Klay Thompson returned to the court for the Golden State Warriors last week for the first time since 2019. The Memphis Grizzlies are the hottest team in the NBA, with Ja Morant leading the charge again. There’s still trouble in paradise as the Los Angeles Lakers haven’t risen above average. The Phoenix Suns are tied for the best record in basketball. All of this is going on in the Western Conference. Meanwhile, the Minnesota Timberwolves quietly go about their business, and that’s the way they should prefer it for now.
Chris Finch’s squad has seen the offense come alive in their recent stretch, and they’re ripping off wins. Karl-Anthony Towns recently dropped a 40-spot on the Houston Rockets, and the Wolves put up 135 points against the Oklahoma City Thunder in the game before that. The explosiveness has come to life, and Minnesota is firing away on the offensive side.
Currently, Minnesota is seated at the eight-spot in the Western Conference, only a couple of games behind the Dallas Mavericks for the fifth spot. It’s been a roller coaster ride filled with streaks for the Wolves for much of this season, but they aren’t getting much attention outside of Minnesota. Anthony Edwards has been great. KAT has flashed the All-Star dominance from a couple of years ago. Key role players have emerged — Jarred Vanderbilt, Jaylen Nowell, etc. Outside of Wolves fans and avid followers of the NBA, you’d be hard-pressed to find many who recognize those last two names. It’s a perfect spot for Minnesota right now.
With attention and nationally televised games come elevated expectations. It’s okay to have the bar set high, but there are instances where it’s even better to fly under the radar. This is one of those instances for the Wolves while they still are figuring everything out.
Phoenix is an established product, as are the Utah Jazz and Golden State Warriors. Memphis is the flashy new car that everyone is drooling over, and the Lakers will always get headlines despite being just one game above .500. Minnesota is still a work in progress in many ways. They have made the postseason only once since 2004 and are still settling in with the Edwards-Towns dynamic. While many would be just fine with the Wolves getting more nationally televised games and league-wide attention, it doesn’t always lead to better results.
One team in the league is finding that out the hard way this year.
The New York Knicks were 20-21 last year at the 41-game mark, and there was optimism around the team and The Garden. There weren’t expectations. Every victory felt like a new accomplishment for a team that wasn’t supposed to be a contender. This year the bar was raised. New York has already been in primetime as often as they were in all of the regular season last season. From now until the beginning of March, they’ll add another dozen games to the national schedule slate.
The results? Tom Thibodeau’s squad is 20-21 at the 41-game mark. But this year, there is plenty of doom and gloom to go around as fans are growing impatient with Julius Randle, Thibodeau, and other aspects of the franchise. The happy-go-lucky mindset has shifted, and things aren’t so peachy right now despite the Knicks having the same record through 41 games. Minnesota should enjoy the below-the-radar mindset while they have it.
For the Wolves, the ultimate goal is to build something sustainable for years to come with Ant and KAT as the franchise’s faces. They’ve jumped into the playoff picture this year at the halfway point. If the first half is any indicator, they will be hanging around for the long haul this season. They won’t get the attention of the Warriors or the Suns, but that’s just fine for now. Step 1 in the Finch era? Just make the dance.
The teams that burst into the spotlight and get to the mountain top right away are rare. Minnesota isn’t in the tier Phoenix, Utah, or Golden State are right now, and that’s alright. They are starting the process of getting to that point. The first step for this season should be getting an invite to the party. Not having the spotlight cast upon them will help this team as they work towards that relevance and national respect.
Every team wants to be noticed; every fanbase wants to strut their stuff with others watching. Establishing that culture and that mindset for the long road takes time. Minnesota appears to be on their way, and the first 40 games of this season are evidence of that. They may not be getting the recognition from the major platforms outside of the state, but they should prefer it that way for now. There will be time in the season to come for the raised expectations. The playing with house money approach if they make the playoffs could provide all the entertainment needed this season for this team.