The Minnesota Timberwolves are the NBA’s best redemption story

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The Minnesota Timberwolves’ bounce back from their 2023 nadir has been the NBA’s most remarkable redemption story. The Association may have discontinued its Comeback Player of the Year award, but the Twin Cities’ finest would deserve consideration if that were not the case. Before October, the outlook for the upcoming campaign was bleak. The T-Wolves surrendered a treasure trove worth of first-round loot including the third leading vote-getter for Rookie of the Year Walker Kessler for a version of Rudy Gobert who was found lacking, and were ready to dump Karl-Anthony Towns’ max contract on New York.

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However, after trading four firsts, swapping a pick, and sending five players for Gobert, Minnesota’s mad scientist regime was deemed worthy of a straightjacket. Newly hired president of basketball operations Tim Connelly became a laughing stock for going against the grain and betting the future on a soft Frenchman whose best days may have been behind him. Gobert has been routinely criticized for his playoff shortcomings, and his offensive limitations as a big who did nothing to supplement the league’s more unexceptional three-point shooting lineups. Meanwhile, the team Connelly largely assembled with his bare hands in Denver won an NBA title.

The Gobert trade was so universally rebuked in NBA quarters that the league negotiated a punitive frozen pick clause into the latest contract bargaining agreement last summer to coax teams from trading picks seven years down the line like the Timberwolves did by offloading their 2029 pick and ruining the trade market in the process.

In addition to losing Towns for 50 games, Minnesota didn’t pass the vibe check. The spacing was off, the chemistry was atrocious and the Timberwolves limped into the play-in without Gobert, who was suspended for taking a swing at Kyle Anderson mid-game during their season finale. Minnesota rebounded to beat Oklahoma City, but was ultimately throttled in an unfavorable matchup against the Nuggets in the first round.

Ultimately, the Timberwolves were dropped into the preseason dustbin in the aftermath of their post-Gobert disaster class. Before the season, only one of five analysts at CBS had the T-wolves finishing higher than fifth. To his credit, NBA writer Sam Quinn picked Minnesota to finish second in the West. ESPN’s rankings placed Minnesota 15th in its preseason power rankings.

Towns’ injury stunted head coach Chris Finch’s ability to integrate Towns and Gobert into the lineup at the same during their inaugural season together. However, in those 529 minutes KAT shared the floor with Gobert, the Timberwolves barely hit even, recording a 0.43 points differential per 100 possessions.

This season, the Twin City Towers have complemented each other on the floor and have pulled together an 8.9 net rating. Finch deserves credit for making good on his promise to successfully optimize their lineup and has eked into Coach of the Year consideration.

Minnesota’s contrarian lineup is trotting out a modified version of Finch and then-Pelicans GM Dell Demps’ incomplete New Orleans experiment and it’s thriving for now. The first time Finch coached up a pairing like this was in Denver with a young Nikola Jokic and Jusuf Nurkić. However, that pairing was quickly disbanded by Connelly allowing Jokic to flourish as point-center.

The second opportunity was in New Orleans after Demps acquired DeMarcus Cousins to play alongside Anthony Davis. Coincidentally or not, Demps joined the Timberwolves front office before the 2022 offseason. Finch was an assistant on the Pelicans 2017-18 staff and was tasked with configuring Davis and Cousins into the lineup together.

Running an inverted offense that put Cousins on the perimeter acting like a slashing forward and often situated Jrue Holiday in the paint backing down guards, those Pelicans were humming through their top-10 offense before Cousins’ Achilles injury. Towns is still a former No. 1 pick who has delivered a paltry 18.6 points in three playoff berths, remains a walking meme, and is only the third-best Anthony that Finch has ever coached. But as a supporting character to Baby Mike, Anthony Edwards, he’s finally thriving in his ideal role.

Zigging while the rest of the league zags has its advantages, but it also comes at a risk. Minnesota stuck through a catastrophic season and is reaping the rewards for maintaining continuity instead of blowing it all up. The T-Wolves still have to make some headway in a crowded Western Conference, but the vision for Minnesota is becoming more clear with every win.

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