Why the Timberwolves are a strong underdog bet to win the Western Conference


Why the Timberwolves are a strong underdog bet to win the Western Conference

It’s time to start taking the Minnesota Timberwolves seriously. The Western Conference’s top team entered Tuesday with a 28-11 record. Only the Boston Celtics, who are largely considered the favorite to come out of the Eastern Conference, have won more games so far this season. However, sportsbooks are consistently projecting the Timberwolves to be the fourth- or fifth-most likely team to win the Western Conference. Minnesota has made tremendous progress since falling short of the playoffs last season, but it has the goods to reach the final stage in 2023-24.

The most significant change from last year’s Timberwolves and this year’s is defense. Minnesota swung for the fences in 2022 by acquiring Rudy Gobert via trade. The former Utah Jazz big man was expected to anchor his new squad’s interior with his rim protection, but Minnesota finished with a middling defense that was largely underwhelming. That problem is long gone.

The Timberwolves are currently allowing a league-low 107.3 points per game and all but one of their starters has a defensive rating lower than 109. Of all the league’s five-man lineups with more than 300 minutes played this year, only the Celtics’ starting five can top the 106.8 defensive rating that Minnesota’s starters have posted.

Another thing that’s made a huge difference for Minnesota is rebounding. Gobert played for strong rebounding teams in Utah, but last year’s Timberwolves gave up the ninth-most rebounds per game to opposing teams. Only the Phoenix Suns and New York Knicks have given up fewer rebounds than this year’s Timberwolves, though. Karl Anthony-Towns’ availability has had a lot do to with that drastic change.

KAT’s rebounding average dropped below 10.0 for the second time in his career in 2022-23, when Gobert came along and pushed him to power forward. Towns snared 8.1 boards per contest and appeared in just 29 games due to injury. A healthy offseason and a strong start to 2023-24 have given him time to adjust, though, allowing the Timberwolves to dominate with length on the glass and prevent second-chance opportunities. It’s clear that pairing the two in one frontcourt was a great idea, and the results show it. The Timberwolves went just 21-23 in games Gobert played in without KAT last season. They’ve gone 41-23 with both bigs playing since Gobert’s move to Minnesota.

The Timberwolves’ young core lacks legitimate playoff experience, but the numbers favor them making a strong run right now. The last four Western Conference champions have had top-10 scoring defenses and were top-10 in terms of limiting opposing teams’ rebounding production. If you’re looking for a dark horse to bet on, it’ll be hard to find a more enticing option than the Timberwolves’ Western Conference title odds at +700.

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