The Minnesota Timberwolves are currently sitting atop the Western Conference, with a record of 11-3, and in possession of one of the most exciting young players in the NBA in form of Anthony Edwards.
While the team currently has the best defense in the league, Edwards’ offense has helped the franchise propel them to their current standing, averaging 26.1 points, 5.9 rebounds, and 5.1 assists on the year, while connecting on almost 47% from the field, 39% from three-point territory, and 84.7% from the foul line, an improvement of near 10 percentage points from last season.
Edwards has been invaluable in getting the offense going, often having to initiate and execute his own actions, given the offensive limitations of some of his teammates.
Rudy Gobert, the cornerstone of Minnesota’s elite defense, scores just over 12 points per game. Point guard Mike Conley, who we’ll get back to later in this piece, sits at 10.1 points.
Jaden McDaniels, who’s missed time this year due to injury, has yet to break out offensively in any meaningful way, and earned his $136 million extension primarily due to his defensive upside.
Instead, Edwards has had to rely on Karl-Anthony Towns (21.6 points) and Naz Reid (12.4 points in 21.1 minutes) as offensive alternatives to help the Wolves close games.
To their credit, it’s worked so far.
But while Minnesota fans are currently enjoying the tremendous start to the season, it’s fair to wonder if the club has enough offense for a deep playoff run, and whether they can sustain this level of play going into future seasons.
When the playoffs roll around, offensive execution becomes vital. If the Wolves by that time are mostly supported by Edwards and Towns, that’s going to present some problems. Reid, after all, is a bench player who will play limited minutes. For all he’s done in the regular season, it’s been in a restricted role where he isn’t playing even a half per game.
Can Edwards and Towns carry the Wolves deep into the postseason? The door isn’t closed on that, but it would seem like a significant burden, and one that’s difficult to overcome if they meet teams like the Denver Nuggets or a healthy Phoenix Suns team in the process.
Optimistically, the Wolves could get more out of Towns later in the year. Historically, the big man has been used to carry a larger offensive responsibility than what he is these days, and there’s an argument to be made that he could be tasked with the burden of more shots as the season proceeds. Ultimately, putting him at a similar level as Edwards by March or April, in an effort by head coach Chris Finch, could help the Wolves gain the offensive injection they need, particularly if both become near 30-point scorers.
But again, that’s the optimistic view.
Since trading for Gobert, Towns has – simply put – not been the same offensive player. He’s still adapting to playing next to another center, and he’s still trying to identify where to get his shots from. For someone who used to average in the mid-20’s, and efficiently so, Towns has settled for 21 points per game since Gobert’s arrival, and has seen a decline in efficiency and free throw attempts due to playing further away from the basket.
It could be argued that a lesser version of Towns is needed to achieve success, as it has allowed Edwards to blossom. But in the playoffs, the Wolves are going to need as many points they can squeeze out, especially when going up against dynamic offensive squads that can compromize their defense.
As for the future, it’s also fair to wonder what exactly the Wolves are planning to do at the guard spot. Conley is 36 years old, and clearly slowing down. While the Wolves could probably justify bringing him back for one more go-around, they need a permanent solution at the point guard position.
The challenge there? They don’t have the finances to sign big-name players outright.
Next season, the Wolves will spend $110 million on Gobert, Towns, and Reid, all technically centers. It’s also the same year Edwards and McDaniels have their contract extensions kick in.
By then, the Wolves will be a costly team. 90.9% of their salary cap will be allocated to just Towns, Gobert, and Edwards, and that’s before including the $22.5 million salary of McDaniels, the $13.9 million owed to Reid, and whatever Conley will re-sign for.
They do have control of their 2024 first-round pick, before they really begin to bleed in that department for what they gave up to Utah in last year’s Gobert trade. And thus, it’s absolutely crucial their selection next June becomes a good one.
Evidently, the Wolves have some large, overarching, questions hovering over their heads. Fortunately for them, they’re currently winning, and convincingly so, which provides them with some momentum before things begin to get complicated.