This has been a different kind of offseason for Minnesota Timberwolves fans. Usually, this is a time of fear and regret. Typically in July, we’re second-guessing an iffy draft pick or sitting in the fallout of a trade that sends our beloved stars to win championships in bigger and better cities. Not this year. This year the Wolves are all in. But some want to bring us down, saying this team isn’t going anywhere. Or they’re overrated. Or that the Gobert trade was one of the worst in NBA history. Not here. We are all about positivity, for now, so we’re going to raise the expectations and get those hopes up with one simple question.
Is this the best roster in Timberwolves history?
Okay, so maybe it’s not that simple of a question. A lot goes into making an NBA roster great. You have to have superstars, role players, and reliable benchwarmers who can deliver when their name is called. The Wolves are one of the worst franchises in the NBA, so you’d think a roster with three former All-Stars and the second coming of Michael Jordan would be a shoo-in to be the best group of players in team history. But things are never that simple in Minnesota, so let’s crunch the numbers to find out if the 2022-23 Timberwolves are the best roster this fanbase has ever seen.
We’ll narrow this thing down, so you don’t have to read 17,000 words on all 33 iterations of this team that’s taken the court since 1989. We’ll start by eliminating any team that didn’t make the playoffs, which is most of them. The Timberwolves have only made the playoffs 10 times in 33 seasons, and only two of those teams didn’t feature Kevin Garnett.
We’ll include Jimmy Butler and his best friend’s gang that ended the 13-year drought in 2018 before getting their asses kicked by the Houston Rockets in the first round. We’ll also include last season’s lovable band of ballers that won their play-in game and would have beaten the second-seeded Memphis Grizzlies 5-1 if not for the fourth quarter. As for the Garnett era, let’s go with the team that made the deepest playoff run in 2004 and was one Sam Cassell hip away from making the NBA Finals.
That’s three teams going up against the 2022-23 squad for the illustrious title of the best Timberwolves roster of all time. What a time to be alive. Let’s start with comparing each contender’s best players. The 2004 Wolves offer up Kevin Garnett as their champion. Jimmy Butler might kill me if I said anyone else was the best player in 2018. We’ll give a rejuvenated Karl-Anthony Towns the designation last season. And for the upcoming season, we have a tough choice between KAT again, Anthony Edwards, and Rudy Gobert.
To make things interesting, let’s assume Edwards makes another leap in his third season and fully takes the reins at the tender age of 21. As good as the rest of these guys are, the obvious answer is Garnett. I mean, the man won MVP in a landslide over Tim Duncan and led the Wolves to the best record they’ve ever had. He’s the greatest player in franchise history by a country mile, and he laps the field in this made-up competition.
After MVP Kevin Garnett gives the 2004 Timberwolves a commanding lead, we shift our focus to the starting lineups. KG brought Cassell, Latrell Sprewell, Trenton Hassell, and Ervin Johnson as backup. Butler would probably rather bring the third-teamers to this battle, but he’s stuck with Towns, Andrew Wiggins, Taj Gibson, and Jeff Teague in his corner. 2022 KAT gets to hang out with his good friend D’Angelo Russell, Edwards, Jarred Vanderbilt, and Patrick Beverley at this party. And to round things out, hypothetical 2023 Anthony Edwards gets to semi-run things back with KAT and DLo. However, he gets to upgrade to Gobert, and we’ll throw in newly-signed Kyle Anderson ahead of Jaden McDaniels in this scenario.
Since Gobert and Slo-Mo are a combined upgrade over Vando and Pat Bev, we can eliminate last season’s starters. Butler has a trained assassin outside my house if I say anything nice about the rest of the 2018 starters, so for my safety, they’re out. That leaves 2004 and the hypothetical 2023 starters. As magnificent as peak KG was, with his All-Star running mate in Sam Cassell and the appropriately-paid Sprewell creating the best big-three in Minnesota since Randy Moss, Cris Carter, and Jake Reed, Hassell and big Erv were hardly even glorified role players thrust into the starting lineup.
They can’t compare to the fourth and fifth-best starters on the incoming Timberwolves squad. Russell is a former All-Star, while Kyle Anderson is a proven winner who will provide excellent support to the core big three of KAT, Ant, and Gobert, who all have All-Star aspirations this season. The 2022-23 Timberwolves take the crown for the best starting lineup.
And we’ve reached the moment in the article you’ve all been waiting for. Eight hundred words have all led to this. We compare the reserves to finally decide which Wolves roster is the best of all time. I won’t name everyone that ever played for any of these teams, but the 2004 bench mob begins and ends with the one, the only, Mark Madsen. End of conversation, give them the damn trophy. Okay, maybe Madsen doesn’t move the on-court needle, but 2004 also had the great Wally Szczerbiak returning from injury and coming off the bench. They also had Troy Hudson, the mayor Fred Hoiberg, Gary Trent Sr., and former No. 1 overall pick Michael Olowokandi to clean things up.
For those who have already forgotten, the great Jamal Crawford made a pit stop in Minnesota for a season in 2017-18. Gorgui Dieng and Tyus Jones were doing their thing, while Nemanja Bjelica, Shabazz Muhammad, and Derrick Rose 3.0 gave the Timberwolves a bit of depth. Last season it was McDaniels, Malik Beasley, Naz Reid, Taurean Prince, Jaylen Nowell, and Jordan McLaughlin. However, this season the Wolves replaced Beasly with rookies Wendell Moore Jr. and Josh Minott and brought in journeyman Austin Rivers.
Although the 2022 Wolves were 8th in bench scoring last year, they don’t exactly strike fear in the hearts of opponents when the starters take a seat. That also disqualifies the 2023 Wolves. They traded much of their depth for the Stifle Tower, leaving the 2018 Wolves to battle with the 2004 team. Crawford and Rose are big-time names to be riding the pine in the Twin Cities. But both were at the tail end of their careers and a shell of themselves in 2018.
So it has to be Mark Madsen and the boys as the best bench. Szczerbiak was a former All-Star rehabbing an injury, and Olowokandi found his role as a backup after being one of the biggest draft busts of all time. Fred Hoiberg and Troy Hudson couldn’t miss from three, and Gary Trent and Mad Dog added some much-needed physicality that helped propel the Wolves to the Western Conference Finals.
So what does this all mean? The 2004 Timberwolves had the best overall player and bench but not the best starting lineup. Does that make them the best roster in Wolves history? Yes, yes, it does. This is a very scientific study we’ve just conducted. The data says the best roster is the one that won the most games in franchise history and went the farthest in the playoffs. However, with the best starting lineup, the Timberwolves have ever seen, this latest iteration of the Timberwolves isn’t far behind. Perhaps at the end of this season, we’ll look back while the championship parade goes down Nicollet Mall and declare this the best roster the franchise has ever seen. For now, all we can do is dream and hope the Gobert trade doesn’t blow up in our faces.