At best, the Minnesota Timberwolves were an afterthought coming into the new NBA season. At worst, the franchise felt like it could be on the precipice of another full scale reboot with a new front office installed, growing discontentment from $146 million dollar man Andrew Wiggins, a few juicy trade chips on the roster, and lingering doubt about star Karl-Anthony Towns’ long-term happiness in Minnesota.
Instead, the Timberwolves are undefeated and the only 3-0 team in the NBA after one week of games.
The Wolves’ survived Kyrie Irving’s 50-point debut in Brooklyn in their opener, pounded the Hornets in Charlotte two nights later, and then erased to double-digit deficit to surge past the Heat for a win on Sunday.
The Timberwolves’ long-running issues are far from fixed, but the franchise does feel like it’s made some real progress during this young season. This is how the Timberwolves have become the winners of the NBA’s first week.
Karl-Anthony Towns is playing like an MVP
If the NBA was handing out an MVP award after one week of games, Karl-Anthony Towns would likely be the recipient. His numbers are monstrous through three contests: 32 points, 13.3 rebounds, five assists, three steals, and two blocks per game on 52.5 percent shooting from the field and 50 percent shooting from three-point range on 9.7 attempts from deep per game.
There is simply no way to stop Towns right now. At 6’11, 250 pounds, KAT is perhaps the best shooting big man in basketball. He’s attempting more than twice as many threes as he’s ever taken in his career, and he’s hit at least four in every game so far. We are watching one of the truly great offensive weapons in the sport coming into his prime.
Towns is also showing a better commitment on the defensive end, where he’s been maligned since entering the league. He’s No. 10 in the league in rebounding rate among players who have averaged at least 20 minutes per game, he’s second in the league in steals per game and No. 11 in blocks per game.
The Wolves’ are building their entire system around Towns’ unique offensive talents and allowing him to play to his strengths. No one is trying to make Towns a traditional big man anymore with a steady diet of post-ups. While he can still score inside, Towns is at his best as a pick-and-pop sniper who can score with ease when he’s isolated against one defender. This is the KAT we’ve been waiting for.
Minnesota’s offense is versatile and it’s firing three-pointers at will
The Wolves’ offense has been the biggest driver of their early success. Entering the week, they’re No. 3 in offensive efficiency behind only the Clippers and Spurs. The most notable change from last season? Minnesota has a lot more shooters on the floor and they’re all getting the green light to fire from deep.
The Wolves are averaging 42 three-point attempts per game after taking 28.7 last season. Even though Minnesota is only making 30.2 percent of those shots, the increase in volume is still making them harder to defend. By starting Towns at the five and Robert Covington at the four in place of more traditional big men like Gorgui Dieng and Taj Gibson, new coach Ryan Saunders has a five-out attack.
Minnesota’s early-season rotation just has a lot more versatility than it has in the recent past. Off the bench, Noah Vonleh can play either front court spot, Jake Layman can play either wing spot, and Shabazz Napier can play either guard spot. All three were free agent additions this summer. That doesn’t even count last year’s first rounder Josh Okogie, one of the NBA’s most impressive young defenders, and this year’s first rounder Jarrett Culver, who could eventually be a star in the making.
Can Wiggins be salvaged?
Andrew Wiggins had an awful start to the season, finishing -26 in the Wolves’ opening night win over the Nets. How is that even possible? Wiggins is always going to be overpaid and he’s never going to be great, but credit him for bouncing back with two nice showings in the games since.
The Wolves’ weekend win against the Heat might have been the high point of Wiggins’ career. Down three in the fourth quarter, Wiggins went on a personal 11-point run to bring his team the victory and finish with 25 points and six rebounds on the night. It was awesome to see his teammates mob him after clutch three late in the game.
Wiggins got the Wolves going crazy pic.twitter.com/swrvFfzbXn— NBA on ESPN (@ESPNNBA) October 28, 2019
It’s about time the Wolves became a feel-good story.
The playoffs are still likely a stretch in an absolutely unforgiving Western Conference, but the Wolves are going to be fun to watch all season if nothing else. Minnesota deserves it. Jimmy Butler might have finally killed their eternal playoff draught two years back, but this is still a fanbase that hasn’t had much to root for since the glory days of the Kevin Garnett era 15 years ago.
Towns feels like he could breakthrough into a consensus top-10 player in the NBA this year. The offense has more lineup versatility and is taking better shots. The impact of Covington, healthy after a knee injury last year, also can’t be discounted. The Wolves are 16-10 in games he’s played in since acquiring him in the Butler trade.
Saunders, at just 33 years old, has the Wolves playing smarter and more cohesively. The new front office, led by Gersson Rosas and Sachin Gupta, has already started adding talent to the roster. The schedule is going to get more difficult for the Wolves — they face the 76ers and Bucks this week — but the start of the season has given the organization something to build on, and — just as important — something for the fans to get excited about.