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All-Time Starting 5: Minnesota Timberwolves

Unlike many of the teams profiled in this series, the list of franchise-changing, era-defining Timberwolves players is, uh, lacking. In fact, the team has really only had one such player, and Kevin Garnett‘s importance to the franchise can be seen in each and every member on this list, starting with the point-guard position.

PG – Stephon Marbury

This first selection is not for what Stephon Marbury was but for what he could’ve been. There have been Timberwolves point guards with better singular seasons than Marbury, notably Sam Cassell in the 2003-2004 campaign that remains the high-water mark for Timberwolves success and yet still feels a disappointing given Cassell’s injury in the Western Conference Finals. There have also been players who’ve had more sustained success with the Timberwolves, like the franchise’s first ever draft pick Pooh Richardson and the criminally underrated Terrell Brandon. But no star shone as bright as did Marbury’s. Nor, unfortunately for us fans, did any player’s star collapse quite as quickly.

Entering the league after a storied high school career and just one year of college, Marbury quickly showed flashes of greatness on the court. Off the court, Garnett and Marbury’s friendship, dating back to their high school days, helped turned the team into a marketer’s dream, with SLAM covers and ESPN The Magazine ads seemingly just the beginning. Marbury was a dynamic scorer with great vision and the athleticism to go around, through or over nearly any defender who got in his way.

The worst part about thinking of what could’ve been is just how well Garnett and Marbury fit together on the court. Garnett, as versatile as almost any player of his generation, was often criticized (unfairly in my opinion) for his perceived inability to take over games in the fourth quarter. He was, until the 2003-04 Western Conference Playoffs, viewed as someone who couldn’t get his team over the top. Even when he was traded to Boston, the trade was viewed as such a positive for Garnett in part because the presence of Paul Pierce and Ray Allen would alleviate Garnett from the pressure of carrying games down the stretch and allow him to focus on his own strengths, particularly on defense. Marbury could’ve been that guy for Garnett throughout his career. Marbury, even at an early age, showed a willingness to be a team’s primary scoring option and to take big shots, as he did in that first playoff series against Houston.

As it turned out, Marbury was never more than the high-scoring lead guard and locker-room issue he showed flashes of as a Timberwolf. But from where I’m sitting right now, I can see a basketball signed by both Marbury and Garnett sitting on a mantle, bought when the sky was the limit for what those two could achieve. It’s probably time to move on from that dream (and maybe time to redecorate?), but this is our Penny and Shaq. This could’ve been our Stockton and Malone. And Marbury should’ve been the obvious selection as the greatest point guard in Timberwolves history.

SG – Doug West 

Oy. This isn’t an inspiring list of names to choose from. In fact, the Timberwolves’ shooting-guard position is probably more well-known for the players who never made it beyond draft night than for those who actually suited up for the team. Ray Allen, Brandon Roy and O.J. Mayo were all drafted by the Timberwolves and sent elsewhere in draft-day trades. Two of those trades almost worked out, with Stephon Marbury coming over in the Ray Allen trade and Kevin Love the centerpiece of the O.J. Mayo deal. As for the Brandon Roy trade, well, let’s just move on, shall we?

An athletic swingman, Doug West’s place in the hierarchy of Timberwolves shooting guards often gets lost amidst the troubling personal issues of J.R. Rider, the brief tenure of Latrell Sprewell and the many draft misses of the late 2000s. But as an original member of the team, Doug West was a stabilizing force who helped guide the team until KG took over as the franchise cornerstone. West produced his best season in the 1992-93 campaign, putting up 19 points per game and shooting over 50 percent from the field and 84 percent from the free throw line after taking over as the team’s primary scoring option from another candidate for this list, Tony Campbell.

SF – Sam Mitchell

This is another spot where the options are limited. I’m tempted to put Garnett here, as he made his first All-Star appearance as a wiry 20-year-old while spending most of his time at the small-forward spot during the 1996-97 season, but that doesn’t feel quite right.

The choice really comes down to two players, Sam Mitchell and Wally Szczerbiak. Szczerbiak was a good player and great shooter who was unfairly asked to be the team’s second offensive option on most nights. While he did make an All-Star team in the 2001-02 season, his tenure with the team never seemed to quite resonate with the franchise or the fan base as much as his numbers might suggest.

Mitchell and his baseline, 18-foot jumpers takes the spot on this list not only for his cumulative totals while on the court, where he sits just behind Garnett in most statistical categories, but also for his role in the franchise’s development. Mitchell is often credited as Garnett’s most influential mentor early in his career. And given Flip Saunders’s affinity for veteran leadership, evidenced by the recent Andre Miller and Tayshaun Prince signings, Mitchell’s role as a mentor has to factor into his spot on this list. The amount of credit Mitchell deserves for Garnett’s development can be questioned, but if his veteran leadership played even a small role in helping Garnett reach the heights that he did, then he’s worthy of a spot on the all-time starting five.

PF – Kevin Garnett

I mean, come on. Power forward is the only spot on the floor where the Timberwolves have fielded multiple All-Stars and players worthy of being discussed for a franchise’s all-time starting unit. Unfortunately for Kevin Love, Tom Gugliotta and others, though, there’s only one choice. Garnett will undoubtedly go down as one of the greatest power forwards to ever play the game, and as one of the most versatile 7-footers in NBA history. Players are lauded for their ability to defend five positions on the court, but few in league history can match Garnett’s ability to defend players on the wing while also defending in the post and protecting the rim.

Offensively, Garnett was skilled enough to not only have the offense run through him in the high post or on the block, but to also set up the team’s offense, acting as the Timberwolves’ quasi-point guard due to his ball handling and passing abilities. With his length, athleticism and high release point, his baseline turnaround over either shoulder was amongst the most unstoppable shots in the league during his prime.

Given his longevity with the team, it should be no surprise that he’s the franchise leader in points, rebounds, assists, steals and blocks, among many other categories. He also is the franchise leader in making it cool to follow the Timberwolves. While overseas, I once had a “conversation” with an Italian man in broken English, whose eyes lit up when I said I was from Minnesota, which prompted an “Ahh, Kevin Garnett!” and a high five. No other Timberwolves player would’ve prompted such a response. As the power forward on the Timberwolves’ all-time starting five, I’ve said about Garnett much more than I needed to, but far less than he deserves.

C – Al Jefferson

Another position where the Wolves’ history leaves something to be desired. I actually spent time looking at Rasho Nesterovic’s career numbers to see if he should be the choice. Think about that for a minute. Nikola Pekovic wound up being the only other player under serious consideration, but Al Jefferson wound up being the choice by default.

As dull as it often was to watch Jefferson’s series of jab steps and pump fakes on the left block, the centerpiece in the Garnett trade could at least be counted on to shoulder a large offensive burden every night during his three seasons with the team. The unfortunate part for Jefferson is that his best season in Minnesota was also the season cut short by injury, where he was a borderline All-Star, averaging 23 and 11 with 1.7 blocks per game.

Pekovic, who looks and plays like a Bond villain, is an efficient player who simply can’t stay healthy, having started no more than 62 games in any of his five seasons in the league. And with three years left on his $60 million extension, he’ll likely not live up to his salary, nor will he be an easily movable asset, even with the rising salary cap. Neither Jefferson nor Pekovic have ever been known for their defense, but in basketball, as in life, showing up matters, and Jefferson showed up more consistently than Pekovic has shown he’s capable of.

With only 26 seasons and a lifetime .393 winning percentage, the Timberwolves have a limited pool of players from which to craft an all-time unit. But with a young core of Andrew Wiggins, Karl-Anthony Towns, Ricky Rubio, Zach LaVine and others, the Timberwolves’ all-time starting five of 2025 will hopefully look very different in 10 years than it does today.

Previous all-time starting fives: Bulls, Pistons, Thunder-Sonics, Magic, Mavericks, Heat, Lakers, WizardsPacers, Raptors, Knicks, Bucks, Nuggets, Celtics, Grizzlies, Rockets, Pelicans-Hornets-Jazz, Clippers, JazzSpurs, Suns, Kings, Cavaliers, Hawks, Nets, Hornets

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