The Minnesota Timberwolves have been getting bodied all over the internet for their excessive celebration after surviving and advancing past the Kawhi-less Clippers team in their play-in game. And rightfully so, because the Timberwolves haven’t done anything yet. Their reward will be a battle against the No. 2 seed in the Western Conference.
Memphis has the same penchant for getting overhyped by mundane regular-season wins. However, they’re given a pass because of their precocious core led by players young enough to still be super-seniors at their respective schools.
Since Flip Saunders died in 2015, the Timberwolves have cycled through a slew of general managers, team presidents, coaches and cornerstone players. Yet, Minnesota is finally on track after enduring a trial and error era through KAT’s first few seasons in the league. The Grizzlies are the rare team that got it right the first time. Desmond Bane was the 30th pick in the 2020 Draft. After being drafted by Houston in the second round of the 2018 Draft, Dillon Brooks was traded to the Grizzlies minutes. Former No. 3 overall pick Jaren Jackson Jr. is the versatile Defensive Player of the Year candidate Minnesota believed Karl-Anthony Towns would develop into after he averaged 2.3 blocks per game at Kentucky in 21.1 minutes a night.
They don’t even have a fiery vet to instill the toughness that’s needed to thrive in the postseason. The match was lit early for Memphis. They’re throwing grease at opponents all game long, they’re the No. 2 team in the West and their superstar guard looks like a future MVP.
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The Zach LaVine, Andrew Wiggins, and Anthony-Towns trio feels like it was cobbled together a generation ago. They were about the same age as these Young Grizz are now. Minnesota just lacked patience.
LaVine was beginning to establish as a multidimensional scoring threat at 22, when the Timberwolves swapped him, Kris Dunn, and the No. 7 pick for Jimmy Butler in an attempt to accelerate their rebuild. For one season, it worked, and Butler helped spark a 16-game increase in the win column. However, like with mose Tom Thibodeau coached teams, success was fleeting.
Minnesota surged into the 2018 postseason an 8-seed, where they were handily beaten by the Houston Rockets in five games. Butler tried and failed to inject that energy into the Timberwolves, but it backfired in catastrophic fashion. The Timberwolves punted the disgruntled Butler to the 76ers and started anew.
At the 2020 trade deadline, Minnesota traded Andrew Wiggins on Draft Day for D’Angelo Russell as the next shifting block in the Timberwolves’ Rubik’s cube roster. A year earlier, Russell was cast out of L.A., where he was originally a member of a young core including Julius Randle and Brandon Ingram that expected to be competing for championships by now.
Russell isn’t the game-changing lead guard he was projected as, but he’s been an asset on offense and a consistent playmaker for other scorers. After the pandemic cut his debut campaign in Minnesota short, Russell’s first full season in Minnesota ended like so many. The Timberwolves logged a 19-45 record and faced a future without a high first-round pick in their disarray because the Warriors owned the rights to their first-round pick via the Russell acquisition.The Warriors turned that pick into Jonathan Kumingas. If this season ended without a trip to the postseason, the Kumingas flourishing in Golden State would have been a nexus point in the Timberwolves era.
It took more whiffs than it should have, but the Timberwolves have finally matured into a playoff squad. Much of the credit goes to head coach Chris Finch, but the growth of Anthony Edwards has played a significant role as well. It remains to be seen if this core has championship potential in them, and that may depend on Edwards’ ascendance over the next two seasons before Anthony-Towns can explore free agency.
This is probably the last core group Anthony-Towns will play with before his contract year. Reaching the postseason is a hell of a big deal for the Timberwolves. Once Minnesota’s celebration and play-in championship parade are over, it will be paramount that they are competitive against Memphis. One thing we know about the Timberwolves is that they will not hesitate to break up the core around Anthony Towns’ core if they don’t like what they’re seeing.