Randball: Reaching playoffs in itself an accomplishment

In an increasingly all-or-nothing society, a sensibility mirrored in how fans treat sports seasons as either successes (a championship) or failures (anything other than a championship), there is a local exception: the Timberwolves this season.

Just as a team can be a victim of its own success, this year’s Wolves have been rescued by their own failure. After 13 consecutive seasons missing the playoffs, Minnesota is in fourth place in the Western Conference and on a near-certain path to make it this year.

This in and of itself is an accomplishment, and a lot of Wolves fans are treating it as such. For their part, too, the Wolves themselves seem to understand this is just one step in the process.

As such, even with pressing needs and the assets with which to acquire at least some of them, the Wolves stood firm as the NBA trading deadline came and went on Thursday.

Sure, they might still try to sign a veteran or role players who get bought out by noncontenders, but any slight short-term upgrade this year via a trade isn’t worth the long-term havoc it could wreak on their assets or salary cap.

Simply put, the Wolves’ ceiling in this season — just this one — is making the playoffs and perhaps advancing to the second round. The top of the Western Conference — Warriors, Rockets and Spurs are 1, 2, 3 — is still too good to imagine the Wolves pushing deeper into the playoffs than that this spring.

And that’s OK. When you’ve had nothing for so long, you don’t need to have it all right away.

Michael Rand is the senior digital writer for Star Tribune sports and keeper of the RandBall blog at startribune.com/RandBall.

 

North Score: Wolves' time to pounce is in the future

There was no move that was going to turn the Wolves into title contenders this season. The most significant leap they can make in that area is from within themselves.

Andrew Wiggins and Karl-Anthony Towns are still only 22. Towns is on his way to becoming a perennial All-Star. Wiggins has shown flashes of the type of player he can become, especially when he has had to pick up the slack on nights when Jimmy Butler was injured. He averaged 25.8 points per game when Butler missed four games at the end of January.

The playoffs seem like an inevitable clash between the Warriors and Rockets in the West. The Warriors’ net rating is 9.5. The Rockets’ is 8.1. That means for every 100 possessions, or the length of an average game, the Warriors and Rockets outscore opponents on average by that many points. Those are the top two marks in the NBA. The Wolves are sixth at 3.2.

That doesn’t mean this season is futile. Getting Wiggins and Towns some playoff experience now is valuable. The Warriors won’t be this dominant forever, while Chris Paul, who has taken the Rockets to another level this season, is 32. There will be a time in the next few years when the top seeds in the Western Conference will be up for grabs. The Wolves could be ready to pounce when that chance arrives.

Butler’s contract is up after the 2018-19 season, but if Towns stays on track, Wiggins can keep progressing and Tom Thibodeau can find the right pieces to put around them, this year can become an important steppingstone in the maturation of the Wolves’ young nucleus.

 

Chris Hine is the lead writer for North Score, the Star Tribune’s new sports analytics beat. Find his stories at startribune.com/northscore.