The Minnesota Timberwolves have been rooting around in darkness for so long that any flicker of hope tends to hit like a blast of warm sunlight.
The franchise has seen the postseason once – for a grand total of five games – in the last 17 years, and even the Jimmy Butler trade that made said playoff berth possible proved to be a poisoned chalice. After Minnesota was swiftly dispatched in the first round, a disgruntled Butler set about contaminating everything he touched until the front office agreed to trade him. The team fired GM/Coach Tom Thibodeau shortly thereafter and promptly returned to the doldrums, arguably worse off than before Butler arrived.
This season feels different. The Wolves may be a middling 11-15 squad, losers of five straight and tied for the last West play-in spot, but it's been a long time since they've gotten to bask in this much big-picture optimism. There's a sense of purpose and growth even in their moments of struggle, and most importantly, they've performed quite well when their core players are healthy and playing together.
That core consists of a fascinating, flawed, uber-talented trio: A ridiculously explosive sophomore wing with a raw but fast-developing feel for the game; a high-usage, low-efficiency guard with slick passing chops and a poor defensive reputation that was well-earned until recently; and a multifaceted offensive big man who occasionally teases all-time greatness but more often leaves much to be desired with his penchant for passivity. Put those three on the court together, warts and all, and the Wolves outscore teams by 10.1 points per 100 possessions.
So, how good and how sustainable a nucleus can Anthony Edwards, D'Angelo Russell, and Karl-Anthony Towns be? Let's look at what has and hasn't worked for them at both ends of the floor so far this campaign.