MINNEAPOLIS — In a recent interview with The Undefeated, Karl-Anthony Towns invited people to “keep sleeping on” the Timberwolves, suggesting they underestimate Minnesota’s potential.
In the league’s annual GM survey run by NBA.com, Minnesota’s name popped up just three times: David Vanterpool finished in a three-way tie for first for the league’s best assistant coach, Karl-Anthony Towns received votes for league’s best center and Jarrett Culver received votes in the question asking which rookie will be the best player in five years.
And good luck finding a prognostication that has the Wolves sniffing a playoff spot in the loaded Western Conference.
There’s not a lot of love for the team up North.
“Everyone always sleeps on people in Minnesota because they don’t hear our name a lot. That’s fine. That’s cool,” Towns told The Undefeated. “We are going to come from the underground and just find ourselves in the playoffs if we continue to do what we’re doing.”
That quote made its way around. and the responses were predictable.
“I’m sleeping good in the bed at night knowing that yes, I am sleeping on the Timberwolves,” retired NBA center Kendrick Perkins said on ESPN’s The Jump. “I’m in a deep sleep. I’m dreaming. I’m not rolling until you show me.”
It should be noted that, during his analysis, Perkins referred to Andrew Wiggins as “Andre,” so he probably shouldn’t be considered the foremost authority on all things Timberwolves. But his sentiments are shared by many.
Whether it’s the fact the Wolves have made one playoff appearance since 2004, or that maybe people have grown immune to Towns’ annual preseason optimism, no one seems to believe Minnesota is in a position to do much of anything this season.
An overhauled front office and an offseason spent signing fringe-rotation players hasn’t convinced any NBA watchers that Wolves are better than the team that wasn’t quite good enough last season. The Timberwolves can start proving them wrong when the regular season opens Wednesday in New Jersey.
“That’s OK,” Jordan Bell said. “Most of us on this team have been living this whole life being underdogs. We’ve got guys that people never really thought were going to do anything. It will just make it that much sweeter when we actually do it.”
Under head coach Ryan Saunders, the team worked hard this offseason to place an emphasis on two things, player development and a positive culture. The Wolves seem to think that mix, plus a new style of play emphasizing pace and shot selection, can lead to success.
The Wolves have smart people with strong track records in their front office. It’s possible they can create a winner in Minnesota. It seems less likely that will happen this season. Unless you ask the current players.
“We’re not just going to be a team that gets through the season and in the middle of April we’re just done,” Bell said. “We have aspirations to be playing in April, May, June — however far along we can make it in the playoffs. … I think we can make a lot of noise.”
It’s a rarity for an NBA team to come out of nowhere to turn heads, but there are examples. Shabazz Napier saw it first-hand last season in Brooklyn, where he was part of a Nets team that jumped from 28 wins in 2017-18 to a playoff berth last spring.
“Everyone is 0-0, so everyone has a chance to be good,” Napier said. “Granted, there are some great teams out there, but if you give 110 percent effort every day, great things can come out of it. Sometimes the best team doesn’t win that day, and it’s our job to go out there and prove to everybody, every single game, that we have something to prove.”
As underdogs usually do.
“Our team could be really good,” Jeff Teague said. “No one’s expecting much, and that’s the beauty of it. I’ve been on teams where they don’t expect much and we shock the world. So, this is another situation where we can shock people.”
The Timberwolves waived Tyrone Wallace, Tyus Battle and Barry Brown Jr. to get their roster down to the required 15 full-time spots plus their two two-way deals.