Minnesota Timberwolves

The only measuring stick that matters

The Minnesota Timberwolves preseason tilts against the vaunted Golden State Warriors may prove to be invaluable.

Don’t worry, I’m not going to sit here and preach the importance of a couple of meaningless preseason games and how we should all come to sweeping conclusions after watching 96 minutes of exhibition basketball. That would be undoubtedly fickle and I wouldn’t expect many people to find much realistic content in those words.

However, the point of this article is to examine why the Minnesota Timberwolves measuring up to the Golden State Warriors is the only thing that any competent NBA franchise should be doing while attempting to construct a championship-level roster.

There are people who believe that being competitive and providing an entertaining team is enough. There are also people who are just satisfied having a number of local professional sports franchises to support. However, it may be inarguable that the vast majority of fans lust for the one elusive objective that every NBA organization craves: to be the best.

The powerhouse from the Bay Area indisputably holds that crown for the foreseeable future. But that shouldn’t stop franchises from taking their swings at the throne.

Examining the situation:

When it was announced that the Minnesota Timberwolves preseason schedule would include two sequential games in China against Golden State, it was viewed as a positive for a couple of reasons: 1.) This signified a level of relevance that the franchise has not grasped since before iPhones were a thing and 2.) It gave the transformed roster a chance to bond and measure their initial progress against a team that can make world-class athletes look like junior varsity benchwarmers for long stretches of time.

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The end result was acceptable. The Timberwolves won one and lost one, all while showing a level of offensive potency that was perceived as ahead of schedule with so many new pieces.

That’s all well and good, but the actual wins and losses had approximately zero value when attempting to extract what really mattered from these games. The imperative takeaway from these contests is that the Wolves were able to see first hand what it takes to stick with a team with that extreme of a talent level.

The competition.

The Golden State Warriors have attempted to break the NBA. Their roster resembles a character list from the new Justice League movie more so than a collection of NBA basketball players. They sport two former MVP’s, two former scoring champions, a Defensive Player of the Year and possibly the two best pure shooters in the NBA.

I feel unfair just typing that last sentence.

The rest of the NBA, to their credit, has attempted to rise to the occasion and take their shot at this historically great juggernaut. The Oklahoma City Thunder have recovered from the loss of Durant and brought in stars Paul George and Carmelo Anthony to take their best swipe at the Warriors. The Houston Rockets have taken an unprecedented approach and gathered two ball-dominant, yet elite, guards to guide an offense that makes analytic nerds giddy with excitement.

The Timberwolves have gone their own direction, meshing a long-term and short-term approach and building a team that blends familiarity with youth. Jimmy Butler, Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins are the backbone of a team that hopes to combine elite athleticism and toughness in a way the Warriors aren’t used to. When building this roster, one can easily assume that Tom Thibodeau at least pondered how his squad would match up against the team that reigns supreme in NBA’s game of king of the hill.

Applying to the preseason and beyond.

Playing the Warriors is like fighting a boxer who constantly comes with massive hooks and uppercuts and connects on a staggeringly high percentage of them. The goal isn’t to avoid these blows altogether; that borders on impossible.

The trick is being able to take these shots and keep getting up off the floor and continuing to compete.

This is the exact reason why playing the Warriors twice in the preseason could prove to be of vital importance when the games actually count. The Timberwolves endured several of these daunting stretches where Steph Curry, Klay Thompson and Kevin Durant make 26-foot shots look as easy as stroking a putt into a swimming pool (just view the following video from the 4:00 to 6:00 mark and you’ll understand).

The difference in the game the Wolves won and the one they lost was that they were able to bounce back after a lethal Golden State start in the victory, but in the defeat they allowed things to snowball. And once you let this Warrior team gain confidence, there is no putting that toothpaste back in the tube.

Let’s take this one step at a time.

The truth is, this year’s Timberwolves team is several steps behind where the Warriors are. Cohesion still needs to be forged, trust of teammates still needs to be formed, and coach Tom Thibodeau still needs to figure out how all of his players are best used to win basketball games.

The Wolves are clumped into a group of Western Conference teams with the San Antonio Spurs, Houston Rockets, and Oklahoma City Thunder as squads that will be intriguing to watch, but not yet dominant enough to even remotely scare the class of the conference. The fascinating part, however, is that every team brings a different quality or style that is the foundation of their success.

The Spurs rely on superior reputation and know-how as a team who has incredible coaching, attention to detail and two-way play. The Rockets are going to shoot an exorbitant number of 3-pointers and take the term “offensive efficiency” to levels seldom ever seen. The Thunder are a unique case, as their remarkable talent level and potential small-ball lineup could match up better with Golden State than any team in the NBA.

But let’s not count out the Wolves. They will depend on a ferocious style of play that will attempt to combine top-end toughness and elite talent to throw body shots at the Warriors when the rest of the league’s challengers are attempting to go toe-to-toe with last year’s champions.

The point is this year’s exhibition games with the Warriors don’t mean much. But it did give the Timberwolves a small idea of the giant they hope to one day replace. For a team that is used to counting on one hand the number of NBA teams that it is better than, the fact that they can be mentioned even in the same sentence with the aforementioned Western Conference elite is a success story. Here is to hoping that the success story is still only on its preliminary chapters.