Minnesota Timberwolves – Contenders or Pretenders?

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Let’s direct our attention to the Minnesota Timberwolves for the next installment in this series. This team has exceeded many of its expectations this season. With less than 10 games to go, the Timberwolves have already secured an above .500 record for the season, marking only the 10th winning season in the franchise’s 33-year history. Head Coach Chris Finch has worked wonders in playing to the strengths of this group as they look towards the playoffs.

Minnesota Timberwolves – Contenders or Pretenders?

The Timberwolves’ Strengths

3 Point Shooting

Karl Anthony-Towns has been forced to deal with little to no spacing around him for the majority of his career. Some grizzled fans may remember watching Towns struggle to create efficient offense with Treveon Graham in the corner to spot up. These days, Towns has opportunities to kick out to actual shooters like Jaylen Nowell or Malik Beasley. This season the Timberwolves are 12th in three-point percentage and are 3rd since the turn of the year. Effective shooting from deep is at the core of this group’s identity, fitting for a team led by the three-point contest champion.

Forcing Turnovers

At the other end of the floor, the Timberwolves are solid as well, attributable to the defensive ideals implemented by Coach Finch. He has taken advantage of the youth and length on this roster to inspire this team to 3rd in the league in steals. It’s helped push them to 12th in defensive rating, and bolsters the offense by creating points in transition.

Depth

The Timberwolves have learned this season that an effective bench is essential to success. Coach Finch is always toying with the rotations to provide opportunities and find more effective lineups. Each of the bench staples have had statement games this season, sealing wins during games where the starters come out flat.

Jaylen Nowell started the season deep on the bench but has taken advantage of his playing time and found a role as a microwave scorer. Beasley is once again a highly efficient three-point shooter, hitting 41% of his long balls since the new year. Naz Reid has improved this season as well, his improved athleticism pairs well with his scoring and passing skills. He does well as an approximation of Towns in his minutes. Jaden McDaniels is constantly expanding his game, adding more off the dribble moves, getting to the rim more often, and weaponizing his length on defense to help and recover in all directions. Lastly, Taurean Prince and Jordan McLaughlin have also been a great help, drilling threes and running the offense as needed.

The Timberwolves’ Weaknesses

Consistency

Coach Chris Finch has noted in a press conference that youth is synonymous with inconsistency in the NBA. Despite both Towns and D’Angelo Russell starting their primes, the Timberwolves are one of the youngest teams in the league. This makes them susceptible to ebbs and flows throughout the season. The Timberwolves have had a habit of becoming complacent after a few easy wins, only to get rocked by the next formidable team they play. To succeed in the playoffs they have to put their youth aside and lock into their opponents.

On the other end of the floor, the Wolves went through somewhat of a character change. Early on, Jarred Vanderbilt and Patrick Beverley led an aggressive defense that would fluster unprepared teams. Slight changes to defensive schemes encouraged more switching, active communication, and constant scrambling. This led to turnovers and easy offense for the Wolves. At some point, the Wolves lost their edge, and pivoted to a more offensive team. With the playoffs coming fast, the Wolves need to find their defensive grit again, because playoff teams won’t let them get by playing one side of the ball.

Brawn

The Timberwolves struggle to deal with strength. Brawny bigs like Jonas Valanciunas or Joel Embiid expose the lack of rebounding prowess on this team. Valanciunas in particular has won games for the Pelicans by grinding on the offensive glass. Jarred Vanderbilt is a talented rebounder but lacks the size to guard these types of bigs straight up. Towns and Reid are closer to finesse bigs, and are vulnerable to being pushed around. There aren’t many ways to scheme around this issue, it has more to do with the makeup of the roster. For the future, the Wolves will need a power forward that can handle stronger bigs or a new solution at backup center.

Prediction

The Wolves have locked themselves into at least the play-in. They are actively competing to secure the 6 seed, making them a surefire playoff contender. A first-round upset of the Golden State Warriors or Memphis Grizzlies would be more than enough to mark a successful Timberwolves season. With the right roster tweaks and some internal improvement, the Minnesota Timberwolves could have a Grizzlies-esque season next year, and become a true force in the West.

Main Photo: Embed from Getty Images