense.

They won’t show up in the box score often and won’t even be on the court together much of the time. But Okogie, McDaniels and Vanderbilt remedy a lot of the defensive warts left on this team’s skin by others who are more offensively focused. And this is before Patrick Beverly (1-game suspension) joins the fray.

But all six of the players we’ve talked about so far are smart enough and skilled enough to play both sides of the floor at a competent level. And through the preseason and one regular season game, they all have. But there are 81 left to play.

That’s where the sudden wealth of Wolves depth comes in. Malik Beasley, Taurean Prince, Naz Reid will all play key roles too and those three will put up some impressive offensive numbers should they stay healthy and on the court. Chris Finch will likely give 10-11 players regular minutes, to start the season. All of them are worthy, which is a luxury most teams don’t have.

Cautious Progress

I’m trying my best to keep this one game in proper perspective.

But while it’s true the 2021 Rockets are terrible, it can also be true that the Wolves are new and improved too. If nothing else, Wednesday night’s game taught us one important lesson. The 2021 Minnesota Timberwolves, unlike the Rockets, are not a team still sitting in the basement of the NBA.

It’s clear they’re much to skilled and organized for that. Progress! Good teams blow out bad teams just like Minnesota did Houston to open the season. Now at 1-0, they need to move on and bring the same energy in game two. That’s part of the growth process.

Next on the schedule is the New Orleans Pelicans on Saturday night, who are missing their 300-pound star, Zion Williamson. They should win again (in similar fashion). The Wolves schedule opens with seven of their first eight games at home.

I’m not excited, you’re excited. Taurean Prince has even put his budding music career on hold.

Cooper Carlson | Minnesota Sports Fan