In a bit of a tough development, the Minnesota Timberwolves find themselves in the same position they were last year (seventh seed) despite giving away a boatload of first-round picks and solid role players for Rudy Gobert. Of course, there have been plenty of factors behind the Timberwolves' apparent stagnation; not only did they face some huge growing pains to begin the year as they tried to pair together two centers in Gobert and Karl-Anthony Towns, they also lost Towns, one of the greatest offensive big men in the game today, for 51 games.
Nevertheless, it seems like the Timberwolves' luck is taking a turn for the better at the most opportune time with the 2023 NBA Playoffs just over three weeks away. While Anthony Edwards is currently on the mend due to an ankle injury, that knock doesn't appear to be anything serious. In addition, they recently got Towns back from injury, and the Timberwolves big man didn't seem to miss a beat despite his lengthy absence.
But as is the case with every team looking to make a deep playoff run, matchup luck will play a huge part in determining a team's playoff fate. These are the Timberwolves' dream seeding scenarios depending on where they end up placing come season's end.
Timberwolves' dream play-in scenario: Face the 8-seeded Oklahoma City Thunder at home
In a single-game format, homecourt advantage will definitely play a huge part. The Timberwolves know this. Their home crowd at Target Center during their play-in game against the Los Angeles Clippers last season helped buoy them to a late-game comeback to seal their fate as a postseason team. Thus, maintaining their position as the seventh seed, when push comes to shove, should be where the Timberwolves draw the line.
Among the teams currently in the play-in picture, the Timberwolves will surely prefer to face the Oklahoma City Thunder. Fans could perceive that as disrespect towards one of the young, up-and-coming teams in the league, but it's just a matter of picking one's poison at this point. And matching up against the Thunder, compared to the Dallas Mavericks or Los Angeles Lakers, clearly is the lesser of those evils.
The Mavs' defense may be as soft as a wet tissue at the moment, but the thought of facing Luka Doncic and Kyrie Irving in a winner-take-all matchup should be a scary thought for any team. Meanwhile, the Lakers should also present the same problems; LeBron James, if all goes well, should be back by then, and Anthony Davis is a tough cover for anyone, even for Rudy Gobert.
Of course, the Thunder have Shai Gilgeous-Alexander leading the way for them. Gilgeous-Alexander is an unstoppable offensive force in his own right, as he's able to get to his spots on the court with ease all the while being a source of annoyance for the defense due to his ability to get to the foul line. Gilgeous-Alexander averaged 33.3 points per game in three appearances against the Timberwolves this year, and even Jaden McDaniels, who believes that he is the best defender in the NBA, will have difficulties keeping that man in check.
Beyond SGA, however, the Thunder's supporting cast shouldn't strike as much as fear as the Mavs' and Lakers' do, especially with the considerable talent disparity OKC has between their two best players. The Timberwolves should also have a massive talent advantage in the frontcourt against OKC, making them the ideal play-in matchup.
Timberwolves' dream playoff scenario: Running it back against the Memphis Grizzlies (2-7 or 3-6 matchup)
The Timberwolves had plenty of chances to pull off an upset over the Memphis Grizzlies during their playoff series last season; with a chance to go up 2-1 in the series, the Timberwolves choked away a huge fourth quarter lead in Game 3. And then in Game 5, they blew yet another double-digit advantage to give the Grizzlies a crucial 3-2 series lead that the Timberwolves couldn't quite overcome.
The Timberwolves' inexperience really came to the forefront last season. But a year later, the Timberwolves have added three veterans with considerable playoff experience — Rudy Gobert, Mike Conley, and Kyle Anderson — that should give Minnesota the composure they need in the face of adversity.
D'Angelo Russell, who's no longer in the team, isn't the most composed floor general, and there were stretches during their playoff series against the Grizzlies last year where head coach Chris Finch decided to bench him in favor of Jordan McLaughlin. Conley and Anderson, two heady playmakers, should drastically help the Timberwolves' execution late in close games.
Meanwhile, the addition of Gobert helps shore up the Timberwolves' paint defense; the Grizzlies blew the Timberwolves out of the water in terms of paint production in four of their six playoff games, while they were tied in the other two.
Thus, it stands to reason that the Timberwolves are now more equipped to handle their business against the Grizzlies, especially with Anthony Edwards a better all-around player now than he was last season.