Timberwolves

The Greatest Timberwolves Of All-Time

Photo credit: Jim Faklis

The Greatest Timberwolves of All-Time (G.T.O.A.T.) – it’s a list that no one reveres and everyone fears. Two years ago, my CnD NBA Show co-host Dylan Carlson and I embarked on a journey to find out where Wolves greats ranked behind Kevin Garnett. We began by ranking players among three different categories: Tenure, Overall Impact, and Peak Impact. In this year’s update, a first-place ranking is worth 33 points (one point for every season the Wolves have existed), and each subsequent rank is worth one fewer point.

The goal of the Tenure category is to fully capture how much time a player invested in the franchise. To find a healthy balance between the perennial end-of-the-rotation fan favorites and stars who get time on the court, we average each player’s games-played ranking with their minutes-played ranking.

Overall Impact is an accumulation of how much above-average basketball is played for the Timberwolves. We rank players based on overall Win Shares and Value Over Replacement Player, and we average those rankings to find their Overall Impact score.

For Peak Impact, we look at a player’s best season using Value Over Replacement Player, Box Plus/Minus, and Win Share rankings. We average them as with the previous categories, and we also add points for individual accolades:

  • All-Star = 1 point
  • All-Defensive Team = 1 point
  • All-Rookie = 1 point
  • Rookie of the Year = 1 point
  • Sixth Man of the Year = 1 point
  • Most Improved = 1 point
  • All-NBA 1st, 2nd, 3rd Team = 3 points, 2 points, 1 point
  • Defensive Player of the Year = 3 points
  • MVP = 5 points

Additionally, a player gets one point for every playoff series that they played in. As you can see, Peak Impact is a major swing score. Players who amass a lot of individual accolades perform very well in this category and can earn more than the 33 points that they would normally receive for being ranked No. 1.

Spoiler alert: There aren’t many players to get many accolades in a Wolves uniform.

The powers that be have decided that next year Awards and Playoff Points will be in their own category, but the data has been collected, and the article has already been written (and, ultimately, we’re a bit lazy). It takes time to pass rule changes through the CnD Senate, and Dylan is a total Kyrsten Sinema.

After we collect all of the data, we take every player’s worst score and drop it. This gives an advantage to players who were statistically bad in Minnesota for a long time (Sam Mitchell) and those who had short but successful careers with the Timberwolves (Jimmy Butler). By adding the two remaining scores, we finally arrive at a player’s total G.T.O.A.T. points.

You can see our spreadsheet here for a full breakdown of the rankings. Be prepared to not see some household names who played in the bleak mid-’90s winters. Since Wolves’ history is chock-full of subpar basketball, those who played well on decent teams, even for a short time, get a big boost here (see: Sam Cassell). Those who didn’t contribute much to winning, even for a long time, get a big boo (don’t see: J.R. Rider). Now, join us on a journey to look back at the history of the Minnesota Timberwolves to see who were the Greatest Wolves of All Time.

No. 1: Kevin Garnett, 135 G.T.O.A.T. Points

It’s no surprise that KG is at the top of the list. At this point, he’s got a lead in these standings that feels untouchable. Wolves fans watched him grow from a skinny kid fresh out of high school to a league MVP and all-time great. The magnitude of his greatness is matched only by the immensity of his personality. He was known equally for his unmatched defense and knowing who tastes like Honey Nut Cheerios.

While he donned a Wolves uniform, he made 10 All-Star appearances, eight All-NBA teams, eight All-Defensive teams, and won MVP. Beyond the individual accolades, KG led the Timberwolves to their greatest playoff run in franchise history as they made it to the 2004 Western Conference Finals where the hobbled Wolves would ultimately lose in six games to the Los Angeles Lakers.

Garnett is the type of player you could drop in any era, on any team, and he would win. With his ability to defend every position, handle the ball, pass, and shoot, he was a singular talent. Even though his relationship with the franchise has been messy, he’s still the best player to have ever worn a Timberwolves jersey, and it’s not close. No one represents a team like KG represents the Timberwolves as he’s the only player that leads a franchise in all five major statistical categories. We’re not sure anyone will ever pass KG on this all-time Wolves list.

No. 2: Karl-Anthony Towns, 72 G.T.O.A.T. Points

For many years the debate was Karl-Anthony Towns or Kevin Love. With this last All-NBA and playoff appearance, KAT has officially passed Love for the No. 2 spot on the list. It feels good to put Towns this high on the list because he has been nothing but committed to the Timberwolves organization. Whereas with Love, his time in Minnesota always felt fleeting. It seems that KAT wants to be a Wolf lifer.

Now the team finally has a core around him that, in Karl’s words, will win a championship or bust. Whether or not you agree with Towns’ opinion on this squad’s upside, the fact remains that this is one of the most talented Timberwolves rosters ever. If this nucleus can stay together the question will become, How close can KAT get to KG?

No. 3: Kevin Love, 72 G.T.O.A.T. Points

Love occupies a place in Timberwolves’ history that is uniquely his own. His resumé includes three All-Star appearances, two All-NBA second teams, the Most Improved Player award, and an All-Rookie team selection.

He has perhaps the second-best individual Wolves resumé behind KG, but his teams never made the playoffs. The height of their success was the 2013-14 season during which the Wolves finished with a 40-42 record. The lack of team success weighed heavily on Love, and the inevitable separation was less than amicable.

The team had been slowly getting better with every passing season that Love was on the roster. They finally had a year where the core was all healthy, and they won 40 games. The West was tough that year, as the eighth-seeded Dallas Mavericks finished with 49 wins. That wasn’t close enough for him, and the long-foreboding trade request was made. Love’s departure sent the Wolves into another full-scale rebuild and left many fans feeling scorned, booing him upon his return trips to Minnesota for years.

No. 4: Wally Szczerbiak, 64 G.T.O.A.T. Points

Wally World is in the pantheon of seven Wolves players to have made an All-Star team while in Minnesota. Spelling his name is also the litmus test to becoming a Timberwolves writer. Wally was injured during most of the Wolves’ greatest season (2003-04), and his injury, along with Sam Cassell’s, are two of the greatest what-ifs in franchise history. Szczerbiak wasn’t only good on the court, but he was also a fan favorite. A friend of ours still shouts “Wally!” just about every time he hoists up a jump shot.

No. 5: Terrell Brandon, 58.5 G.T.O.A.T. Points

For Zoomers, Brandon might be the first major surprise on the list. Tee Bee takes the honor of being the highest-ranking point guard in Timberwolves’ history. Though some might expect Sam Cassell, Ricky Rubio, or even Pooh Richardson to take this spot, Brandon’s time with the Wolves was excellent. During his two healthy seasons with the Wolves, Tee Bee averaged near All-Star numbers on playoff teams: 16.5 points, 8.1 assists, 3.6 rebounds, and two steals per game, all while shooting 38.6% from beyond the arc.

Brandon was a small but plucky guard whose diminutive stature never stood in his way. Standing at 5’11” in shoes, he was outmatched physically on many nights in the league. He used his tight handle and court vision to take advantage of opposing defenses. He was fearless pulling up from three or driving into the teeth of the defense. Unfortunately for the Timberwolves and Terrell, he was the player picked over Chauncey Billups, and the knee injury would derail Tee Bee’s career soon after.

No. 6: Sam Cassell, 58 G.T.O.A.T. Points

No guard in Timberwolves history had a greater season than Sam Cassell’s 2003-04 season. He made the All-Star team, All-NBA second team, and helped lead the Wolves to the Western Conference Finals. The only reason Cassell doesn’t rank higher is that he spent such a short time with the Wolves. After their conference finals big balls dance, the Wolves missed the playoffs, and he was traded to the Clippers for Marko Jarić.

No. 7: Tom Gugliotta, 55 G.T.O.A.T. Points

Gugliotta was a man born too soon. His combination of size, handle, passing, and shooting touch would fit beautifully in a more modern era of basketball, but still, his talent was evident as he made an All-Star team with the Timberwolves. Googs had a lot of flash to his game and an amazing nickname. He and Garnett were the most fun duo to watch in the league.

After missing half of the 1997-98 season due to ankle surgery, the Wolves moved on from Gugliotta in the offseason. Googs was never able to play a full season again.

No. 8: Ricky Rubio, 54.5 G.T.O.A.T. Points

The hype for Ricky Rubio entering the league considerably outsized his career with the Timberwolves. His performance during the 2008 Olympics, leading the Spanish national team to the gold medal game against the U.S., was remarkable. It was made even more impressive by the fact that he was just 17 at the time. He played with a special Rick flair. In Bill Simmons’ Book of Basketball, he wrote that he had to keep his “pyramid” small so he could add great players in as their careers progressed. Here’s what he wrote:

“I kept the cutoff at ninety-six for The Book of Basketball, first edition. Why? Because we need to leave room for Kevin Durant, Al Jefferson, Yao Ming, Derrick Rose, Carmelo Anthony, Ricky Rubio, or whoever else might emerge over these next few years.”

Rubio would never quite live up to the expectations. His scoring never caught up to his passing ability, but he was so special to Minnesota Timberwolves fans. He and Kevin Love formed one of the best duos in Timberwolves’ history. Though they never made the playoffs as a tandem, they were a shining pasty-white beam of hope that radiated through the darkness which befell the organization for years after the Kevin Garnett trade. Rubio may only be No. 8 on this list, but for many fans, he is No. 1 in their hearts.

No. 9 Gorgui Dieng, 53.5 G.T.O.A.T. Points

For those who know the CnD NBA Show, you might think that we rigged the system to get Gorgui in the top 10. But, cross our hearts and hope to die, Dieng cracked the top of our list solely on the back of his merit. Dieng spent six-and-a-half seasons with the Wolves, and for much of that time, he was halfway decent, which is more than can be said for a lot of players in the annals of Timberwolves history.

During his tenure with the Wolves, Dieng averaged 7.9 points, 6.2 rebounds, and 1.4 assists per game. He managed to amass 26.5 win shares during his time in Minnesota, which is impressive because there simply were not a lot of wins to go around while he was on the roster. The Wolves won 214 games while Dieng was in Minnesota and his 26.5 win shares account for about 12% of all available shares during that time frame.

No. 10: Al Jefferson, 49 G.T.O.A.T. Points

Big Al was special. His footwork in the post and touch off the glass were a thing of beauty. He was a paint beast who played in a league that was rapidly shifting away from post-dominance toward the power of the perimeter. Pace and space basketball was antithetical to Jefferson’s methodical game, and yet he was able to thrive in a league that left many players of his ilk behind. During the 2008-09 season, Al Jefferson averaged 23.1 points per game and only attempted five three-point shots all season. Since that season, no player has averaged 23 points or greater while averaging five three-point attempts or less and no player may ever do that again.

No. 11: Jimmy Butler, 48.5 G.T.O.A.T. Points

Butler is one of the most divisive Wolves on this list. There is an argument to be made that his forced departure from Minnesota should factor into the ranking. To be fair, he was unnecessarily rude on his way out the door. But, ultimately, this system is about facts, and facts don’t care about your feelings.

Butler’s 2017-18 season for the Wolves was anything but mediocre. He made All-NBA third team and second team All-Defense. He spent much of the season in MVP conversations as the Wolves looked to be one of the best teams in the league. Butler missed 23 games due to injury in February and March. The Wolves went 8-9 during that stretch, falling in the tight Western Conference standings from third place to eighth. If the Wolves had finished with a top-four seed that season, we have to wonder if they would’ve been able to make a run in the playoffs. Any way you slice it, Butler’s ’17-18 season was one of the greatest in Timberwolves history.

No. 12: Micheal Williams, 48 G.T.O.A.T. Points

Williams was only able to play two full seasons with the Wolves before injuries put an end to his career. From 1992-94, he averaged 14.4 points, eight assists, and 1.9 steals per game. He was unambiguously the best player for the Wolves during that stretch.

No. 13: Christian Laettner, 46.5 G.T.O.A.T. Points

Three All-Star centers were drafted at the top of the 1992 draft: Shaquille O’Neal, Alonzo Mourning, and Christian Laettner. One of these things is not like the others. Though Laettner did make one All-Star team while he played for the Atlanta Hawks, he spent his three and a half seasons with the Wolves being the second- or third-best player on 20-win teams.

No. 14: Anthony Peeler, 45 G.T.O.A.T. Points

Peeler is perhaps the greatest role player in Timberwolves’ history. He was a prototypical 3-point specialist that shot nearly 38% from deep during his time with the Wolves. Peeler’s 465 made threes was the Wolves’ record for 16 seasons until Andrew Wiggins stumbled over it in 2019.

No. 15: Pooh Richardson, 44 G.T.O.A.T. Points

Richardson was the first player to be drafted by the Wolves. He made the All-Rookie team his first season in the league and became the first Timberwolf to win an NBA award. He was a small guard who could make some slick passes and put the ball in the bucket. Richardson and Tony Campbell spent two years together exciting early Wolves fans in the then brand-new Target Center.

No. 16: Chauncey Billups, 39 G.T.O.A.T. Points

Billups is a big “what-if” for the Wolves. He came in as a backup to Terrell Brandon, but Brandon was struggling with injuries, and Billups competently filled that role. Due to salary cap restrictions, the Wolves were limited in what they could offer Billups. He opted to join the Detroit Pistons, and the rest was championship history.

No. 17: Fred Hoiberg, 39 G.T.O.A.T. Points

Fred Hoiberg’s time with the Wolves was short-lived, but he was a key player during the ’04 run to the Western Conference Finals. He cemented himself as one of the best shooters and defenders in Minnesota history. He shot an incredible 46.1% from the 3-point line during his two seasons with the Wolves.

No. 18: Sam Mitchell, 38 G.T.O.A.T. Points

Mitchell is a Timberwolf through and through, second in Timberwolves Tenure. He spent 10 seasons with the Wolves as a player and two seasons as a coach. His statistical career with the Wolves was less remarkable than this paragraph. But, we Stan a tried and true Timberwolf, and he showed a commitment to this organization that few have shown.

No. 19: Nikola Pekovic, 36.5 G.T.O.A.T. Points

We don’t know about you, but this picture really makes us feel something. Pek was a symbol of an era for the Timberwolves. It wasn’t a particularly great era, but an era nonetheless. Along with Rubio and Love, Pekovic helped turn the Wolves into a semi-serious team for a few seasons. Sadly, his time in the league was cut short due to injury and mafia fantasies.

No. 20: Tyrone Corbin, 35.5 G.T.O.A.T. Points

Ty Corbin had a long 16-year career. He had his best statistical seasons during his brief stop in Minnesota, averaging 16 points, seven rebounds, three assists, and two steals per game during his two years with the Wolves.

No. 21: Terry Porter, 35 G.T.O.A.T. Points

By the time Porter made it to the Wolves, his best days were behind him. He spent most of his time playing back up to Stephon Marbury, but he brought leadership and stability to the Wolves bench.

No. 22: Tony Campbell, 32.5 G.T.O.A.T. Points

Tony Campbell was the original Timberwolves fan favorite. If you go back and ask early-’90s Wolves fans who their favorite player was, the two answers you’re most likely to get are Tony Campbell and J.R. Rider. Campbell came to the Wolves having only averaged double-digit point totals one season during his five-year career. As a Wolf, he averaged more than 20 points per game during his three-season run. The Wolves were not very good, but he sure did score a lot of points. Once, in 1990, he even scored more points than Michael Jordan in the Target Center*.

*The Wolves lost this game 96-91.

No. 23: Andrew Wiggins, 32 G.T.O.A.T. Points

Oh, Andrew Wiggins. His time with the Wolves was fraught. He arrived on the team as a glimmer of hope, and Wolves fans were immediately drawn to his mix of athleticism and shot creation. There was some spark to his game, and there was hope that he could put all the pieces together and turn into an All-Star. Well, he turned into that All-Star we had all hoped he’d be, just not with the Minnesota Timberwolves.

Wiggins was on the Wolves for six-and-a-half mostly disappointing seasons, amassing a total of 15,839 minutes played. Only KG, KAT, and Sam Mitchell have played more minutes in a Timberwolves uniform. But, as we’ve previously chronicled, Wiggins spent most of his time in a Wolves uniform being historically bad. He was able to crack the top-33 because he played SO MANY MINUTES for the Wolves. So many minutes.

No. 24: Doug West, 31.5 G.T.O.A.T. Points

Doug West was an OG Timberwolf. He was in the inaugural draft class and spent nine seasons with the Wolves. His best season was in 1993 when he led the Wolves in scoring. He scored as many points per game (19) as the Wolves had wins.

No. 25: Dean Garrett, 27 G.T.O.A.T. Points

This is the part of the list that gets a little goofy. Some of the players who were along for the ride during the Kevin Garnett years get a big boost for having played in so many playoff series. Garrett is one of those players. He averaged FOUR points and FOUR rebounds in FOUR and a half seasons as a Timberwolf. And if that’s not enough for you, he also wore no. 22 (2+2=FOUR!!!). Welcome to Garrett Math.

No. 26: Rasho Nesterovic, 25 G.T.O.A.T. Points

Of all the centers to play next to Kevin Garnett, Rasho certainly was one of the more memorable ones. He was a solid defender who was woefully inefficient on offense, averaging below 50% true shooting for four of the five seasons he played for the Wolves.

No. 27: Trenton Hassell, 24.5 G.T.O.A.T. Points

Never in the history of the NBA has there been a more aptly named player. Trenton Hassell was a defensive menace who took on the toughest assignment on the perimeter every night. Hassell, Sprewell, and Garnett were a formidable defensive crew that helped the Wolves have the league’s sixth-ranked defense during the 2003-04 season.

No. 28: Joe Smith, 24 G.T.O.A.T. Points

Joe Smith is known more for his contract debacle than his basketball career. His under-the-table contract agreement with Glen Taylor cost the Wolves five first-round picks. Regardless of the harsh punishment from the league, Smith was decent and was sometimes on the court when KG made the playoffs in the late ’90s and early 2000s.

No. 29: Corey Brewer, 23 G.T.O.A.T. Points

Corey Brewer is the only player in NBA history to score 50 or more points in a game while only scoring buckets in transition. We’re kidding, Brewer’s 51-point night in 2014 was a maelstrom, steeped in frenetic energy and chaos. That was Corey. He spent three-and-a-half seasons bringing that intense energy every night.

No. 30: Andrei Kirilenko, 22 G.T.O.A.T. Points

Kirilenko played just one season for the Wolves, but he was excellent for a 31-51 win team, which is precisely the median Timberwolves team.

No. 31: Stephon Marbury, 20 G.T.O.A.T. Points

Right now you might be asking, “How the hell does Gorui Dieng end up No. 9 and Marbury end up No. 31?” This is a fair question. The fact is, Marbury was just okay as a Timberwolf, which is no knock against him. He only spent his first two years with the Wolves before being shipped to New Jersey. It’s hard to make an impact on the floor and on winning in your first two seasons. You’ll notice that Anthony Edwards isn’t on the list, and we’ll have you know that he’s not particularly close.

So the fact that Marbury made the top-33 having played so few seasons with the Wolves is actually a testament to his abilities. Had he stayed with the Wolves for longer, there is no doubt he would have skyrocketed up the list.

No. 32 Luke Ridnour, 18 G.T.O.A.T. Points

We’re gonna let this video speak for itself.

No. 33 Ricky Davis, 18 G.T.O.A.T. Points

Ricky Davis was the second-best player on the worst Kevin Garnett Wolves teams, which isn’t exactly a claim to fame, but it is a claim to the last spot on our list. Davis was talented as heck, but he joined the team as they were on the decline.

That’s all, folks. There’s no doubt that this next iteration of the Wolves will have some new players joining the list. Minnesota is set to be great for the next few years, so we should expect Anthony Edwards, Rudy Gobert, and maybe even D’Angelo Russell to join this list soon. Until then, let us know what you think of our list by tweeting @cndnbashow and @chelangason. And give our podcast a listen on your favorite streaming app.

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