For a team that has endured losing for almost a decade, the Minnesota Timberwolves sure are savoring the early-season success they’re experiencing right now.
After a series of underlying factors such as bad management, poor roster construction and player fallouts, the Wolves' success has been unprecedented (and sweeter than ever).
They are currently 30-12 at the halfway point of the season, which is the best mark in the West. They are the first team in the Western Conference to reach 30 wins, trailing only the Boston Celtics for the best record in the NBA.
Minnesota is on a 60-win pace, and they have the easiest schedule remaining in the entire league.
They are also on pace to surpass the franchise record of 58 wins in a season, which occurred in 2004 when they were led by Kevin Garnett (the best player in franchise history), Sam Cassell and Latrell Sprewell.
The next goal for this Wolves team? Win their first playoff series since that 2004 season.
After two decades of struggles, what changed for the Wolves? Let's break down their turnaround.
The Wolves currently have the best defense in the league by a wide margin, allowing 105.8 points per 100 possessions (the runner-up is allowing 108.3 points per 100 possessions).
They guard opponents unlike any other team in the NBA led by three-time Defensive Player of the Year Rudy Gobert at the rim. Surrounding Gobert are potential All-NBA-caliber defenders at the wings in Jaden McDaniels, Kyle Anderson, Anthony Edwards and Nickeil Alexander-Walker.
Although their offense is still suspect and a work in progress, the team knows how to lock down the opposition.
ALL-STAR-CALIBER TRIO PLAYING WELL
The Wolves' trio of Gobert, Edwards and Karl-Anthony Towns have been terrific.
The team is led by Edwards, a charismatic and burgeoning young superstar who has drawn comparisons to all-time great shooting guards Dwyane Wade (due to their similar build and playing style) and Michael Jordan (due to some eerie resemblances in their aerial capabilities, footwork and bank shots).
Edwards constantly wows the crowd with highlight-reel plays, and he gives the Wolves a true alpha, leader and closer. He's someone they can count on in the clutch, delivering when it matters the most.
Bruce Brown, an adversary of the Wolves during their last playoff run when he was on the top-seeded Denver Nuggets, said that Edwards was the toughest guy he had to guard all postseason. He also added that Minnesota was the toughest team that Denver faced on their way to their championship.
The Wolves followed up this praise by beating the Nuggets in November and climbing to the No. 1 seed in the West.
The 22-year-old credited his stint with Team USA in the FIBA World Cup for being able to play in a system rather than just relying on isos all the time. Edwards was the leading scorer of the USA squad that finished just fourth, but the experience was invaluable for Edwards and prepared him for the season.
Gobert is thriving once again after a down season a year ago. The 31-year-old is turning heads and serving as the anchor of the best defense in the league. He is one of the front runners for the Defensive Player of the Year award, which would be his fourth (and tie him with Ben Wallace and Dikembe Mutombo for most all-time).
It wasn't long ago that fans were dubbing Minnesota's deal for Gobert as one of the worst trades in NBA history, but Gobert has bounced back beautifully as the front office’s vision of playing him with Towns came to fruition.
Like Edwards, Towns is building off a strong stint in the World Cup and has been rock solid for the Wolves. The No. 1 overall pick in the 2015 NBA Draft is taking a backseat to Edwards for the good of the team. After plenty of losing seasons, Towns will do whatever is takes to win. He set his ego aside and committed to being the best second option in the league, which has had a huge impact on the Wolves.
There have been times when Towns is asked to shoulder more of the offensive load (such as when Edwards was struggling or absent) and he's stepped up in those moments. He has also been incredibly efficient, averaging 21.6 points while shooting 51.1% from the field and 43% from three-point range.
HIGH-LEVEL ROLE PLAYERS
The Wolves' trio is surrounded by quality role players, including starters McDaniels and Mike Conley. Both are nice supplementary pieces, with Conley providing stability as a floor general and shooting to space the floor and McDaniels giving them elite perimeter defense as well as spot-up shooting and occasional shot-making.
Minnesota arguably has the best eight-man rotation in the league, likely rivaled by just Boston and Denver.
In the playoffs, where rotations shrink and coaches tend to play their most trusted players, that's usually seven or eight players.
Off the bench, the Wolves have big man Naz Reid, a 6-foot-9 super scorer who’s become a Sixth Man of the Year candidate by providing instant offense. There’s also Anderson, a reliable Swiss army knife and point forward who is a playmaker on offense. Alexander-Walker does a little bit of everything, serving as a back-up ballhandler to Conley, lockdown wing defender and three-point shooter.
A huge credit for the Wolves' success this season goes to president of basketball operations Tim Connelly, who is the engineer of this roster. His vision and willingness to swing for the fences have paid off in a major way.
Chris Finch, who was hired as the team's head coach in 2021, has done a terrific job and is currently garnering some Coach of the Year buzz for his efforts.
The same goes for new owners Alex Rodriguez and Marc Lore, who went all in and weren’t afraid to spend for a win-now team that wants to win.
After years of mediocrity, the Timberwolves are finally heading in the right direction. A small-market team that has exceeded all expectations, Minnesota has been one of the feel-good stories of the season – and they are just getting started.