Timberwolves training camp begins Tuesday, with Monday being media day. It marks the beginning of the season with a level of anticipation that rivals Jimmy Butler’s first season in Minnesota in 2017.
The rise of Anthony Edwards and the offseason acquisition of Rudy Gobert caused the Timberwolves and their fans to think big — in more ways than one. Expectations are high and reasons for optimism abound.
Still, even with plenty of talent and momentum stemming from last season’s playoff appearance, there are questions facing the team ahead of the regular season opener on Oct. 19.
WHO Lights the Flame?
Not surprisingly, Patrick Beverley sees himself as the catalyst for the Timberwolves’ climb up the Western Conference standings last season. The veteran guard has always felt underrated.
Beverley, who was traded to Utah this summer and then traded back to the Lakers, responded on Twitter to NBA legend Paul Pierce’s comments about Minnesota being the fourth seed in the West this year by saying, “Get Tony Allen out of the way.” (Pierce’s championship) Celtic have a different team. I say all this. “Toughness and Dog mentality goes further when the skill is overworked.”
Former Timberwolves star Kevin Garnett shared his concerns about losing players like Beverley and Jarred Vanderbilt in the Rudy Gobert trade on his show KG Certified, noting that Anthony Edwards was “getting into a bunch of dogs” with those two players — “some of these personalities and entities.”
Regardless of what the Wolves give up, no one doubts that Minnesota’s ceiling and overall core have improved with the addition of Gobert. And with a grinding personality like Beverley’s, there’s no guarantee it’ll work a second year.
But there’s no denying the influence of the likes of Beverley and Vanderbilt on Edwards, Karl-Anthony Towns and, to some extent, D’Angelo Russell. Their consistent and relentless effort and energy was a spark that ignited even more of their high-profile teammates.
Previously, all three of Minnesota’s “star” players said they were bad defenders who clearly didn’t invest enough on that end of the floor. The 2021-22 Timberwolves were lean and fiery. It was their identity. That’s how they won the games.
The roadmap now is primarily to be better than the competition. But they should retain at least some semblance of that edge that Vanderbilt and Beverly instilled. Could Gobert be the source of that? Or have Towns and Edwards learned the value of that energy that they will have to bring it themselves?
WHAT IS THE PLAN ON ‘D’?
The Timberwolves ranked 13th in NBA defense last season, an improvement that could be credited to the team’s playoff appearance. Success on the field stems from Minnesota’s exciting style of run-and-recovery defense, fueled by “high wall” coverage that challenges ball handlers on the perimeter.
Towns, Edwards and others thrived in a chaotic system that relied more on athleticism than structure.
Utah’s Gobert-based defenses have been the opposite. Up to this point in his career, the 30-year-old center has favored structure-based systems that intentionally focus opponents on the big man. That may require more discipline and determination than some of Minnesota’s younger players have shown on the defensive end before.
So where will Wolves fall between the two styles? Will they groom Gobert? Will they go back to what worked last season? Will there be a combination between the two depending on whether or not Gobert is on the floor?
“Wolves” head coach Chris Finch and Co. will try to strike a balance that works for everyone involved.
HOW HIGH IS EDWARDS’ GOODNESS?
It’s widely agreed that Minnesota will raise its ceiling this summer via the Gobert trade. But the exact height of said ceiling, especially this season, will be determined by Edwards’ progression.
The 21-year-old guard is expected to make another breakthrough. If he plays like an all-star, the Wolves have a clear path to a top-four finish in the West. If he’s an All-NBA player and a top-three shooter in the league, that would likely make Minnesota a legitimate NBA Finals contender.
This will lead to Edwards being more consistent offensively on a night-to-night basis, while continuing to develop into a solid on-ball defensive fighter.
ARE ADULTS SUITABLE?
Finch has repeatedly stated since Minnesota acquired Gobert that the Wolves will not allow other teams to land Minnesota’s best players. That means Towns and Gobert will share the floor for roughly 24 minutes per game.
There’s an upside to the Wolves’ plus-size experience, but everything has to fall into place. Can Towns consistently defend smaller players on the perimeter? Can the Wolves punish opponents inside offensively? Can Minnesota improve its pass defense, which Finch considers most important, with 40 percent of the lineup standing over 7 feet?
The Timberwolves enter training camp with one of the deeper rosters in the league due to its sheer volume of NBA-caliber players. It’s a luxury, but it will create some tough options for Finch and rotation guru Micah Nori.
Most teams play 9-10 guys in a row. The locks for the pivot points will be Towns, Edwards, Russell, Gobert, Jaden McDaniels, Kyle Anderson and Jordan McLaughlin. Taurean Prince is a good bet to play, which will likely leave Jaylen Nowell, Austin Rivers and Bryn Forbes in the battle for minutes at the backup guard spots. It also remains to be seen if Naz Reid will play regularly.