I’ve spent most of the past 20 summers tucked away deep in the northern Wisconsin woods. Camp Bovey sits nestled a few miles off Highway 53 in Solon Springs. Throughout my life, I’ve been lucky enough to enjoy the private lake and the north woods solitude as a camper and staff member. As a kid, I remember hearing the story of the Metzger Monster — a Loch-Ness-esque creature that lurked beneath in the waters of Lake Metzger. It’s been a long time since we’ve told the story, so the details are a bit fuzzy. But I remember that the monster was seldom seen nor heard as it stayed below the surface. As the story goes, if ever you were to see the creature emerge from the lake, its size and scale would be mammoth.
Much like the Metzger Monster, the Minnesota Timberwolves are lurking beneath the scope of national media attention. Locally, Wolves fans expect the team to be very good. But, outside the Timberwolves bubble, it seems like more doubts are cast on this team than they deserve. I’ve already written about Minnesota’s probability of heavily outperforming their Vegas odds. Now I’d like to break down how the rest of the world views the Wolves.
Jon Schuman of NBA.com recently released a Western Conference preseason power rankings. He’s got the Wolves ranked seventh in the West, and his main concern is their ability to defend the perimeter. While he acknowledges that Rudy Gobert is a good defense all on his own, he speculates that the mix of perimeter defenders may cause problems. He points specifically to D’Angelo Russell as a liability.
Minnesota had the league’s 13th-ranked defense last season, with Russell as the weakest point in the defense. This year, the Wolves replace two good defenders, Patrick Beverley and Jarred Vanderbilt, with a three-time Defensive Player of the Year in Gobert. Additionally, Jaden McDaniels stepping into the starting lineup should boost that end of the floor. Something tells me their defense is going to be just fine.
In early August, The Athletic published Zach Harper’s offseason power rankings. Harper ranks the Wolves 14th in the “Play-In Tournament Teams” tier. He writes, “Did this team get better? They absolutely did.” And yet they haven’t improved enough in his mind to move from a play-in team to a playoff shoo-in. For fans and analysts across the country, and even some locally, the default assumption is that the Wolves are far more likely to disappoint than overperform. Folks can’t seem to get over the mental hurdle and convince themselves that this team might be really good.
There seems to be a hesitancy in the national narrative to declare the Wolves legitimate competitors in the West. On some level, I can understand the reluctance. The Timberwolves haven’t put together consecutive winning seasons in almost two decades. That’s right, folks. The last time the Wolves made the playoffs in consecutive seasons was from 2002 to 2004. If they can put together a winning season, it would be historic for a franchise that has been mired at the murky bottom of the Western Conference for most of the millennium.
It seems that so many critics are hung up on Minnesota’s historical ineptitude. Those hang-ups have caused the discourse about this team to center around their current deficiencies rather than their strengths. There have been questions about their perimeter defense and concerns about DLo after he laid an egg against the Memphis Grizzlies in the playoffs last season. Also, so much of the national narrative has been about whether the Timberwolves overpaid for Gobert. At the same time, there seems to be a lack of acknowledgment that the Wolves will be able to feature two All-NBA-caliber players and one of the most exciting young stars in the league in their starting lineup. There is some real upside here.
Perhaps it’s best for the Timberwolves to be out of the national media spotlight. The Wolves can be like the Metzger Monster, just outside of view. But those who know that the Timberwolves are aware of just how big this team is. Both literally — Gobert and Karl-Anthony Towns are a super-sized frontcourt pairing — and figuratively. The Wolves should win plenty of games and likely surprise some teams, and national pundits, with their ability to rip off wins.