As one of the foremost experts in thinking — incorrectly or at least prematurely almost always — that the Timberwolves have turned a corner, I feel it is my duty to gently apply the brakes to what I sense is runaway optimism for this team based on one decent sustained stretch of basketball.
Minnesota went 16-20 after the All-Star break, a marked improvement from their 7-29 effort before the break. Perhaps more importantly, they went 11-9 post-break when Karl-Anthony Towns and D'Angelo Russell both played (and 13-11 overall this year when they shared the court).
Anthony Edwards took major strides in his rookie season, averaging 23.8 points, 5.3 rebounds and 3.4 assists with respectable efficiency in 36 games after the break.
But as I discussed with Chris Hine on Wednesday's Daily Delivery podcast, there is also a major danger in merely extrapolating what happened down the stretch and applying it to next season.
For one thing, that sort of thinking imagines that everything that was good will stay good while everything that was bad will be fixed by internal improvement and external acquisitions.
As we've seen with the Vikings, Twins and Minnesota United to varying degrees in the last eight months, sometimes the reverse happens and you get worse.
But more so, it is this: The 2020-21 NBA season was even stranger than most, with enough teams resting players to position themselves for the playoffs or tanking to set up better lottery odds that it's hard to get a true read on just what the Wolves accomplished.
Their wins over Miami, Portland, New York, Phoenix and Utah (twice) were legit. That's six out of 36. Their win over Golden State, a fringe playoff team, and the win in the finale over Dallas were both half-legit as the Mavs eased up with their starters knowing their playoff slot was more or less determined.
The Wolves had four wins over clearly tanking teams (Houston twice, Orlando and Detroit) and two more over a washed Sacramento squad.
The other two wins over Chicago and New Orleans were fine.
They also lost to a bunch of good teams and a few bad ones, with defense being the main culprit when things went haywire.
As currently constructed, the Wolves are probably a team that could contend for a play-in spot in the next season — 35-40 wins in a normal 82-game season when more teams are well-rested and when games count from the get-go.
This roster is still 2-3 players away from being a real playoff contender. Adding a draft pick (not likely, but possible) would be a huge asset, though it shouldn't be counted on. Adding one more legit rotation player in free agency and another core player via trade — preferably a power forward, hello John Collins — would raise the stakes and optimism.
But even then, there would be a need to prove it on the court — something the Wolves did a little this season but have a very long way to go in doing in the future.