The Golden State Warriors have set the standard for what championship basketball looks like. They play fast, they play smart, and they shoot the lights out from deep. In so many ways, the Warriors are the opposite of the Minnesota Timberwolves. The beautiful game that Golden State plays is a far cry from the plodding, often stuffed-up game that Minnesota delivers. There are still chemistry issues to be sorted out, but the Wolves brought Rudy Gobert into the fold to help the team become legitimate contenders. Last night’s loss illuminates the harsh reality that they are far from being a threat in the Western Conference.
However, we are also far away from panic mode. The Wolves are 10-10 to start the season, which is a disappointing start. Still, in the same breath, the team is just two games removed from a five-game winning streak. There have been signs of life, even if it doesn’t necessarily feel that way from the outside looking in. The players will tell you that this is all a part of the process.
“I think we’re all trying to figure it out right now,” Towns said. “It’s just unfortunate that this feeling is going around. We just came off having the longest winning streak in the NBA, so it’s kind of a very awkward position to be in. But we’re going to find ourselves getting out of it, and we’re gonna play hard.”
Still, it’s a tough pill to swallow when the franchise committed so much to the Gobert and Karl-Anthony Towns pairing. The trade has given the Wolves some runway to get up to speed. Gobert, Towns, Anthony Edwards, and Jaden McDaniels are all under team control for multiple seasons. But the early returns have been less than ideal.
The Wolves knew that pairing Towns and Gobert was a step in a direction contrary to so many teams in the league, but that’s exciting. Taking a different approach to the game puts the Wolves in a unique position to force teams to play in a way that may not be comfortable for them. A matchup against a small Golden State team was the perfect opportunity to assert themselves as a super-sized team in a shrinking NBA. But the Warriors attacked all of Minnesota’s weaknesses and minimized their bigs.
“If we’re going to play big, we’ve got to be big,” Austin Rivers said. Chris Finch inserted Rivers into the starting lineup for McDaniels, who was suffering from an illness. Finch tasked Rivers with trailing Steph Curry all night, something I don’t wish upon my worst enemy. “Their big man was Draymond today,” he said. “If we’re going to continue to play that way, we’ve got to find ways to get better at it.”
This is what great teams do, though. The best ones find their opponent’s weaknesses and exploit them. Steve Kerr knew that one of the Wolves’ greatest weaknesses was the Andrew Wiggins wound that has never quite healed for this franchise. So, what did Kerr do? He drew up an alley-oop to Wiggins to start the game, and he had one of the dunks of the year right over the Wolves’ superstar defender, Gobert.
“They showed you why they’re great,” said Towns. “Their cohesiveness, it’s like an unspoken language they have out there.”
The language of cohesiveness is one that has stumped the Wolves so far this season. Though they’ve tried to find cohesion, the language they speak on the court most often comes out as gobbledygook. Their recent run of success came against teams that were missing key players. They beat the Cleveland Cavaliers without Donovan Mitchell and Jarrett Allen, the Miami Heat without Jimmy Butler and Tyler Herro, and the Orlando Magic without Paolo Banchero and Wendell Carter Jr. Not to mention most of their wins have come against teams who are under .500. The Timberwolves have faced the fourth-easiest schedule in the league, according to Basketball-Reference’s strength of schedule metric.
To be fair to the Wolves, they were doomed before the tip last night. The numbers did not like this matchup against the Warriors. Golden State has once again been prolific from beyond the three-point line. Coming into the game, the Warriors were first in the league from beyond the arc, shooting 42.7 3-pointers per game while converting an impressive 38% of them. The Wolves have allowed teams the 20.9 wide-open looks from three this year, more than any other team. This was a matchup nightmare.
We’re a quarter of the way through the season now and the Wolves are still figuring things out. But with Gobert on the team, the expectations are higher than ever. Tim Connelly made a big bet hoping that this roster could eventually push for a championship. The defending-champion Warriors exposed the Wolves for what they are: a slow, sloppy, and non-cohesive basketball team. It’s far too early to write the Wolves off as possibly elite. Right now, though, it’s clear that they have a ways to go before they are good enough to reach the heights they have set out for.