On November 14th, 2023, the Minnesota Timberwolves were 8-2 through their first 10 games and rumblings were starting about whether or not they were actually this good or if it was just a hot start. They had already dismantled the Denver Nuggets and Boston Celtics in early November and were fresh off of back-to-back road wins over Golden State. November has now come and gone with Minnesota improving their record to 15-4, and it is clear: the Wolves are for real… and NBA fans owe General Manager, Tim Connelly, an apology.
Connelly had been widely known for two things in his role as an NBA GM. First, his massive hand in the current Denver Nuggets’ potential dynasty, where he was the man who drafted Nikola Jokic, Jamal Murray, and Michael Porter Jr., as well as the GM responsible for bringing Aaron Gordon to Denver. Second, for his extremely polarizing Rudy Gobert trade as his first move with the Timberwolves on July 1st, 2022.
The trade consisted of five players and four future-first-round picks for the Frenchman, and people were immediately dismissive about how this would help the Wolves and how Gobert would fit alongside Karl-Anthony Towns. Well, fast forward a year and a half, and Minnesota sits comfortably as the #1 seed in the Western Conference. How did Connelly shape this team to be so prolific?
Gobert has bounced back and Connelly’s minor moves have also hit
Rudy Gobert had a rough first season with Minnesota, to say the least. Gobert and Towns never had much time to get acclimated to playing with each other as KAT played in just 29 regular-season games. Gobert also recorded his worst blocks per game (1.4) since his rookie year and his worst blocks per 100 possessions (2.1) and blocks per 36 minutes (1.6) in his career.
The Wolves team defensive rating sat at 113.8, which was 10th in the NBA. All of this ineffectiveness and frustration boiled up at the end of the season, when Gobert punched his teammate, Kyle Anderson, and was suspended for a game.
In 2023-2024, the basketball season has been much more fun for Gobert as well as Minnesota fans. Gobert and Towns have both played every game together this season and the Wolves are by far the best defense in the NBA to date with a 105.9 team defensive rating.
The next two closest teams have just a 108.4 rating (Orlando Magic) and a 108.5 rating (Boston Celtics). Gobert has seen all of his defensive and shot-blocking stats rise back up to where they typically are and he is even the odds-on favorite to win Defensive Player of the Year at +350.
Gobert has been one of the key pieces to the Wolves success, but not the only move. Connelly must also get credit for bringing veteran guard Mike Conley to Minnesota. Conley was once looked at as an afterthought, and the masses were confused as to why a GM would give up DeAngelo Russell for a 36-year-old guard and a “throw-in” of Nickeil Alexander-Walker. It turns out that is exactly what the Wolves needed.
Conley has been tremendous since joining the team and is currently averaging 10.2 PPG (while shooting 43.3% from three) and 6.0 APG, providing stability to the Wolves backcourt. Meanwhile, Alexander Walker has been a prominent spot-starter, while Jaden McDaniels has been injured and has provided Minnesota with an effective 23.2 minutes per game.
Add in the team-friendly long-term extensions of Jaden McDaniels and Naz Reid, along with the Shake Milton addition, and it’s safe to say that Connelly has created a beastly 9-man rotation filled with size, length, versatility, and talent. The Wolves look poised to win their first playoff series since 2003–2004 if everything keeps trending in this direction, which would also be just the second time that they have gotten past the first round of the playoffs.