The rise of Anthony Edwards was expected to eventually propel the Minnesota Timberwolves into the upper echelon of the Western Conference, but few outside of Minneapolis could have imagined that it would happen this soon.
Through the first quarter of the regular season, the Timberwolves lead the West standings for the first time since 2004. Furthermore, with an 18-5 win-loss record, they have gradually separated themselves from the rest of the pack and now find themselves 2.5 games ahead of the second place Denver Nuggets. Minnesota has now won seven of its last eight games and, more impressively, have yet to lose back-to-back games this season.
As many anticipated, Edwards, now in his fourth season in the NBA, is once again leading the way for these Timberwolves. He is averaging 24.4 points, 2.4 three-pointers, 5.6 rebounds, 4.8 assists, 1.2 steals, and 0.5 blocks through 19 games this season and looks well on the way to his second consecutive NBA All-Star game appearance.
Edwards’ per-game numbers have actually plateaued after taking a major leap last year which is the most encouraging thing about Minnesota’s strong start to the season.
The improvement in the Timberwolves’ record can be mainly attributed to the increased familiarity that they have with one another together with the development of their other young players.
One of the most obvious differences this year from last is the fit of Rudy Gobert with the rest of this team. Initially, the acquisition of the three-time NBA Defensive Player of the Year over a year ago and the plan to pair him in the frontcourt with Karl-Anthony Towns was met with great skepticism. Compounding the challenges was the fact that Towns had to miss four months of the regular season due to injury which made it even more difficult for them to integrate their “Twin Towers” approach.
This year, Gobert is clearly much more comfortable with his teammates and vice versa. This upgraded on-court chemistry has allowed Minnesota to emerge as the NBA’s top defensive team this year. They currently have the best Defensive Rating in the league and a part of this is driven by their ability to play “Tall Ball” versus a field that has constantly grown smaller over the past decade.
The flexibility of the Timberwolves’ head coach Chris Finch to throw out line-ups featuring the 7’1 Gobert flanked with two–or even three–of Karl-Anthony Towns (7’0), Naz Reid (6’9), Jaden McDaniels (6’9), and Kyle Anderson (6’9) has been a problem for opponents and they should only grow more dangerous as they spend more time together.
Aside from Gobert’s renaissance, another player who has sparked this team’s rise is Reid. It is easy to overlook that the reserve big man is still only 24 years old as he has already been a key contributor for this team for five seasons.
Through his first 23 appearances this season, Reid’s refined offensive repertoire (39.% three-point shooting on 4.8 attempts a night) has paved the way for him to play a career-high 22.3 minutes per game. His scoring average is now up to 13.4 per contest and he has consistently shown that he can step into a bigger role when needed like what he did in Minnesota’s most recent win.
The Timberwolves, despite a three-of-19 shooting night from Edwards, pulled off a 119-101 victory against the Dallas Mavericks. The game was not as easy for Minnesota as the final score suggests though as they fell behind by as much as 15 points in the first quarter.
Reid’s insertion into the game was a key turning point for them and he wound up leading them in scoring with 27 points. His improved perimeter shooting was on full display as he hit a career-high seven-of-11 three-pointers. This shot-making ability as a center allows Reid to thrive in many different line-up combinations with the Timberwolves and he may ultimately hold the key for unlocking this team’s upside as presently constructed.
It is gradually becoming evident to the rest of the NBA that this Minnesota team cannot be underestimated. They have a generational talent in Edwards leading the way aside from having legitimate size in the frontcourt and a growing sense of how to play with one another. This team could very well contend for the title this season especially with some of the West’s traditional powers such as the Golden State Warriors beginning to show their age.
The Timberwolves are ready for primetime and the rest of the league has been duly warned.