There are around 10 games left for teams to play this regular season, but the playoff picture is all but set in the Western Conference. The Minnesota Timberwolves will certainly look to jump back into the top eight by this time next year, but that’s easier said than done, even when you strip away the unique circumstances facing the Wolves this offseason.
Over the past seven seasons, the year-to-year turnover of playoff teams in the Western Conference has been marginal. On average, just 1.57 teams are able to pull themselves into the top eight after missing the playoffs the previous year. In the Eastern Conference, they’ve averaged 2.42 different teams in the playoffs year-to-year over that same span.
The West has been considered superior to the East for the better part of two decades now, both in terms of overall quality and depth, so this shouldn’t come as a total shock. With that being said, it still isn’t encouraging for Minnesota.
When you take a closer look at those incidents one by one, it’s even less encouraging.
- 2013 Playoffs: 2 new teams (GS & HOU in for DAL & UTA)
- 2014: 2 (POR & DAL in for DEN & LAL)
- Young, skilled guards Damian Lillard and C.J. McCullom join solid veteran starters LaMarcus Aldridge and Nic Batum, while Dallas bounced back in after a 41-41 2013 season.
- 2015: 1 (NO in for OKC)
- Anthony Davis finally wills a terrible team to the playoffs, but needed Kevin Durant to miss 55 games due to injury in order to surpass the Thunder.
- 2016: 1 (OKC in for NO)
- Kevin Durant didn’t miss 55 games due to injury.
- 2017: 1 (UTA in for DAL)
- Rudy Gobert and Gordon Hayward lift the Jazz above the aging Mavericks.
- 2018: 2 (MIN & NO in for MEM & LAC)
- Anthony Davis gets some support from Jrue Holiday and Rajon Rondo, while the Wolves battle their way in on the final day after a nearly disastrous fall out of the playoff picture.
- 2019: 2 (DEN & LAC in for MIN & NO)
- Nikola Jokic takes the next step, while surrounded by a bevy of effective role players. The Clippers are perhaps the most unique case of any on this list, with Doc Rivers taking a mixed bag of gritty veterans and promising youngsters to the playoffs despite several tank-oriented moves from the front office.
There are several incidences of young cores developing into playoff-ready teams, on the flip side, there are several incidences of injured or aging teams falling out of the postseason. It’s basically the NBA’s circle of life.
It begs the question: who’s playoff spot could the Wolves prey on? Among this year’s playoff teams (and Sacramento, currently 2.5 games ahead of Minnesota), there may be a few possibilities. Just looking at it right now, you couldn’t be totally surprised if the Clippers fell out of that pack next year. Depending on how this summer goes, Utah, Portland or Denver could be shorthanded.
But those are big ifs. Additionally, the Kings have a budding young core, and one must assume that the Lakers right the ship.
It’s taxing enough to mull over who Minnesota can bring in to give it that push next year. When you consider that it’ll have to go through a meat grinder of a conference as well, it feels doubly sinister.
It’s taxing enough to consider how Minnesota will shuffle their roster this summer, but when you consider that they’ll have to go through a meat grinder of a conference as well, it feels doubly harsh.
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