Timberwolves

The Wolves Are Quickly Changing Narratives In the Playoffs

Photo Credit: Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

Rudy Gobert will get played off the floor in the playoffs. Karl-Anthony Towns can only put up empty numbers. It’s the Wolves, they won’t be a threat in the playoffs. If you hadn’t watched the Minnesota Timberwolves play this season, you might have come to one of those popular, lazy conclusions.

Wolves fans have been complaining for months about the disrespect the team and players have faced throughout the season. That’s despite Rudy Gobert winning Defensive Player of the Year for a fourth time, tying him for the most all-time.

We all knew this team was good, and we all knew the narratives were fake. Take Gobert’s narrative, for example. He was ridiculed for the Utah Jazz’s 4-2 defeat to the Los Angeles Clippers in the 2021 Western Conference Semifinals. Gobert was supposedly played off the floor because he couldn’t guard the perimeter, specifically Terance Mann, who repeatedly killed the Jazz from three.

If you’ve watched those games back, you know that narrative is disingenuous. The Jazz had poor perimeter defenders and left Gobert to cover ground defensively. The real reason that Gobert was ‘played off the floor’ at any point was because he became irrelevant on offense. That’s something Minnesota has worked hard with him to improve since the blockbuster trade, ensuring Gobert would be dominant against smaller lineups.

However, narratives change at breakneck speeds in the playoffs. The reason? People are actually watching the games. In particular, Gobert had to repeatedly defend Kevin Durant, Devin Booker, and Bradley Beal in isolation during Minnesota’s 4-0 sweep over the Phoenix Suns, and he did so with aplomb.

When competent defenders surround him, Gobert is a generational defender inside the paint or closer to the perimeter. A fourth Defensive Player of the Year award cements him as one of the all-time defensive greats. However, he needs more playoff success for more people across the league to see it that way.

Towns’ narrative shifted enormously after Minnesota’s 106-80 win over Denver, which put Minnesota up 2-0 in the series. With Gobert not available due to being at the birth of his son, Towns had to step up to become the defensive focal point. Not only did he help the Wolves hold the Nuggets to 80 points, but his defense appeared to fluster the three-time MVP Nikola Jokic uniquely.

That and Towns’ efficient scoring are quickly changing the ‘KAT can’t win’ discourse. He’s shooting an eye-watering 53.8% from three in these playoffs, averaging 21 points, 9 rebounds, and 2 assists per game. There’s no conceivable way that you can argue that Towns is not playing winning basketball right now, especially with his terrific defense on Jokic. Is he a team’s No. 1 option? Perhaps not. A valuable, winning player? Undoubtedly.

What about Minnesota’s season-long narrative? The Wolves are pretenders, and their success won’t translate to the postseason. How many 56-win teams have dealt with this kind of discourse before? There can’t be many.

The Wolves have benefitted greatly from the change in officiating that allows teams to play more physically. Minnesota’s physical defense lifted them in the regular season and has kept them undefeated in the postseason. Their leniency on physicality allows them to be even more aggressive in guarding players, particularly the intensity with which Jaden McDaniels and Nickeil Alexander-Walker have dealt with Jamal Murray.

It doesn’t matter if your offense isn’t perfect when the defense is this good. If the Wolves continue defending at this level, they will put themselves in the conversation with the best NBA defenses of all time. Perhaps they aren’t the 2004 Detroit Pistons, but there’s a reason that people say ‘defense wins championships.’

The Wolves have indicated that they’re a good team all season. They have one of the deepest, most flexible rosters in the league. If they want to play small ball, they can. If they want to play three centers on the court at once, they can. Whatever a team can throw at them, the Wolves have the answer.

So why didn’t people believe the Wolves would win in the playoffs? Decades of terrible teams have nothing to do with what the roster looks like now. “I wasn’t here for those first 26 years,” Chris Finch said in a recent press conference, “and I don’t care what happened beforehand.” This team is fresh and hungry and isn’t interested in what came before them. Only Towns has real experience of the franchise’s historic lack of success, and he’s proving just how irrelevant that is right now.

Led by a 22-year-old, face-of-the-league superstar in Anthony Edwards, the Minnesota Timberwolves are retiring a collection of lazy narratives about players and the team. They’re proving just how fast these narratives change and in truly spectacular fashion.

They haven’t lost a playoff game yet.

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