Jace Frederick: Grizzlies are what Timberwolves hope to be
The Grizzlies have been to the play-in round each of the past two seasons, advancing to the playoffs last spring. Now, they’re leveling up from playoff hopeful to potential championship contender. It’s the exact trajectory the Timberwolves hope to follow.
Karl-Anthony Towns was in the middle of lamenting the Timberwolves’ approach and performance in Tuesday’s 128-125 loss at New Orleans, which snapped Minnesota’s four-game winning streak, when he brought up the hottest team in the NBA.
“You see Memphis right now? They’re up to 10 tonight,” Towns said. “That’s where I want to be. I want to have that kind of momentum.”
The Grizzlies, the Timberwolves’ opponent Thursday in Memphis, toppled league titan Golden State on Tuesday for their 10th straight victory. They’re 20-4 in their last 24 outings and have established themselves as one of the Western Conference’s top-tier teams. They currently are tied with Phoenix for third place in the Western Conference.
Memphis’ 22-year-old point guard Ja Morant is a candidate to be the NBA’s Most Valuable Player. Kyle Anderson and Steven Adams serve as valuable veteran contributors, while the rest of the Grizzlies’ rotational players are 25 years of age and younger.
And it’s with that young core that Memphis is taking the NBA by storm. The Grizzlies have been to the play-in round each of the past two seasons, advancing to the playoffs last spring. Now, they’re leveling up from playoff hopeful to potential championship contender.
It’s the exact trajectory the Timberwolves hope to follow. It’s easy to draw parallels between the two franchises. They line up similarly in terms of age, though the Wolves are younger with five of their rotation players currently 22 years of age or younger. Anthony Edwards is two years Morant’s junior.
The difference is while the Grizzlies’ rotational players are around 25 years old, it’s Minnesota’s max salary players — Towns and D’Angelo Russell — who are currently 26 and 25, respectively.
Given that, should Minnesota be closer to Memphis than it is currently? The Wolves certainly can beat Memphis. They blew the Grizzlies out in one meeting this season, and would be 2-0 against Memphis if not for a blown 15-point fourth quarter lead. But the Grizzlies are far more consistent on a night-to-night basis, and that’s a characteristic of great teams.
It remains to be seen if the Wolves can get there. Their loss Tuesday in New Orleans was another mark against them in the consistency category. Is that because Minnesota has an even younger roster — one with less experience together — than Memphis? Perhaps the Wolves are simply a year or two behind the Grizzlies. Chris Finch has had less than a year to sink his teeth into the Wolves, and the head coach’s impact has been obvious.
Maybe the Wolves just need more time to build the type of culture the Grizzlies, who won 10 of the 12 games they played without Morant earlier this season, have established.
But how much time this specific version of the Wolves will, and deserve to, get is to be determined. Because Memphis has shown that being young doesn’t have to mean inconsistent. It doesn’t have to mean you can’t contend at the highest level.
And if you aren’t doing those things, it could be because you don’t have the right mix. Or it could be because while you’re on your way to that point, you just aren’t quite there yet.