Timberwolves

Exactly How Good Would the Healthy Timberwolves Be?

Photo Credit: Thomas Shea (USA TODAY Sports)

Minnesota Timberwolves fans finally have everything they wanted at the beginning of the season, and in the most Minnesotan fashion, it’s still ringing hollow. Why can’t we even enjoy this perfection? Because we’re still subjected to hypotheticals. When will this translate to competitive, meaningful basketball?

Many Wolves fans are still debating whether or not the team should be tanking, but the argument rings hollow for me. The bottom line is that this franchise is desperate for a positive winning culture not seen since 2004. A four-game winning streak (the longest active streak in the NBA) culminating in a win versus the Golden State Warriors, desperate for a victory after a brutal 30-point loss against the Dallas Mavericks on Tuesday, is a step in the right direction. But it becomes kismet when factoring in the D’Angelo Russell trade and the resulting top-3 protected pick owed to Golden State.

Lottery Odds Update

Remember, losing does not meaningfully affect the chances of landing a top-3 draft pick. At 20-44, the Timberwolves now proudly possess the fourth-best lottery odds. This means that the odds of keeping their top pick plummeted from 40.1% to 36.6%.

Conversely, the Warriors are salivating over a 63.4% chance at landing an extra lottery pick. Not so fast, though, because now 44.6% of Minnesota’s ping pong balls land in the 6-8 range, outside of the vaunted top 5 this year. This was the most detrimental part for Golden State last night — they went from a 39.8% chance at a top-5 pick to 18.7% by the end of the game.

Looking further up the standings, Minnesota is only a game and a half back from the Oklahoma City Thunder, who boast by far the league’s worst net rating (-14.7) since the All-Star break. The Wolves are also only two games back from the Cleveland Cavaliers after a close loss against the Orlando Magic, whom the Timberwolves already passed in the standings.

It feels all but inevitable that the Wolves will have the sixth-best lottery odds at best, and with De’Aaron Fox in the health and safety protocols for the next week for a Sacramento Kings team 2-3 games away from mathematical elimination and six games ahead of the Wolves, I can’t count out seventh either. In this “worst-case” (best-case?) scenario, the Wolves still have a 23.4% chance at keeping their pick, while the Warriors only have an 8.5% chance to receive a top-6 pick.

The moral of this story once again is that Minnesota should keep winning, no matter the cost. If you don’t want to watch this chemistry grow, then your Timberwolves fan license should be suspended:

How good would this Wolves team be?

We get an update on our Twitter timelines after every passing win — the Timberwolves are now 10-6 with Karl-Anthony Towns and Russell both healthy. This extrapolates to a 51-win season in 82 games or 45 wins in this season’s 72-game slate. A .625 winning percentage would place them fifth in the West, just ahead of the Los Angeles Lakers. Let’s dig deeper into this.

For a clearer sample, I won’t count the one game they played together last year. This season, they’re 9-6 together.

I also have to adjust for strength of schedule (SOS). Their opponents over this stretch have a cumulative record of 473-462 (.506 winning percentage). Coincidentally, this is exactly the same as Minnesota’s overall strength of schedule, according to ESPN. Therefore, I don’t need to adjust for the difficulty of the schedules; this can be easily extrapolated. A 9-6 record extrapolates to 43 wins in a 72 game season. At .600, the Timberwolves would still slot into the fifth seed ahead of the Lakers.

HYPE-othetical

Don’t get too hyped by the hypotheticals, though; this is just a vacuum, a vacuum in which Wolves fans have had to cope for three years. It doesn’t account for the fact that nearly every other NBA team has also dealt with a barrage of injuries throughout this roller coaster of a season. The bottom line is that it’s time to move on from late-season consolation prizes toward a future of actual expectations and production. We have been marred by the hypothetical for far too long.

The reality is that D’Angelo Russell has missed fewer than 19 games in only two of his six seasons, and despite beginning his career as a noted iron man, Karl-Anthony Towns has missed 51 games over the last two years. Hopefully, the Timberwolves can finally find a rhythm that lasts for seasons to come. With Anthony Edwards to boot, our anticipatory hypotheticals will grow exponentially each day until next October.

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Photo Credit: Thomas Shea (USA TODAY Sports)

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