What will it take for Timberwolves to reach their ultimate goal?

Minnesota now has a better understanding of what it takes to win a championship.
Minnesota Timberwolves forward Kyle Anderson (1) and guard Anthony Edwards (5) and center Rudy Gobert (27) during the second half against the Dallas Mavericks in Game 4 of the Western Conference finals at American Airlines Center in Dallas on May 28, 2024.
Minnesota Timberwolves forward Kyle Anderson (1) and guard Anthony Edwards (5) and center Rudy Gobert (27) during the second half against the Dallas Mavericks in Game 4 of the Western Conference finals at American Airlines Center in Dallas on May 28, 2024. / Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

It was a special season for the Minnesota Timberwolves. 

They put together a 50-win regular season for just the fifth time in franchise history. Their 56 wins were the second-most in a season in team history. They swept a Phoenix Suns team that features on of the NBA’s all-time greats in Kevin Durant. They beat the defending champion Denver Nuggets in seven games to reach the Western Conference finals for the first time in 20 years. 

The Timberwolves’ magical run finally came to an end following a 4-1 series loss to the Dallas Mavericks in the Western Conference finals. While they didn’t reach their ultimate goal of a championship, there are plenty of reasons to be optimistic about the Wolves moving forward.

Assuming the team stays together next season, the core pieces are there. Anthony Edwards is just 22 years old and is an ascending superstar. He has an excellent supporting cast around him. The experience of the postseason run will help the Timberwolves build towards next season. 

“The West is going to be a monster next year as it seems to be every year, but there was a lot of things we did well this year,” Timberwolves coach Chris Finch said. “Super proud of our guys in just building another layer of foundation to get where we’re trying to go.” 

That’s the NBA Finals. And with the young Timberwolves having completed their first deep playoff run, they now know what it takes to get there. As Finch and members of the team reflected on their season and what it will take to reach that next goal following their Game 5 loss to the Mavericks that ended their season, there were some common thoughts about what the next step will entail.

Here are three things the Timberwolves will look to build on this upcoming season:

Mental toughness

As Rudy Gobert and Nickeil Alexander-Walker sat at the podium reflecting on the Game 5 loss and the Timberwolves' season as a whole, both mentioned the team's mental toughness not always being there during the loss to the Mavericks. Now, the Timberwolves did demonstrated mental toughness during the postseason, best exemplified by them rallying from a 3-2 series deficit to beat Denver.

But the level takes a step up with each playoff series. Alexander-Walker noted how a few of the games came down to just having one possession back. Just doing a few things differently here and there could have made the Western Conference finals a drastically different series.

That comes down to things as simple as the mental toughness and emotional control.

"It’s going to take a big jump, and it’s going to take constant failure and a mental battle to tune out he say, she say, to tune out the media, to humble yourself to the team, to do whatever it takes to win and this playoff series, this playoffs, postseason as a whole definitely taught me more about what it means to win and not just really believing but applying that belief," Alexander-Walker said. "Applying that trust in your work and everything, but also owning that moment. I think all those things are going to play into how we grow next year and making the jump.” 

Alexander-Walker believes it will take a big jump because the Timberwolves are expecting an even more difficult path to the NBA Finals next season in a Western Conference filled top to bottom with talent. But the Wolves expect to be better, too. Gobert said they haven't come close to their potential.

While their goal was a championship this season, there is also value in the trial of losing a difficult West finals series to a Mavericks team that was simply more prepared — mentally and physically.

Mike Conley said sometimes experience is the best teacher.

"You have to go through it, you have to learn from your mistakes, you have to feel what we feel right now," Conley said. "... We all want to be better, and mental toughness is something, it's not easy to just attain and get overnight, but those lessons will help you."

Training and conditioning

From Game 1 on, the Timberwolves looked tired. It almost felt as though it took everything they had in the tank to get through the Nuggets in the Western Conference semifinals. In some ways it did.

There's no way to prepare for something you don't know. The Timberwolves hadn't been this far in the postseason. They're a team that is in great physical shape, but they didn't know the extent of what it takes to play at full force through June. It's simply a different animal training for playoff basketball.

Now they know exactly what it will take.

"We trained this year as if we were just going to play 82 games, maybe one round of the playoffs," said Anthony Edwards, who had mentioned his fatigue during the series. "We didn't know we was going to go this far, so we didn't train like it this summer. I know nobody did, especially myself.

"I think this summer is going to be huge for all of us because we know what type of team we got and we know what we're capable of, so we need to train like we know what we gonna do."

Karl-Anthony Towns said the Timberwolves did a great job of taking care of their bodies throughout the season, but that the series revealed they'll have to take it to another level this offseason. They didn't know what it would take last offseason, but now they do and they'll be ready for another run.

Preparation and execution

Finch said one of the biggest takeaways for the Timberwolves is simply how the level of readiness and execution gets higher and higher the further and further along you get in the postseason.

The Mavericks were ready. They made shots when they needed to. Their biggest stars shine in the biggest moments. The Timberwolves, meanwhile, struggled to close out games and quarters. Ill-timed turnovers late in games cost them dearly against the Mavericks.

“I think in those first few games, just being able to close out quarters better, especially the fourth. We really had a great opportunity in front of us," Conley said.

The Timberwolves at times got away from their defensive identity during the Western Conference finals. Their offense, in turn, often turned stagnant. The execution needed to be at a higher level.

"It's going to be good for us to take this experience, just know the execution that is required at every level, it gets higher and higher," Towns said. "To understand the discipline that we're going to need if we want to make a deep run and get to that next level, which is the Finals. ... Attention to detail, too. And that goes with execution."

Ultimately, this season was a learning experience for the Timberwolves. They made significant strides from a season ago. They put together a special season and reached the Western Conference finals for the first time in 20 years. And they learned what it will take to get over the hump next season.

The Timberwolves are certainly confident they'll get another crack at it next year, too.

"We'll be back next year," Edwards said.

Nolan O'Hara