By recruiting Rudy Gobert against a wagon of draft picks but without parting with any player who is part of their hard core, the Wolves have just made a big move in order to make a jump in the hierarchy of the Western Conference. With Rudy, Karl-Anthony Towns, Anthony Edwards and Co., Minnesota has indeed enough to show great ambitions during the 2022-23 season. Until confronting the elite of the Wild Wild West?
Returning to the Playoffs in 2022 for only the second time in nearly two decades, the Wolves have brought the city of Minneapolis back to life. And since then, their appetite has grown as evidenced by the XXL transfer of Rudy Gobert, recruited by the new boss of basketball operations Tim Connelly. On paper, Wolves are among the best armed teams in the Western Conference. Admittedly, many of them point to the large number of picks that Minnesota has just dropped to acquire the services of Rudy, and some Hexperts have already expressed their doubts about the ability of this team to perform in the Playoffs with two large craft interiors in KAT and Gobert. But without going that far, one wonders if this improved version can, for example, get the Top 5 in the West. Or better yet, the podium. If things will obviously still happen in the offseason, we already have a first vision of the face that the Wild Wild West will have next year and we can therefore afford – hot – to give our opinion on Minnesota’s new place in the landscape.
Reminder of the regular season standings in 2021-22
A look at the Western Conference in 2022-23
Clippers and Nuggets back at 100%
Respectively eliminated in the play-in tournament and in the first round of the Playoffs, the Clippers and the Nuggets did not really have the weapons to make noise during the 2022 postseason. But next year? The story may well be different. Kawhi Leonard will be making a comeback from injury and the Clips clearly have one of the best squads in the League. After the Conference Final played a year ago, Tyronn Lue’s men will clearly aim for the heights and will have to be counted on in the heights of the classification. In the Nuggets of double MVP Nikola Jokic, we have Jamal Murray and Michael Porter Jr. who will return. If they are in good health, the collective machine of Denver will inevitably do damage and finish at least in the Top 5 of the West. We can already announce it, with the return to form of these two teams, the Wild Wild West will be much more formidable than in 2021-22.
A Top 4 that does not intend to go anywhere
With the return of the Clippers and the Nuggets, some will logically have to leave their place in the Top 4 of the West. But who ? Phoenix remains on two magnificent campaigns in regular and does not want to lose its spot in the heights of the conference. We’ll see what the Deandre Ayton case gives and if Kevin Durant lands in Arizona one day, but Monty Williams’ group has good guarantees as a regular behind Chris Paul, Devin Booker and Mikal Bridges. They will always be in the mix. The Grizzlies are them in full rise under the impulse of their phenomenon Ja Morant. Young, talented and ambitious, they will want to confirm the big milestone reached this season. Not the easiest mission and then we remember that Jaren Jackson Jr. is absent for several months, but we will have to count on them. Golden State? We’re just talking about the defending champions and we’ve learned never to bet against them. With the Curry-Thompson-Green core taking an extra year, perhaps the Warriors won’t put too much emphasis on regulars in order to focus on the Playoffs, but they’ll be there despite losing a few role players who counted. As for the Mavericks, they have an MVP candidate named Luka Doncic who can singlehandedly guarantee you 50 wins. Certainly Jalen Brunson has left, but Christian Wood has arrived, so watch out for the finalist of conf ‘2022. In short, you have understood it, it’s going to be a real fight.
Beware the Pelicans
As if that were not enough, a team intends to take off next year, namely the Pelicans. Brandon Ingram’s team made a very big run at the end of the 2022 season to snatch their place in the Playoffs, until they made the best regular team sweat in the first round (Phoenix). The arrival of the experienced CJ McCollum helped the Pels to take a step forward, BI was magnificent in PO, there is a great youth growing (Herbert Jones, Trey Murphy III…), veterans to frame everything, and of course a hot potato Zion Williamson to make his comeback. If Zion is healthy this pro season and the New Orleans team rides the big wave of the 2022 Playoffs, NOLA could really make some noise in the West.
If we expect an ascent of the Pels, we expect at the same time a regression of the Jazz. With the transfer of Rudy Gobert for a wagon of draft picks, Utah has begun a rebuilding/transition process that should lead it away from Western Conference heights, at least in the short term. We will necessarily watch the next moves of Danny Ainge but it is difficult to see the Salt Lake City franchise being part of the Top 8 in 2022-23. The series of six consecutive qualifications in the Playoffs therefore has a good chance of ending next year, which opens up an additional spot for competition.
What about the Lakers and Blazers?
Despite the monumental failure of the 2021-22 season, you can never completely rule out a team that has LeBron James and Anthony Davis on its roster. These two are still with the Lakers and will come back with an ultra vengeful spirit to erase this year’s fiasco. And in addition, they could even be accompanied by a certain Kyrie Irving, leaving from Brooklyn. With such a Big Three, the Los Angeles franchise could well make a resounding return to the fore, provided that Kyrie plays more than one out of two games and of course dodges injuries. Another team that has had a very difficult season and intends to return to the mix: the Blazers. Damian Lillard will have the fangs for his return to the courts (only 29 games last year, before an abdominal operation) and Portland has made a few moves to quickly become competitive again, with in particular the arrival of Jerami Grant but also that of by Gary Payton II. You add to that the validation of the guaranteed contract of Josh Hart, the extensions of Anfernee Simons and Jusuf Nurkic, and the draft of Shaedon Sharpe, and you have a team that can make noise.
What if the Kings…
What about Minnesota?
Where do Wolves fit in the middle of all this? Without taking into account the global context surrounding the Western Conference, we could say that the arrival of Rudy Gobert will propel the 2021-22 team above the 50-win mark and into the Top 4 of the standings, or even higher still. But you have understood, the Wild Wild West promises to be much tougher next year than this year. If the Wolves will contribute to this increased competition within the Western Conference, it also means that a jump to the top is not guaranteed. Of course, we know what Rudy Gobert can bring to a team: an exceptional defensive base, circle protection, 15 points – 15 rebounds per game in the regular season. It can be good when you have Karl-Anthony Towns and D’Angelo Russell in the team, not exactly known for their defensive solidity. But what about the fit between Gobert and KAT? Can playing two rounds in the current NBA – although complementary – really work, especially in the Playoffs? How to fit Rudy into the team that owned the rhythm the fastest in the NBA this year? These are the kinds of questions that hang over Minneapolis today and are likely to determine the ceiling of this Wolves team. Another necessarily crucial element, the progress of Anthony Edwards in this “new” version of Minnesota. Ant-Man has shown during his sophomore campaign as well as in the postseason that he has the shoulders to become an All-Star in not too long. But can’t the fact of playing with two giants block his racket a bit for lack of spacing? In the current era, this is the kind of stuff that can be questionable. However, with the space that a sniper like Towns brings and the aerial threat of a Gobert, it can really work in the eyes of the Frenchie.
“The space I can create for them [à Edwards et Russell, ndlr.] with my screens and my ability to roll to the basket, as well as my passing skills which will undoubtedly be even more at work this year, I think that will allow them to be even better. You add the spacing that KAT brings, and I think they will have easier baskets than before. »
Although Rudy is optimistic, there will also be an adjustment period on offense to make it all work. We’ll also be watching the rise of young winger Jaden McDaniels (who showed his big two-way potential on the big Playoff stage), the impact a rookie like Kyle Anderson can have on both ends of the field, and the future of D’Angelo Russell who doesn’t really seem set in stone in Minnesota.
In the end, this Wolves team can display ambitions. If we had to comment on Minnesota’s chances on July 8, 2022, it looks like Chris Finch’s men have what it takes to surpass the 50-win mark, which would be a first since… 2004 and the year of Kevin Garnett’s MVP. That year, the Wolves went to the Western Conference Finals for the first and only time in their (sad) history. We can’t – at the time of writing – imagine Minnesota reaching that stage, but a scenario where the Wolves enter the Top 5 in the West in 2022-23 with a direct qualification for the Playoffs, and can -even being home advantage in the first round, is part of the scope of possibilities.
The Wolves have struck a blow to hope to cross one or even several milestones in the Western Conference. Part of their future has been sacrificed for this, it is now up to them to prove their leader Tim Connelly right by dropping a big 2022-23 season. And you, where do you see the Wolves next year?