The NBA regular season is a month away. Like it is with other sports, now is the time to be overly optimistic about your favorite team regardless of surrounding circumstances. Oddsmakers say the Minnesota Timberwolves’ chances aren’t great to reach the postseason (+465 according to BetOnline.ag), but we are a glass-half-full group here. However, I have a path for Finch’s squad to do the damn thing.
Let’s start with the look in the mirror moment and focus on the Wolves.
For fans of this sworn-to-be-doomed franchise, the optimism entering this season stems from Anthony Edwards taking a leap forward in Year 2 and Chris Finch seeing his plan come to fruition in his first full season running the show. Another All-Star year from Karl-Anthony Towns is needed as well, something he hasn’t been since 2019.
The core is solid for Minnesota, with Towns and Edwards spearheading the campaign and D’Angelo Russell and Malik Beasley providing plenty of added insurance. They lost their first-round draft pick this year via the Russell-Andrew Wiggins swap two years ago, and they didn’t do much this offseason outside of trading for Patrick Beverley and Taurean Prince. That may have Wolves fans feeling slightly deflated entering the year.
However, the most important factor in Minnesota’s success this year is Edwards, Towns, Russell, and Beasley staying healthy. The Big 3 of Edwards, Towns, and Russell hardly saw the floor together at the same time a year ago. When they finally did towards the tail-end of the season, the results provided a crisp outlook towards the future.
That core should flourish.
However, it could be disrupted via the Ben Simmons trade rumors that will continue to swirl. There’s no stopping that until the point-forward for the Philadelphia 76ers is traded. Make no mistake about it; if the Wolves were to pull off a trade for Simmons without giving up Towns or Edwards, their +450 odds would shoot up to something in the neighborhood of +175. He’s that good — minus the whole, he can’t shoot thing — despite all the negative publicity this offseason.
But a Simmons trade is far from a guarantee. And it would take a lot of work to get him to Minnesota, so we roll with the group they currently have for finding the path to the postseason. And with the annoying new play-in tournament, there is more opportunity to earn a ticket to the dance. This helps the Wolves, a team that certainly won’t be a top seed in the Western Conference next year.
Let’s start by getting the league’s bottom-feeders out of the way.
Three teams in the West have worse odds than the Wolves to make the playoffs. The Houston Rockets (+1200), Oklahoma City Thunder (+2500), and San Antonio Spurs (+800) can all take a lap. That trims down the list for the Wolves.
Houston is clearly in a rebuild that will feature Jalen Green but won’t come close to vying for a playoff spot next year. The same can be said for the Thunder as they try and build around Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. Those teams aren’t in the same spot as the Wolves, even though both have promising prospects to build around.
San Antonio is in a weird spot. They lost their veteran leadership group — Rudy Gay, LaMarcus Aldridge, and DeMar DeRozan — all in a calendar year, and there’s a lot of unknown with the Spurs roster. It would take a whole hell of a lot for them to get back into the NBA play-in tournament like they did this past season.
What about the Sacramento Kings? This is a franchise that hasn’t been to the playoffs since the 2005-06 season. They have two excellent young players in De’Aaron Fox and Tyrese Haliburton, and they have high hopes for 2021 first-round pick Davion Mitchell and still haven’t given up on Marvin Bagley III yet.
The Kings indeed have better odds than the Wolves to make the playoffs (+325), but outside of them landing someone like Simmons before the season, does anyone expect the Kings to appear in the playoffs suddenly?
I get Minnesota has made the postseason once since 2003-04, but let’s compare each team’s core groups:
- For the Kings, it’s Fox, Haliburton, Buddy Hield, and Richaun Holmes.
- For the Wolves, it’s Towns, Russell, Edwards, Beasley.
It doesn’t take a lot to recognize that for the time being, the better option this year would be to hedge towards Minnesota.
Finally, we get to the New Orleans Pelicans. This is where it gets dicey.
The Pels have the superstar in Zion Williamson and the sidekick star player in Brandon Ingram, but they were a mess last year under Stan Van Gundy and aborted that plan quickly. They lost Lonzo Ball in the offseason and will try to replace him with Devonte’ Graham and Kira Lewis Jr.
The future is bright for New Orleans if they can keep Zion happy. But what did they show in their 31-41 season last year that would lead anyone to believe the turnaround will be happening this season?
If the argument is that the Wolves only won 23 games, the microscope is too far zoomed out. Minnesota already went through their coaching change. Ryan Saunders was relieved of his duties last year, and Chris Finch took over around the midway point. That 23-win Wolves team went 9-7 in their last 16 games and beat the Utah Jazz, Golden State Warriors, Miami Heat, and Dallas Mavericks — all playoff teams.
Minnesota showed at the end of last year that Finch’s blueprint was starting to click, and they got healthy and proved that trio of Towns-Russell-Edwards can be a vibe for the Wolves. The Pelicans sputtered to the finish line, lost Ball this offseason, and brought in a new coach. That will take time to adjust to despite the greatness of Williamson.
Beating out the Rockets, Thunder, Spurs, Kings, and the Pelicans is Minnesota’s best path towards the postseason next year. And if they do get into the NBA Play-In Tournament, chaos can occur. Who had the Memphis Grizzlies beating the Warriors on the road in a winner-take-all game last year? If Minnesota gets into the dance, the real fun can begin. This is their best path in getting there.