Welcome back to the NBA Tuesday miniseries focusing on the best teams in individual franchise histories. The Minnesota Timberwolves joined the league in 1989 and have just 11 playoff appearances in their existence—which is not a lot. Only once did the team advance to the Western Conference Finals (2004), and that was the last of an 8-year streak of playoff appearances. Since then, the T’Wolves have just 3 postseason appearances, so it’s been a struggle up north for hoops fans.
No. 5: 2021-22 Minnesota Timberwolves
With a third-place finish in the Northwest Division, the T’Wolves posted a 46-36 record to finish No. 10 in the SRS rankings overall. Minnesota sported the No. 1 scoring offense, but the team was just 24th on defense—giving you an idea of just how the games would always go with this squad. In the first round of the postseason, the Timberwolves were eliminated in six games by the Memphis Grizzlies, in a series where Minnesota stole home court in Game 1 to no avail.
Center Karl-Anthony Towns (10.3 Win Shares) and power forward Jarred Vanderbilt (6.0) were the top players on the roster that featured only 5 players over the 4.0 WS threshold. That created some issues in the playoffs, of course, as the Grizzlies were able to take back home court and get the series tied at 2 games apiece. Then, Memphis won Game 5 at home by 2 points before closing out the T’Wolves on the road in Game 6 by 8 points. The last four games were close ones.
No. 4: 1999-00 Minnesota Timberwolves
The first team in franchise history to win 50 games, this team took third place in the Midwest Division with just 32 losses. With the 13th offense and the 11th defense, the T’Wolves snuck into the Top 10 SRS rankings at No. 9 overall. The postseason reward was a matchup with (probably) the best team in the Western Conference: the Portland Trail Blazers. Minnesota managed to take one game from Portland in the series, but the season came to a quick close nonetheless.
Using just 13 players all season, the Timberwolves had some stars on this team who meshed well together: PF Kevin Garnett (11.6 WS), point guard Terrell Brandon (8.6), and small forward Wally Szczerbiak (6.2). Overall, nine players cleared 2.0 WS for the season, but it wasn’t enough against the Trail Blazers, of course, a veteran team focused on winning a title. But in the best-of-five affair, Minnesota lost three times by only a combined 15 points overall. Tough loss.
No. 3: 2013-14 Minnesota Timberwolves
This is an interesting squad to make the list, as it finished with a losing record (40-42) despite finishing ninth in the overall SRS rankings. The Timberwolves managed a No. 3 offensive ranking—and a No. 26 defensive finish, but the projected record for the team was 48-34, so there were a lot of close losses that ended up costing this team a shot at the postseason. After a 7-4 start to the season, Minnesota could never get on a roll and hovered around .500 the whole year.
PF Kevin Love (14.3 WS) was the dominant force on this team, as no one else finished above 6.0 WS. Four other players did post between 5.2 and 5.9 WS marks, however. Still, how to explain the losing record? Well, a 14-24 mark in single-digit contests didn’t help, and neither did the 16-25 road record. Other data to stand out? A 7-17 record on Sundays and Mondays, combined, which we cannot explain. Also, a 4-17 record on the second day of back-to-back games really hurt.
No. 2: 2001-02 Minnesota Timberwolves
Another 50-32 record still only got the team a third-place finish in the Midwest Division again. But the No. 6 SRS finish was the best so far for this franchise, based on the No. 5 offense and the No. 16 defense. But the Timberwolves evidently had no prayer against the Dallas Mavericks in the first round of the postseason, as Minnesota was swept right out of the playoffs by a 10.7 ppg margin. It was the sixth-straight year where the T’Wolves failed to advance in the playoffs.
Garnett (12.8 WS) and Szczerbiak (8.7) were joined by PG Chauncey Billups (7.6) in making a formidable trio of stars to rely on. With eight players registering at least 3.0 WS, too, this was a deeper roster than most had been in the past for Minnesota as it tried to build a winner around Garnett, a future Hall of Famer. But the first game against Dallas was the only one to be decided by single digits, as the rest of the games were double-digit blowouts. Frustration mounted, truly.
No. 1: 2003-04 Minnesota Timberwolves
The 58-24 record remains a team best still almost 20 years later, as the T’Wolves finally won the Midwest Division to claim the franchise’s only banner in organizational history. With a No. 2 ranking in the SRS overall, this Minnesota team was built on the No. 10 offense and the No. 7 defense. In the postseason, the Timberwolves finally advanced, too, beating the Denver Nuggets in five games before dropping the Sacramento Kings in six games. But the Los Angeles Lakers …
Garnett (18.3 WS) was the league MVP, supported by veteran PG Sam Cassell (12.1), a two-time champ at this point in his career. Shooting guard Fred Hoiberg (6.1) added a nice element to the team’s chemistry, too. But the Lakers had won titles in 2000, 2001, and 2002 before being upset in the 2003 playoffs, and L.A. wanted back into the Finals (and the league probably wanted them back, too). The Lakers stole home court in Game 1 and never looked back in a close series.