Timberwolves

Wolves Going All-In With Supersized Frontcourt

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Up until 2004, McDonald’s allowed you to supersize drink and fry orders.

Coincidentally, that was the last time Minnesota won a playoff series:

Fast forward to 2022, and the Timberwolves are taking a page out of McDonalds’ old playbook by supersizing their frontcourt:

https://twitter.com/CBSSportsHQ/status/1542962435904217088

Minnesota paid a gargantuan price for Rudy Gobert. Now, the Timberwolves boast a trio of Gobert, All-NBA big man Karl-Anthony Towns, and youngster Anthony Edwards.

Minnesota is looking to build on its success from this past season. The team finished with their best regular-season record since 2018.

And for the first time since 2004, Minnesota won multiple playoff games.

Now, the Timberwolves are putting all their eggs in the Gobert, Towns and Edwards basket for the foreseeable future:

On paper, Minnesota can be one of the NBA’s best teams next season. In practice, only time will tell if all three stars can gel together in both the regular season and the playoffs.

Gobert’s Fit Alongside Towns, Edwards

Since 2019, Minnesota has ranked as one of the worst defenses in the NBA.

Timberwolves Defensive Rankings (2019-2022):

  • 2018-2019: 23rd in Opponent Points per Game, 24th in Defensive Rating
  • 2019-2020: 28th in Opponent Points per Game, 21st in Defensive Rating
  • 2020-2021: 29th in Opponent Points per Game, 28th in Defensive Rating
  • 2021-2022: 24th in Opponent Points per Game, 13th in Defensive Rating

With Gobert, Minnesota is hoping to upgrade its defense while maintaining the best scoring offense in the league from last season.

With the Jazz, Gobert was the focal point for Utah’s defensive system:

Since 2017, Utah finished as a top-five defense four times and as a top-three defense three times. 

In Minnesota, Gobert will give the Timberwolves a much-needed defensive identity.

On offense, Gobert’s efficiency as a rim-runner can maximize Edwards in pick-and-roll situations and provide KAT with more spot-up opportunities. KAT’s effectiveness from three will make up for Gobert’s limited offensive game.

Compared to the Jazz, the Timberwolves have better defensive personnel. If everything works out, the Wolves could be a top-10 defense and remain one of the league’s best offenses.

The biggest concern for Minnesota is how Gobert’s and KAT’s skill sets translate into playoff success.

Individually, KAT and Gobert both have shaky postseason resumes:

Team Success for Karl-Anthony Towns and Rudy Gobert in the Playoffs:

  • Karl-Anthony Towns: 2 playoff appearances in 7 seasons (2018, 2022), 3-8 playoff record
  • Rudy Gobert: 6 playoff appearances in 9 seasons (2017-2022), 21-30 playoff record

Minnesota paying a hefty price for Gobert means the team believes he can fit with KAT, especially in the postseason. 

If both big men fall when divided, maybe Gobert and KAT can both stand if united.

Minnesota Locked-In on Gobert-Towns Stifle Towers

Whether successful or a complete disaster, the Timberwolves are financially committed to the KAT-Gobert duo for the long term.

Minnesota just signed Karl-Anthony Towns to a four-year, $224 million extension that begins in the 2024-25 season:

Meanwhile, Gobert is fully under contract until 2025 with a player option for the 2026 season.

The Timberwolves are committing over $70 million to both KAT and Gobert for this upcoming season. If Gobert exercises his player option (very probable), the KAT-Gobert duo will be paid around $100 million in 2026.

Minnesota mortgaged most of their future draft picks and their financial flexibility for the next half-decade to pair KAT with Gobert. 

The Timberwolves believed Gobert was the best player available on the market that was willing to play for their team. In theory, Minnesota has two All-NBA centers in KAT and Gobert, plus a young franchise cornerstone in Edwards.

But the real question is this: was trading the entire war chest of assets for Gobert all really worth it to build around Karl-Anthony Towns?

For his career, KAT is only a three-time All-Star and two-time All-NBA third-team player. He’s never been greater than a top-15 or top-20 player in the league. In the biggest of moments, KAT has consistently crumbled under pressure:

Karl-Anthony Towns: Regular Season vs. Postseason

Despite his playoff struggles, the Gobert trade confirms Minnesota’s affirmation that KAT is their franchise cornerstone. 

Short-Term Success, Long-Term Uncertainty for Timberwolves

Heading into next season, Minnesota’s roster is going to be well-rounded and versatile:

The Timberwolves went 46-36 this past season despite surrendering the sixth-most points in the league.

On one hand, Minnesota could easily be a top-four seed in the Western Conference in 2022-23. 

If Minnesota’s defense improves and the offense doesn’t drop off severely, the team could finish as a top-10 offense and defense in the league. On paper, Minnesota has three All-Star-caliber players and a roster filled with valuable role players. 

On the other hand, the Western Conference is as unpredictable as ever.

The Warriors, Grizzlies and Suns will still be powerhouses. The Nuggets and Clippers will be at full strength. The Mavericks and Trail Blazers will be in the mix. Young teams like the Pelicans will take a leap forward. It’s unlikely the Lakers finish 12 games below .500 for a second-straight year.

The question now is how the team will match up against other juggernauts in the West.

Minnesota doubling down on starting two centers is nothing new in the NBA. In a small sample size, there have been flashes of success for larger frontcourts.

This year, Boston excelled in the postseason starting both Al Horford and Robert Williams. Cleveland just had their best post-LeBron regular season because of the smooth fit between Evan Mobley and Jarrett Allen. In 2021, Milwaukee won a championship by starting multiple seven-footers in the NBA Finals.

But so far, for both a full regular season and the playoffs, a team has yet to dominate with their best players both being frontcourt superstars with major weaknesses.

The Timberwolves’ present and future will be determined by their unorthodox, supersized frontcourt.

About Dominic Chiappone

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