At the conclusion of this year’s All-Star break, the happiness surrounding Karl-Anthony Towns and the Minnesota Timberwolves has been untethered at long last. Towns is fresh off a victory at the three-point contest, and the All-Star Game was once again exciting with the new format. Also, Flip Saunders’ vision realized some semblance of fruition with the assembly of Towns, Zach LaVine, and Andrew Wiggins all playing on the same team.
The smile on Towns’ face is a refreshing sight. KAT’s struggles both on and off the court have been well-documented since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. The young superstar has been to hell and back. But success is finally coming back around as we enter the third trimester of the 2021-22 NBA season.
However, that success has a different energy to it this season. Towns has never been one to shy away from his individual achievements. But at long last, this feels like the season where the Timberwolves franchise plays a significant role in giving KAT a reason to smile.
It is a novel concept. There are few franchises with as deeply rooted organizational dysfunction as the Wolves. Its history is littered with leaders and hyper-talented standouts who grew impatient and either demanded a trade or left with a sour taste in their mouths. Kevin Garnett’s dispute with soon-to-be-former owner Glen Taylor is well-documented. Kevin Love sought out greener pastures after experiencing a small taste of playing with talent at the 2012 Olympics. And Ricky Rubio has been shipped out by egomaniacal general managers twice now. Those are not the only cases.
As the rumor mills swirl and super-teams rumble behind the thinly-veiled gates of tampering, Towns has remained resolute on his commitment to Minnesota and this community. Now it is finally starting to pay off.
Leaving the past aside, this is the season that the vision is starting to come together. At the All-Star break, the Wolves are 31-28, two games away from the pre-season Vegas over-under of 32.5 wins. There is a slight chance of obtaining that coveted sixth seed. However, the likeliest scenario is that Minnesota hangs on to the seventh or eighth seed for a play-in spot, theoretical games that the Timberwolves should win at ease to give themselves their first legitimate playoff appearance since the 2017-18 season.
Minnesota’s sustained success is mainly due to the finally-healthy marriage of Towns to the rest of the roster. GMs in years past have tried and failed to assemble a cohesive roster of guys who can, at the bare minimum, knock down open shots in the wake of Towns’ gravitas. This season’s assembly of talent, personalities, and bench production plays a significant role in this newfound success.
Talent acquisition is one thing, as was showcased in the blockbuster 2017 trade to bring Jimmy Butler to town. But it is unsustainable if those players are not compatible fits on and off the court. We have seen teams like the Brooklyn Nets and Los Angeles Lakers crumble this season despite being watersheds for All-Star caliber talent. Fit matters much more than people give it credit for in the modern NBA, and the concept of “fit” is helping propel the Timberwolves to this success.
Going out and getting one of the league’s best pick-and-roll point guards in D’Angelo Russell was the first step towards achieving this fit. Despite his immense talent, Wiggins would never fit on this team as Russell has. It also helps that Russell and Towns have their long-standing friendship to ensure that there would be no locker issues. Keeping KAT happy started with this trade.
Picking Anthony Edwards with the first overall pick in 2020 was the next step. His endearing personality and tough mindset have and will go much farther in building a sustained model of success than LaMelo Ball‘s talent. Edwards is one of those rare players who lead without realizing it; some call this the “it” factor. Whatever it is, Edwards has it, and he is the perfect young talent to put next to Towns for the foreseeable future.
The on-court fit between Edwards and Towns could not be better, either. As Towns regularly draws multiple defenders towards him, it opens up the lane for Edwards to use his hyper-athleticism to get to the hoop. The offensive hydra of Towns, Russell, and Edwards is enough to put up points on any team. The Timberwolves still have the league’s best offense in the last 15 games through Feb. 18.
Add the rugged and recently extended Patrick Beverley to the mix, and this is the most complete team that Minnesota has heralded since the early turn of the century. The analytics support the value of these good vibes. The starting unit is among the league’s best, and the bench unit has started to come to life in this last turn of the season.
Sure, there are still problems. But Minnesota is giving KAT a reason to smile. He’s a young man who has never shied away from divulging his connection to his emotions, and his happiness is key to unlocking his talent. Towns’ ridiculous 24.4 ppg and 9.7 rpg while shooting 40.9% from 3 is no fluke. An untethered Towns is starting to fall in love with basketball all over again. That’s a problem for the rest of the league.
Winning fixes everything. It is with open arms that Timberwolves fans welcome a happy Towns. The change of pace in cheering for a team making the right moves is good for morale across the board. If this success and goodwill continue through the playoffs, the sky’s the limit for this once again young and hungry Wolves team.