After trading for Rudy Gobert, the Minnesota Timberwolves are now in discussion for the strongest starting five in the Western Conference.
Gobert would slide alongside Karl-Anthony Towns to form one of the most dominant frontcourts in the NBA. If Anthony Edwards and Jaden McDaniels can step up and D’Angelo Russell can play like he did last year, the Timberwolves should have no problem becoming one of the best starters in franchise history.
This task is harder than you think. Using Bill James’ winning share metric, the Timberwolves have had some talented lineups throughout their existence and there will need to be some improvement for the group to reach that goal next year.
The Timberwolves’ success last season was no accident. They finished with a record of 46-36 and made their second playoff appearance in the past 18 seasons. Instead of focusing on the first-round loss to the Memphis Grizzlies, it’s interesting to see how Gobert improves on that unit.
After years of miscasting down the middle, Towns will move to the top to make way for Gobert, who was third last season at 0.264 win percentages per 48 minutes, behind only Nikola Jokic (0.296) and Giannis Antetoukounmpo (0.281). .
If Russell, Edwards and McDaniels maintained their earnings share rate from last year, this year’s lineup would have 0.713 earnings shares per 48 minutes — the third-highest rate in franchise history. And with Edwards looking like a megastar and McDaniels getting better game by game, there’s every chance both will improve their 21-22 odds next season.
Tom Thibodeau’s search for Jimmy Butler ultimately set the franchise back, but for one season it paid off as one of the greatest lineups in franchise history.
Towns assembled one of his best seasons with 21.3 points and 12.3 rebounds per game to make his first All-NBA team. Butler also enjoyed his coming-out party as a legitimate Superstar, averaging a then-career-high 22.3 points per game.
The Timberwolves could have used more of Andrew Wiggins but that didn’t stop them from topping the Northwest Division for most of the season. Despite the troubles off the field, Minnesota had their highest winning total (47) and their first playoff appearance since 2003-04.
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It’s surprising to see this team so low on the list. The 2003-04 team is the most popular in franchise history and the only team to advance through the first round of the playoffs. If anything, there’s a valid argument that they could have won the NBA championship had it not been for Sam Cassell’s “Big Balls” dance during the Western Conference semifinals.
Ah, here we are. Kevin Garnett achieved the highest win share rate in franchise history and won the MVP award, while Cassell had one of the best seasons of his career.
It’s interesting to imagine what Wally Szczerbiak might have done had he not been dealing with a nagging foot injury, but Michael Olowokandi, Trenton Hassell and Latrell Sprewell made an impressive supporting cast. The Timberwolves went 58-24, winning the Midwest Division title and advancing to the Western Conference Finals before being defeated by the Los Angeles Lakers.
It would be excusable if you forget about this team, but according to win shares, it’s one of the most effective groups in franchise history.
Much like the current Timberwolves are attempting, this group had a dominant presence up front. Kevin Love was a sharp striker and Nikola Pekovic was an attacking presence in the colour. Gobert is a superior defender but this duo could be the blueprint for what the Timberwolves could look like next season.
For this team, it meant being in the Western Conference playoff race until Ricky Rubio tore his cruciate ligament in a March game against the Lakers. Without Rubio on the floor, the Timberwolves finished 40-42 and lost in the Western Conference playoff race where the 49-33 Dallas Mavericks were the eighth seed.
The height of the Kevin Garnett era was filled with a lackluster supporting cast, but this year they got it right.
Garnett made his contribution, averaging 21.2 points and 12.1 rebounds, but Wally Szczerbiak prevailed by shooting just under 45% on 3-point attempts. Terrell Brandon was a steady influence at point guard and Chauncey Billups began to morph into a Hall of Famer to help the Timberwolves set a 50-32 record.
Despite being the third most wins in franchise history, their reward was fifth place in an invited Western Conference. Dirk Nowitzki dominated a three-game sweep by the Dallas Mavericks, averaging 33.3 points and 15.7 rebounds as the Timberwolves were in the midst of seven straight first-round eliminations.