At 5-6, the young Timberwolves have exceeded the expectations of most early into this season. Considering the loss of head coach, Flip Saunders, and some injury setbacks to Ricky Rubio, the Wolves’ early record is all the more impressive. When the season started did anyone think that this team would be able to go into Atlanta or Chicago and come away victorious? Yes, the young T-Wolves have been remarkably resilient in the early going.
The lone complaint that anyone can have about the Wolves at this point is their lack of success on their home floor. The team’s 0-5 record at home is quite the black mark and is even more puzzling in light of their opposite 5-1 record on the road. A quick search on the internet reveals that the home record is the 2nd worst in the league behind the 76ers (0-6) and the road record is second only to the undefeated Golden State Warriors (5-0). It’s easy to look at those numbers and try to come up with a reason for the night and day performance of the team, but this early into the season the only reasonable thing to chalk the home record up to is an aberration from a relatively small sample size. With home games coming up against Detroit and Philadelphia, there’s reason to believe that the Target Center will finally get to celebrate a win with this crew in the near future.
The general consensus heading into this season was that the 2015-16 campaign would be all about gaining experience for the team’s young core. However, the Day 1 dominance of top pick Karl Anthony Towns and the emergence of Andrew Wiggins as a legitimate All-Star contender have re-shaped the expectations for the Wolves. Could it possibly be that after 11 consecutive trips to the NBA draft lottery, that the Minnesota Timberwolves could actually sniff the playoffs? To do that, they’ll obviously need to finish in 8th place or better in the West. So what does the lay of the land currently look like in the conference?
Sitting in 10th place at 5-6, the Wolves are currently staring up at the Jazz, Grizzlies, Nuggets, Thunder, Clippers, Suns, Mavericks, Spurs, and Warriors. They need to leapfrog at least two of those teams to earn a playoff berth. I think that reason would have us eliminate all hope of the Wolves ending the season with a better record than the Warriors, Spurs, Clippers, and Thunder. Unless there was a devastating injury to one of those teams, all four will be in the mix to win the conference title. The Grizzlies have also shown, in my opinion, enough of a track record in recent history to suggest that they also will be in the mix come playoff time. That leaves us with the Jazz, Nuggets, Suns, and Mavericks as potential victims for the Wolves to oust from the post-season. At this point, I’d put the Timberwolves’ chances of overcoming two of those four teams at 50/50.The young team is going to take their lumps, but by the end of the season it’s possible that Wiggins and Towns will have matured to the point where they can make a strong playoff push and overcome two of these four flawed teams.
Of course, it’s important to keep an eye on the teams behind the Wolves as well. The disappointing Rockets are 4-7 and always a threat to come roaring back to last season’s form. Given their talent level, you almost have to assume that they’ll course correct and find a spot in the West’s Top Eight. If you give the nod to the Mavericks, who have come out of the gate strong and have good veteran leadership, that really means that the Wolves need to outplay all three of the Suns, Jazz, and Nuggets to earn that coveted playoff spot.
I wouldn’t be surprised if the Wolves do end up in the post-season this year, but if they do it’s a pure bonus. The true goal for this team is to gain experience and lay the foundation for future success. A playoff appearance, if it happens, will simply be a long awaited bonus and a glimpse at what’s to come for this talented young squad.