Are the Timberwolves KAT or Ant's Team?

Photo Credit: Nick Wosika (USA TODAY Sports)

The Minnesota Timberwolves have been in a constant state of transition ever since the Los Angeles Lakers eliminated them in Game 6 of the 2004 Western Conference Finals.

Seventeen-plus years later, the steadiest thing about the franchise is that everything is still in flux. Chris Finch has coached just 55 games so far in his tenure in Minnesota. Longtime owner Glen Taylor signed the team’s future away to Alex Rodriguez and Marc Lore over the offseason. But the most significant transition is on the court as second-year phenom Anthony Edwards is on the cusp of superstardom and may be wresting control of the team away from Karl-Anthony Towns.

Towns has been the face of the franchise since the Wolves took him with the No. 1 overall pick in the 2015 NBA Draft. In his six-plus season in the Twin Cities, Towns is a two-time All-Star and made the All-NBA Third-Team in 2017-18. He helped end Minnesota’s 13-year playoff drought. He’s second in franchise history in scoring and rebounding and has established himself as the second-best player in Timberwolves history after Kevin Garnett.

For all the historic stats KAT puts up and personal accolades he’s accumulated, the Wolves have seen little team success with Towns as the face of the franchise. They are 175-247 (.410) in games Towns has played in his career. The only time Minnesota has won more than 36 games with a Towns-led team was in 2017-18 when Jimmy Butler led the Timberwolves to a 47-35 record and a swift first-round exit in the playoffs.

To some, the Towns era is growing increasingly stale. His name has come up in trade rumors ever since the summer of Butler’s discontent in 2018. At 26, he’s by no means past his prime, but it might be time to shake up the franchise hierarchy.

Enter Edwards. Last year’s runner-up for the Rookie of the Year award is already showing the superstar upside that caused the Timberwolves to take him first overall in the 2020 NBA Draft. Ant is averaging 23.1 points, 6.7 rebounds, and 3.3 assists per game in his sophomore season. He and Towns lead the team in scoring, and Ant is launching four more shots per game than anyone else on the team. Wolves fans are gravitating to Edwards, adopting him as the state’s boisterous little brother.

He’s already one of the most likable (and marketable) players in the NBA and is a year or two away from being one of the faces of the NBA. The new guard is here to show the older generation that their time in the spotlight is up. Fourteen games into his second season, Edwards has Wolves fans wondering whose team is this: Towns or Edwards?

The easy answer would be to say that, of course, this is still KAT’s team. He’s still the best player on the team, and easily the most efficient. KAT’s averaging 23.1 points, 9.4 rebounds, and 3.4 assists per game on an impressive 50/45/87 shooting split. This year he’s had his moments, but the Wolves are again struggling at 5-9 with Towns as their leader. He ranks third on the team with only 16.1 shot attempts per game, well behind Ant’s 20.8 and D’Angelo Russell’s perplexing 16.7. Towns have averaged the fewest shots since the 2017-18 season when the offense ran through Butler. It’s also the second time he hasn’t been first or second on the team in shot attempts, the other being 2017-18 when he was third.

Towns has checked out this season when the going gets tough. He’s shooting 42.6 percent from the field in losses and looks disengaged at times when the team needs him to spark a run. Over the weekend, the big-man put up just eight points on 3-of-11 shooting in an embarrassing 27-point loss to the Los Angeles Clippers.

While Towns doesn’t demand the ball in big situations, Edwards looks like he wants to put the 17-plus years of torture on his shoulders every night. The kid has the “it” factor that fans look for in the face of the franchise. The last week was a perfect example of how Ant taking the reins from Towns is exciting for fans. However, it might not be the best thing for the team just yet. He scored a career-high 48 points in a 13-point loss to the Golden State Warriors. In the next game, a 24-point shellacking of a LeBron James-less Los Angeles Lakers squad, Edwards hit the bottom of the roller coaster scoring just nine points on 4-11 shooting while committing five turnovers. The natural inconsistency of a high-flying 20-year old is fun to watch but doesn’t necessarily lead to winning.

To be the true leader of the Wolves, Edwards needs to impact the game in more ways than scoring and making Dave Benz rattle off Ant facts after highlight plays. He’s an inefficient scorer right now. He’s sixth in the league in shot attempts and eighth in three-point attempts but is hitting just 41.9 percent of his shots and 33.3 percent from three. His shot selection is suspect as he steps back for a few too many iso threes than he should, and could benefit from moving the ball more consistently.

If Edwards can trim the bad shots and continue to grow on defense, he’ll be an All-Star before anyone expected him to be, and we will have to have the KAT to Ant succession talk sooner rather than later.

While some Wolves fans are already firing up the trade machine to see what Sachin Gupta can get for Towns, it might not be time to move on from KAT just yet. Towns likely needs to take a more prominent role in the proceedings to turn things around this season, at least until Ant finds the same type of consistency that we’ve seen from Towns since he entered the league in 2015.

In a perfect world, Edwards will ascend to superstardom within the next two years, with Towns serving as his right-hand man. Until that happens, it’s probably best if Towns retains at least a 51 percent share of the franchise.

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Photo Credit: Nick Wosika (USA TODAY Sports)

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