Every NBA team is interesting in its own way as the regular season get up and running. Having said that, you can make the case that there are few teams more interesting than the Minnesota Timberwolves as we get ready to begin the 2023-24 campaign. They made waves last offseason by swinging for the fences, but instead of hitting a home run, Minnesota hit a soft ground ball to shortstop and got thrown out.
Now, they enter a year where the hope is they’ll be able to take that next step forward, with the trio of Anthony Edwards, Rudy Gobert, and Karl-Anthony Towns living up to the promise the front office imagined when the called up the Utah Jazz and expressed their interest in the French big man. But the question remains: Can the second year of their big three go much better? Hey, on that note…
Biggest Question: Can The Second Year Of Their Big Three Go Much Better?
The Timberwolves took one of the NBA’s more ambitious swings in recent memory last offseason, as the team moved a ton of stuff to bring Gobert to Minneapolis. It was a pretty fascinating statement of intent, as the team clearly believed that a frontcourt duo of Towns and Gobert could work in harmony as Edwards ascends to become the face of the franchise. The result of that bet: 42 wins, 40 losses, needing a win in the Play-In Tournament to earn a postseason berth, where they lost in five games to the eventual champion Denver Nuggets in the first round.
Obviously there are some pretty easily identifiable reasons as to why that was the case, namely the fact that Towns only played in 29 games due to injury. Their offense wasn’t as dynamic as expected. They swapped out their point guard after 54 games, as they were part of a three-team deal with the Jazz and the Los Angeles Lakers to replace D’Angelo Russell with Mike Conley. Instead of having the sort of elite defense that teams built around Gobert tend to have, Minnesota was 10th in defensive rating. The regular season ended with Gobert getting suspended for punching Kyle Anderson during a timeout.
There were bright spots — Edwards is very good, Jaden McDaniels is an impressive player — and the team was by no means a catastrophe. Still, Minnesota didn’t go all-in on the Edwards/Gobert/Towns trio just to win one playoff game and spend the entire regular season flirting with a .500 record. Whether or not they can take a step forward as a trio is the big question for this season and beyond, and if they can’t, there are going to have to be some really difficult conversations about what they can accomplish. But the good news is that those three guys are all extremely talented, they have a well-respected head coach in Chris Finch, and their roster is filled with guys who know how to play alongside that trio.
X-Factor: A Full Season Of Mike Conley
Another step forward for McDaniels can go here, too — man, how excited must the Timberwolves be that they didn’t have to give him up in the Gobert trade? — but we’ll show some love to an important veteran presence. No one is going to argue that Conley, who just turned 36, will play at an All-Star level or anything like that. Conley’s best days are obviously behind him, but he is still quite good at understanding the tempo of a game, getting his guys organized, and making sure his teammates get the ball in the spots that they like. He’s happy to defer to others, and has a good sense of when he has to pick his spots.
Conley started every game after the Timberwolves acquired him in a trade at the deadline last year. While this 4-man group only appears in seven games and 103 minutes together, lineups with Conley and the team’s three stars had a net rating of 9.2, per NBA.com. While they struggled against the Nuggets in the playoffs, Conley is the kind of conductor who can really help those three players gel over the course of an 82-game season. If he can do all the stuff that has made him a great pro for years, he’ll provide a really great 1-2 punch in the backcourt alongside Edwards.