The Minnesota Timberwolves stumbled out of the gates in the first week of the season, going 1-2 and looking a bit listless on offense, but in Week 2 they started to find their scoring form while still maintaining an elite level on defense. The result has been an active 3-game winning streak that includes handing the Denver Nuggets and Boston Celtics their lone losses of the season in impressive fashion.
A year ago the Wolves were a good, not great defensive team, boasting the 10th-ranked defensive rating in the league. However, to start their second season with Rudy Gobert in town, it appears Chris Finch has cracked the code on how to get the most out of this Minnesota squad on that end. The Wolves are first in the league in defensive rating at 100.5 (per Basketball-Reference), a they are suffocating opposing offenses with tremendous point of attack and perimeter pressure, with Gobert seemingly back in full form as a rim protector on the back end.
It’s not just that they have long-armed defensive aces like Jaden McDaniels, Kyle Anderson, and Nickeil Alexander-Walker they can throw at you, but they’re also getting major buy-in on that end from Anthony Edwards to further amp up the perimeter pressure. Mike Conley may not be the biggest physical presence at the point of attack, but the veteran still has terrific defensive chops, quick hands, and a connectivity with Gobert on pick-and-roll defense that shines when they’re put into actions together. Maybe most importantly they’ve figured out how to deploy Karl-Anthony Towns and Naz Reid better on that end, both when playing alongside Gobert and when out their without the former DPOY, using their mobility and length in different ways by having them play at the level on screens and being a bit more frantic in showing and recovering.
That has all coalesced into a group that has been wildly impressive, especially in their two biggest tests of the early season against Denver and Boston. The question for the Wolves will be whether they can maintain this intensity all year, as they are more aggressive in fighting off mismatches by not giving easy switches than most teams are in the early regular season, but even if they pedal off a touch in the midseason, proving they have this level to go to when they amp it up is big.
On the other end of the floor, the next leap for Anthony Edwards everyone was hoping for coming out of his stint with USA Basketball appears to be taking shape. The 22-year-old has cemented himself as The Guy in Minnesota and is thriving in his role, averaging 28.2 points, 6.7 rebounds, and 4.8 assists per game on 52.0/47.2/82.8 shooting splits. Monday night against Boston was his best performance yet with 38 points, nine boards, and seven assists to lead Minnesota to an overtime win over the previously undefeated Celtics, and he was the one that closed the show with some tremendous shot-making and, maybe more impressively, a couple of sensational passes to McDaniels for big threes down the stretch that I’m not sure he makes a year or two ago.
If the Wolves can get Towns out of his early-season shooting funk alongside Edwards’ leap, they’ll be a truly terrifying two-way team. They have already shown they can go toe-to-toe and beat the NBA’s best, but as is always the case with Minnesota, it comes down to showing this level consistently to prove you are a legitimate contender. That will be something to watch all season, but for the moment, Wolves fans have real reason to dream about this being a special year in Minnesota.
Where do the Timberwolves land in this week’s DIME Power Rankings? Let’s find out…
1. Minnesota Timberwolves (4-2, Last week — 18)
I promised this year’s rankings would be a bit more mercurial, and a 3-0 week with wins over the previous No. 1 and No. 2 teams deserves the top spot. Now it’s up to Minnesota to prove they can stay in this tier for more than a week.
2. Denver Nuggets (7-1, Last week — 1)
They finally showed a hint of vulnerability with a stinker in Minnesota, but have since ripped off three wins by double digits. Nikola Jokic is unguardable and they pretty much demand that you play 48 great minutes if you want to beat them. They are inevitable.
3. Boston Celtics (5-1, Last week — 2)
Their league-leading offense finally got brought into the mud a bit by the Wolves defensive pressure, but even so Jayson Tatum had 32, Jaylen Brown had 26, and Kristaps Porzingis had 20 in an overtime loss. This is a great team with some mild bench concerns.
4. Philadelphia 76ers (5-1, Last week — 6)
Philly looks pretty incredible right now. Joel Embiid did terrible, mean things to the Wizards on Sunday, which is what he should do to a team like that, but they’ve also won four straight by double digits overall, Tyrese Maxey looks like a star, and the vibes are very good now that James Harden is out of town.
5. Dallas Mavericks (6-1, Last week — 3)
The Mavs keep rolling along. You could certainly make a case that they’ve been beating up on lesser opposition in their five wins, but then again, this was a Mavs team last year that wasn’t capable of doing that. Luka Doncic looks sensational, the offense is humming, and the defense has been just functional enough to win games.
6. Golden State Warriors (6-2, Last week — 4)
It hasn’t always been pretty, but the Warriors keep finding ways to win. That’s the value of having a veteran squad and they’ve shown they can win close in shootouts and rock fights alike — largely thanks to Steph Curry’s brilliance. They also have the honor of having the most exciting (and controversial) win in NBA In-Season Tournament history so far.
7. Milwaukee Bucks (4-2, Last week — 12)
Like the Warriors, the Bucks are taking advantage of the veteran skill of knowing how to win close games, but things still don’t quite look right in Milwaukee. The offense is disjointed and the defense has holes, but at least they figured out you should play Brook Lopez in drop and that’s raised their floor on that end.
8. Oklahoma City Thunder (4-3, Last week — 5)
The Thunder dropped two games this week, but it was by a combined six points including the controversial finish to their In-Season game against the Warriors (without Shai Gilgeous-Alexander). They were impressive against the Hawks on Monday at home and this is just a good, deep team with a high-level star in SGA, emerging star in Chet Holmgren, and a lot of good depth. There’s still room for improvement, but this is a very fun team.
9. Atlanta Hawks (4-3, Last week — 15)
Dejounte Murray has been fantastic of late, they have some youngsters popping in larger roles like Jalen Johnson, and their depth seems legit. The Hawks biggest issue right now is Trae Young being unable to buy a bucket, which is the opposite of the issue they’ve had for two years, but if he can figure things out shooting the basketball, this team has some very intriguing potential.
10. New Orleans Pelicans (4-3, Last week — 11)
The Pelicans are in need of some more consistent offensive production, but the flashes are absolutely tantalizing and the defense has been better than expected. CJ McCollum’s absence is notable going forward, but Jordan Hawkins had a huge night in a loss to the Nuggets on Sunday and him emerging would be big for a team in need of shooting. The Zion+shooters lineups are really fun, it’s just a matter of figuring out how to get that kind of energy more regularly.
11. Houston Rockets (3-3, Last week — 30)
The Rockets won all three of their games this week by a combined 52 points! Yes, it was against the Hornets and Fox-less Kings, but that’s significant progress for this Houston squad. Their veterans are serving as the floor raisers they hoped for, Jalen Green and Jabari Smith Jr. have each had some big nights, and Alperen Sengun has been thriving to start this season. This week has some big tests coming up, but for now this Houston team is rolling.
12. Indiana Pacers (4-3, Last week — 9)
The Pacers won a game 152-111 and lost a game 155-104 this week. That’s hard to do. When they’ve got it clicking, this offense is terrifying, but the defense is definitely a concern. That said, they’re above .500 still and are a really, really fun team with some crazy variance.
13. Orlando Magic (4-3, Last week — 14)
Paolo Banchero is officially out of his funk and the Magic are dangerous. The second half against Dallas was one to forget, but they had a thorough and impressive win over the Lakers and outlasted the Jazz in a fun duel this week. I’d love to see the offense be more consistent, but that’s just a matter of a young team with not-great guard play figuring things out still.
14. Los Angeles Clippers (3-3, Last week — 10)
It’s objectively funny for the Clippers to have their worst offensive performance of the season (by far) in James Harden’s debut. They’re going to be fascinating to watch going forward and they could absolutely have it all click, but we are going to find out if taking the ball out of Kawhi Leonard and Paul George’s hands more often is actually beneficial.
15. Miami Heat (3-4, Last week — 23)
The Heat have been competitive in most every game this season, thanks largely to still being very good defensively. The offense is the issue, rather unsurprisingly given their point guard situation, but they did pick up two wins this week including a gritty win over the Lakers in which Bam Adebayo had an outrageous 20-20-10 triple-double. He’s very good, Tyler Herro is playing well, and Jimmy Butler might be waking up a touch. They just need to find someone else they can rely on nightly for some offensive help.
16. Los Angeles Lakers (3-4, Last week — 13)
The Lakers were a Cam Reddish missed corner three from being a few spots higher this week, but so goes life in the Association. This is a good team and LeBron is playing at a very high level, but Anthony Davis now dealing with some hip spasms is a bit concerning because they just cannot survive much without him.
17. New York Knicks (3-4, Last week — 19)
The Knicks have four losses this season and all have come by single digits. They’ve been in every game this season and defensively they’ve been great, they just need the offense to wake up. Maybe Monday’s win over the Clippers was the breakout Julius Randle needed (27 points, 10 rebounds) to finally get on track, because he’d been dreadful to start the year and if he’s back to being an offensive threat, the Knicks will be much more dangerous.
18. Cleveland Cavaliers (3-4, Last week — 20)
The Cavs also tread water this week with a 2-2 record, but Darius Garland and Jarrett Allen are both back in the lineup and that should mean things will be trending up for Cleveland.
19. Brooklyn Nets (3-4, Last week — 21)
Cam Thomas is hooping. Mikal Bridges looks solid. They just really need Nic Claxton back in the lineup because they don’t have anyone who can replace him on the defensive end. Good teams are exploiting that lack of rim protection, but that the Nets are competitive every night without him is impressive and should bode well for whenever he can return.
20. San Antonio Spurs (3-4, Last week — 22)
The Spurs won two very impressive games on the road in Phoenix, including Victor Wembanyama’s breakout performance with 38 points. They then blew a big lead and lost in overtime to Toronto and then got absolutely worked on a back-to-back the next night in Indiana. They’re learning about life in the NBA in real time, but Wemby looks spectacular, Keldon Johnson has been good of late, and if they can get Devin Vassell back and healthy they might be cooking with a little grease.
21. Portland Trail Blazers (3-4, Last week — 27)
Break up the Blazers! Portland won three straight before finally dropping one to Memphis, and they’ve been somewhat surprisingly good in crunch time this season despite their youth. Shaedon Sharpe has seemingly taken a leap and they have enough solid veterans around him to make for more than competent late game lineups.
22. Toronto Raptors (3-4, Last week — 28)
Scottie Barnes has been fantastic and it looks like he’s tapping into that next level as a player. He’s shooting the ball with confidence (42.1 percent from three on 5.4 attempts), making quick, decisive reads on the ball (5.9 assists per game), and realizing he’s bigger and stronger than most guys guarding him. The Raptors could use a bit more from the supporting cast, but Barnes establishing himself as The Guy is the most important development in Toronto.
23. Phoenix Suns (3-4, Last week — 7)
The Suns got back on track with a win in Detroit thanks to a 41-point outburst from Kevin Durant to snap a three-game skid, but it’s rough right now with Devin Booker and Bradley Beal sidelined. They built decent depth this summer but it’s supporting depth, not replacement depth, and we’re seeing that play out in real time.
24. Chicago Bulls (3-5, Last week — 17)
The Bulls got a much needed win over the Jazz on Monday to snap their own three-game losing streak, but they just can’t seem to put together good games consecutively. If this continues, we’ll start hearing whispers grow louder about whether the Bulls will look to make some big shakeups at the deadline.
25. Charlotte Hornets (2-4, Last week — 25)
The Hornets just can’t stop anybody. They’re in pretty much every game they play because the offense is doing just fine, but it’s really hard to win games regularly with a 118 DRtg (26th in the NBA).
26. Utah Jazz (2-6, Last week — 24)
Speaking of teams that can’t stop anyone, the Jazz are a bit of a mess right now. Lauri Markkanen has been terrific but is getting minimal support. The backcourt situation is pretty dire, especially with a slow start for Jordan Clarkson, and they have the second worst defense in the league through two weeks. That’s a tough combo.
27. Memphis Grizzlies (1-6, Last week — 29)
Memphis finally won a game! We’ll see if they can build off of that, but it feels like this team shouldn’t be as bad as they have been. It’d be a good start if the guys who are supposed to be good shooters could hit shots, but with a lot of roster changes due to trades, injuries, and suspensions, they’re really struggling to figure out how to create good offense.
28. Sacramento Kings (2-4, Last week — 8)
After battling with the Warriors in a hard fought loss, the De’Aaron Fox-less Kings got smoked in back-to-back games by the Rockets in Houston by a combined 43 points. Even without your star guard, that’s fairly unacceptable but maybe a quick three-game homestand can bring them back to life a bit.
29. Detroit Pistons (2-6, Last week — 16)
Detroit is on a 5-game losing streak and while that’s been against mostly good competition (and Portland), it’s tough right now for the Pistons. Injuries have piled up quickly and this isn’t a team that can handle absences from key guys. Cade Cunningham is being asked to do pretty much everything on offense and is struggling to meet those demands with little support around him. On the positive side, Ausar Thompson and Marcus Sasser look good as rookies.
30. Washington Wizards (1-5, Last week — 26)
The early highlight of the Wizards season is an off-the-backboard alley-oop while trailing by 21. They seem morally opposed to the general concept of playing defense and aren’t good enough offensively to come close to making up for that. For a positive spin, Deni Avdija is off to a nice start after getting his contract extension.