Timberwolves

Minnesota Fed Its Good Wolf and Transformed After the All-Star Break

Photo Credit: Mary Holt (USA TODAY Sports)

There is a Cherokee tale about two wolves that live within us all; one that is evil, one that is good. The two wolves are at odds with each other inside each of us.

In the story, the boy who is listening to his grandfather talk about these wolves asks, “Which wolf wins?” His grandfather responds with, “The one that you feed.”

Obviously, this is more about feeding the good parts of your soul — love, joy, empathy, peace — than it is about basketball. But, this season we have seen two dramatically different Minnesota Timberwolves teams take the court. One team was very bad — the Wolves were 7-29 before the All-Star break. One team was pretty damn good — going 16-20 to end the season.

No, 16-20 isn’t out of this world, though considering where this team started, it feels like a huge step forward.

The theory of success for this team headed into the season was that with Karl-Anthony Towns, D’Angelo Russell and Malik Beasley, the Wolves should have enough firepower to have one of the best offenses in the league. The Wolves limped out of the starting gate with a 105 offensive rating to begin the year which was the 28th worst mark in the league.

Aside from the Injury-riddled winter the Wolves faced, Ryan Saunders wasn’t able to make the puzzle pieces fit together. Particularly, he was unable to gel with Russell, whose game is like a microcosm of the entire Wolves season. When he is feeding his good wolf — facilitating, playing with pace, stripping the ball on defense — he looks like the All-Star that he once was.

When he’s feeding the bad — taking a lot of shots, falling asleep on the defensive end, overdribbling — then he starts to look like one of the worst contracts in the league.

Lately, we’ve been getting a lot of good DLo. Early signs from Chris Finch show that he has figured out how to get offensive production from this roster. Since the All-Star break, the Wolves have managed a 112.8 offensive rating. That is the 14th-best in the league during that time frame. That is a massive step forward for a team that looked lost and confused for large stretches of the season.

The fact that DLo seems to be drinking Finch’s Kool-Aid is a good sign for the future of the Wolves. An even better sign for them is that No.1 overall pick Anthony Edwards is showing that he has the potential to be a No. 1 guy. I was skeptical of Edwards coming into the season. So skeptical that I convinced myself that the Wolves should try to do everything they could to trade down and draft Isaac Okoro, or maybe even draft him at No. 1.

Hindsight is 20/20 and unfortunately, my foresight has severe astigmatism.

Even though my preseason take looks really, really bad, I’m happy that Ant is really, really good. He has taken steps forward this season that I had not even imagined, and I compared him to Dwyane Wade mid-season. In the last 36 games of the season, Edwards averaged 23.6 points, 5.3 rebounds and 3.4 assists per game. Those are nearly All-Star numbers. If Edwards can continue to improve at the rate that he has this season, it won’t be long until we see the Wolves competing for a playoff spot.

The offseason is here and to be honest, I’m happy about that. This has not been the easiest year to follow the Wolves.

Sunday night’s empathic win 136-121 win over the Dallas Mavericks was a fantastic way to go out. The game was full of dunks, crazy 3-pointers and some really good energy. Last night, even though the Wolves are one of the worst teams in the league, it looked like it is very fun to play Minnesota Timberwolves basketball.

This offseason Edwards is going to disappear like Houdini and come back with a few new tricks up his sleeve. Jaden McDaniels will hopefully hit the weight room and come back with some extra pounds. KAT will finally have some time to rest, heal and spend quality time with his family. Beasley will serve his house arrest and, fingers crossed, come back next season with a clean slate — no legal drama, no pending suspensions. DLo will probably spend some time with some exotic animals.

 

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A post shared by D’Angelo Russell (@dloading)

It’s a familiar holding pattern being a Wolves fan, finding yourself with hope for next season at the end of the current.  There are 20 teams in the league that still get to hold out hope for their team, at least for one more game. I look forward to the day that some of this hope for next season becomes actual on-court success and I can root for a competitive team again.

The Timberwolves have to keep on feeding their good wolf so that we can have winning basketball in Minneapolis again.

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