When Karl-Anthony Towns originally went down with a right calf strain in late November, many outlets reported that Towns avoided serious injury. His timeline for a potential return was just about four to six weeks – placing him back in the lineup “sometime during January,” and signaling his calf strain was only a Grade 2 in severity.
However, KAT later informed us that the leaked timetable of 4 to 6 weeks was false. “There was no chance that I was gonna’ be back in four-to-six [weeks],” Towns explained back in January. “They said Grade 2, there was never a Grade 2, it was a Grade 3.”
According to Physiotools, the timetable for a person to fully recover from a Grade 3 calf strain is anywhere from 8 to 12 weeks – depending on the severity and whether or not surgery is required. Nobody has reported that Towns had a season-ending injury, and talks have been leading us to believe he will return sometime this season.
However, it’s been just over 13 weeks since the Wolves lost arguably their best scorer. Given that there are only 15 games left in the regular season, fans are growing more impatient daily. That’s understandable. The team has not released specific medical updates to the media and fans – aside from Chris Finch occasionally saying that Towns is “in the final stages” of his return and “there is still no timetable.”
Minnesota is hovering around .500 and trying to earn a playoff spot in a tight Western Conference race. Therefore, some may feel that KAT should just “suck it up and play.” However, things could end horribly if Towns rushes his recovery process.
History tends to repeat itself.
During the 2019 NBA playoffs, Kevin Durant suffered a Grade 1 calf strain during Game 5 of the Western Conference Semi-Finals against the Houston Rockets. Durant would go on to miss the next nine games – including the entire series versus the Portland Trail Blazers and the first four games of the Finals against the Toronto Raptors.
Similar to Towns, KD faced an incredible amount of pressure to lay from the fans and media. Many were fed up with him not trying to “push through” the way his teammates did.
Here is what Sam Amick of The Athletic wrote at the time:
At the very least, Durant’s absence that began back on May 8 is causing a mixture of confusion and angst among several of his teammates that simply can’t be helpful to their overall cause. Sources say there was a very real hope that Durant would be able to play in Game 4, to push through in much the same way that Thompson, Cousins, Iguodala, and Looney have done of late. When that didn’t happen, and when they saw their season compromised more than ever without him after they’d grown hopeful of his return after seeing him on the court, the irritation grew in large part because they simply didn’t understand why he wasn’t there.
Durant would ultimately make his return in time for Game 5 of the Finals, with the Warriors staring at a 1-3 hole in the series. With his return came a sense of optimism. However, just 14 minutes into the game, as Durant attempted to hit Serge Ibaka with a crossover spin move, he coughed the ball up and fell to the floor grabbing at that right calf yet again.
“I was excited because he was doing so well,” Durant’s mother, Wanda, told Good Morning America. “Then, when it happened, I just kind of sunk. I was just glued on him and glued on his eyes to see how he was doing. Still, kind of hurtful to see the anguish in his eyes. He looked as though he felt somewhat dejected at that time. He tried to hobble off and I was thinking, ‘don’t do that, son.’”
An MRI confirmed that the worst possible outcome occurred – Durant tore his right Achilles. Once news broke, some started to attack Golden State’s front office and medical team.
“There’s going to be blame, there’s going to be finger-pointing,” Steve Kerr said a few days after Durant’s injury. “And we understand that, and we accept that. This is kind of what you sign up for when you get into coaching and general management. There’s all kinds of coverage, judgment, and criticism. It’s all part of it so we accept that.”
Despite heavy scrutiny, Durant said the Warriors didn’t pressure him into returning, and that the decision was only between himself and the medical staff.
“Hell, no. How can you blame [the Warriors]? Hell, no,” Durant said during the following offseason. “I heard the Warriors pressured me into getting back. Nobody never said a word to me during rehab as I was coming back. It was only me and [director of sports medicine and performance] Rick [Celebrini] working out every day. Right when the series started, I targeted Game 5.”
Regardless of the finger-pointing, Durant’s Achilles injury kept him out for the entirety of the 2019-20 season – which would have been his first year with the Brooklyn Nets. Nobody should blame KD’s injury on one person. But ultimately, he reinjured his calf and missed substantial time. KAT is facing a similar situation and could also face a similar outcome if he rushes his return to the lineup.
While the Wolves may not be trying to win the Finals right now, they’re in a horse race of their own – trying to make the playoffs in back-to-back seasons for only the second time in franchise history.
It hasn’t been sunshine and rainbows since Towns went down. However, the Wolves have exceeded expectations. Most (including myself) didn’t expect to see the Wolves staying above .500 once KAT went down, let alone stay in the playoff hunt. Yet, that’s exactly what they’ve done. One huge positive that came out of KAT’s absence has been the growth of first-time All-Star Anthony Edwards.
Since November 29th, Edwards is averaging 25.7 points to go along with 6.0 rebounds, and 4.8 assists on 46% from the floor and 38% from deep. During this extended span, the 21-year-old has become the team leader. However, that’s not to say the Wolves don’t miss KAT. Minnesota ranks as the 22nd-best offense in the league, according to StatMuse.
Following the D’Angelo Russell trade, we’ve seen the Wolves have some issues trying to generate offense outside of Edwards. For example, Ant finished with 32 points, but none of his other teams had more than 13 in Minnesota’s Tuesday night loss to the Philadelphia 76ers.
Nights like that haven’t been a trend. However, the offense still sorely misses the 20 points per game Towns was giving the Wolves before his injury. Despite all the apparent doom and gloom surrounding Towns’ timetable, we finally got some good news earlier this week.
There may only be 15 regular season games remaining. However, it feels as if the plan is to have Towns back sometime during that span. But the Wolves may have a tough choice: Do they potentially risk KAT’s long-term health for just a playoff berth? Or do they play it safe and regroup for next season?
Durant’s 2019 injury might indicate what the right answer is.