3 Insiders Debate Whether the Wolves Are Contenders This Year

Photo Credit: Matt Krohn-USA TODAY Sports

Bill Simmons had Ringer writers Howard Beck and Michael Pina on his Friday podcast to talk about how the NBA is moving off the Big 3 model and going big. They started by discussing some of the regular contenders, but naturally, the Minnesota Timberwolves came up.

“By the way, you mentioned the Timberwolves,” said Beck after discussing the Phoenix Suns. “They kinda meet my definition of three stars if Anthony Edwards is gonna be a start this year. If we consider Gobert still a star and KAT.”

Simmons rolled his eyes at the suggestion.

Howard, we don’t. I don’t know if we consider Town a star, either. But that’s a team that has the depth across the board. I mean, I’d argue what McDaniels did against Boston the other night, I would probably put him higher on the power rankings.

I’ve never seen anybody guard Tatum like that before. Not even peak Miami guarded him like that.

Pina said that he believes in the Timberwolves.

Okay, so I previewed this season with a column that had 20 increasingly bold predictions, and one of them was Minnesota finishing with a top-3 record in the Western Conference. They look really good right now, No. 4 in net rating, 5-2.

I still think that it’s possible they finish top-3 in the Western Conference. But I wanted to take this one step further and ask you guys, should we consider them a bona fide title contender right now?

“Wooh,” Beck responded.

Simmons believes in the Wolves, though.

I’m there. I did this on Tuesday in the power poll, I had them fifth, and I put it in pen, not pencil. I’m there with them from a size, defense standpoint. And whatever’s gonna happen with Edwards over the next six, seven months.

I mean, there’s contenders, and then there’s like, ‘Are these guys a finals favorite?’ And I just feel like Denver is levitating above everybody else, the Celtics as soon as they fix two bench spots, are probably the two. But I think Minnesota is right there underneath, right? I had them with Golden State and Philly.

Those were the five, and then we’ll see who else joins. But to me, Minnesota, I think they’re there. What do you think, Howard?

Beck still wasn’t convinced.

Well, look, positive sign that the chemistry seems sound-ish – it’s early. Positive that Gobert’s talking about, like, ‘Yeah, this is the best I’ve felt physically.’ Back concerns or whatever that were hampering him last year. That matters.

Because it felt like Gobert was maybe starting to trend – even before he left Utah, even before the trade, it seemed like he was maybe trending downward as that supreme, the walking top-10 defense that we refer to him as. You plug him into any team, they’re a top-10 defense just by Gobert being there.

And it seemed like that was over based on age, mileage, wear and tear. But if he can do that again in this context, and they can have it figured out between him and KAT, Naz Reid plug and play with those guys.

“Don’t forget about the best player in the league,” Simmons interrupted. “Naz Reid.”

“100%,” Pina concurred.

“Best player in the league Naz Reid, right,” Beck said, laughing. “Just a percentage point ahead of –”

“Per 100 king,” Simmons interrupted again, “Naz Reid.”

Beck played along on Reid before getting into how the Wolves fit into the Western Conference picture.

Last night, was it the pass he threw? He threw an incredible pass the other day. It was in transition, dribbling up the court. Yeah, it was the lob to Anthony Edwards, right?

They do. They have a really interesting mix of high-end talent and depth, which is the really, really tough thing to do right now. Because eventually, your high-end talent makes too much money to have any depth whatsoever. Which again, this is the argument against dynasties.

Eventually, whether it’s the Nuggets, whether it’s way too early to talk about the Thunder, but the Thunder have all this cool young talent. Eventually, you have to pay guys. And when you have to start paying guys, you have to start losing guys.

Anyway, Timberwolves, contender right now? I’m gonna pump the brakes. I’m just gonna say we have – there were too many warning signs with this team before KAT went down. And KAT’s entire career is one big flashing warning sign. So I feel that the bar to prove to us that they are legitimate should be higher based on their own track record, and, frankly, KAT’s track record as their centerpiece for so many years.

And I know Anthony Edwards is essentially the centerpiece now. But KAT looms large in this picture, and you can’t just wave him away. You can’t just wave his seven, eight years away.

Pina created a blueprint for how the Wolves become a contender.

I would just say that the recipe here is best defense in the NBA, which they are, and I think it’s totally sustainable throughout this season because of how Gobert has played. He’s averaging over 13 rebounds per game. The field goal percentage at the rim when he’s the closest defender is just like microscopic.

He looks vintage. He looks like he was when he was winning defensive player of the year awards. Him, and then just having a guard who looks like, I don’t know if this is hyperbolic, but he looks like young Dwyane Wade with a three-point shot right now. That’s what Anthony Edwards is.

He’s 28 and 5, 50/40/85 shooting splits. I think most of that is pretty sustainable throughout a regular season for him. And it’s more than the numbers, though. It’s how he’s processing defenses. The game is, it’s much slower this year, you can already tell, than it was for him in his first few seasons.

I know his long-two shot rate is really high right now through a few games. But when he does turn those shots down, and he’s patient, and he’s like waiting for cutters along the baseline or different opportunities to open up on a play, or sometimes he gives it up and moves and gets it back and attacks from a different angle. That’s the type of stuff that superduper stars do.

And the fact that he’s already doing it at this young age this early in the season, showing real comfort with Jaden McDaniels with Mike Conley, with Gobert. He threw a lob to Gobert the other night, when last season he never really even looked at Gobert when he was rolling down the paint.

So I just think these pieces make so much sense. They have so much depth. They have space, they have so much size. And they match up really well with the best team. I mean, they spanked the Denver Nuggets a little while ago.

Simmons liked where Pina was going.

And they beat the Celtics. Yeah, the Edwards piece, the decision-making still makes me a little nervous because they should have lost the Celtic game in regulation. If [Celtics coach Joe] Mazzulla calls a timeout and actually sets up a play, maybe the game goes differently.

But he heats up in a way that reminds me of the best players of all time. I feel totally comfortable saying that. He takes over games for three, four minutes in ways that remind me of the best players I’ve ever seen.

Howard, we’re the two old guys. I don’t think that’s nuts to say, when Edwards is feeling it on both ends for three straight minutes, it’s up there. It’s at a different level, and to me, that’s why they’re a real contender. Because they have somebody who can elevate like that.

Simmons and Pina see the Timberwolves as contenders, but Beck doesn’t seem convinced. Still, two out of three ain’t bad. It’s early, but the Wolves are making believers out of people, even at the national level. That has to be a good sign, right?

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