I have tried to hammer this nail into a lot of heads this season: The Minnesota Timberwolves are better than what their records says.
Last night, the T’wolves showed a national audience what they have showed me over the course of the season, but more so since the All-Star break: Heart.
People act like Minnesota is not good. The T’wolves have beaten Atlanta (twice), Chicago (twice), Miami, Memphis (twice), Utah, LAC, Toronto, Boston, Oklahoma City, and now Golden State. While Minnesota has just 26 wins, it’s 10 more than all last season, and have lost 22 games by six points or less.
Sure, they have been eliminated from the playoffs. But that didn’t stop Minnesota from competing with the Golden State Warriors and the NBA’s best record.
The Warriors needed just four wins coming into Tuesday’s game with Minnesota, a team which Golden State has beaten consistently over the last few seasons.
Most thought Minnesota didn’t stand a chance. And they were right for about a half. Down 15 points early in the second quarter, Minnesota’s Shabazz Muhammad started to go to work on the Warriors’ second unit. Still down nine points at half, the T’wolves fell behind by 17 points halfway through the third quarter. Muhammad and Andrew Wiggins helped Minnesota close the gap by scoring 22 of their team’s next 24 points.
Still, Minnesota trailed by eight.
Not to worry, though. Twenty-four of the 28 fourth-quarter points came from players under the age of 22. Minnesota tied the game, forced overtime, took control halfway through the extra session, and handed Golden State its second home loss in a row and ninth loss of the season.
While Minnesota has lost 50 games or more for the 15th time in franchise history, there is something that this squad has that the other teams didn’t: A future.
With Zach LaVine, Karl-Anthony Towns and Wiggins spearheading the charge, Minnesota has the makings of the possibility that this could be the NBA’s greatest big three assembled not via trade or free agent signing.
What is still missing is the complimentary pieces.
I have given Ricky Rubio a lot of criticism because of his inability to shoot the ball. While he has shot better since the All-Star break (40.3 percent and 36.7 percent on 3.3 attempts per game), I still don’t believe that’s good enough. In late-game situations, Minnesota can’t afford to play 4-on-5 on offense. Add in that Rubio is making $11 million per season, the contract is awfully large for a setup man.
I really think Muhammad proved his worth last night. He will never be a starter on this current team, but I think he could become a very good sixth or seventh man for this team. He plays with a ton of energy. He needs to become a better ball-handler and has to make wiser decisions on offense, but he will always give great effort.
Gorgui Dieng is a valuable piece, and is even more valuable now that he can consistently knock down jumpers. He is shooting 44 percent outside the paint this season and 59.1 percent inside the paint. He can defend two positions on defense and has improved each of his three seasons in the NBA. At 26, he will be due for a new contract.
Believe it or not, I think Sam Mitchell has done a pretty good job since January coaching this team. I don’t know if it’s because the team is starting to figure things out or if it’s because Mitchell has loosened the reins a bit on the youngsters. I’m really up-in-the-air about him being the coach next season. This club still plays very bad defense, and I’m not sure if Tom Thibodeau would want to come in as an assistant.
If open, there is no question Minnesota would be the top job available. But owner Glen Taylor has really struggled with finding good coaches since he let Kevin McHale fire Flip Saunders in 2006.
Minnesota should have plenty of cap room this summer and will have a top five draft pick to go with it. The organization needs to shore up the bench and look at free agents who still have a lot of tread left on the tires, but are willing to compromise their minutes per game.
Every free agent would not be smart if they didn’t at least consider Minnesota.
It will not be much longer before Minnesota is grabbing headlines.