Playoff growing pains for Towns, Wiggins expected, but Wolves' veteran moves failed

Kevin Durant shot 35 percent in his first playoff series.
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With the Wolves eliminated from the playoffs, it might serve as a helpful reminder that talented core players on rising teams often struggle finding their feet the first time they reach the playoffs. 

Specifically, this is in reference to Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins, Minnesota's young stars who flashed brilliance but ultimately faded when it mattered most against Houston. 

They're not the first to fail in their playoff debuts and they certainly won't be the last. 

Kevin Durant shot a dreadful 35 percent (43-of-123) in his first playoff series with the Thunder in 2010. Look at him now. 

Steph Curry led the Warriors to a series win in his playoff debut, but that was against an overrated Denver team in 2013. He then ran into Greg Popovich's Spurs, who slowed his roll to the tune of jut 40.4 percent shooting. 

He wasn't much better (43.9 percent shooting) when the Warriors got knocked out of the playoffs in the first round the next season. 


Wolves eliminated by Rockets, no Butler the entire 4th quarter

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Derrick Rose, at one point one of the best players in the NBA, struggled in Chicago with Tom Thibodeau, getting knocked out of the playoffs in the first round two years in a row before finally breaking through to the conference finals in his third try. 

Point is, success in the playoffs doesn't happen overnight, and two of the NBA's marquee teams had core players like Towns and Wiggins who had to crawl before learning to walk and run in playoff basketball.

One glaring difference

The glaring issue when comparing Minnesota to the 2012-13 Warriors or the 2009-10 Thunder is that those teams only had one starter with any playoff experience: Golden State had Andrew Bogut and OKC had Thabo Sefalosha, neither being a marquee name. 

Thibodeau traded for Jimmy Butler, an All-Star, and then signed veterans Jeff Teague and Taj Gibson specifically to help the Wolves get over the hump. 

If getting over the hump was simply snapping a 14-year playoff drought, then fine. But a team doesn't add that kind of playoff experience to get rocked in the first round. 

Frankly, the Wolves never should've been faced with getting the 8-seed and running into the buzzsaw Rockets. 

Blame Minnesota's regular season meltdown on Butler's knee injury that forced him to miss 17 games? Sure, that had something to do with a .500 record the final 26 games, but the main reason the Wolves had to play the Rockets instead of hosting a first-round series is because they wilted against the worst of the worst, losing eight games to teams that finished with fewer than 30 wins. 

All of those losses to Memphis, Phoenix, Dallas, Chicago, Atlanta, Brooklyn and Orlando were tremendously costly. 

That's the biggest disappointment of the season, because it forced Minnesota into horrible first-round matchup instead of getting an opportunity to not only snap the playoff drought, but possibly win a series, maybe two and give even more hope for the future.

How Golden State's core developed

After missing the playoffs 12 straight years and 17 of 18 overall, the Warriors burst onto the scene behind Steph Curry during the 2012-13 season, going 47-35 and earning the 6-seed in the Western Conference. 

Curry was in his fourth season while core players Klay Thomason and Draymond Green were in their second and first seasons, respectively. 

The Warriors defeated 3-seed Denver in six games to advance to the second round of the playoffs before losing to eventual Western Conference champion San Antonio. 

The next season, the Warriors won 51 games, again earning the 6-seed. But they lost to the Los Angeles Clippers in the first round. 

It wasn't until year three in the playoffs, the 2014-15 season, that the core of the Warriors was able to win a championship, and they've been dominant ever since. 

How OKC's core developed

Like the Warriors, the Thunder's core group players required three years of seasoning before reaching the NBA Finals. 

It started in 2009-10 when the Thunder, led by third-year star Kevin Durant, second year guard Russell Westbrook and rookie James Harden, reached the playoffs for the first time. 

They won 50 games and got in as the 8-seed before losing in six games to Kobe Bryant's Los Angeles Lakers. 

The next season they won 55 games, only good enough for the 4-seed in the stacked West, and advanced to the conference finals before falling to the Dallas Mavericks. 

Durant, Westbrook and Harden, who was their sixth man at the time, won 12 of 15 Western Conference playoff games before losing to LeBron James and Cleveland in five games in the NBA Finals. 

Towns and Wiggins will grow

Winning in the playoffs takes time. 

Hall of Fame voices of Charles Barkley and Shaquille O'Neal can criticize Towns and other first-time playoff players all they want, but look at Durant and Curry today compared to where they were their first time on the big stage. 

Then there's James Harden, who killed the Wolves almost single handedly in this series. He's a chronic playoff choke artist, but this might be the year changes the narrative. 

Expect bigger and better performances from Towns and Wiggins the next time they play in the playoffs. 

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