5 Teams most similar to this year's Timberwolves (and how their seasons ended)

Mar 24, 2024; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Timberwolves guard Anthony Edwards (5) and
Mar 24, 2024; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Timberwolves guard Anthony Edwards (5) and / Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports
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By all accounts, the 2023-24 Minnesota Timberwolves are having a successful regular season. Their top-ranked defense has carried them to a 50-22 record, and the third-place spot in the Western Conference. However, questions remain about this team’s ability to win in the playoffs due to their offensive struggles, particularly in crunch time. Karl Anthony-Towns’ meniscus tear only exacerbates these concerns.

Examining the playoff success (or lack thereof) of teams with middling offenses and elite defenses may lend insight into the ceiling of the Timberwolves and whether fans should be concerned.

To determine what teams from the last ten years are most comparable to the 2023-24 Timberwolves, I created a “similarity score” metric that measures how closely a team’s statistical performance mirrors that of this year’s Timberwolves. The metric considers a team’s league ranking in each of the four factors (effective field goal percentage, turnover rate, offensive rebound rate, and free throw rate) on both offense and defense.

Using the metric, the seasons of 300 teams from the last ten years were narrowed down to 20. From there, other factors such as pace, and personnel were considered to determine the five most comparable teams (along with a few honorable mentions) to the 2023-24 Timberwolves.

Honorable Mentions

Before we reveal the top five most similar teams to this season's Timberwolves, it’s worth discussing a few teams that just missed the list. The similarity score metric yielded twenty teams that had a wide variety of season outcomes.

The twenty teams include four first-round exits and two teams that missed the playoffs entirely (last year’s Orlando Magic and New Orleans Pelicans). Most of these teams did not have a defense quite as elite as the Timberwolves or had a truly dysfunctional offense, as opposed to just a below-average one. However, last season’s Cleveland Cavaliers and the 2018-19 Utah Jazz are examples of two top-five net-rating teams whose season ended in disappointment.

On the flip side, there are also some highly successful teams in the honorable mentions. The 59-win 2013-14 Oklahoma City Thunder ranked fourth in similarity score but were left off of the list due to their fast-paced offense and their dynamic scoring trio that feels incomparable to the play style of this year’s Timberwolves. There are also three NBA champions in the top 20—the bubble Los Angeles Lakers of 2019-20, the 2021-22 Golde State Warriors, and the 2018-19 Toronto Raptors led by Kawhi Leonard.

Of this group, the Warriors (at least statistically) represent the most promising comparison as they overcame a statistically below-average offense during the regular season. Part of their struggles stemmed from injuries to Steph Curry (he missed 18 games during the regular season), and part of it owed to their turnover issues—they had the second-highest turnover percentage in the NBA. During the playoffs, they cleaned up the turnovers, crashed the offensive glass, and maintained their defensive intensity. It ultimately led them to a championship.